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Bachelor’s thesis projects
at the University Observatory

Some Bachelor’s projects can also be extended in scope and assigned to two students to work on the project together.

1. Instrumentation and observational projects

U. Hopp (hopp@usm.lmu.de), C. Gössl (cag@usm.lmu.de), A. Riffeser (arri@usm.lmu.de), F. Grupp (fug@usm.lmu.de), A. Hess (achim@usm.lmu.de), F. Lang-Bardl (flang@usm.lmu.de), A. Monna (amonna@usm.lmu.de)
Project 1.1: Testing the positioning accuracy of a rotating mechanism for the MICADO instrument (A. Monna amonna@usm.lmu.de, F. Lang-Bardl flang@usm.lmu.de)
MICADO is one of four instruments that are currently under development for the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). In this thesis we will test a rotating mechanism prototype in order to determine the accuracy and repeatability of positioning of such a mechanism. This prototype is a rotating platform that is driven by a stepper motor. The positions are defined by a passive notch mechanism. The prototype represents a simplified model of a selector mechanism that is being developed for the Multi-AO Imaging Camera for Deep Observations (MICADO). This selector mechanism will allow switching between the four observational modes of the MICADO instrument. These four modes are two imagers at different angular resolution, a spectrograph and a coronographic mode. MICADO covers wavelengths in the near-infrared (NIR) spectrum (0.8–2.4 micrometer). For NIR measurements it is necessary to keep the optics and detectors inside a cryostat. This cryostat will operate at a temperature of 80 K.
Project 1.2: Development and measurement of optical components and detectors for new instruments at the Wendelstein observatory (U. Hopp hopp@usm.lmu.de, F. Grupp, C. Gössl, F. Lang-Bardl)
Several new instruments and optical measuring devices are being developed for the new 2-m Wendelstein telescope. Optical components such as filters, glass fibres, lenses and electronic detectors (CCDs) have to be measured and tested. Projects in these areas can be assigned according to the student’s interests. They include lab work in Munich, development of small control scripts, as well as analysis and documentation of the measurements.
Project 1.3: Development and tests of electronic control systems for large telescopes (M. Häuser mhaeuser@usm.lmu.de, A. Hess achim@usm.lmu.de)
Diese Bachelorarbeit setzt Interesse an elektronischen Schaltungen voraus. Im Rahmen des Baus des MICADO-Instruments für das 39-m-EELT-Teleskop in Chile sind diverse Mechanismen und elektronische Steuerungskomponenten zu bauen und zu testen. Technologien und Mechanismen müssen bei Raumtemperatur an der USM getestet werden. Die Arbeit umfasst die Durchführung und Dokumentation von Tests diverser motorisierter und sensorischer Hardware bei Raumtemperatur zur Vorbereitung auf Tests bei 80 K in unserem Kryostaten. Hierzu gehört beispielsweise auch die Automatisierung von Testständen in den Laboren der Sternwarte. Es werden sowohl komplett selbst entwickelte Elektronikkomponenten verwendet, als auch industrielle Standardtechnologien wie CAN-BUS-Controller und SPS-Steuerungen (Vorwissen wünschenswert aber nicht notwendig). Zusätzlich kann je nach genauem Thema ein rein astrophysikalisches Beobachtungs- und/oder Datenauswertungsprojekt in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Wendelstein-Observatorium absolviert werden.
Project 1.4: Literature work relating to astronomic instrument construction (U. Hopp hopp@usm.lmu.de, F. Grupp)
Documentation of new developments in instrument and telescope construction – including adjustment methods and environmental influence – are often only to be found in poorly available conference proceedings. The task is to critically look at and compile comments spread over many different courses. Current projects focus on SPIE contributions to wind loads of telescopic mounts, the cleaning and coating of telescope and instrumentation mirrors, and methods of mirror adjustment (e.g., Hartmann analysis).
Project 1.5: Development of instrument control software (C. Gössl cag@usm.lmu.de)
Prerequisite for this project is sound knowledge of and interest in programming. The construction of the instrumentation for the 2-m Wendelstein observatory telescope makes the development of subunit control software necessary. Task: Document the physical approach, the software solution as well as the integration of both in the whole system. Example: Automation of test rigs in the observatory labs or effective organisation of standard star data sets of the 40-cm telescope.

