The Leiden/ESA Astrophysics Program for Summer Students (LEAPS)
Leiden Observatory and ESA are pleased to welcome applications for the inaugural edition of the LEAPS program. LEAPS is an opportunity for students with an interest in astronomy and astrophysics to perform a 10-12 week summer research project in collaboration with a research scientist from Leiden Observatory or ESA. The program is open to all students not currently engaged in a Ph.D. program, although we are most interested in students at the senior-undergraduate or masters level who are enthusiastic about research in astrophysics.
Students will be selected for the program based on their academic achievements and research potential, and will be matched to staff projects based on what they indicate their scientific interests to be. Research at Leiden Observatory and ESA takes place on a diverse array of topics (see below), and student projects will likely consist of anything from the analysis of data from world-class telescopes, to large computer simulations, to hands-on work in the astrochemistry laboratories.
Projects will begin in June 2013 and end before mid-September 2013. We expect to make as many as 10 appointments this year, depending on interest and the matching of projects to students interests and skills. Details on the application process can be found below.
Leiden Observatory is a world-class institute for research in astronomy and astrophysics based in the Netherlands, approximately 35km from Amsterdam. The atmosphere at the observatory is dynamic, with approximately 100 faculty/research scientists and 70 graduate students engaged in astrophysical research on a wide range of topics. Major fields of interest include extrasolar planets, star formation, cosmology, galaxy formation, instrumentation, and astrochemistry. Multiple research projects will likely be available within these fields.
European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC/ESA)
ESTEC is the main technical centre for the European Space Agency (ESA), responsible for spacecraft integration. ESA develops and manages many types of space missions, from exploration, telecommunications, to earth and space science. The Research and Scientific Support Department at ESTEC consists of approximately 40 staff scientists, with research interests ranging from the geology of planets in our solar system, to plasma physics in the magnetosphere of the Earth, space weather, to observational astronomy with ESA's space missions such as Planck, Herschel, GAIA and EUCLID. Due to tight security requirements for entry to the ESTEC complex, students who work in collaboration with the ESTEC Research Fellows will be based primarily at Leiden Observatory and their advisor will meet with them on a regular basis.
Travel, Housing and Stipend
Students accepted into the LEAPS program will be provided with travel costs to/from Leiden. We will also provide housing accommodations near the observatory, as well as a modest stipend to help with living costs during the internship. Leiden is a small, picturesque university town located between the major cities of Amsterdam and The Hague. Summer is a beautiful time of year to be in Leiden, and we encourage LEAPS students to socialize and use their free time to enjoy the numerous summertime activities available in Holland. English is widely spoken throughout the Netherlands and international students should find it easy to live in the Leiden area. We are planning several field trips for LEAPS students including visits to the ESTEC complex where many ESA satellites are being built, and potentially to the LOFAR radio array, the world's largest low-frequency radio telescope.
How to Apply
The program is open to all international students provided they are not currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program. The working language of the observatory is English, and students should be sufficiently proficient in English to perform a research project.
To apply, please go to the web submission form and first answer the questions on the form. This includes selecting three projects from the Areas of Research list below that you are most interested in working on. Please note that the submission page requires the creation of a username and password. On the submission page you are also required to submit the following (in PDF format please):
a one-page document describing your interest in an area of astrophysics research relevant to staff members (see below), as well as details of any previous research experience or relevant research skills (e.g., scientific computer programming).
the name and contact details of an academic who has been asked to submit a letter of reference for you. This person should be able to speak to your potential to carry out scientific research, rather than just your performance in undergraduate lectures. Letters of recommendation must be received by the application deadline, please make sure your referee is aware of this.
a transcript of undergraduate/masters level course grades.
a curriculum vitae (optional, but helpful).
Once you have submitted you application, or saved a draft version, an email will be sent to your reference letter writer requesting the letter. Students will be evaluated for participation in the program on the basis of their research potential and match to available projects in their area(s) of interest. All fully-complete applications received by March 15, 2013, 23:59 CET will receive full consideration. We expect to inform all applicants on the outcome of their submission by the end of March.
Apply here: web submission form Deadline for applications: March 15, 2013, 23:59 CET
If you have any questions about the application process or the program, please . If you want to know more about the projects on offer, please email the project supervisor directly by clicking on their name below.
Areas of Research and Research Supervisors
Volcanic lava flows on the Moon
Type of project: observational, images, the Moon, ESTEC
The fleet of new missions and instruments sent to the Moon since 2007 offer new capabilities in the examination of the lunar surface.
Large volcanic lava flows, also known as "Mare Basalts" consist of individual flows that can be identified in several different ways. Improvements of the latest instuments have shown that the previous mapping has to be updated.
The project is to map the individual lava flows of specific areas based on morphological and mineralogical criteria, and based of the latest observations by spacecrafts.
By studying tiny variations in light as a planet orbits its star, we can begin to understand the chemical make-up and structure of its atmosphere, and even its global weather patterns. As a transiting planet passes in front of its host star, light filters through the planet's atmosphere, adopting a spectral imprint of its atmospheric constituents. This has already revealed molecules in hot Jupiter atmospheres, such as water, carbon monoxide, methane, and sodium. As the planet continues its orbit into secondary eclipse, where the planet's dayside is temporarily blocked from view, a comparison of the in- and out-of-eclipse total flux reveals the direct thermal emission from the planet, and possibly even reflected light from clouds. Understanding hot Jupiter atmospheres is our first step towards finding habitable Earth-like planets in the future. In this summer project, the student will study the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter, by creating and modelling its light curve using data obtained with ground-based telescopes. The Leiden exoplanet group is thriving community and the student will also have the chance to learn about the many others areas of exoplanet research currently being explored by the team.
The Magellanic Clouds are the nearest galaxies to the Milky Way and are
excellent laboratories to study star formation on the scale of whole
clusters while still being able to identify individual young stellar
objects. We will look at a few of these star forming regions in the Small
Magellanic Cloud to identify and characterize the young stellar population
by examining images, color-magnitude diagrams, and spectral energy
distribution fitting. This project is based in infrared images and
photometry from Spitzer Space Telescope but will also incorporate optical
(probably Hubble Space Telescope) data, near-infrared, and sub-millimeter
imaging from the Herschel Space Observatory. Depending on the student's
interests, we can focus more on the relationship between the young stellar
population and the interstellar medium, the stellar population, or
different methods of estimating star-formation rates. This is in part a
follow-up to two published papers and will likely lead to publication.
Mass accretion from the circumstellar disc onto a young star is a process that traces the properties - and evolution - of the circumstellar environment and of the young star. The student will perform photometry in star forming regions observed with the Hubble Space Telescope, in order to determine flux excess in the Halpha band caused by mass accretion. Observations obtained at different epochs will be used in order to study how the rate of mass accretion varies over time.
The student will work with new optical Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 imaging of the young cluster LH91 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The student will derive the photometry of cluster members and analyse the colour magnitude diagrams in order to characterize the young stellar population and distinguish it from field stars. If time allows, the student will also derive other cluster properties, such as the initial mass function and age distribution of the stars.
Solar light reflected by a planet (or moon) contains valuable information about the object. Such information is critical for the remote investigation of the object's chemical composition and atmospheric winds. The spectra obtained from ground-based telescopes are often affected by the solar spectrum and the Earth's absorption spectrum, thus masking the spectral signatures of the object itself. This project is a hands-on exercise to separate the solar and telluric components from high-resolution spectra of Venus, Saturn and Titan. The trainee will modify already existing software tools and apply them to the available spectra. This project will help the trainee get acquainted with a number of techniques and software tools in astronomy, and with basic concepts on the remote sensing of planetary atmospheres.
Galaxies are often found to host a massive star cluster in their nucleus, whose formation mechanism is not fully understood. IC 342 is one such nearby massive spiral galaxy. The goal of the summer project is to study its nuclear cluster properties from available Hubble Space Telescope imaging data using developed in IRAF procedures. Results will be blended with an ongoing larger program on the formation and evolution of nuclear clusters in spiral galaxies.
Edge-on spiral galaxies often display a dark stripe of dust extinction. The citizen science volunteers
of the GalaxyZoo have identified these dust lanes in spiral galaxies observed by Sloan.
The project is to classify the identified dust lanes and tie dust lane morphology with for example
the rate these galaxies form stars.
