The research interests of the Astronomy Dept. faculty span a wide range of specialties. Department faculty and students conduct research using observations from our own 0.7-m PlaneWave telescope on campus, as well as larger telescopes worldwide and spacecraft throughout the solar system. 

Wellesley College is also part of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC), a group of eight liberal arts colleges with astronomy research programs. The consortium supports student summer research exchanges.

Additional summer research opportunities off-campus are available through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program; their site includes a searchable listing of REU programs in astronomy and astrophysics.

Current Research Projects at Whitin Observatory

Exoplanet Hunters (K. McLeod)

Prof. McLeod and her students use Wellesley's very own telescope to hunt for transiting exoplanets.  When a planet's orbit is aligned just right, each time it circles its host star it blocks a tiny fraction of the star's light as seen from Earth (and Wellesley!).  We detect these transits by monitoring the star's light over the course of the night.  We have helped to discover several extremely hot, inflated planets like KELT-18b as part of the KELT team, and are now part of the follow-up team for the TESS satellite.

Structural evolution in the early Universe (L. Mowla)

Prof. Mowla is an observational astronomer studying the structural evolution of astronomical objects in the early Universe. She wants to understand how the first stars, star clusters, galaxies, and galaxy clusters formed in the infant Universe and how they changed as the Universe got older. For her research, she uses space telescopes such as the Hubble and JWST, ground-based telescopes such as Dragonfly, as well as cosmological hydrodynamical simulations. Check here for the news coverage of her research.

Formation and modification of impact craters (W. Watters)

On the Earth, small impact craters are quickly buried and eroded, and so cannot be studied easily or in large numbers.  Imagery from rover and orbiter missions to Mars and the Moon have beamed back to Earth an abundance of high-resolution stereo imagery of small impact craters.  Prof. Watters and his students use these data to make 3-D models of impact craters and then take measurements to characterize their structure and shape.  The results of statistical analyses of these data are used to test complex numerical models of impact crater formation as well as modification on the martian and lunar surfaces.