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University of Maryland Secures $18.3 Million for Energy Conservation Projects

January 29, 2018

Andrew Muir, 301-405-7068

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- The University of Maryland has successfully secured $18.3 million from the Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC) for the development of a $21.5 million energy efficiency project to support the implementation of various energy conservation measures. The project will impact eight on-campus buildings, such as J.M. Patterson Hall and  Hornbake Library. 

Yielding more than $1.7 million in annual energy savings, program features include LED lighting upgrades, water conservation measures and lab ventilation controls upgrades. It is anticipated that this project will reduce campus wide energy consumption by approximately 6 percent.

"This performance agreement will help the university to reduce its energy consumption and provide important savings via the various energy conservation measures that will be deployed,” said Mary-Ann Ibeziako, Director of Engineering & Energy. “We are grateful to the MCEC for facilitating the financing of this critical project." 

Through the Maryland Clean Energy Capital program, MCEC and UMD chose to develop the project under a joint energy savings agreement, ensuring both organizations will share in the benefit of the cost and consumption reductions. In order to facilitate project construction and secure operating performance guarantees, MCEC entered into an energy performance contract with Constellation NewEnergy, Inc. 

“MCEC is proud to continue providing technical support and advantageous capital to enable the success of similar energy projects in Maryland,” said Wyatt Shifflet, Director of Finance Programs for MCEC. “Working in partnership with facilities managers and project developers, like UMD and Constellation NewEnergy, we can effectively bring about desired cost savings, building improvements and the associated employment, not to mention the related environmental benefits.”

The project reinforces the University President’s Energy Conservation Initiative, which aims to reduce energy consumption 20 percent from 2015 to 2020. The university is also working on a Climate Action Plan goal of being a carbon neutral campus by 2050. Among the activities undertaken to reach carbon neutrality: implementing large-scale renewable energy projects, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from new construction and university air travel, and promoting more sustainable transportation options to the campus community.

“Constellation supports the University of Maryland’s goal of reducing energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020,” said Michael D. Smith, senior vice president, Distributed Energy for Constellation. “We’re excited to help enhance the learning environment through infrastructure and energy improvements for the university’s students, faculty, and staff.”   

For more information, about University of Maryland sustainable energy efforts, visit go.umd.edu/xrf.


About the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students, 10,000 faculty and staff, and 280 academic programs. Its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners, 60 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. The institution has a $1.9 billion operating budget and secures $514 million annually in external research funding. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.


UMD Research Examines How Human Modifications Affect Mammal Movement Globally

January 26, 2018

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Humans modify natural landscapes in a variety of ways, from constructing expansive cityscapes to fencing off otherwise untouched rangeland. A new study, co-authored by biologists at the University of Maryland, describes the extent to which highly modified landscapes impede the movement of 57 land-based mammal species from around the world. On average, these mammals cover about a third to half of the distance they would otherwise travel in wild, unmodified landscapes.

Photo of coyoteAn international team of more than 100 co-authors published its findings in the January 26, 2018 issue of the journal Science. While many previous studies have examined individual species at local and regional scales, the new work is the first to integrate many species across the globe in a single analysis. According to the researchers, their findings could have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems and, as a result, for human society.

“The magnitude of the effects we observed was really surprising. The reduction of movement on a 10-day scale, that percentage drop was just phenomenal. In some cases, we saw a tenfold decrease in movement,” said William Fagan, professor and chair of the UMD Department of Biology and a co-author of the study. “This is after accounting for other factors we already know to be important to animal movement, such as body size, diet and available food resources.”

Most mammals are on the move every day, searching for food, shelter or a mate. In general, larger mammals like zebra move longer distances, while smaller mammals such as hares cover shorter distances. In this study, the researchers collated GPS-tracked movement data from 803 individual animals representing 57 mammal species from around the globe. They used the data portal, Movebank, which archives movement data from researchers across the world.

The researchers then compared these movement data to a metric called the Human Footprint Index, which assigns landscapes a rating that ranges from zero (untouched natural areas) to 50 (dense urban cityscapes). The researchers’ analysis primarily focused on areas with a rating of 36 or higher, comparing these data with baseline information from areas with an index of less than two.