In this project, we will explore the newly opened ALMA archive and try to find interesting new or already found chemical species in a set of nearby galaxies such as the Antennae and NGC 253. The student will explore by her- or himself which lines are most likely in the environments and probed and look at comparison with the dust continuum. The project will be run within the framework of the Allegro ALMA Regional Center in Leiden. Beyond the basics of astrochemistry, the student will expand her or his knowledge on interferometry and ALMA, as well as different starforming environments in nearby galaxies.
Optical and near-infrared variability is a well-known property of young stellar objects (YSOs), and a growing number of recent studies claim that a considerable fraction of them also exhibit mid- and far-infrared photometric changes. Variability at optical and near-infrared wavelengths is mostly related to the central star itself, due to rotation of cold stellar spots; short-lived hot surface spots of accretion origin; or variable obscuration of the star by circumstellar dust. Flux changes at longer wavelengths, on the other hand, are in most cases due to varying thermal emission of the circumstellar material. In this project, we will analyze multi-epoch, multi-wavelength photometric data taken by space-borne (Spitzer, Herschel) and ground-based (REM, SMARTS, Konkoly) telescopes on low-mass young stars (normal T Tauris or highly accreting young eruptive stars). We will study the wavelength dependence of the variability, and will try to figure out the origin of the flux changes, and what that tells us about the stars and their circumstellar material. Analysing disk variability and extracting information on the circumstellar geometry is a novel research area, providing new type of information on the disks of young stars.
Blue straggler stars represent a particular class of "stellar exotica", curious objects whose appearance cannot be explained using only single star evolution. Two main formation channels have been proposed for blue stragglers, namely direct collisions and/or mergers between two normal Sun-like stars, or mass-transfer within a binary star system from an evolved companion onto a Sun-like star. Until recently, dense stellar environments, as are typically found in the centers of massive star clusters, were thought to be required for the creation of blue stragglers. However, this view has now been challenged, and evidence exists that dense environments may actually inhibit blue straggler formation. If correct, this would favor a mass-transfer origin for blue stragglers since, unlike collisions, high stellar densities are not required for this mechanism to operate, and could even impede it by destroying the progenitor binaries before mass-transfer can occur. Using analytic calculations, this project's goal is to calculate a theoretical minimum value for the stellar density at which blue straggler production within star clusters becomes impeded by its internal gravitational dynamics. These results will then be tested using observations of blue straggler populations in Milky Way star clusters.
Stars form with a wide range of masses. This distribution is called the initial mass function (IMF) and it underlies our understanding of many physical properties of distant galaxies. Although the IMF is usually assumed to be constant in the Universe, there are observational hints that it is not and physical reasons why it should vary. This project will make measurements of stellar masses and star formation rates in distant galaxies using a variety of physically motivated schemes to vary the IMF. The ultimate goal will be to gain an understanding of how the efficiency of galaxy formation is affected by these varying assumptions.
Observing distant galaxies is an opportunity to see the process of galaxy evolution in its earliest stages. One of the key parameters affecting how galaxies evolve is their local environment, with galaxies in high-density environments such as galaxy clusters typically being quite massive, yet inactive. Presently we do not understand why galaxies in clusters are so inactive. These galaxies are amongst the most massive in the universe, so clearly at some earlier epoch they must have been some of the most actively star forming galaxies in the universe. Despite this, recent studies have shown that even out to redshift as high as z = 1, the most distant redshift where clusters are well-studied, cluster galaxies are still highly inactive. This implies that the period of high activity for cluster galaxies must have occurred at even higher redshift. In order to understand when the primary formation of clusters and cluster galaxies is, the student will use data from the CFHTLS-Wide survey to search for distant proto-clusters of galaxies at redshifts > 3. Any proto-clusters found will be amongst the most distant large structures in the early universe and will allow us to study the earliest progenitors of the massive, inactive galaxies we see in local clusters.
Space weather conditions in the inner heliosphere
Type of project: observational, solar physics, ESTEC
Seeing the Sun anytime... now it is possible, even in the Netherlands! Today there is a vast amount of spacecraft observing our central star and the terrestrial space environment. The 11-year period solar activity cycle is now at its maximum producing spectacular solar eruptions that are injected all over into the interplanetary space. These can disturb spacecraft operations and interact with planetary magnetospheres or atmospheres resulting in beautiful aurora. Scientists admire this display of nature and they survey our near space environment in order to protect our highly developed technology in space.
