Astronomy & Astrophysics


Image of Orion Nebula (M42) taken at the Iowa Robotic Observatory in southern Arizona

Image of Orion Nebula (M42) taken at
the Iowa Robotic Observatory in southern Arizona

We study a wide range of astrophysical phenomena, from solar system plasma physics to x-ray emission from black hole accretion disks. We maintain strong synergistic collaborations with both the space physics and plasma physics groups in the Department. 

The astrophysics group operates the Iowa Robotic Observatory and is a collaborating member of the VERITAS ground-based very high energy gamma-ray telescope array.  Faculty, research staff, and thesis students regularly utilize a variety of ground-based astronomical observatories including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's  Very Large Array, and VLBA, and the Arecibo Observatory. We are also frequent users of space-based facilities including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory, and the Hubble Space Telescope.  In addition, we have active programs in the development of radio and X-ray instrumentation and are currently involved preparing a rocket flight for soft X-ray spectroscopy.

Hai Fu

Extragalactic astronomy.

  • Galaxies that are normal galaxies across cosmic time and galaxies caught at especially energetic epochs (e.g., starbursts and quasars)
  • Multi-wavelength astronomical surveys: Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV; Cosmic Evolution Survey; Herschel ATLAS Survey; Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey
  • Students design, prepare, and execute observational experiments for large ground-based and space-borne telescopes
  • Students develop programing skills by writing software to analyze data and develop database skills by mining data from large astronomical archives
Kenneth G. Gayley

Radiative transfer; radiation hydrodynamics; spectral line diagnostics.

  • Theory Topics: highly supersonic stellar winds accelerated by photon pressure; radiation transport in stellar atmospheres and disks; how massive stars lose mass prior to a supernova
  • Simulation Topics: colliding winds in hot-star binaries, radiation transport in outflows from stars
  • Students may participate in international collaboration in stellar research
  • Students' experience in writing dynamic numerical simulations prepares them for positions either as academic postdocs or as software specialists in industry
Donald A. Gurnett

Experimental space plasma physics.

  • Experimental studies of planetary radio emissions and plasma waves
  • Student analysis of spacecraft data: Voyagers 1 and 2 (now interstellar space); Cassini (in orbit around Saturn); Cluster (consisting of four spacecraft in Earth orbit); Mars Express in orbit around Mars; and Juno (in orbit around Jupiter)
  • Supervised over 60 space physics thesis projects; former students now at NASA centers, industry, other universities
  • Students also interact with other group members, including research scientists, engineers, and programmers
Jasper S. Halekas

Experimental space physics.

  • Space plasma physics around moons and planets and in the interplanetary medium
  • Development of spaceflight instrumentation to make high-resolution measurements of charged particles
  • On-campus facilities include a laboratory for spaceflight hardware assembly and calibration
  • Students participate in the development of spaceflight instruments, in collaboration with engineers, scientists, and technicians at Iowa and partner institutions
  • Students  also analyze spacecraft data from the Earth, the Moon, Mars, the Sun and solar wind, and outer planets
  • Students gain skills in spaceflight hardware development, programming, and data analysis
 Gregory G. Howes

Theoretical and computational plasma physics.

  • Turbulence in the magnetized plasmas found in laboratories, space and astrophysics
  • Analysis of spacecraft data from the turbulent solar wind
  • Students develop skills including high-performance computing on the nation's fastest supercomputers, analysis of simulation and observational data, and development of simple analytical models to interpret results
  • Students also interact with group members including a postdoc and collaborators around the world
Philip E. Kaaret

X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy and instrumentation; CubeSats; black hole binaries; galactic X-ray halos.

  • X-ray binaries, ultraluminous X-ray sources, intermediate mass black holes
  • Galactic X-ray halo, missing baryon problem
  • Instrumentation for space-based astronomy, CubeSats
  • Students build instruments for launch into space
  • Students use satellite based observatories
  • Students develop skills in electronics, data analysis, and programming
Cornelia C. Lang

Radio astronomy; x-ray astronomy; observational study of interstellar medium and galactic center.

  • Observations are multi-wavelength, using both radio interferometry and X-ray imaging/spectroscopy
  • Topics include the interstellar medium of the galactic center: magnetic and X-ray phenomena, stellar winds, and ionized and molecular gas
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA), the Owens Valley Millimeter Array (OVRO) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Students develop skills with data reduction and analysis using astronomical software and they develop programming skills using IDL
  • Students supported by a pre-doctoral research fellowship may reside at the VLA and interact with staff radio astronomers
  • Students also interact with other astronomy faculty
Robert L. Mutel

Radio astronomy; space physics; plasma astrophysics.

  • Observations using radio telescopes and spacecraft
  • Astronomical instrumentation, especially optical spectroscopy
  • Stellar and planetary redio emission
  • Students use radio telescopes: Very Large Array (VLA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Arecibo; and an optical telescope (Iowa Robotic Observatory) located in Arizona
  • Students develop programming skills using Python and CASA (radio astronomical imaging)
  • Students also interact with peer group members and other astronomy faculty
Steven R. Spangler

Radio astronomy; plasma astrophysics; space plasma physics.

  • Solar corona, solar wind, interstellar medium
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope
  • Students also encouraged to carry out instrumentation-development projects with the 4.5 meter instructional radio telescope on roof of Van Allen Hall
  • Students develop skills in numerical methods, writing code in Python and other languages