2. Stars and planets

T. Preibisch (preibisch@usm.lmu.de), J. Puls (uh101aw@usm.lmu.de), A. W. A. Pauldrach (uh10107@usm.lmu.de), T. Hoffmann (hoffmann@usm.lmu.de)
Project 2.1: Massive star evolution with MESA (J. Puls uh101aw@usm.lmu.de)
The evolution of massive stars is in many phases (even relatively close to the zero age main sequence – ZAMS) not yet or only poorly understood, mainly due to the effects of mass loss and rotation, and because in conventional simulations multidimensional effects are often approximated by simple 1-D diffusion approaches. Therefore, our working group (including many international collaborators) tries to check and constrain the predictions of such stellar evolutionary calculations, by means of so-called quantitative spectroscopy. To perform corresponding own simulations and tests, the open-source stellar evolution code MESA has proven to be an excellent working tool. The aim of the suggested Bachelor’s thesis project is, on the one hand, to perform evolutionary calculations for different mass ranges by means of MESA, and to compare the outcome with alternative calculations from other codes. On the other hand, appropriate adapters shall be developed, which enable a fast and clear visualization of the various output data.
Project 2.2: Further development of a program package for the automatic analysis of stellar spectra from massive stars (J. Puls uh101aw@usm.lmu.de)
To investigate the actual status and the evolution of massive stars, and to understand and quantify the interaction with their environment, these stars are studied by means of so-called quantitative spectroscopy, i.e., by comparing observed and synthetic spectra. The latter are derived using stellar atmosphere models. Since in recent years large samples of massive star spectra were secured, an automatic analysis is inevitable. To this end, our (internationally connected) working group uses comprehensive grids of atmospheric models, and stellar parameters are derived from a best fit of synthetic and observed spectra. The basic methods have already been developed, however the a-posteriori distributions of the derived parameters are not yet sufficiently quantified. The aim of this Bachelor’s thesis project is to link the existing codes with an MCMC method (Markov Chain Monte Carlo) to derive such distributions. Programming experience and Python skills would be beneficial.
Project 2.3: Correlation of X-ray emission and fundamental parameters of hot stars (T. Hoffmann hoffmann@usm.lmu.de, A. W. A. Pauldrach)
A possible correlation between the intensity of the X-ray emission and fundamental stellar parameters is to be investigated. This entails the simultaneous comparison of a sample of existing observed X-ray and UV spectra of hot stars with model spectra which will need to be calculated. This analysis will help to better understand the dynamic processes that lead to the production of X-ray radiation in these atmospheres. Programming experience in Fortran is required.
Project 2.4: Calculation of mass loss rates of extremely massive stars (A. W. A. Pauldrach uh10107@usm.lmu.de, T. Hoffmann)
Using a largely already existing program, mass loss rates are to be calculated for a model grid of extremely massive stars such as might arise in dense star clusters through collisions and merging processes. Such stars could conceivably have masses of up to a few thousand solar masses (see http://www.usm.uni-muenchen.de/people/adi/RevBer/HotStars-OForT-Mod.html). The data obtained represent important quantities for describing the evolution of such objects and to compute their spectra, and thereby check for the possible existence of such stars in present-day starburst clusters. Programming experience in Fortran is required.
Project 2.5: The future of astronomy – new telescopes for the discovery and characterization of exoplanets (Roberto Saglia saglia@mpe.mpg.de, Christian Obermeier chroberm@usm.lmu.de)
Exoplanet research is a very active scientific area and a new generation of telescopes is currently being developed in order to study several of their aspects and add more discoveries. The aim of this project is to provide an overview over telescopes that are already in the planning stage and then give an outlook of the future development of astronomical observations.
Project 2.6: The statistical distribution of planets – an overview (Roberto Saglia saglia@mpe.mpg.de, Christian Obermeier chroberm@usm.lmu.de)
Since the first discovery of an exoplanet in orbit around another main-sequence star in the year 2000, there has been a fast-growing number of exoplanet discoveries. Detected by several number of methods, their properties are quite diverse. Since the number of known exoplanets is now in the thousands it is now possible to make statistical assessments of their occurrence rate for given stellar types and the planet’s orbital periods. The aim of this project is to collect all of the current data, present each detection method and then discuss the results and their possible differences based on the detection method.
Project 2.7: The Rossiter-McLaughlin effect – measuring the stellar rotation axis through transits (Roberto Saglia saglia@mpe.mpg.de, Christian Obermeier chroberm@usm.lmu.de)
The Rossiter-McLaughlin effect (RME) has been known for decades and was initially proposed for the study of eclipsing binaries. Using this effect, the primary star’s rotation axis can be determined and this effect could first be applied to planet transits only a few years ago. The Wendelstein facility will soon be able to observe and measure this effect as one of very few observatories by using the FOCES instrument. The aim of this project is to describe the RME by compiling the according literature and then give an overview of the current results and their interesting implications for planet formation.
Project 2.8: Super-Earths – properties and occurrence rates (Roberto Saglia saglia@mpe.mpg.de, Christian Obermeier chroberm@usm.lmu.de)
Super-Earths, rocky planets with radii of more than twice of Earth’s, are unknown in our own Solar system and are a distinct population of planets. The aim of this project is to describe this population, including the detection methods used for their discovery, and then provide an overview of their occurrence rate. Then, the results of their – rapidly increasing – research should be compiled.