The team also assessed each species’ movements on a variety of time scales ranging from an hour to 10 days. On shorter time scales of less than a day, human-modified landscapes did not significantly affect the movement of most species. However, for observations ranging from a day to 10 days, most species reduced their travel distances by an average of at least half.

Human infrastructure such as roads, buildings, bridges and fences create physical barriers to animal movement. But the research also suggests another, somewhat paradoxical reason that mammals move less in human-dominated areas: resources such as food and shelter can be more plentiful.

“Our research suggests that two things are going on,” said Eliezer Gurarie, a principal faculty specialist in the UMD Department of Biology and a co-author of the paper. “First, the world isn’t as free to move around in. But for many animals it’s also less necessary to range widely because humans can indirectly provide food and protection from large predators.”

Gurarie points to the high numbers of white-tailed deer familiar to anyone in the Washington, D.C. metro area, coyotes found within the borders of Chicago, and fishers—a relative of weasels and ferrets—which are native to Canada and the northern United States.

“It was long thought that fishers needed old-growth forest to thrive,” Gurarie said. “But fishers are doing extremely well, for example, around Albany, New York, where there are a lot of naïve squirrels and rabbits that don’t know to avoid this predator.”

Urban-dwelling fishers, much like urban deer and coyote, typically have much smaller home ranges than their counterparts in wild areas.Photo of a Mongolian gazelle

While some species can cope with reduced movement in less wild landscapes, the researchers note that movement is also important for the ecosystem as a whole. Restricted movement can disrupt food webs, curtail the distribution of plant seeds and interfere with the transport of nutrients contained in animal waste and prey kills.

“It is important that animals move, because in moving they carry out important ecological functions like transporting nutrients and seeds between different areas,” said Marlee Tucker, lead author of the study and a biologist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. “If mammals move less this could alter any of these ecosystem functions.” 

Wild mammals can also clash with humans, causing problems that can range from unwanted grazing in crops and gardens to the spread of deadly diseases. Fortunately, land-use planners and developers can implement strategies to minimize conflicts.

“Concentrating development in certain areas can preserve more open space. It’s also possible to leave corridors open for movement,” said Fagan, who is also a research innovation scholar at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). “These corridors can be as simple as a tunnel under a road. Such measures allow mammals to live in the same landscape without suffering from reduced movement.”

Fagan, Gurarie, Tucker and their colleagues note that the current study, while impressive in scope, is likely only the first of its kind. With access to large amounts of high-quality, globe-spanning data contained in public databases like Movebank, ecologists are keen to continue large-scale, data-driven studies on animal movement.

“This idea of compiling data on animal movement will open the door to new studies that include new species and that look for patterns and similarities in data,” Fagan explained. “It creates opportunities to look more generally at how animal movement affects other environmental features. Some questions can only be asked by gathering together a lot of data. This is one of them.”

In addition to Fagan and Gurarie, UMD-affiliated co-authors of the research paper include visiting graduate student Nina Attias, biology principal faculty specialist Christen Fleming, biological sciences graduate student Edward Hurme, and former graduate students Justin Calabrese (Ph.D. ’05, behavior, ecology, evolution, systematics) and Thomas Mueller (Ph.D. ’08, behavior, ecology, evolution, systematics).


This work was supported by the Robert Bosch Foundation; the Goethe International Postdoctoral Programme; the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (Award No. FP7/2007-2013/[291776]); the German Research Foundation (Award Nos. FR 3246/2-1, AOBJ 576687 and 2118/1 BioMove); the French National Research Agency (Award Nos. ANR FEAR, ANR SAVARID and ANR-16 -CE02-0010-02); the U.S. National Science Foundation (Award Nos. ABI-1458748, 0963022, 1255913, DEB-LTREB 1556248, DDIG 0608467, 1564380, BCS 99-03949 and BCS 1266389); the Irish Research Council (Award No. GOIPD/2015/81); NASA (Award Nos. NNX15AV92 and NNX11AP61G); the Research Council of Norway (Award No. 251112); the GLOBE Project (POL-NOR/198352/85/2013); the University of California, Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology; the American Society of Mammalogists; the Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship and ERC (Award No. 323401); the Copenhagen Zoo; the Danish Environmental Protection Agency; the Juni Charity Foundation; the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Award No. SFRH/BPD/111084/2015); Save the Elephants; the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Award No. IJCI-2014-19190); the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation; and the University of California, Davis, Committee on Research. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

