Cambridge, MA, United States

Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

www.cfa.harvard.edu/
Cambridge, MA, United States

The Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is one of the largest and most diverse astrophysical institutions in the world, where scientists carry out a broad program of research in astronomy, astrophysics, earth and space science, and science education. The center's mission is to advance knowledge and understanding of the universe through research and education in astronomy and astrophysics.The center was founded in 1973 as a joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University. It consists of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The center's main facility is located between Concord Avenue and Garden Street, with its mailing address and main entrance at 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Beyond this location there are also additional satellite facilities elsewhere around the globe. The current director of the CfA, Charles R. Alcock, was named in 2004. The director from 1982 to 2004 was Irwin I. Shapiro. Wikipedia.

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Reid M.J.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | Honma M.,Japan National Astronomical Observatory
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2014

Astrometry provides the foundation for astrophysics. Accurate positions are required for the association of sources detected at different times or wavelengths, and distances are essential to estimate the size, luminosity, mass, and ages of most objects. Very long baseline interferometry at radio wavelengths, with diffraction-limited imaging at submilliarcsecond resolution, has long held the promise of microarcsecond astrometry. However, only in the past decade has this been routinely achieved. Currently, parallaxes for sources across the Milky Way are being measured with ∼10 μas accuracy, and proper motions of galaxies are being determined with accuracies of ∼1 μas year-1. The astrophysical applications of these measurements cover many fields, including star formation, evolved stars, stellar and supermassive black holes, Galactic structure, the history and fate of the Local Group, the Hubble constant, and tests of general relativity. This review summarizes the methods used and the astrophysical applications of microarcsecond radio astrometry. Copyright © 2014 by Annual Reviews.


Kipping D.M.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society | Year: 2014

Eclipsing systems, such as transiting exoplanets, allow one to measure the mean stellar density of the host star under various idealized assumptions. Asterodensity profiling (AP) compares this density to an independently determined value in order to check the validity of the assumptions and ultimately derive useful parameters. Several physical effects can cause said assumptions to become invalid, with the most well-known example being the so-called photoeccentric effect. In thiswork,we provide analytic expressions for five other effectswhich induce AP deviations: the photoblend, -spot, -timing, -duration and -mass effects.We find that these effects can easily reproduce large AP deviations and so we caution that extracting the eccentricity distribution is only viable with careful consideration of the prior distributions for these other effects. We also re-investigate the photoeccentric effect and derive a single-domain minimum eccentricity expression and the parameter range for which analytic formulae are valid. The latter result shows that the assumptions underlying the analytic model for the photoeccentric effect break down for close-in, highly eccentric planets, meaning that extreme care must be taken in this regime. Finally, we demonstrate that contaminated light fraction can be solved for, indicating that AP could be a potent tool for planet validation. © 2014 The Author Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Youdin A.N.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Astrophysical Journal | Year: 2011

We develop a general method to fit the underlying planetary distribution function (PLDF) to exoplanet survey data. This maximum likelihood method accommodates more than one planet per star and any number of planet or target star properties. We apply the method to announced Kepler planet candidates that transit solar-type stars. The Kepler team's estimates of the detection efficiency are used and are shown to agree with theoretical predictions for an ideal transit survey. The PLDF is fit to a joint power law in planet radius, down to 0.5 R ⊕, and orbital period, up to 50days. The estimated number of planets per star in this sample is ∼0.7-1.4, where the range covers systematic uncertainties in the detection efficiency. To analyze trends in the PLDF we consider four planet samples, divided between shorter and longer periods at 7days and between large and small radii at 3 R ⊕. The size distribution changes appreciably between these four samples, revealing a relative deficit of ∼3 R⊕ planets at the shortest periods. This deficit is suggestive of preferential evaporation and sublimation of Neptune- and Saturn-like planets. If the trend and explanation hold, it would be spectacular observational support of the core accretion and migration hypotheses, and would allow refinement of these theories. © 2011. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved..


