This is a fascinating time in astrophysics, with new observational
capabilities offer us a more detailed view of the universe and its
constituents than ever before. McGill's Astrophysics group works at the
forefront of a wide variety of major astrophysical research areas, including
neutron stars, pulsars, magnetars, pulsar wind nebulae, X-ray binaries,
thermonuclear bursts, black holes, gamma ray bursts, active galactic nuclei,
galaxy evolution, galaxy clusters, microwave background, cosmology and
For more information, you can check the
group website. The Astrophysics
and Cosmology pamphlet can be found here.
The existence of neutron stars was predicted in the 1930s, more than 30
years before the first discovery of radio pulses from pulsar PSR B1919+21,
in 1967. In the past 40 years new telescopes, instruments and detection
methods have resulted in the discovery of nearly 2000 neutron stars.
They can be observed in many wavebands, notably radio, X-rays and
gamma-rays and are grouped into various categories including pulsars,
magnetars, radio rotating transients, X-ray dim isolated neutron stars, and
neutron star X-ray binaries.
The McGill Neutron Star and
Pulsar group studies a diverse range of subjects in observational pulsar
physics, using data from many of the world's most powerful observatories
and satellites, including
and soon, NuSTAR. We study
interesting individual systems such as
double pulsars, magnetars, low mass X-ray binaries and supernova remnants,
as well as the distant and enigmatic gamma-ray bursts. We are also involved
in large-scale surveys to discover new pulsars using large radio
telescopes, including Arecibo and the
Green Bank Telescope.
PSR J0737-3039A/B »
Artist's conception of the double radio pulsar PSR J0737-3039A/B.
Credit: McGill University, