Postdoctoral fellowships support planetary science research
The Heising-Simons Foundation has awarded 51 Pegasi b fellowships to Brittany Miles and Paul Dalba to support their postdoctoral research in planetary astronomy.
Miles is currently a PhD student. candidate in astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and will conduct her postdoctoral research at the University of Arizona. Dalba is currently at UC Riverside and will begin his postdoctoral fellowship at UC Santa Cruz in the fall of 2022.
The 51 Pegasi b fellowships provide opportunities for outstanding postdoctoral scientists to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental research in planetary astronomy.
Miles of Brittany
As a graduate student at UCSC, Miles worked with Andrew Skemer, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics, to make mid-infrared observations of brown dwarfs, astronomical objects that share properties with planets and stars. By placing unique constraints on the atmospheric structures of these cold objects, his work provides a model for predicting and interpreting future direct images of colder exoplanets. Her observations of brown dwarfs also inform instrumentation projects in which she upgrades and tests the capabilities of detectors to enable more accurate characterization of exoplanets.
In his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Arizona, Miles will continue his observations of brown dwarf atmospheres to obtain data on cloud composition and behavior. As co-principal investigator on a proposed James Webb Space Telescope, she will explore the coldest known brown dwarf to inspect possible water clouds and water vapor and infer how these features can behave on gas giant exoplanets. Miles also plans to improve the sensitivity of ground-based instruments to capture images of more Earth-like planets. His work will be seminal in the field as larger telescopes come online in the years to come.
“I’d like to continue to get high-quality single-target data to understand what gases are in the atmosphere of brown dwarfs and answer bigger questions about how planets form and what their atmospheres look like,” he said. said Miles. “Whatever the results of my project, I believe they will provide the community with a useful set of data on what brown dwarfs and directly imaged exoplanets look like.”
Dalba works at the intersection of theory and observation, studying exoplanets similar to Jupiter and Saturn that orbit their host stars for long periods of time. He directs the Giant Outer Transiting Exoplanet Mass Survey (GOT ‘EM), a program at WM Keck Observatory and UC Lick Observatory to determine the masses of its targets. It also coordinates intercontinental campaigns that engage community scientists in multi-day observations of exoplanets slowly passing in front of their host stars. Dalba’s efforts to characterize relatively unexplored worlds expand the boundaries of observable objects and put our solar system into sharper perspective.
In her fellowship at UC Santa Cruz, Dalba will advance her GOT ‘EM findings to characterize a valuable set of giant exoplanets. After calculating the mass of each planet, he will study their metallic compositions to tell a full story about their interiors and atmospheres. This work will help answer key questions about the formation of planetary systems and prepare a selection for examination with the James Webb Space Telescope. Dalba will also work with the SETI Institute to perform exoplanet observations with the Unistellar global network of community scientists.
“It’s important to understand exactly what the giant planets do because they effectively control the rest of their environment,” he said. “If you can infer the characteristics of these objects, that provides a complete picture of the entire planetary system.”
Dalba obtained his doctorate. in Astronomy from Boston University in the fall of 2018 and is currently working as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Riverside.
The 51 Pegasi b Fellowship was established in 2017 by the Heising-Simons Foundation and is named after the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a Sun-like star. Miles and Dalba are among eight recipients to receive 2022 fellowships, which provide up to $385,000 in independent research support over three years.
The burgeoning field of planetary astronomy studies objects inside and outside our solar system, bridging planetary science and astronomy. From improving our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems to advancing new technologies for detecting other worlds, 51 Pegasi b fellows are making unique contributions to the field.