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Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith

(University of California, Berkley)

Growing up in Wisconsin, Nathan was more interested in art, music, and skateboarding than in astronomy. Unlike many astronomers, Nathan did
not have a telescope as a child, but he did have an unfulfilled passion for fireworks, campfires, or most anything loud, bright, and flammable. Luckily, through astronomy he was able to find a constructive and legal outlet for this interest in explosions. This partially explains his interest in mass loss from the most massive stars and their violent deaths as supernovae. Nathan spends a fair
amount of time studying what is probably the most massive and violently unstable star known, Eta Carinae. This object and other massive stars called luminous blue variables repeatedly eject large
amounts of matter from their surfaces, somewhat like volcanic eruptions, for reasons that are still a mystery. When the star explodes as a supernova, the shock wave then plows into this material, making a fantastic fireworks display. One example of this that Nathan has studied recently was called Supernova 2006gy, which happened to be the most luminous supernova ever recorded.

Nathan also studies various aspects of the birth of stars in violent regions surrounding these massive stars, such as the Carina Nebula, which has the monster star Eta Carinae residing at its center. In these massive star-forming regions, the pounding UV radiation from the massive hot stars and eventually their deaths as supernova explosions will influence the fate of young versions of our Solar System that may
be forming nearby.

As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Nathan majored in music and also studied some astronomy when there was extra time late at night. After playing classical music in India for a spell and touring the US in a painfully loud rock band for a few years, he finally was overtaken by his fascination with stars. He earned Bachelor's degrees in music and astronomy from Minnesota in 1997, received a Master's in astronomy from Boston University in 1999, and came back to Minnesota to finish a PhD in astronomy in 2002. He was then a NASA Hubble Fellow at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and is currently a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley.

In his observational research, he uses Hubble as well as several ground based telescopes. He notes that one of the perks of studying Eta Carinae and the Carina Nebula is that they can only be seen from the southern hemisphere, requiring frequent trips to mountaintop observatories in Chile, among other exotic places. When not doing research in astronomy, Nathan enjoys playing experimental free jazz music, painting, climbing mountains, and questioning the authority of the government that supports his science.

John Bally

John Bally

(University of Colorado at Boulder)

John Bally is a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He received his BS at the University of California, Berkeley; MS and PhD in astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. John started working in observational aspects of star formation in the late 1970s, participating in the Bell Labs group surveying the Galaxy. This early work culminated in the first solid article about protostellar outflows  in the Astrophysical Journal  in 1983. In the 1990s and 2000s he has continued to work on protostellar outflows, but changed focus from the molecular gas studies in CO to optical and IR studies of jets and Herbig-Haro objects. In particular, using with large field ground-based CCDs he discovered parsec-scale jets and outflows from protostars, ten times larger that previously thought. In addition, John has used HST extensively to study the morphology and kinematics of HH objects and Jets.


Nolan Walborn

Nolan Walborn


Although he was born just 200 km north of Baltimore, astronomer Nolan Walborn traveled widely before returning to this area of the world. When he was 8 years old his family moved to Argentina, where he attended local schools and became fluent in Spanish. Returning to the U.S., he did undergraduate studies at Gettysburg College, back home in Pennsylvania, and then moved on to the University of Chicago and Yerkes Observatory to obtain his PhD in astronomy in 1970. His thesis advisor was one of the giants of 20th-century astronomy, W. W. Morgan.

After a postdoctoral fellowship in Toronto, Nolan returned to Latin America for an 8-year staff appointment at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. He has been on the staff of the Space Telescope Science Institute since 1984, and he is a well-known stellar spectroscopist specializing in the optical and ultraviolet spectra of hot, massive (O- and B-type) stars and the regions of the Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds in which they are formed.

Nolan recalls that his fascination with science in general and astronomy in particular arose because of outstanding teachers in high school (Dr. N. Mittelman) and college (Dr. R. Mara and staff). This fascination was actually enough for him to abandon his original ambition to become a jet fighter pilot!

He writes that his astronomical career has allowed him the great satisfaction "provided by the discovery of new phenomena, which one has the privilege of recognizing for the first time." He has been struck by the "awesome direct views of the Galaxy during perfect, moonless nights on Cerro Tololo," especially when "the Galactic Center is directly overhead, and the brilliant plane of the Milky Way, broken by dark dust lanes and clouds, stretches from Cygnus at the northeastern horizon to Carina at the southwestern."

Waxing lyrical, he continues "When beholding such sights I am impressed by their beauty, but equally by the satisfaction of understanding them at some level, which previous generations were unable to do lacking the benefit of our modern sciences. I'll never forget the images of 30 Doradus and the globular clusters Omega Centauri and 47 Tucanae through an eyepiece at the prime focus of the CTIO 4-meter reflector. Unfortunately, most modern astronomers no longer have such opportunities, seeing their targets only on colorless, fuzzy TV monitors--or not at all with HST!"

When away from STScI, Nolan spends time with his wife, Laura, from Argentina, who also has an astronomy degree, and their children Andrew and Katherine. He enjoys listening to baroque and symphonic music (Bach and Vaughan Williams being his respective favorites), and he wishes he had more opportunities to snorkel in tropical waters.

Jon Morse

Jon Morse

(Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Lab)

Jon Morse is a Harvard graduate, and earned his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina in 1992. His research interests include studies of star formation, high-mass stars, supernovae and supernova remnants, and active galaxies. He is also the Project Scientist for the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph instrument that will be installed by astronauts during the next Hubble Servicing Mission. Despite working for over a decade with Hubble data, he continues to marvel at the astonishing details revealed in each new image, even within objects such as Cas A that have been studied for decades.

Josh Walawender

Josh Walawender

(Institute for Astronomy/University of Hawaii)

Josh Walawender is currently a postdoc at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawai'i. His research primarily focuses on using wide field surveys to examine the role of protostellar outflows in star formation feedback. He earned his PhD in 2006 at the University of Colorado.