Photo: A coyote reclines on a golf course in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Image credit: Flickr user Dru Bloomfield, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Photo: A Mongolian gazelle wears a GPS tracking collar that logs the animal’s movements through its home range. Image credit: William Fagan



Why do People Cheat? UMD Research Identifies 8 Motivating Factors

January 25, 2018

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Infidelity in a relationship can be costly—personally, financially and socially—yet it remains an exceedingly common occurrence. New research led by the University of Maryland Department of Psychology provides a comprehensive list of the main reasons people cheat, and questions traditional wisdom about what infidelity means in a relationship. 

While previous research has identified factors that make a person more likely to be unfaithful to a relationship partner, a UMD-led study published in the Journal of Sex Research examined people’s self-reported motivations for engaging in infidelity. The research team surveyed 562 adults who admitted to being unfaithful while in a committed, romantic relationship. After analyzing responses to a set of nearly 80 questions, researchers identified eight common reasons people cheat:

  • Anger: seeking revenge for a partner’s betrayal
  • Sexual desire: feeling unsatisfied with the sex in a relationship and wanting to try something new
  • Lack of love: loss of passion or interest in a partner, falling “out of love”
  • Neglect: not receiving enough love, respect and attention
  • Low commitment: one partner is not as committed as the other, or both partners didn’t understand the relationship was exclusive
  • Situation: includes scenarios outside of a person’s normal, such as being intoxicated, on vacation, or under high stress
  • Esteem: seeking to increase self-worth by having sex with multiple partners
  • Variety: wanting to experience sex with as many partners as possible

“Despite the widespread prevalence of infidelity, there hasn’t been much research into what makes people cheat,” explained UMD Assistant Professor of Psychology Dylan Selterman, who led the study. “Gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates people to engage in infidelity may help couples repair their relationships following an infidelity, or may help them prevent the onset of cheating in the first place. Clinicians may also find it useful during couples’ therapy.”

Selterman and colleagues found that men were more likely to report being motivated to cheat by sexual desire, variety and situational forces, while women were more likely to be motivated by neglect. Further, they say the variety and diversity of motivations associated with infidelity suggest it can happen to anyone—even couples in seemingly stable relationships.

“We often hear that infidelity is a symptom, not a cause, of a damaged relationship,” Selterman said. “Our research suggests it’s not that simple: People cheat for a variety of reasons, many of which are not a direct reflection of a relationship’s health.” 

To build upon this study, the research team is now looking into behavioral outcomes following infidelity: How often do couples break up? How often does the unfaithful partner leave for the person with whom he/she cheated? Does the motivation behind the infidelity predict such outcomes? 

In addition to Selterman, the research team includes Justin Garcia, an Assistant Professor from the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University, and Irene Tsapelas from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Unsustained Geoengineering Could Have Animals ‘Running’ for Their Lives

January 24, 2018

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md.  – To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, scientists have started researching the potential costs and benefits of solar geoengineering approaches that could reflect a small proportion of the Sun’s energy back into space and thus counteract some of the temperature rise caused by rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.  However, a new study looks at one such approach  – injecting  reflective particles into the atmosphere – and concludes that starting or stopping such geoengineering too quickly could, for a time, escalate the rate of climate change to unprecedented speeds, with catastrophic impacts on most groups of animals. 

Illustration of The Parasol Effect“We found that a rapid implementation or termination of geoengineering could accelerate climate change so much that most species would not be able to move fast enough to keep up with the changes,” said Chris Trisos, lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at the University of Maryland.

Conducted by scientists from the SESYNC, Yale University, Stony Brook University, and Rutgers, this first of its kind research used data from climate simulation models to estimate how geoengineering could change the speeds at which rising temperatures move across the surface of the Earth, and how that could impact animals that need to migrate to track climate changes to survive. Their study was published January 22 in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Trisos and his colleagues used data on how temperatures would change if a five-million-ton veil of sulphur dioxide was injected into the stratosphere annually from 2020 to 2070. That’s an annual amount equal to about one-quarter of the aerosols emitted by the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, which cooled the earth by 0.5 degrees Celsius over two years.

The climate would cool immediately after such geoengineering started, as the climate system adjusted to less incoming solar radiation. However, the researchers caution about what would happen if society loses the will or means to continue injecting reflective aerosols into the atmosphere. A sudden termination of this geoengineering would cause rapid warming with changing temperatures projected to speed across the land at an average of 10 kilometers per year, three times faster than climate change without solar geoengineering. The fastest temperature velocities are projected to occur in tropical marine environments, where geoengineering termination could increase the speed animals need to migrate to stay in the temperature range of their natural habitat to more than 50 kilometers per year. This alarming pace could doom many slow-migrating tropical organisms, such as corals, plants, reptiles and amphibians, to extinction.

“If a solar geoengineering project gets terminated suddenly, for whatever reason, that could spell disaster for many animals and ecosystems,” said Trisos.

The researchers analyzed maps of biodiversity hotspots with their maps of temperature velocities to estimate the effects on different groups of animals including reptiles, birds, mammals, corals, and amphibians.

In response to existing climate change, birds, reptiles and mammals have already shifted their geographic ranges an average of 1.7 kilometers per year, but that is four to seven times slower than would be needed to escape warming from the termination of geoengineering. 

“Some of the biggest climate shocks of termination would happen in the tropics, where biodiversity hotspots are concentrated,” Trisos said, “And amphibians, corals and fish would be the groups most harmed.”

Most animal taxa would take a major hit from high climate velocities. The study’s estimate of temperature velocities from geoengineering termination would outpace the average dispersal speed of 93 percent of mammal species in the Americas. 

Trisos cautions that their estimate of rapid onset and termination of solar geoengineering may not be likely. “Hopefully any geoengineering project would start and end slowly,” Trisos said, “But it is possible that geopolitical divisions or turmoil might force sudden termination. And it’s important for us to understand the ecological impacts should such a scenario come to pass.”

“The list of potential unintended ecological consequences from geoengineering is long, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what might occur,” said Trisos.

Co-author Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University, adds that even gradual implementation or termination pose multiple risks. “The solutions to global warming are to stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and to adapt to the climate changes we cannot avoid.  Trying to control the climate by creating a cloud in the upper atmosphere may be much riskier than not doing it, and our results quantify only one of the major risks to ecosystems as well as to people.  While any sensible use of solar geoengineering would be done with gradual implementation and termination, it can never be guaranteed,” he said. 

Illustration from “Fighting global warming by climate engineering: Is the Earth radiation management and the solar radiation management any option for fighting climate change?”  Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews [Elsevier], Volume 31, March 2014, Pages 792-834 Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. Creative Commons License.

University of Maryland Names Amitabh Varshney as Dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

January 23, 2018

Jessica Jennings, 301-405-4618

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has named Amitabh Varshney as dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS), effective March 1, 2018. As dean, Varshney will lead the College’s broad and robust research and educational efforts across 10 departments.

Headshot of Amitabh Varshney“I am very excited about the future of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences under Dr. Varshney’s leadership,” said Mary Ann Rankin, UMD’s senior vice president and provost. “He has a wealth of knowledge in research and interdisciplinary work. His clear vision for the college and natural leadership style will allow CMNS to continue to be recognized nationally and globally. I am enthused and excited to work with him.”

Varshney joined the university’s Department of Computer Science faculty in 2000, and since 2010, has served as director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). A leader in interactive visual computing research, Varshney’s work has focused on exploring the applications of high-performance computer graphics and visualization in science, engineering and medicine. His research results are being used in climate modeling; plasma physics; nanomanufacturing; the design of buildings, cars and submarines; medical imaging; gene sequencing; and the creative arts. He has engaged in research collaborations with a variety of partners in industry and government agencies.

“I am excited for the opportunity to lead the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences alongside some of the university’s best and brightest faculty, students and staff,” said Varshney. “I hope that as we move into the college’s next phase together, we can continue to build upon the success of our nationally recognized academic programs, cutting-edge research, and world-renowned faculty innovation.” 

As part of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership, Varshney helped bring together scientists and clinicians from both UMD and the University of Maryland, Baltimore to establish a multidisciplinary Center for Health-related Informatics and Bioimaging (CHIB), tasked with solving grand challenges in personalized medicine and health care. Varshney has also advised more than 50 undergraduate students, 30 master’s degree students and 12 doctoral students. He taught the university’s first undergraduate course in virtual and augmented reality in 2016, and helped establish the Maryland Center for Women in Computing.

