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NASA Goddard Space Scientists Earn Prestigious NASA Honors
07.02.07
 
Several space science teams and individuals have recently been awarded honors at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The various awards cover the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) team, and discoveries in merging black holes.

NASA Achievement Medal Goes to Gravitational Astrophysics Laboratory

For groundbreaking work in black hole research, Joan Centrella, head of the Gravitational Astrophysics Laboratory (GAL) and a Silver Spring, Md., resident, was presented with the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal. The NASA administrator awards the medal each year, based on significant accomplishments that contribute to the agency.

Joan Centrella and her team Image right: The Gravitational Astrophysics Lab Team. From left to right: Michael Koppitz, Jim van Meter, Joan Centrella, and John Baker. Not pictured: Dae-Il "Dale" Choi. Image Credit: Chris Gunn/NASA

Centrella, who has lead the GAL since 2004, was recognized for work simulating gravitational wave signals from merging black holes.

According to Einstein's math, when two massive black holes merge, all of space jiggles like a bowl of Jell-O as gravitational waves race out from the collision at light speed.

In the past, computer crashes plagued simulations because the math was far too complex. But the GAL team found a method to translate the equations, based on Einstein's theory of general relativity, in a way that the computers could handle.

"These mergers are by far the most powerful events occurring in the universe, with each one generating more energy than all of the stars in the universe combined," Centrella said last year, when the breakthrough was made. "Now we have realistic simulations to guide gravitational wave detectors coming online."

"Calculating the gravitational waves emitted when black holes merge is a problem that scientists have been working on for more than 30 years," Centrella said.

Though Centrella received the award, she said credit for the accomplishment goes to the entire research team.

"Our breakthroughs were made by a team of outstanding scientists that I have the privilege of leading," she said. "I am both honored and thrilled that our work has been recognized by this award."

Centrella is from Winsted, Conn. She completed undergraduate coursework at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Mass. Her doctoral degree is from Cambridge University, United Kingdom. She came to Goddard in 2001.

Postdoctoral Fellow to Receive Otto Hahn Medal

Matthias Kadler, an astrophysicist who works in Goddard’s X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory, was in Kiel, Germany, last month to accept the Max Planck Society’s Otto Hahn Medal for his study of active galactic nuclei in radio and high-energy astrophysics.

Matthias Kadler Image left: Dr. Matthias Kadler Image Courtesy: Matthias Kadler

Kadler, who lives in Baltimore, Md., took the opportunity to visit his hometown of Brake, Germany, from June 20 to June 22, before receiving the medal at the end of the month.

The society, which encourages young researchers to continue in scientific or academic careers, is named for prominent German physicist Max Planck, generally considered the father of quantum theory. The medal is named in honor of the society's first president. The medal and a monetary gift are awarded for outstanding scientific achievements, according to the society.

"The main question behind my thesis was: How do super-massive black holes form relativistic jets?" Kadler said. "I have conducted a detailed scrutiny of some individual objects. In one special case, the active galaxy NGC1052, I found a direct link between the accretion flow and the jet production. This link is now being investigated in a large multi-wavelength campaign."

"I am of course very pleased that my work is recognized like this," he said. Kadler said his work at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and his current research in Goddard’s Astrophysics Science Division "can enable us to understand the universe in a much deeper way than ever before. This award is a nice recognition [of] that."

Kadler joins only 600 recipients, who have received medals since the society started presenting them in 1978.

WMAP Science Team Earns Group Achievement Honors

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) science team has earned NASA's Group Achievement Award for their work measuring ancient microwave light, revealing the origins of our universe.

Gary Hinshaw Image right: Dr. Gary Hinshaw Image Courtesy: Gary Hinshaw

The Group Achievement Award is presented to a team that has made substantial contributions to NASA, with special consideration of the importance of the group's discoveries.

The WMAP team's full-sky polarization measurements provide new clues about events that transpired in the first trillionth of a second of the universe's existence.

In March 2006, the WMAP team released the first evidence for an inflating universe. For 25 years, inflation has been the leading theory of the early universe's nature, but not until WMAP did the theory have solid proof behind it.

To make the extremely detailed observations needed, the probe had to be able to measure microwave light variations down to one part in 10 million.

"The WMAP team has made measurements that have ushered in a new era of precision cosmology," according to the team's award nomination.

Dr. Gary Hinshaw, WMAP's data analysis lead, accepted the award on behalf of the team.

John C. Lindsay Memorial Award for Outstanding Contribution

Drake Deming, chief of Goddard's Planetary Systems Laboratory and a resident of Bowie, Md., is the 2007 recipient of the John C. Lindsay Memorial Award. Goddard honors one of its civil servant space scientists each year with this award, which is the center's highest honor for outstanding contributions in space science.

Dr. L. Drake Deming Image left: Dr. L. Drake Deming Image Courtesy: Drake Deming

Deming received this award on June 15 for his investigation of planets orbiting other stars, called extrasolar planets. His work was able to detect light from these alien worlds for the first time, using a special technique. This capability galvanized the extrasolar planet science community, leading to a flurry of follow-up studies that have revealed critical information about the temperature and composition of the planets themselves, turning data points into actual worlds.

Deming pioneered a technique to observe extrasolar planets that cross the faces of their host star. By observing the planet and star together, then subtracting the light taken when the planet passes behind the star and is thus hidden from view, astronomers can measure the temperature of the planet and glean information about its atmosphere.

In 2004, Deming and his team used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to measure a 1,580-degree F temperature of a planet orbiting the star HD 209458. Earlier this year, Deming, Jeremy Richardson, and their team published the first spectrum of an extrasolar planet called HD 209458. They found silicate dust in its upper atmosphere.

"I am greatly honored to receive this prestigious award, which has previously been given to some of Goddard's most distinguished scientists," said Deming, who came to Goddard in 1980 after a four-year stint as a Lecturer in Astronomy at the University of Maryland.

Deming points out that even more exciting discoveries will be made in the future using his technique. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will take spectra of planets orbiting in the habitable zones of cool, low-mass stars known as red dwarfs. "JWST will harvest enough light from these planets that we can look for biomarkers," says Deming. "We might find the first habitable planet beyond Earth, although the world will not be an Earth twin because it will orbit a different kind of star."

In 2006 Deming shared NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal with David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Deming earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1970 and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1976. He hails from Terre Haute, Ind.

The Lindsay Award commemorates the 1962 launch of the first of eight Orbiting Solar Observatories, which was built by John C. Lindsay and others.

"I am thrilled to congratulate all of the scientists who have been awarded for their achievements. The NASA awards represent recognitions at the Agency level of the superb work being undertaken by the Astrophysics Science Division," said Kimberly Weaver, Associate Director, Astrophysics Science Division, NASA Goddard.

NASA Goddard is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists and engineers dedicated to learning and sharing their knowledge of the Earth, Sun, Solar System and the Universe.

Related Links:

+ Information on NASA Awards
+ Merging Black Hole Research
+ The WMAP Satellite
+ The Spitzer Telescope and Extrasolar Planets
 
 
Rob Garner and Rob Naeye
Goddard Space Flight Center