Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti, the Pei-Ling Chan Endowed Chair of Physics and Astronomy

Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti, a professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Pei-Ling Chan Endowed Chair at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, has been making significant strides in astronomy. Her upcoming plenary lecture at the upcoming American Astronomical Society (AAS) conference in New Orleans in January 2024 will provide her with an opportunity to showcase the groundbreaking research that she and her research group have been carrying out - involving galactic dynamics and the profound mysteries of dark matter. The AAS conference represents the largest gathering of astronomers in the United States, with typically several thousand astronomers from across the world in attendance.

In anticipation of her plenary talk, Dr. Chakrabarti provided insights into her recent work. She articulated the challenges encountered in understanding dark matter, an enduring enigma that has intrigued scientists for almost a century. Her research primarily focuses on developing innovative techniques to measure subtle accelerations of stars residing within the Milky Way's gravitational potential. These measurements are anticipated to provide invaluable insights into the distribution and nature of dark matter within our galaxy.

Dr. Chakrabarti highlighted the limitations of traditional methods that rely on static snapshots of star positions and velocities. She emphasized that these methods do not account for the dynamic nature of our galaxy, which is subject to various perturbations and is far from an equilibrium state. Her approach employs time-series measurements, similar to gauging the gravitational pull on Earth, to directly calculate star accelerations. However, due to the vast scale of the galaxy, capturing these minute changes in star velocities requires exceptionally precise measurements.

Her team has utilized diverse methods to achieve these highly precise measurements, including observing pulsars and analyzing the eclipses of binary stars. Dr. Chakrabarti also highlighted the critical importance of data that she and her team have obtained from instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope and an extreme-precision spectrograph in understanding dark matter. She notes that the very precise measurements from pulsars, which are spinning balls of neutrons that emit very regular pulses, may ultimately enable a Galactic GPS system.

The significance of her research lies in its potential to revolutionize our understanding of dark matter. Dr. Chakrabarti expressed optimism regarding the field's growth, anticipating a surge in measurements. This influx of data is expected to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the Milky Way's gravitational potential and the distribution of dark matter within it.

Furthermore, Dr. Chakrabarti stressed the collaborative nature of her research, emphasizing the involvement of an interdisciplinary team comprising over 30 individuals, including faculty members and students, actively contributing to the project. She lauded the pivotal role played by her collaborators in the success of these initiatives, emphasizing their collective investment and dedication to the research.

For students who wish to get involved in projects like this, Dr. Chakrabarti encouraged engagement with professors, expressing interest in research, and participation in programs like Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). She emphasized the importance of developing strong computational and mathematical skills, considering the highly computational nature of modern scientific research.

Dr. Chakrabarti's upcoming presentation at the American Astronomical Society conference is anticipated to spotlight her pioneering work, which not only contributes significantly to understanding dark matter but also holds the potential to elevate UAH's research reputation and attract more funding and resources for future astronomical endeavors.

This eagerly anticipated presentation by Dr. Chakrabarti reflects the pinnacle of scientific exploration and underlines the transformative potential of unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos.