August 2017 Letter from the Director

Great American Solar Eclipse
The big event on campus in August, and around the U.S. for that matter, was the total solar eclipse. Expectations on campus were built by the "Q&A: Solar Eclipses for Newbies" web article produced by our new Communications and Digital Media Coordinator Roberto Molar Candanosa, who interviewed Postdoctoral Fellow Erika Nesvold for insights on the eclipse. BBR hosted an eclipse-viewing event and made sure to provide appropriate safety glasses for the assembled crowd as they watched slightly more than 80% of the Sun vanish behind the Moon.
Carnegie's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Geophysical Laboratory, and P-Street watched the solar eclipse from the Greenewalt Patio on the Broad Branch Road Campus.

Many on campus took the opportunity to travel to various spots along the track of totality. As one of those lucky enough to be able to do so, I can testify to the building excitement of the gradually greying sky, the noticeable drop in temperature on approach to totality, and the thrill when the Sun finally "winked-out." To see stars and planets in the noonday sky illuminated by the soft glow of the Sun's corona was an experience not soon to be forgotten. For those with appropriate camera equipment, the eclipse also created opportunities for solar photography, as in these examples taken by Staff Scientist Alycia Weinberger's father, Laurence Weinberger, in Wilson, WY, just outside Grand Teton National Park. My own viewing came courtesy of Carnegie Observatories Director John Mulchaey, who arranged a weekend event hosted by Carnegie Trustee Craig Barrett at his and Barbara Barrett's Triple Creek Ranch in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, where I led a short geology field trip. From Montana, we drove south into the path of totality to watch the eclipse from a basketball court in a children's summer camp in Challis, ID. We watched in awe and growing anticipation until cheers erupted at the moment totality was reached.

The total solar eclipse pictured from the path of totality in Wilson, WY, near Grand Teton National Park. Pictures courtesy Laurence Weinberger.

Of course, the culprit responsible for occulting the Sun is the Moon, whose combination of size and distance is adjusted with such cosmic perfection as to barely shadow the whole of the Sun, leaving its corona, and in this eclipse, several solar flares, clearly visible. The Moon has been a subject of much research pursued by the DTM and Geophysical Lab staff, as we recounted during our celebration of National Moon Day back in July.

DTM's Participation in the International Science Community

DTM scientists and their colleagues traditionally use the summer months for travel to conferences or to the field. For example, this August, Research Trainee, Maggie Thompson, journeyed to Iceland. While there, she visited Lava, the recently opened Iceland Volcano and Earthquake Center. Among the exhibits, the Center prominently displays a 12-meter tall recreation of the plume of hot material rising in the mantle beneath Iceland that is based on the seismic image obtained by the project headed by former DTM Director Sean Solomon working with former postdocs Cecily Wolfe, Ingi Bjarnason, and John VanDecar.


This summer, DTM sent subsets of its staff and postdocs to the 80th Meteoritical Society Meeting in Santa Fe, the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Paris, the Extremely Precise Radial Velocity Workshop in Pennsylvania, the Accretion: Building New Worlds Workshop in Houston, and the meeting of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior in Portland. DTM's leadership role in such conferences is reflected in Staff Scientist Larry Nittler serving as Vice Chair of this year's Gordon Conference on the Origin of Solar Systems. At that meeting, Alycia Weinberger was elected by the attendees to serve the same role in next year's conference.

Teachers Jeremy Wolf and Kelly Peterson use DTM's mass spectrometry instruments to find the age of zircon crystals within rocks. Photo courtesy Aubrey Vaughan. 

We not only attend various international meetings during the summer, but host many events for visitors to our campus. In August, for example, we hosted visitors from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for a tour of the campus. We also played our annual role in the Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers, where Emma Bullock, GL's microbeam specialist, developed a low tech—and quite tasty—activity that used M&Ms™ to demonstrate the concept of a half-life. Once this basic material was covered, the teachers performed their own radiometric age dating of zircons using the high-tech laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers of the DTM geochemistry group.

Summer Science

Science doesn't stop during the summer, however. Two exciting and diverse examples of the work done at DTM are Staff Scientist Diana Roman's publication of a paper that applies automated sound recognition techniques to analyze the seismic signals from volcanoes, teasing out those that point to an impending eruption. On a larger spatial scale, Staff Scientist Alan Boss explored the mechanisms by which newly synthesized materials in a supernova can instigate the formation of, and inject material into, the Solar System. This study had the goal of explaining the distribution of the short-lived radioactive isotope iron-60 as outlined by the work of Postdoctoral Fellow Myriam Telus, who just this month took up her position as Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The colors represent the relative amounts of short-lived radioactive isotopes, such as iron-60, injected into a newly formed protoplanetary disk (seen face on with the protostar being the light purple blob in the middle) by a supernova shock wave. Image courtesy Alan Boss.

September marks the beginning of the arrival of the new class of postdoctoral fellows and associates, and the return of both seminars and lunch club to campus. We also have an exciting schedule of Tuve Senior Fellows and Neighborhood Lectures planned for the Fall, so please stay tuned for the details of these upcoming activities of general interest at BBR.

Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science
August 2017 Newsletter

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