Volume 15, Number 4, December 1999
By Kirk Borne and Louis Mayo
Raytheon Information Technology and Scientific Services (RITSS) company is the support services contractor that provides scientific and technical support to the operation of the NSSDC and the SSDOO. One of the benefits offered by RITSS to its scientist employees is the Sabbatical Leave Program. This year, two RITSS scientists, pictured above, at the SSDOO, Dr. Kirk Borne (right) and Louis Mayo (left), were selected as sabbatical award recipients. Following the presentation of an initial sabbatical research idea to senior management, each of these scientists submitted a detailed research proposal for review. Following a careful review, these two were selected for the six-month sabbatical leave: Kirk Borne began in February 1999 and used the time to study the origin and fate of ultraluminous galaxies in the universe; Louis Mayo began in May 1999 to study the complex atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
Kirk Borne took a Sabbatical Visitor position at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for the duration of his leave. He worked on Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observations of the brightest galaxies in the local universe: the so-called UltraLuminous InfraRed Galaxies (ULIRGs, for short). Kirk Borne is the principal investigator on two large HST projects to study ULIRGs and recently received a major NASA grant to conduct numerical simulations of these galaxies on the Goddard Cray supercomputer. The study of ULIRGs is now one of the hottest topics in extragalactic astrophysics: ULIRGs may hold the key to understanding the quasar phenomenon, galaxy formation and evolution, cosmic star formation history, and metal enrichment in the universe. One of the major results from Kirk Borne's studies is the recognition that a large fraction of all ULIRGs has probably originated from the collision and merger of small compact groupings of three or more galaxies.
For his research project Louis Mayo worked at the Goddard Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics (LEP). With colleagues there he studied the lower atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Titan is a unique moon in this solar system because it has a thick nitrogen-based atmosphere that obscures its surface and it has a rich diversity of hydrocarbon and nitrile gases that contribute to pre-biotic chemistry. Louis Mayo used Voyager I infrared limb spectra gathered at closest approach to study the precipitation and condensation processes in Titan's lower stratosphere and troposphere. Through modeling of continuum opacities, he has identified contributions to the IR spectrum from stratospheric aerosols and condensates as well as collisionally-induced absorption in the troposphere. The results of this study are shedding light on Titan's cloud structure, seasonal variations in precipitation, and tropospheric methane saturation values as well as possibilities for the existence of liquid hydrocarbon lakes (!) on Titan.
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