Astronomy is often called the oldest science -- in many ways, it is also one of the newest! Our business is the physical study of stars and stellar systems in the observable universe, what might more properly be called astrophysics. Because astronomers really can't experiment on stars, experimentalists are called observers instead. They supply the observational details of positions, fluxes, and spectra to theoreticians, who model the evolution and development of objects ranging from comets to stars to entire galaxies. Scientists who study the surfaces of planets are more typically found in geology programs, while scientists who specialize in the study of upper atmospheres and magnetospheres of planets, and the regions between the planets, are generally housed in space physics groups.
With the retirement of Professor Stephen J. Shawl in Spring 2009 and the addition of two new faculty in Fall 2008, the University of Kansas Astronomy Group includes four full-time faculty astronomers, Professor Barbara J. Anthony-Twarog, Professor Steven A. Hawley, Assistant Professor Greg Rudnick, and Professor Bruce Twarog, as well as two adjunct faculty (Scott Baird, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Benedictine College, Atchison and Karen Camarda, Associate Professor in the Physics Department at Washburn University in Topeka). The ongoing research at KU deals with the observation and intrepretation of single stars and clusters, both within the Milky Way and in nearby galaxies, and the structure and evolution of galaxies at large redshift, i.e., in the distant past. Among the researchers, use is made of the facilities of the Hubble Space Telescope , Kitt Peak National Observatory, Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory, and the Gemini telescopes in Chile and on Mauna Kea, federally funded observatories operated in the northern and southern hemispheres of the Americas, Steward Observatory in Arizona and NURO, the National Undergraduate Research Observatory. Our studies are designed to probe the detailed evolution of single stars and the origin and evolution of star clusters through CCD photometric analysis using intermediate-band filters, and the origin and evolution of the Milky Way from study of the oldest field star populations and clusters, and the evolution of distant galaxies using a mixture of both photometric imaging and spectroscopy. Future observational research will include 40% of the available telescope time using the ULTRA 1-m telescope at Mt. Laguna Observatory, in collaboration with San Diego State University. This telescope is currently undergoing an upgrade to a 1.25-m telescope with a classical glass mirror. When the upgrade is completed, the telescope will be equipped with a state-of-the-art CCD imager and dual-filter wheel, all of which can be operated remotely from Lawrence.
In addition to the astronomy group at KU, there are a number of active departmental research groups in related areas of astrophysics. Associate Professor Hume Feldman and Professor Sergei Shandarin comprise the Cosmology group, which attempts to understand the large-scale structure of the Universe through computer modelling and comparisons between simulations and the results from ongoing extragalactic surveys, while Professor Adrian Melott, formerly of the Cosmology group, is now devoted to full-time investigations in Astrobiology. Professor Tom Cravens and Prof. Emeritus Tom Armstrong use NASA support and collaborations to study the plasma physics of the solar system as represented by a mixture of cometary and planetary objects. A key addition to the astrophysics group in the area of plasma astrophysics is Dr. Misha Medvedev, who joined the department as an assistant professor in Fall 2002 and was promoted to associate professor in 2006. Expansion into new and exciting areas of astrophysical significance has been aided by the addition of theoretician Dr. Danny Marfatia within Astroparticle Physics in 2004. Dr. Marfatia was promoted to Associate Professor in 2007. On the experimental side, astroparticle physics has also been the focus of the RICE project under the direction of Professor Dave Besson.