This Summer, you can be part of this community! Help us survey the Sun by using nearly real-time solar and heliospheric images and movies observed directly from space, forecast when the solar eruption would arrive at Earth or other planets. We will prepare a manual for observing and understanding the space weather along with a link collection on the web.
If you are interested in space, you like geometry and computers do not scare you, then your place is here...
The Astrophysical Multipurpose Software Environment (AMUSE) allows
computational experiments with multiple domains of physics spanning a
wide range of physical scales using heterogeneous computing resources.
We offer a student summer school place in the development team of AMUSE.
The succesful applicant will get tutoring on the use of AMUSE for
multiphysics problems and apply AMUSE to an astrophysical question. The
projects would for example examine the evolution of proto-planetary
discs in star clusters or the radiative coupling of young stars and
their parent cloud. A computer science project involving GPU
(CUDA/OpenCL) programming, involving the implementation of a GPU TreePM
module for AMUSE, is also possible. We would encourage and support
publication of the results (www.amusecode.org).
All galaxies contain a central massive black hole, but the majority are tame and quiet. Some so called 'active galaxies', however, accrete so much material that the central regions of a galaxy outshine the combined light from all its stars. A smaller fraction of these - the radio galaxies - also produce huge megaparsec-scale, radio-emitting, jets which shoot out from the galaxy nucleus in a direction perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy.
These radio galaxies are thought to play an important role in regulating the star formation in their cosmic neighbourhoods but many questions remain. One question of particular interest is, do the most powerful, but rare, types of these galaxies play a greater role in regulating star formation than their weaker, but more numerous, counterparts? To answer this question we need to understand how the numbers of each type have changed over cosmic time.
A computer program already exists to model this behaviour for the population as a whole, using various real observations as inputs. The aim of this summer project is to enhance this code so that it can successfully separate and measure the changes in these radio galaxy sub-populations. The results will be tested using simulations of the radio sky, as well as real datasets.
The Universe seems to contain roughly a trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. But how and when were galaxies like ours formed? Which were the first ones to exist? What they did look like in the past and how did they change across time? By using data from the largest telescopes as time machines (observing trips may be possible!), the student will be able to follow galaxies such as ours up to the earliest epochs in the history of the Universe. Available projects include studying the sizes and morphologies of galaxies across cosmic time, exploring the largest survey(s) for emission-line galaxies ever undertaken (including large-scale clustering and/or searches for the rarest/most unexpected galaxies), calibrating and investigating star-formation relations in the distant Universe and unveiling the evolution of the mass function of star-forming galaxies.
Most of our universe consists of some mysterious form of dark matter and dark energy. We don't know much about it but we know it is there if we believe that Einstein's theory of gravity is right. In fact one powerful way to study dark matter and dark energy is through an effect called gravitational lensing. The light from very distant galaxies gets deflected while travelling in the universe by curvatures in the space-time caused by massive structure (most of which are in some form of dark matter). Moreover the strength of the deflection depends on the geometry of the universe (which is directly affected by dark energy). Hence by measuring the amount of the light deflection it is possible to study properties of dark matter and dark energy.
The goal of the summer project is to investigate from a theoretical prospective the possibility of using particular geometrical configurations (to give a classical example: two massive clusters of galaxies aligned with each other along the line of sight) to put constraints on the geometry of the universe and on dark energy using gravitational lensing. Analytical and computational skills are required.
Solar Wind Influences on the Earth's Magnetopause and Low Latitude Boundary Layer
Type of project: observational, plasma physics, ESTEC
The Earth's magnetopause is the boundary between the magnetosphere – the region of space dominated by the Earth's magnetic field – and interplanetary space. It can be thought of as a current layer that separates magnetic fields with two different sources, the Sun and the Earth. The properties of the magnetopause current layer are intrinsically linked to the transport of mass and energy from the solar wind into the magnetosphere, a process that ultimately results in phenomena like the Aurora Borealis and geomagnetic storms.
This project will involve analysis of data from ESA’s four Cluster spacecraft to determine how conditions in the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field affect the properties and structure of the magnetopause current layer and the boundary layer just inside the magnetopause where solar wind and magnetospheric plasma mix.