BYU Astronomy Research Group Joins the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC)

As of January 2021 BYU will be a member of the ARC Consortium (Link to Consortium) with access to the ARC 3.5-m telescope and the 0.5-m ARCSAT telescope.  The primary use of the ARC 3.5-m telescope time is for graduate student projects.  This provides a wide array of instrumentation that is currently being used to study objects in the solar system all the way to studies of the large scale structure of the Universe.

Other BYU Astronomy Facilities

In addition to our telescope time from the ARC consortium, we operate a number of our own astronomical facilities

West Mountain Observatory (West Mountain)

This is our mountain observatory at about 6600 ft above sea level.  This consists of three telescopes: 0.9-m, 0.5-m, and a 0.32-m. It is a 40 minute drive that ends in a 5 miles drive up a dirt road. The mountain itself can be seen from campus. We don't provide any tours of this facility.

Orson Pratt Observatory

The Orson Pratt Observatory is named for an early apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It is our campus telescope facility and contains a wide variety of telescopes for student research and public outreach. We operate a 24" PlaneWave telescope in the main campus dome, plus a 16", two 12", one 8", and a 6" telescope on our observation deck.  The telescopes are all fully robotic. Beyond this we have a large sections of telescopes used on public nights.

Royden G. Derrick Planetarium (Planetarium)

This is a 119 seat, 39" dome planetarium with acoustically treated walls to allow it's use as a lecture room. Recently we upgraded to an E&S Digistar7 operating system with 4K projectors.  The planetarium is used for teaching classes, public outreach, and astronomy education research projects.





Selected Publications

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BYU Authors: Darin Ragozzine, published in Nature
The small bodies in the Solar System are thought to have been highly affected by collisions and erosion. In the asteroid belt, direct evidence of the effects of large collisions can be seen in the existence of separate families of asteroids - a family consists of many asteroids with similar orbits and, frequently, similar surface properties, with each family being the remnant of a single catastrophic impact(1). In the region beyond Neptune, in contrast, no collisionally created families have hitherto been found(2). The third largest known Kuiper belt object, 2003 EL61, however, is thought to have experienced a giant impact that created its multiple satellite system, stripped away much of an overlying ice mantle, and left it with a rapid rotation(3-5). Here we report the discovery of a family of Kuiper belt objects with surface properties and orbits that are nearly identical to those of 2003 EL61. This family appears to be fragments of the ejected ice mantle of 2003 EL61.
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BYU Authors: Laralee Ireland and Scott D. Sommerfeldt, published in INTER-NOISE and NOISE-CON Congress and Conference Proceedings, NoiseCon00, pp. 71-76, (Newport Beach CA, December 2000).
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BYU Authors: Benjamin D. Boizelle, published in Astrophys. J.

We present 0.'' 14 resolution Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) CO(2-1) observations of the circumnuclear gas disk in UGC 2698, a local compact galaxy. The disk exhibits regular rotation with projected velocities rising to 450 km s(-1) near the galaxy center. We fit gas-dynamical models to the ALMA data cube, assuming the CO emission originates from a dynamically cold, thin disk, and measured the mass of the supermassive black hole (BH) in UGC 2698 to be M-BH = (2.46 +/- 0.07 [1 sigma statistical](-0.78)(+0.70) [systematic]) x 10(9) M-circle dot. UGC 2698 is part of a sample of nearby early-type galaxies that are plausible z similar to 2 red nugget relics. Previous stellar-dynamical modeling for three galaxies in the sample found BH masses consistent with the BH mass-stellar velocity dispersion (M-BH - sigma(star)) relation but over-massive relative to the BH mass-bulge luminosity (M-BH - L-bul) correlation, suggesting that BHs may gain the majority of their mass before their host galaxies. However, UGC 2698 is consistent with both M-BH - sigma(star) and M-BH - L-bul. As UGC 2698 has the largest stellar mass and effective radius in the local compact galaxy sample, it may have undergone more recent mergers that brought it in line with the BH scaling relations. Alternatively, given that the three previously measured compact galaxies are outliers from M-BH - L-bul, while UGC 2698 is not, there may be significant scatter at the poorly sampled high-mass end of the relation. Additional gas-dynamical M-BH measurements for the compact galaxy sample will improve our understanding of BH-galaxy co-evolution.