Berger E.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2014

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) display a bimodal duration distribution with a separation between the short- and long-duration bursts at about 2 s. The progenitors of long GRBs have been identified as massive stars based on their association with Type Ic core-collapse supernovae (SNe), their exclusive location in star-forming galaxies, and their strong correlation with bright UV regions within their host galaxies. Short GRBs have long been suspected on theoretical grounds to arise from compact object binary mergers (neutron star-neutron star or neutron star-black hole). The discovery of short GRB afterglows in 2005 provided the first insight into their energy scale and environments, as well as established a cosmological origin, a mix of host-galaxy types, and an absence of associated SNe. In this review, I summarize nearly a decade of short GRB afterglow and host-galaxy observations and use this information to shed light on the nature and properties of their progenitors, the energy scale and collimation of the relativistic outflow, and the properties of the circumburst environments. The preponderance of the evidence points to compact object binary progenitors, although some open questions remain. On the basis of this association, observations of short GRBs and their afterglows can shed light on the on- and off-axis electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave sources from the Advanced LIGO/Virgo experiments. Copyright © 2014 by Annual Reviews.


Yuan F.,Chinese Academy of Sciences | Narayan R.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2014

Black hole accretion flows can be divided into two broad classes: cold and hot. Whereas cold accretion flows consist of cool optically thick gas and are found at relatively high mass accretion rates, hot accretion flows, the topic of this review, are virially hot and optically thin, and occur at lower mass accretion rates. They are described by accretion solutions such as the advection-dominated accretion flow and luminous hot accretion flow. Because of energy advection, the radiative efficiency of these flows is in general lower than that of a standard thin accretion disk. Moreover, the efficiency decreases with decreasing mass accretion rate. Observations show that hot accretion flows are associated with jets. In addition, theoretical arguments suggest that hot flows should produce strong winds. Hot accretion flows are believed to be present in low-luminosity active galactic nuclei and in black hole X-ray binaries in the hard and quiescent states. The prototype is Sgr A, the ultralow-luminosity supermassive black hole at our Galactic center. The jet, wind, and radiation from a supermassive black hole with a hot accretion flow can interact with the external interstellar medium and modify the evolution of the host galaxy. Copyright © 2014 by Annual Reviews.


Kipping D.M.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society | Year: 2013

Stellar limb darkening affects a wide range of astronomical measurements and is frequently modelled with a parametric model using polynomials in the cosine of the angle between the line of sight and the emergent intensity. Two-parameter laws are particularly popular for cases where one wishes to fit freely for the limb darkening coefficients (i.e. an uninformative prior) due to the compact prior volume and the fact that more complex models rarely obtain unique solutions with the present data. In such cases, we show that the two limb darkening coefficients are constrained by three physical boundary conditions, describing a triangular region in the two-dimensional parameter space.We show that uniformly distributed samples may be drawn from this region with optimal efficiency by a technique developed by computer graphical programming: triangular sampling. Alternatively, one can make draws using a uniform, bivariate Dirichlet distribution.We provide simple expressions for these parametrizations for both techniques applied to the case of quadratic, square-root and logarithmic limb darkening laws. For example, in the case of the popular quadratic law, we advocate fitting for q1 = (u1 + u2)2 and q2 = 0.5u1(u1 + u2)-1 with uniform priors in the interval [0, 1] to implement triangular sampling easily. Employing these parametrizations allows one to derive model parameters which fully account for our ignorance about the intensity profile, yet never explore unphysical solutions, yielding robust and realistic uncertainty estimates. Furthermore, in the case of triangular sampling with the quadratic law, our parametrization leads to significantly reduced mutual correlations and provides an alternative geometric explanation as to why naively fitting the quadratic limb darkening coefficients precipitates strong correlations in the first place. © 2013 The Authors Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Kipping D.M.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters | Year: 2013

It is suggested that the distribution of orbital eccentricities for extrasolar planets is well described by theBeta distribution. Several properties of the Beta distributionmake it a powerful tool for this purpose. For example, the Beta distribution can reproduce a diverse range of probability density functions (PDFs) using just two shape parameters (a and b). We argue that this makes it ideal for serving as a parametric model in Bayesian comparative population analysis. The Beta distribution is also uniquely defined over the interval zero to unity, meaning that it can serve as a proper prior for eccentricity when analysing the observations of bound extrasolar planets. Using nested sampling, we find that the distribution of eccentricities for 396 exoplanets detected through radial velocity with high signal-to-noise is well described by a Beta distribution with parameters a = 0.867+0.044 -0.044 and b = 3.03+0.17 -0.16. The Beta distribution is shown to be 3.7 times more likely to represent the underlying distribution of exoplanet eccentricities than the next best model: a Rayleigh + exponential distribution. The same data are also used in an example population comparison utilizing the Beta distribution, where we find that the short- and long-period planets are described by distinct Beta distributions at a confidence of 11.6σ and display a signature consistent with the effects of tidal circularization. © 2013 The Authors Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Bai X.-N.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Astrophysical Journal | Year: 2013

Non-ideal magnetohydrodynamical effects play a crucial role in determining the mechanism and efficiency of angular momentum transport as well as the level of turbulence in protoplanetary disks (PPDs), which are the key to understanding PPD evolution and planet formation. It was shown in our previous work that at 1 AU, the magnetorotational instability (MRI) is completely suppressed when both ohmic resistivity and ambipolar diffusion (AD) are taken into account, resulting in a laminar flow with accretion driven by magnetocentrifugal wind. In this work, we study the radial dependence of the laminar wind solution using local shearing-box simulations. The scaling relation on the angular momentum transport for the laminar wind is obtained, and we find that the wind-driven accretion rate can be approximated as yr-1, where Bp is the strength of the large-scale poloidal magnetic field threading the disk. The result is independent of disk surface density. Four criteria are outlined for the existence of the laminar wind solution: (1) ohmic resistivity dominated the midplane region, (2) the AD-dominated disk upper layer, (3) the presence of a (not too weak) net vertical magnetic flux, and (4) sufficiently well-ionized gas beyond the disk surface. All these criteria are likely to be met in the inner region of the disk from ∼0.3 AU to about 5-10 AU for typical PPD accretion rates. Beyond this radius, the angular momentum transport is likely to proceed due to a combination of the MRI and disk wind, and eventually completely dominated by the MRI (in the presence of strong AD) in the outer disk. Our simulation results provide key ingredients for a new paradigm on the accretion processes in PPDs. © 2013. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.


Di Stefano R.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Astrophysical Journal | Year: 2010

In a canonical model, the progenitors of Type Ia supernovae (SNe Ia) are accreting, nuclear-burning white dwarfs (NBWDs), which explode when the white dwarf reaches the Chandrasekhar mass, MC . Such massive NBWDs are hot (kT ∼ 100eV), luminous (L ∼ 1038ergs-1), and are potentially observable as luminous supersoft X-ray sources (SSSs). During the past several years, surveys for soft X-ray sources in external galaxies have been conducted. This paper shows that the results falsify the hypothesis that a large fraction of progenitors are NBWDs which are presently observable as SSSs. The data also place limits on sub-MC models. While SN Ia progenitors may pass through one or more phases of SSS activity, these phases are far shorter than the time needed to accrete most of the matter that brings them close to MC. © 2010. The American Astronomical Society.


Cranmer S.R.,Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Astrophysical Journal, Supplement Series | Year: 2014

Protons in the solar corona and heliosphere exhibit anisotropic velocity distributions, violation of magnetic moment conservation, and a general lack of thermal equilibrium with the other particle species. There is no agreement about the identity of the physical processes that energize non-Maxwellian protons in the solar wind, but a traditional favorite has been the dissipation of ion cyclotron resonant Alfvén waves. This paper presents kinetic models of how ion cyclotron waves heat protons on their journey from the corona to interplanetary space. It also derives a wide range of new solutions for the relevant dispersion relations, marginal stability boundaries, and nonresonant velocity-space diffusion rates. A phenomenological model containing both cyclotron damping and turbulent cascade is constructed to explain the suppression of proton heating at low alpha-proton differential flow speeds. These effects are implemented in a large-scale model of proton thermal evolution from the corona to 1 AU. A Monte Carlo ensemble of realistic wind speeds, densities, magnetic field strengths, and heating rates produces a filled region of parameter space (in a plane described by the parallel plasma beta and the proton temperature anisotropy ratio) similar to what is measured. The high-beta edges of this filled region are governed by plasma instabilities and strong heating rates. The low-beta edges correspond to weaker proton heating and a range of relative contributions from cyclotron resonance. On balance, the models are consistent with other studies that find only a small fraction of the turbulent power spectrum needs to consist of ion cyclotron waves. © 2014. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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