UH galaxy-gazers win top astronomy awards
Top prizes from the American Astronomical Society have been awarded to University of Hawaii astronomers J. Patrick Henry and Lisa Kewley.
Henry, 60, is one of four scientists to receive the 2008 Rossi Prize for pioneering research using X-ray observations to study clusters of galaxies and their dark matter.
Lisa Kewley, 33, won the 2008 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy for investigations showing how the properties of a galaxy are related to how long ago it was formed.
UH Institute for Astronomy Director Rolf Kudritzki said the prestigious awards show the strength of both the senior and younger faculty at IFA.
The two astronomers do similar work "in the sense that we use the fact that light has a finite speed," Henry said, "and so as you look at things further and further away, you see them as they were younger and younger."
Just as you see how children change and grow by looking at class pictures from first to 12th grades, Henry said, "We take pictures nearby and further away and very far away, then try to look at the same kind of objects to see how they grow and change."
However, he studies galactic clusters, while Kewley focuses on individual galaxies.
He works with X-ray telescopes on Mauna Kea and in space because clusters of galaxies are very bright in X-rays, he said.
Henry was recognized by the astronomical society as one of the first astronomers to do such research using X-rays and for improving the method. "I'm the grand old man of the field," he said, adding that he is honored to be included with the other three scientists sharing the $1,500 Rossi Prize. All are in their early to mid-30s, he said.
Kewley's $1,500 Pierce Prize is awarded annually for outstanding achievement in observational astronomy over five years by an astronomer under 36 years old.
"It's an honor to win this award," said Kewley, an Australian-born astronomer who is studying galaxies back to within a billion years of the big bang. She is comparing oxygen, star formation and other properties in distant galaxies with those of nearby galaxies and has found major differences.
By her calculations, most oxygen atoms on Earth were created between 5 billion and 12 billion years ago.
She is trying to understand galaxies in the distant universe and their properties to better understand "how our galaxy got to be the way it is today," she said.
Kewley joined the IFA in 2004 as a Hubble Space Telescope postdoctoral fellow and became an assistant astronomer on the faculty in 2007.
Henry joined the IFA as a professor in 1981 and is known for his "lively" Astronomy 110 classes as well as a strong research program, the IFA said.