Friday, April 24, 2009

Interesting Astrophysics: 20 Apr to 24 Apr

Another Friday dose of interesting astronomy preprints and accepted papers. It has been a relatively quite week, with perhaps the most interesting article being a Astro2010 Decadal Survey White Paper by Williams et al on problems with the current career structure in US astronomy.

Galaxies and Starbursts

Young stellar populations and star clusters in NGC 1705
F. Annibali, M. Tosi, M. Monelli, M. Sirianni, P. Montegriffo, A. Aloisi, L. Greggio, arXiv:0904.3257 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: Accepted for publication on AJ

Star formation in extremely faint dwarf galaxies
Sambit Roychowdhury, Jayaram N. Chengalur, Ayesha Begum, Igor D. Karachentsev, arXiv:0904.2748 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: Accepted for publication in MNRAS, 14 pages (+6 pages as appendix), 5 tables, 8 figures (+2 figures in appendix)

Standard empirical star formation laws (e.g. Kennicutt relation) do not appear to work at the very low levels of SF in these objects.

Understanding Lyman-alpha emitters
Kim K. Nilsson, Klaus Meisenheimer, Nicholas Bond, Eric Gawiser, Harold Francke, Daniel Kunth, Toru Yamada, Goran Ostlin, arXiv:0904.3335 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: Workshop summary of the "Understanding Lyman-alpha Emitters" meeting in Heidelberg, Oct. 2008, 49 pages (seven contributions), to be published in New Astronomy Review. Conference home-page, with presentations, is this http URL

Black Holes and AGN

On The Maximum Mass of Stellar Black Holes
Krzysztof Belczynski, Tomasz Bulik, Chris L. Fryer, Ashley Ruiter, Jorick S. Vink, Jarrod R. Hurley, arXiv:0904.2784 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: 12 pages, ApJ submitted

AGN with strong forbidden high-ionisation lines selected from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Jonathan M. Gelbord, James R. Mullaney, Martin J. Ward, arXiv:0904.3156 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: 31 pages, 19 figures. Includes 12 pages (5 figures, 7 tables) of online-only material. To appear in MNRAS. Also available from this http URL

Instrumentation and Archives

MegaPipe: the MegaCam image stacking pipeline
Stephen D.J. Gwyn, arXiv:0904.2568 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: 4 pages. To appear in the procedings of ADASS 2008. 1500 square degrees of calibrated and stacked ugriz data publicly available at: this http URL and this http URL

Stars, Supernovae and Planets

X-Ray Spectroscopy of Stars
M. Guedel, Y. Naze, arXiv:0904.3078 [ps, pdf, other]
Comments: accepted for Astron. Astrophys. Rev., 98 journal pages, 30 figures (partly multiple); requires bibtex

Rates and Delay Times of Type Ia Supernovae
Ashley J. Ruiter, Krzysztof Belczynski, Chris L. Fryer, arXiv:0904.3108 [pdf, other]
Comments: 14 pages, 2 tables, 3 figures, submitted to ApJ


Training the Next Generation of Astronomers
Peter K. G. Williams, et al, arXiv:0904.2571 [ps, pdf, other]

Comments: 9 pp + cover page; position
paper submitted to the Astro2010 Decadal Survey Subcommittee on the
State of the Profession; small typographical corrections made;
submitted version at this http URL

In my opinion this is one of the most important White Papers I've seen. The fact is that the out-of-equilibrium career environment young astronomers find themselves in the US wastes talent, people's lives and taxpayer money. The Universities themselves don't suffer: there are always more than enough skilled researchers applying for tenure, and the larger number of skilled astronomers that don't get one of the few tenure spots bringing in even more money to the Universities through grants until they tire of the rat race and leave academia. The Universities have no financial incentive to stop cranking out vastly more PhDs than the system can support, nor to be honest about to their students and Post Docs about their chances of having a stable long term academic career.

Anyway, read the White Paper. I had hoped it would have been more quantitative. If anything I think it underestimates the current problem by focusing more on graduate students and Post Docs and ignoring the massive log-jam associated with post-Post Doctoral researchers in "soft money" positions, but perhaps that is just my bias as a disaffected soft money researcher.

Their abstract is: "While both society and astronomy have evolved greatly over the past fifty years, the academic institutions and incentives that shape our field have remained largely stagnant. As a result, the astronomical community is faced with several major challenges, including: (1) the training that we provide does not align with the skills that future astronomers will need, (2) the postdoctoral phase is becoming increasingly demanding and demoralizing, and (3) our jobs are increasingly unfriendly to families with children. Solving these problems will require conscious engineering of our profession. Fortunately, this Decadal Review offers the opportunity to revise outmoded practices to be more effective and equitable. The highest priority of the Subcommittee on the State of the Profession should be to recommend specific, funded activities that will ensure the field meets the challenges we describe. "

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