Astrophysics and Space Sciences

Physicists in the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences use experimental techniques of high-energy physics, observational techniques of astrophysics, and the laboratory study of extraterrestrial materials to address a variety of astrophysical problems. These include the origin of cosmic rays, energetic processes in galactic and extra-galactic objects, the synthesis of heavy elements in nature, the formation of dust around stars, and the history of the lunar surface and of meteorites.

The Laboratory for Space Sciences

Professor Bernatowicz is unique in the range of analytical techniques that are brought to bear on the study of extraterrestrial materials and in the breadth of scientific problems that are being addressed. The group applies state-of-the-art isotopic, chemical and physical microanalysis to ancient stardust from meteorites that was produced in the mass outflows from supernovae and red giant stars, to meteorites themselves, to interplanetary dust from comets and asteroids that is collected in the stratosphere, and to lunar samples.

Professor Cowsik's research interest include astro-particle physics, mainly galactic dynamics of dark matter and itsdetection, especially at the interface of particle physics and cosmology,astrophysics of cosmic- ray, radio, x-ray, gamma-ray and neutrinosources like accreting neutron stars and black holes, supernova remnants,galaxies, active galactic nuclei and gamma ray bursts.

Professor Ogliore analyzes dust returned from a comet and surface regolith of an asteroid, as well as the solar wind, to learn about the formation and evolution of the Solar System. He employs various microanalytical techniques to study the structure, chemical, and isotopic composition of these materials.

Cosmic Rays

Professors Binns, Bugaev, Israel and Rauch study the origin of cosmic rays and astrophysical neutrinos with instruments on spacecraft and high-altitude balloons. Their research is carried out in collaboration with scientists at institutions including Caltech, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and University of Hawaii. Students gain experience designing, building, and working with state-of-the-art electronic detector systems and using computer systems for controlling instrumentation and for analyzing large quantities of data aimed at understanding the origin of cosmic rays.

High Energy Gamma-Rays

Gamma-ray astronomy gives direct information about the most energetic objects in the universe. Professor Buckley--in collaboration with scientists from Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and other institutions in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland--observes the gamma-ray sky above a few x 1011 eV with the 10-meter atmospheric Cherenkov detector on Mount Hopkins in Arizona. With this instrument they are studying, among other things, Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), rapidly varying sources of energetic gamma rays from relativistic jets of energetic particles emitted by the massive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies.

Space-Borne X-Ray & Gamma-Ray Astronomy

Professors Krawczynski and Beilicke develop X-ray and gamma-ray detectors and use them for space-borne and X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes. The group has developed some of the highest performance Cadmiun Zinc Telluride (CZT) detector systems world wide. It is now working on the X-Calibur mission, a hard X-ray polarimeter to be flown on a high-altitude balloon flight from Fort Sumner (NM) and Long Duration Balloon flights from McMurdo (Antactica). The hard X-ray polarimeter uses a low-atomic-number scattering slab, surrounded by high-atomic-number CZT detectors to record 2-100 keV X-rays and to measure their polarization properties. The X-Calibur experiment is expected to make substantial contributions to our knowledge of how astrophysical black holes and neutron stars accrete matter.