University of Hawaii System newsletter

Astronomy Director Receives Humboldt Research Award

Posted on | April 30, 2010 | Comments Off on Astronomy Director Receives Humboldt Research Award

2 men at a table

Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, right, and Fabio Bresolin

Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of Mānoa’s Institute for Astronomy received a Humboldt Research Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements in research. He will relinquish the IfA directorship at the end of 2010 and plans to use the award during a 2011 sabbatical in Germany to investigate the physics of galaxies. During his sabbatical, Kudritzki will use the brightest stars in the universe as tools to dissect galaxies. He will analyze spectra of hundreds of supergiant stars (stars with radii as large as 300 times the sun and a hundred thousand times brighter) in distant galaxies.

By applying completely new methods developed with his collaborators, which include Manoa Associate Astronomer Fabio Bresolin and Postdoctoral Fellow Miguel Urbaneja, Kudritzki will be able to use the spectra to determine the chemical compositions of galaxies and their distances from Earth.

Data about the chemical composition of galaxies can be used to test the present theory about how galaxies have formed in an expanding universe that is dominated by cold dark matter (matter that does not interact with any form of light and whose constituent particles move more slowly than light) and dark energy (the mysterious force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe). In fact, chemical composition is one of the very few ways to test this scenario quantitatively. So far, the present knowledge of the chemical composition of spiral galaxies is very uncertain. Kudritzki’s new method will be the first to provide accurate numbers.

“This project is entirely new. Nobody has ever done anything like this, except Fabio, Miguel and me,” says Kudritzki. “Thus, I am truly excited and look forward to spending all my energy and time on it. I will use all the largest telescopes in the world for this project, including those on Mauna Kea and in Chile, and also the Hubble Space Telescope.”

Read the news release.