“Professor Varshney has the qualities of mind, temperament, leadership, and character to be an outstanding Dean,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “His record of commitment to excellence in learning and teaching, fundamental research and innovation, and multidisciplinary collaborations will serve CMNS well as it continues on its ascendant trajectory. My thanks to the search committee for identifying a slate of exceptional finalist candidates.”

Varshney is an elected fellow of IEEE, a recipient of the IEEE Technical Achievement Award and a NSF CAREER Award. Varshney earned his B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.  He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 


UMD Researcher Develops Innovative Water Treatment System to Clean and Sustain the Port of Baltimore

January 22, 2018

Samantha Watters, 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- The University of Maryland, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is piloting an innovative sustainable technology to help reduce pollution,  improve the water and air quality, and create renewable energy in and around the Port of Baltimore.

Photo of Port of BaltimoreStephanie Lansing, Ph.D., associate professor in UMD’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology, is leading the pilot project, working alongside UMD faculty members Patrick Kangas, Ph.D., and Peter May, Ph.D. Kangas and May built a treatment system that uses algae as a filtration system to remove excess nutrients from the water. The project will not only combat this issue, but Lansing is using the algae produced from the treatment process as a sustainable energy source.

“What I love about this project is that we are taking traditional agricultural practices and water quality work and applying it to an urban setting in a unique way that hasn’t really been done before,” said Lansing. “We are cleaning up the Bay, improving water and air quality, reducing pollution, and creating renewable energy using innovative green technologies for the Port all at once.”

Growing algae as a filtration system is fast and efficient. Water from the Patapsco River, which is next to the Port, is fed into a runway that is 200 feet long and 6 feet wide. The runway is used to grow algae that pulls out the nitrates and phosphates from the water for its natural growth processes. The water that is cycled back into the river is then cleared of nutrient runoff that can cause imbalances and issues in the Bay. Instead, what is returned is oxygen rich, clean water, improving water and air quality around the Port.

Algae grows quickly and is harvested by the Port once a week and fed into a series of three digesters that are housed in small greenhouse-like structures that break down the algae. This process produces methane-enriched biogas. The biogas can be used as a supplement to power a fuel cell that produces electricity.

“We are harvesting very high quality methane gas from the algae so far to power our fuel cell. From manure, we are used to seeing 55% or 60% methane, but we are seeing 75% methane or higher from the algae, making it very efficient,” explained Dr. Lansing. “Because the algae grows so quickly and is easy to harvest, it makes a great consistent source of biogas when fed into the digesters.”

Currently, the fuel cell is only being used to power flood lights around the digesters. The goal is that the water pump can be powered by the biogas as well, making this a completely sustainable and closed system for this small-scale pilot project.

“If we can show that this is economically feasible and determine how much space we need to clean how much water and produce how much electricity, we can hopefully scale this up from a pilot project and create something viable that we can use to improve the sustainability and environmental footprint of the Port,” said Barbara McMahon of the Port Administration. “Our partnership with MARAD and the University of Maryland has been a huge help and very rewarding. We are excited to see what the future holds.”


Federal Government Shutdown FAQs

January 20, 2018

The University of Maryland is committed to keeping its community updated on the federal government shutdown and its potential impacts on our community. Below are some frequently asked questions. The university will update this information as federal agencies continue to release more guidance to the public.

Click here for guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget. Specific agency contingency plans can also be found here.  

Information updated 1/20/18

1. What is the impact on federally-funded research projects?

No new grants or contracts are usually awarded during a shutdown. Researchers can likely submit proposals, but they will not be reviewed until the government is operational again.

Work may continue on most federally-funded projects that have already been awarded. Routine administrative and support services provided by federal agencies to grant and contract recipients likely will not be available. Awarded projects may be disrupted during a shutdown if they are housed in a federal facility, if the project includes federal personnel, and/or if an award includes restrictive terms and conditions that require administrative action to approve a drawdown of funds.

Federal agency staff likely will not be available to approve no-cost extension requests, grant transfers, re-budgeting approvals or other actions requiring agency approval.

