Research Highlights

Nov 5, 2015 | Extreme galaxies flinging out the highest energy photons

Gamma-ray blazars (also known as BL Lac objects) are among the most extreme galaxies, whipping up and then flinging out into intergalactic space particles at energies far beyond those attainable by the most powerful particle accelerators on Earth. The study of the variable gamma-ray emission from these energetic galaxies is possible through observation with Cherenkov light telescopes such as the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (or VERITAS, described further in the post). VERITAS recently detected a gamma-ray flare from the galaxy 1ES 1727+502 and, notably, the VERITAS observations of this galaxy in a bright state were made possible through the recent development of an innovative observing setup which enables ground-based gamma-ray telescopes to observe during bright moonlight.

Oct 28, 2015 | Taking the Polar Plunge: Engineer Turned Teacher Heads to South Pole for BICEP3

Meet Val Monticue, a systems engineer turned physics teacher. Val has spent the last two summers at Stanford University through Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education (IISME), a nonprofit, industry-education partnership that gives teachers the opportunity to gain real-world experience in various STEM disciplines through summer fellowships with host companies and universities. Val spent her summers working with KIPAC researchers building and testing the instruments for the BICEP3, which studies the cosmic microwave background radiation, light that's left over from the earliest days of the universe, from its location at the South Pole (and builds on the success of the BICEP2 project). Monticue has had a hankering to go to the South Pole since her undergraduate days at Harvey Mudd College in southern California, but she thought her contribution to BICEP3 would start and end in the lab of Chao-Lin Kuo, the KIPAC faculty member who is one of the principal investigators of the BICEP collaboration.

Oct 11, 2015 | Invasion of the Interns! SULI Students Do Cutting-edge Science at KIPAC

We recently caught up with five of the undergraduate physics students who spent their summer at KIPAC through the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program. SULI, sponsored by the Department of Energy, gives talented undergraduates the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research at a DOE laboratory; the summer sessions are 10 weeks long. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory served as the host lab and the students were housed on the Stanford University campus. Their research could take place in either location.

Jun 22, 2015 | Where are they now? An Interview with KIPAC alum Aurelien Bouvier

In the series, "Where are they now?" we check in with KIPAC alumni: where they are now, how they've fared since their days exploring particle astrophysics and cosmology at the Institute, and how their KIPAC experiences have shaped their journeys.

Jun 22, 2015 | Where are they now? 
 -- An Interview with KIPAC alum Aurelien Bouvier

In the series, "Where are they now?" we check in with KIPAC alumni: where they are now, how they've fared since their days exploring particle astrophysics and cosmology at the Institute, and how their KIPAC experiences have shaped their journeys.

Jun 18, 2015 | Detecting black hole gravitational atoms in the sky (with half-diamonds)

Our world is made up of atoms: i.e. nuclei and electrons held together by electromagnetism. At the same time, though not all particles have electric charge, they all have a gravitational “charge” (i.e. their mass). And gravity is universal and attractive. So it is only natural to ask: why don’t we observe any "atoms" bound by gravity? The answer is that gravity is weak: a small magnet can lift a nail against the gravitational pull of the entire earth. The weakness of gravity means that a gravitational “hydrogen atom” would have a radius larger than the size of the observable universe. Thus to make a gravitational atom, we need to look to places where gravity is strong—like around black holes!

Jun 2, 2015 | Where are they now? 
 -- An Interview with KIPAC alum Chihway Chang

In the series, "Where are they now?" we check in with KIPAC alumni: where they are now, how they've fared since their days exploring particle astrophysics and cosmology at the Institute, and how their KIPAC experiences have shaped their journeys.

May 5, 2015 | Fermi Identifies Cosmic Antiparticles in the Shadow of the Earth

Although the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is primarily a gamma-ray instrument, its most cited paper reports a measurement of the combined electron and positron cosmic-ray spectrum. Now a team, led by KIPAC researchers, has built on this result by using a novel technique to separate the cosmic-ray electrons and positrons and measure the spectrum of each component individually. The result will keep theorists busy thinking about pulsars and dark matter.

May 5, 2015 | Let the Sun Shine (In Gamma Rays) II

Unifying the astronomically near and far, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has seen its first signature of cosmic rays interacting with the light from our Sun.

The left panel shows the LAT gamma rays per pixel from near the Sun and the right panel shows the same for another patch of sky. There is a clear large flux from the solar disk and a less dense but extended flux surrounding it.

May 5, 2015 | Fermi LAT observes gamma rays from a huge thermonuclear explosion in space

Huge natural thermonuclear explosions, so called stellar novae, are observed in binary systems consisting of a dense compact white dwarf circling a star. The Fermi LAT has for the first time ever detected gamma-ray emission from such an event. This observation indicates particle acceleration in the shock wave produced by the nova explosion to at least GeV energies.

May 5, 2015 | Simulating Stimulating Bursts of Gamma Rays

Using powerful computer simulations, a KIPAC scientist explores the possible mechanisms behind the gamma-ray emission in the super explosions known as gamma-ray bursts.

Artist's conception of a GRB. We see the burst of gamma rays if the jets are oriented so that one points toward us. (Image courtesy of NASA)

May 5, 2015 | Cutting-Edge Physics Computing Is No Game

Ever resourceful, physicists, including several KIPAC scientists, have been using the specialized processors in computer graphics display cards to speed up some of the calculations that arise in data analysis. In the coming era of large astronomical surveys for weak lensing constraints on dark energy, such speed will be essential.