News and Events

Friday, May 5, 2017

For the second year in a row, an Astronomy major has been awarded the 21st Century Leader Award. It was recently announced that Ryan Boyden, a double major in Astronomy and Physics will receive this prestigious award. Congratulations to Ryan, and also to Professor Stella Offner, who mentored Ryan in his research.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tara Dowd has been awarded this year's David J. Van Blerkom Research Scholarship in Astronomy. Here is a description of the Scholarship: An endowment fund established by Janet Van Blerkom. The purpose of the fund is to endow undergraduate research scholarships in the Department of Astronomy in memory of her husband, David J. Van Blerkom, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts. Professor Van Blerkom came to UMass as aPostdoctoral Fellow in 1969, joined the faculty in 1970, served as Chair of the Astronomy Program from 1980-1999, and then continued on the faculty until 2001. This scholarship fund is awarded based on academic excellence to a University of Massachusetts undergraduate and supports a research internship for that undergraduate.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Gopal Narayanan and Neal Erickson have coordinated the "Event Horizon Telescope" (EHT) to turn the Earth into one giant telescope by coordination observations from instruments arrayed around the world.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We are pleased to announce that Kamal Souccar has been awarded the Chancellor's Citation Award at the University of Massachusetts. This award is meant to recognize individuals who have demonstrated outstanding performance in helping the university achieve its goals and objectives. Award winners are intended to be individuals who have made original contributions to the university, attained high-priority univeristy objectives, performed "beyond the call of duty", and achieved significant improvements in productivity or savings in university operations. Kamal's many contriubtions to the success of the Large Milimeter Telescope are noteworthy in that they address all of these vital areas, and we are delighted that the University has recognized his important work.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Congratulations to Aaron P. Dunbrack, a senior in the Astronomy Department undergraduate program. He has been elected to Phi Beta Kappa this year. Aaron, everyone in the Astronomy Department extends their best wishes to you. We are all proud of your accomplishments.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Boston Globe interviewed Professor Alex Pope on Thursday, 3/23/17 regarding the discovery of an ancient galaxy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

If you would like to receive emails about the UMass Amherst Astronomy Department public events (e.g.; Sunwheel, open observing dates, public talks, etc.), please contact Connie Milne at

Friday, March 17, 2017

AMHERST, Mass. - The public is invited to witness sunrise and sunset on the day of the spring equinox among the standing stones of the UMass Amherst Sunwheel on Monday, March 20 at 6:40 a.m. and 6 p.m. These Sunwheel events mark the astronomical change of seasons when days and nights are nearly equal in length around the world. Rain or severe weather cancel the events.

At the hour-long gatherings, which have attracted more than 10,000 visitors over the past 19 years, UMass Amherst astronomer Stephen Schneider will discuss the astronomical cause of the sun's changing position. He will explain the seasonal positions of the sun, moon and Earth, and answer questions about astronomy. If the skies are clear, the third-quarter moon will be visible during the morning session and an extremely thin crescent Venus may be visible just above the horizon after sunset. A solar telescope will be available to safely observe the sun before sunset.

The exact time of the spring or vernal equinox in western Massachusetts this year is at 6:29 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, March 20. This ushers in the beginning of spring and is also the day the sun rises into the sky to be visible for six months as seen from the North Pole, and the day it sets for six months as seen from the South Pole. An observer located on the Earth's equator will see the sun pass directly overhead at local noon. On any day other than the equinox, either the earth's Northern or Southern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun.

On the equinox, Latin for equi "equal," and nox "night," the sun rises due east and sets due west and stays up for 12 hours and down for 12 hours (except for observers at the poles). From the Sunwheel in Amherst, observers standing at the center of the standing stones see the sun rise and set over stones placed to mark the equinoxes. Other structures around the world mark this astronomical change. For example, the Mayans built staircases at their main pyramid at Chichen Itza at such an angle that on the equinox, sunlight cases a shadow that looks like a giant snake descending the stairs.

The UMass Amherst Sunwheel is located south of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road (Amity St.) about one-quarter mile south of University Drive. Visitors to the Sunwheel should be prepared for especially wet footing this year. Donations are welcome and will be used to help with the cost of additional site work at the Sunwheel and future events.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Professor Stella Offner was recently awarded a five-year, $429,000 faculty early career development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation(NSF). She plans to use it not only to study how stars are born, but also to develop interactive online astronomy "tours" to enhance K-12 science education in local schools.