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NASA Goddard Scientist Receives Top High-Energy Astronomy Prize
02.10.06
 
Dr. Tod Strohmayer of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has won this year's Bruno Rossi Prize for his pioneering work on understanding the exotic environment around fast-spinning neutron stars, where matter can whirl about at nearly light speed and where space itself is warped.

The prize is the top award given each year by the High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Strohmayer shares the award with Prof. Deepto Chakrabarty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and Dr. Rudy Wijnands of the University of Amsterdam.

Their work, done both independently and sometimes as collaborators, has been described as breakthrough in interpreting the complex signals emitted as X-ray light from millisecond pulsars. A millisecond pulsar is a type of fast-spinning neutron star in a binary system with an ordinary star.

These scientists have revealed that oscillations in the emitted light can be used to measure the pulsar's spin rate and other key parameters, including verification of Einstein's theories. Their observations were made with NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which marks its tenth year in orbit this month.

"This is an unexpected honor," said Strohmayer. "This award really acknowledges the community who built, operates and interprets data from the Rossi Explorer. Without the dedication of many scientists and engineers, none of the observations that my co-winners and I have made would have been possible."

Strohmayer, an expert on thermonuclear X-ray bursts emitted from the surface of neutron stars, credits Jean Swank, the Rossi Explorer project scientist, also at NASA Goddard, for giving him the opportunity to join the Rossi team.

Strohmayer is a native of Long Island, N.Y., and now lives in Laurel, Md. He came to NASA Goddard in 1994 to work on the Proportional Counter Array, one of three instruments on the Rossi Explorer. His doctorate degree is in physics from the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y. He worked for several years at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico before coming to NASA Goddard.

The HEAD-AAS awards the Rossi Prize in recognition of significant contributions as well as recent and original work in high-energy astrophysics. Past awards have been given for work, both theoretical and observational, in the fields of neutrinos, cosmic rays, gamma rays and X-rays. The prize is in honor of Professor Bruno Rossi, an authority on cosmic-ray physics and a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy. Bruno Rossi died in 1993. The prize also includes an engraved certificate and a $1,500 award, which will be shared among the winners.

The Rossi Explorer, launched on December 30, 2005, is managed by NASA Goddard. A new ten-year, time-lapsed movie of the flickering X-ray sky --- filled with millisecond pulsars, neutron stars and black holes --- is available at: http://rxte.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/xte/movies.html#science

More information about NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer is available at http://rxte.gsfc.nasa.gov
 
 
Susan Hendrix
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center