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William Henney
William Henney

William Henney

William Henney is an astronomer at the Instituto de Astronomía of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). He arrived in Mexico in 1992 as a postdoctoral researcher at the UNAM's main campus in Mexico City, obtaining a permanent position a few years later.

For the last five years, William has worked in the colonial city of Morelia, in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where the UNAM is developing a new campus devoted to research and graduate teaching..

Before coming to Mexico, William studied at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester in the United Kingdom. His recent work on planetary nebulae, although a new departure in some respects, can also be seen as a return to old themes:

"My very first research project as a PhD student in Manchester was to study the dynamics of nebulae around symbiotic stars, which are very similar to planetary nebulae in many respects."

The main object of William's current research is the Orion nebula, one of the closest regions to Earth where very massive, bright stars have recently formed. His work combines observations with simple physical models and computer simulations. He is particularly interested in the objects known as proplyds, which are believed to arise when young low-mass stars, still surrounded by a disk of gas and dust, are exposed to the strong ultraviolet radiation in the interior of the nebula. He has also worked on the shock waves driven by stellar jets, particle winds, and supernova explosions, and on the scattering of light by grains of dust.

"I have always been attracted by the visual aspect of astronomy. However, it is important not to lose oneself in the pretty pictures. The most satisfying aspect of my work is when complex-looking data can be understood in terms of simple physical principles. Of course, since our understanding is only ever partial, there is always more work to do ..."

Apart from his astronomical work, William is also in charge of the computer network in his institute. He is also an editor of the Mexican academic astronomy journal (Revista Mexicana de Astronomía y Astrofísica), where he has been responsible for modernizing the production process and producing an electronic edition.

When he is not working, William enjoys swimming, playing with his son's Lego, and relaxing in his hammock with the London Review of Books.