3. Galaxies and AGN

Project 3.1: Dynamos in galaxies (H. Lesch lesch@usm.lmu.de)
All galaxies are magnetized. Where do galactic magnetic fields come from, how are they maintained and how are they structured? These are the questions we wish to answer. In this project we will develop a model for the amplification of galactic magnetic fields based on analytic calculations.
Project 3.2: Propagation of cosmic rays in the Galaxy (H. Lesch lesch@usm.lmu.de)
Cosmic rays represent a small but high-pressure part of the interstellar medium. Through their pressure on the magnetic fields, cosmic rays contribute considerably to the galactic dynamo. In this project we will analyse the properties of Galactic cosmic rays and their impact on gamma-ray emission.
Project 3.3: The age of a galaxy (R. Saglia saglia@usm.lmu.de)
How do we measure the age of a galaxy? The Bachelor’s thesis project should summarize the methods that have been developed to reach this goal and their uncertainties. If there is enough time, one can also derive a spectroscopic age from data available for a selected number of objects.
Project 3.4: Dynamical modeling of stellar disks (R. Saglia saglia@usm.lmu.de, J. Thomas jthomas@mpe.mpg.de)
Three-dimensional galaxies are often modeled using the Schwarzschild approach. One computes stellar orbits in a given gravitational potential and superposes them to reproduce the available dataset. The modeling of two-dimensional objects like galaxies with stellar disks poses some yet unsolved questions. How well can one compute the gravitational potential using spherical harmonics? What is the optimal amount of regularization? How well can one describe real galaxies? During the thesis project answers to these questions will be tested and implemented.
Project 3.5: The masses of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies (R. Saglia saglia@usm.lmu.de)
How do we measure the masses of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies? What are their uncertainties? How much mass is hidden in supermassive black holes? The results of the recent research should be critically summarized and discussed.

