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What I do

I received my PhD in August of 1994 in astronomy at the University of Virginia Astronomy Department. My research was part of a large project studying Hubble Space Telescope images of supernova SN1987A, a star that blew up in 1987. This was the brightest supernova in 400 years, and was visible to the naked eye (if you happened to be in the southern hemisphere, that is).

I was initially hired afterward to work on COBE, the COsmic Background Explorer, and then moved on to work with STIS, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. I worked on that for five years.

Now, I do web-based public outreach for GLAST, a gamma ray satellite planned for launch in 2005. I am at the physics and astronomy department at Sonoma State University near San Francisco, California, and I love it.


When the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) first observed the supernova in August 1990, we were all surprised to see it encircled by an elliptical ring of gas. It was known before that there was an oval shaped nebula surrounding the star, but everyone thought it would be a shell, and not a torus (donut shape). When I analyzed the images carefully, I was able to detect some of the gas further away from the supernova that was known to exist from earlier, ground-based images. But we were all surprised once again when the newly fixed HST was trained on the star, and the outer nebulosity was shown to be very discrete rings! Pictures of all this can be found here, and many more can be found in the pages listed below.

There are many good places on the Web to find supernova information and pictures. Here are a few:

  • First , I have my own page about the work I did with supernovae, as well as some pictures of SN1987A using HST.

  • There are lots of SN1987A links on the Web. The Astrophysical Journal has a lot of articles about it; here is one by Peter Jakobsen.

  • John Krist has put together a page with lots of info and cool pictures of SN1987A. He works with the WFPC2 Instrument Definition Team, and so he has access to all the goodies!

  • The good folks at the Center For Astrophysics (at Harvard) have a nifty page with lots of 87a pix. I was once associated with this group. My slant on all this can be found here.

  • A more general SN page at CfA can be found here.

  • Jonathan Keohane is a fellow Goddard Space Flight Center astronomer who studies supernovae and also runs a brown bag lunch seminar at Goddard.

  • The LHEA X-Ray Astrophysics group has a nice page with good info on supernovae. This page is also maintained by Jonathan Keohane

  • John Blondin, at NCSU, has done some hydrodynamic simulations of 87A's eventual interaction with the circumstellar ring, a situation I am looking into myself. He has a nifty mpeg of his work as well.

  • Robert Cumming's home page. Robert and I both worked on the ring around 87A, and even wound up competing for a job or two. He is now working with Claes Fransson in Sweden.

  • Marcos Montes has an excellent supernova page, with lots of links to researchers.

  • Michael Richmond has some good hard science stuff and is also a regular on sci.astro as well!

  • Peter Lundqvist was at the University of Virginia for a while, and we collaborated on a paper. His page has links to some of his papers.

  • Pedro Saizar has a very well done nova and supernova page geared toward the interested layman.

  • Bill Arnett, as part of SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) has put together a lot of beautiful images of supernova and other nebulae on his page .

  • At Goddard Space Flight Center is another page with links and info about supernovae, as well as a nifty animation for the Java-enhanced.

  • Here is a list of supernova type people too.

  • ©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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