• WHS Monk
Astronomical research has been carried out at TCD since the 1700's, and from 1792 until 1921, the Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Trinity was also Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Nowadays we carry out research on an extensive range of areas, including symbiotic stars, solar physics, space weather, active galactic nuclei, emission line diagnostics, and image processing and machine learning for astrophysics. Below are given details of current projects.
Active Region Magnetic Fields
Solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are known to originate in the upper atmosphere of the Sun. At present there are no widely-available direct methods of detecting the magnetic field structure in the upper atmosphere of the Sun. Using measurements taken at the photosphere, we are developing methods of extrapolation the magnetic field from the surface. This will enable us to examine the changing topology of active regions as they emerge, flare and decay. Of particular interest is the location of magnetic null points and speratrix surface where magnetic reconnection is know to occur.
We are also developing multifractal techniques to characerise the changing complexity of surface magnetic field distributions in active regions. These methods are desribed in greater detail in Conlon et al (Sol. Phys., 2007). Further details on research in this area can be found on the Solar Physics Group website.
A nova is a thermonuclear explosion that occurs on the surface of a white dwarf
star in a double-star system. It is thought that the dwarf star periodically
accretes sufficient material from the outer layers of its companion for nuclear
fusion to occur. The resulting thermonuclear detonation releases enormous
quantities of energy and ejects large amounts of material outwards in an
expanding shell. One subgroup of these objects are symbiotic
binary stars (red giant + white dwarf) which undergo periodic outbursts.
To understand the exact nature of these events, we are
analysing a series of far-ultraviolet FUSE
spectra. By analysing the absorption features diagnosing this material, we can learn about the composition and the thermal and
dynamical properties of this gas.
Coronal Mass Ejections
Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are large eruptions of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun which expand out into the solar system at hundreds of kilometers a second. They can impact the Earth's magnetic field, causing disruptions to satellite systems, GPS and telecommunication networks. The diffuse nature of CMEs observed by SOHO/LASCO and STEREO make it difficult to identify their morphology and kinematics. We are therefore developing multiscale image processing techniques to study the detailed physics of CMEs. By automatically determining the CME front, its kinematics can be studied (height, velocity, acceleration) as well as its morphology (curvature, expansion, rotation).
Stellar Winds from Red Giants and Supergiants
Red giants are observed to drive matter back into space in outflows called stellar winds. For many types of stars there are theories that can explain this phenomenon, but for the red giant and supergiant stars there is no working theory. Our understanding is being driven by detailed new observations across the electromagnetic spectrum. At Trinity College we are combining measurements of the outflow velocities (which inform us about the momentum balance) with new techniques to measure the outflow temperature (which inform us about the energy balance). These are being used to confront theoretical models.
As part of this study we are currently using the newly upgraded EVLA radio interferometer in New Mexico to observe our two nearest red giants, Arcturus and Aldebaran. The change in radio flux with frequency allows us to measure the thermal structure of their winds for the first time.
This research is supported by Science Foundation Ireland, IRCSET, the EU's Framework Programmes, the Royal Irish Academy, ESA and NASA.