4. Cosmology, large-scale structure, and gravitational lensing

Project 4.1: Distances to supernovae in various cosmological models (J. Weller weller@usm.lmu.de)
The student will derive the correlation between distance and red shift for different Friedmann Models. Boundary conditions to cosmological parameters will be derived by comparison with supernova data. These analyses are made with the aid of so-called Monte Carlo Markov chains. If there is enough time, the analysis can be extended to models with extra dimensions.
Project 4.2: The size evolution of galaxies (R. Saglia saglia@usm.lmu.de)
The size of a galaxy changes during its life. Goal of the thesis is to summarize the results of the last years of published research. How do we measure the size of a galaxy? What is the rate of change of the size of a galaxy with time? Does it depend of the mass of the galaxy? What are the mechanisms that drive the size change of galaxies?
Project 4.3: Studying the strong lensing effect of galaxies using HST data (S. Seitz stella@usm.lmu.de, A. Riffeser arri@usm.lmu.de)
Due to the strong gravitational lens effect galaxies can map galaxies in their background in so-called Einstein rings or multiple images. You will study how the (dark plus luminous) matter in a foreground galaxy has to be distributed to reproduce the observed image configuration. You will use a public lens-source-reconstruction code and study several systems observed with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
Projects in the Physical Cosmology Group (Jochen Weller et al.)

5. Computational and theoretical astrophysics

A. Burkert (burkert@usm.lmu.de), B. Ercolano (ercolano@usm.lmu.de), K. Dolag (dolag@usm.lmu.de), B. Moster (moster@usm.lmu.de)

Research in the Computational Astrophysics Group (CAST) ranges from the theoretical investigation of star and planet formation to studies of processes on cosmological scales. A variety of different, well-known numerical codes (such as Ramses, Gadget, Sauron, Gandalf, Mocassin, and others) are used. Primary investigations regard the formation, the structure, and the evolution of protoplanetary disks, the formation of planetary building blocks and planets, the relation between turbulence and phase transitions in the multiphase interstellar medium (ISM), energetic feedback processes, molecular cloud and star formation in galaxies, as well as cosmological structure and galaxy formation and the interplay between feedback processes, AGN, and galaxy evolution and their imprint on the intergalactic medium (IGM) or the intercluster medium (ICM). Thus, our group studies astrophysical processes on length scales covering more than 14 orders of magnitude, from gigaparsec scales of cosmological structures all the way down to sub-AU scales of dust grains within protoplanetary disks.

astrophysical processes on length scales covering more than 14 orders of magnitude

It is now clear that small-scale processes like the condensation of molecular clouds into stars, magnetic fields and the details of heat transport as well as large-scale processes like gas infall from the cosmic web into galaxies and environment are intimately coupled and have to be investigated in a concerted effort. The various past and ongoing projects within the CAST group cover a link between the various scales and contribute to our understanding of crucial aspects of the formation and evolution of stars and protoplanetary disks, central black holes and AGNs, star-forming regions and the ISM, galaxies and their IGM, galaxy clusters and the ICM as well the large-scale structures in the universe. They also also drive the continuous effort to develop and to apply new numerical methods and the next generation of multi-scale codes within the framework of numerical astrophysics.

Past and ongoing Bachelor’s and Master’s thesis projects were always offered with respect to the individual strengths and interests of the students and cover various areas in the field of computational and theoretical astrophysics:

  • Formation of large-scale cosmological structures (dark-matter halos, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, role of black holes, magnetic fields and non-thermal particles)
  • Evolution and structure of the turbulent interstellar medium (ISM physics, self-regulating star formation, formation of molecular clouds, magnetic fields)
  • Physics of galactic centers (active galactic nuclei, origin and nature of the gas cloud G2 near the Galactic center)
  • Formation of planets, stars, and stellar clusters (stars and their influence on the surrounding protoplanetary disc, interstellar matter, radiative transfer, dynamics of particles and planets in protoplanetary disks)
  • Application and development of numerical tools on parallel CPUs and GPUs and visualization (particle-based SPH/N-body, grid-based, moving-mesh or meshless methods)

More detailed information on ongoing and finished projects as well as more detailed information on ongoing research can be found on the web pages of the Computational Astrophysics Group.

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