For details, refer to Section II of the Office of Management and Budget’s “Planning for Agency Operations during a Potential Lapse in Appropriations” or the specific agency's contingency plan

2. What is the impact on federal financial aid?

The shutdown is expected to have minimal impact on federal financial aid.

The processing of Federal Direct Student Loans and Pell Grants is expected to continue on their normal schedules.

Graduate student stipends awarded as part of federal grants to the university are expected to get paid during the shutdown.

3. What is the impact on veterans’ education benefits and services?

Education benefits will continue to be processed and paid. 

Support services for veteran students, such as their hotline to ask questions on benefits and their career counseling services, may not be operational.

4. What is the impact on immigration services?

Because these activities are funded by fees, most of these services are expected to remain operational during a shutdown.  

For additional information, view the Department of Homeland Security’s plan

5. What is the impact on international students at UMD? 

If you have questions or concerns about how the shutdown affects you as an international student, please contact UMD’s International Student & Scholar Services office at 301-314-7740. 

6. What is the impact on students who are interning with federal agencies? How will this affect internship credits earned? 

Students who have an internship with a federal agency should contact their supervisor to determine how they are affected by the shutdown. 

Students should also contact their internship coordinator at UMD to determine any effects on credits being earned. 

7. Will the Metro still run? 

The metro’s service and schedule are not affected by the shutdown. 


Spinning Comet Slows Down During Close Approach to Earth

January 19, 2018

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- University of Maryland astronomers have captured an unprecedented slowdown in the rotation of a comet. Observations made in May 2017 by NASA's Swift spacecraft, now renamed the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory after the mission’s late principal investigator, reveal that comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák was spinning more than twice as slowly as it was in March, when it was observed by the Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak gliding beneath the galaxy NGC 3198The abrupt slowdown of the comet, commonly referred to as 41P, is the most dramatic change in a comet's rotation ever seen. Published in the journal Nature on January 11, 2018, the researchers presented their findings at a press conference on January 10, 2018, at the 231st American Astronomical Society (AAS) Meeting in Washington, D.C.

"The previous record for a comet spindown went to 103P/Hartley 2, which slowed its rotation from 17 to 19 hours over 90 days," said Dennis Bodewits, an associate research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and lead author of the study. "By contrast, 41P spun down by more than 10 times as much in just 60 days, so both the extent and the rate of this change is something we've never seen before."

Comet 41P orbits the sun every 5.4 years, traveling only about as far out as the planet Jupiter. Estimated to be less than a mile across, 41P is among the smallest of the “Jupiter family” comets, named as such because Jupiter’s gravitational influence controls their orbits. The small size of 41P helps explain how jets on the comet’s surface were able to produce such a dramatic spindown.

With a small and relatively inactive nucleus—the solid ball of dust and ice at the center of the comet—41P had proven difficult for astronomers to study in detail. That all changed in early 2017, when the comet passed within 13.2 million miles of Earth—the closest since its discovery.

As a comet nears the sun, increased heating causes its surface ice to change directly to a gas, producing jets that launch dust particles and icy grains into space. This material forms an extended atmosphere, called a coma.

Water in the coma quickly breaks up into hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl molecules when exposed to ultraviolet sunlight. Because Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) is sensitive to UV light emitted by hydroxyl, it is ideally suited for measuring how comet jet activity evolves throughout the comet’s orbit.

Ground-based observations established the comet's initial rotational period at about 20 hours in early March 2017 and detected its slowdown later the same month. The comet came closest to Earth on April 1, making its closest approach to the sun eight days later.

Swift's UVOT imaged the comet May 7-9, 2017, revealing light variations associated with material recently ejected into the coma. These slow changes indicated that 41P's rotation period—or the time it takes for the comet to complete one full rotation on its axis—had more than doubled, from 20 hours to between 46 and 60 hours.

UVOT-based estimates of 41P's water production, coupled with the body's small size, suggest that more than half of the comet’s surface area hosted sunlight-activated jets. In contrast, most active comets typically support jets over about 3 percent of their surface area.

"We suspect that the jets from the active areas are oriented in a favorable way to produce the torques that slowed 41P's spin," said Tony Farnham, a principal research scientist in astronomy at UMD and a co-author of the Nature paper. "If the torques continued acting after the May observations, 41P's rotation period could have slowed to 100 hours or more by now."