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BYU Authors: Benjamin D. Boizelle, published in Astrophys. J.

We present Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Cycle 5 and Cycle 6 observations of CO (2−1) and CO (3−2) emission at 0.″2−0.″3 resolution in two radio-bright, brightest group/cluster early-type galaxies, NGC 315 and NGC 4261. The data resolve CO emission that extends within their black hole (BH) spheres of influence (rg), tracing regular Keplerian rotation down to just tens of parsecs from the BHs. The projected molecular gas speeds in the highly inclined (i ≳ 60°) disks rise at least to 500 km s−1 near their galaxy centers. We fit dynamical models of thin-disk rotation directly to the ALMA data cubes and account for the extended stellar mass distributions by constructing galaxy surface brightness profiles corrected for a range of plausible dust extinction values. The best-fit models yield  for NGC 315 and  for NGC 4261, the latter of which is larger than previous estimates by a factor of ∼3. The BH masses are broadly consistent with the relations between BH masses and host galaxy properties. These are among the first ALMA observations to map dynamically cold gas kinematics well within the BH-dominated regions of radio galaxies, resolving the respective rg by factors of ∼5−10. The observations demonstrate ALMA’s ability to precisely measure BH masses in active galaxies, which will enable more confident probes of accretion physics for the most massive galaxies.

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BYU Authors: Benjamin D. Boizelle, published in Astrophys. J.

We present ~0farcs10 resolution Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) CO(2−1) imaging of the arcsecond-scale (r ≈ 150 pc) dusty molecular disk in the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 3258. The data provide unprecedented resolution of the cold gas disk kinematics within the dynamical sphere of influence of a supermassive black hole (BH), revealing a quasi-Keplerian central increase in projected rotation speed rising from 280 km s−1 at the disk's outer edge to >400 km s−1 near the disk center. We construct dynamical models for the rotating disk and fit beam-smeared model CO line profiles directly to the ALMA data cube. Our models incorporate both flat and tilted-ring disks that provide a better fit of the mildly warped structure in NGC 3258. We show that the exceptional angular resolution of the ALMA data makes it possible to infer the host galaxy's mass profile within r = 150 pc solely from the ALMA CO kinematics, without relying on optical or near-infrared imaging data to determine the stellar mass profile. Our model therefore circumvents any uncertainty in the BH mass that would result from the substantial dust extinction in the galaxy's central region. The best model fit yields ${M}_{\mathrm{BH}}=2.249\times {10}^{9}$ ${M}_{\odot }$, with a statistical model-fitting uncertainty of just 0.18% and systematic uncertainties of 0.62% from various aspects of the model construction and 12% from uncertainty in the distance to NGC 3258. This observation demonstrates the full potential of ALMA for carrying out highly precise measurements of ${M}_{\mathrm{BH}}$ in early-type galaxies containing circumnuclear gas disks.

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BYU Authors: Benjamin D. Boizelle, published in ASP Conference Series

Emission line observations of circumnuclear gas disks in the ALMA era have begun to resolve molecular gas tracer kinematics near supermassive black holes (BHs), enabling highly precise mass determination in the best cases. The ngVLA is capable of extremely high spatial resolution imaging of the CO(1–0) transition at 115 GHz for nearby galaxies. Furthermore, its high (anticipated) emission line sensitivity suggests this array can produce benchmark BH mass measurements. We discuss lessons learned from gas-dynamical modeling of recent ALMA data sets and also compare ALMA and ngVLA CO simulations of a dynamically cold disk. While only a fraction of all local galaxies likely possess sufficiently bright, regularly-rotating nuclear molecular gas, in such cases the ngVLA is expected to more efficiently resolve such emission arising at a projected 50–100 mas from the central BH.