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Research

CIERA Research Topics

Researchers at CIERA study a wide variety of topics, all with the aim of advancing the field of astrophysics and expanding our understanding of the Universe. Explore the categories below to learn more about the research currently being done at CIERA.

Black Hole Encounter

Black Holes & Dead Stars

Supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, and dead stars in the form of black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs, are the densest objects in the Universe. They are central players in much of modern astrophysics, but we have only been aware of and studying these objects for less than a century. Our observational record is less than five decades long. As such, there are still many unanswered questions about how these systems form and evolve over cosmic time. CIERA is the home to a broad group of researchers in theory, simulation, and observation that study these exotic objects.

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Jupiter-like planet

Exoplanets & The Solar System

Since the discovery of the first exoplanet just over twenty years ago, the study of exoplanets has grown explosively. By now, astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets, with an incredibly diverse array of properties. This growth will undoubtedly continue into the future, as new kinds of planets are being observed with increasingly advanced telescopes. Researchers at CIERA study exoplanets theoretically and build instruments to directly image them.

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X-ray & Optical Images of NGC 6946

Galaxies & Cosmology

The most obvious large structures in the Universe are the galaxies, which over the span of cosmic time have been the nexus for both the evolution of stars and large-scale structure in the Universe. CIERA researchers are engaged in understanding both the evolution of the galaxies and the environments they are embedded in, as well as the stellar populations they are comprised of and the supermassive black holes they host.

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Gravitational Waves & Multi-Messenger Astronomy

The discovery of gravitational waves with LIGO opened a whole new window into the Cosmos. Previously 'dark' phenomena such as black hole mergers, which emit no light, can now be studied using the gravitational waves they emit. Some phenomena, including neutron star mergers, send us multiple 'messengers' - photons (light), gravitational waves, or neutrinos. Using combinations of these messengers to study the Cosmos, called multi-messenger astronomy, is revolutionizing our view of the universe.

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Artist's impression of SN 1987A

Life & Death of Stars

Stars are the fundamental building blocks and probes of the Universe. They are formed in stellar nurseries enshrouded by dust and gas, and end their lives in violent explosions, creating some of the most captivating events one can witness. Faculty in CIERA study, model, and observe many stages of a star's life from birth to death, the planets formed around them, how they impact their environments, as well as the compact remnants they leave behind.

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HST Image of globular cluster

Stellar Dynamics & Stellar Populations

Stars are among the most numerous objects in the Cosmos, and are the primary objects that make the bulk of larger structures we observe. They are born together, and consequently evolve together, often interacting with a close companion over the course of their lives, or interacting dynamically with many other stars in the dense stellar environments in which they are found. These interactions have profound influence on the long term evolution of stars. In CIERA, we consider numerical and theoretical models of stellar interactions and use them to understand and explain observations of stars across the Milky Way, and in dense stellar systems.

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Our Faculty

There are many different methods used to study the cosmos. CIERA researchers use observations and data analysis to make measurements of astronomical phenomena, use theory and computation to explain and predict what we see, and build innovative new instruments to see farther and in more detail than ever before.

Observational & Data Science

Observational & Data Science

Observational researchers carry out observations of astronomical phenomena with a variety of telescopes and use sophisticated data analysis techniques to see what is happening in the Universe.

Observational & Data Science Faculty
Theory & Computational

Theory & Computational

Theoretical and computational researchers use physics to develop theories and write computer simulations to explain and explore astronomical processes.

Theory & Computational Faculty
Instrument Development

Instrument Development

Researchers specializing in instrumentation design and build new technology and instruments to push the limits of what we can see in the Universe.

Instrument Development Faculty

Research Facilities

A variety of advanced facilities are available to CIERA researchers.

Quest High Performance Computer

High Performance Computing

CIERA Researchers have access to Northwestern's Quest High Performance Computing Cluster as well as the specialized Grail Cluster.

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Keck Observatory

World-class Telescopes

Astronomers at Northwestern have access to some of the largest ground-based observational facilities in the world.

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Research Shop

Research Shop

The Research Shop provides Instrumentation Design, Engineering, and Production services to the Northwestern Research community.

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Dearborn Observatory

Dearborn Observatory

Connecting astronomy to the public is at the core of CIERA's mission. Every Friday night, Dearborn is open for public viewing.

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