Such a slow spin could make the comet's rotation unstable, allowing it to begin tumbling with no fixed rotational axis. This would produce a dramatic change in the comet’s seasonal heating. Bodewits and his colleagues note that 41P probably spun much faster in the past—possibly fast enough to induce landslides or partial fragmentation that would expose fresh ice. Strong outbursts of activity in 1973 and 2001 may be related to 41P's rotational changes, the researchers suggested.

A second team of astronomers from UMD, Lowell Observatory and the University of Sheffield independently confirmed the slowdown with a separate set of observations using the Discovery Channel, Hall and Robotic Telescopes operated by Lowell. The results suggest that the comet has an elongated shape and low density, with jets located near the end of its body. These jets provide the torque needed to slow the comet’s rotation.

“If future observations can accurately measure the dimensions of the nucleus, then the observed rotation period change would set limits on the comet’s density and internal strength,” said Matthew Knight, an assistant research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy. “SuchPhoto of comet observations detailed knowledge of a comet is usually only obtained by a dedicated spacecraft mission like the recently completed Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.”

The Rosetta mission, which entered orbit around comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko in 2014, documented a less extreme relationship between a comet's shape, activity and spin. The comet's spin sped up by two minutes as it approached the sun, and then slowed by 20 minutes as it moved farther away. As with 41P, scientists think these changes were produced by the interplay between the comet's shape and the location and activity of its jets.

Comets are believed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system, having changed little during the past 4.5 billion years. First discovered by Horace Tuttle in 1858, 41P was lost for years until it was rediscovered by Michel Giacobini in 1907. Lost again and rediscovered a third time in 1951 by Lubor Kresák, the comet now carries the names of all three independent discoverers.

This release was adapted from text provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Lowell Observatory. 

This research published in the Nature research paper was supported by NASA’s Swift Guest Investigator Program (Award No. 1316125) and the National Science Foundation (Award No. AST-1005313). The research presented at the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in October 2017 was supported by NASA’s Planetary Astronomy Program and the Marcus Cometary Research Fund. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.



University of Maryland Named a 2018 Best Value College

January 18, 2018

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been deemed a best value college by both Kiplinger’s Personal Finance in the 2018 Best College Value ranking and The Princeton Review in their latest book “Colleges That Pay Your Back: 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck”. 

In both mentions, the University of Maryland is recognized for its offering of comprehensive aid programs for students who demonstrate financial need and the full offering of merit-based scholarships available to incoming students. The Banneker/Key, President's and Maryland Transfer scholarship programs are featured as keys to “what make a Maryland degree an exceptional value” by Princeton Review editors. 

In addition, UMD is highlighted for its academic support and honors programs, diversity of student body and proximity to tier-one research and internship opportunities in the nation's Capital. 

The Princeton Review accumulates data from over 650 colleges, reviewing more than 40 data factors to determine the return on investment (ROI)  ratings and selection of the universities listed in the annual book. The University of Maryland boasts a ROI rating of 88 in its eighth consecutive appearance on the list. 

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance gathers self-reported figures from over 1,200 colleges and universities, scoring them by academic quality, cost and financial aid options. UMD is ranked No. 10 for in-state students and No. 16 for out-of-state students among public universities. 

Click to view the University of Maryland profiles by The Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Unity Mural Created by UMD and BSU on Display at Maryland State House

January 18, 2018

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A Unity Mural, created collaboratively by the University of Maryland and Bowie State University, will be displayed at the Maryland House of Delegates, in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. The Maryland House of Delegates is one of many temporary locations across Prince George's County that will display the artwork until it finds a permanent home at each institution.

To visually illustrate peace, justice and unity, students and faculty from UMD and BSU contributed their artistic talents to design and paint a unity mural at UMD's NextNOW Fest in September 2017. The collaboration presented an opportunity for students to spark a dialogue and call to action for both university communities. 

The Unity Mural consists of four brightly colored canvas panels, featuring symbols such as the sun and sky, hands, vines and doves interspersed with powerful words and text. Two panels will be installed at each university to help foster community building and healing through art and creative expression.


 Photo of Unity Mural


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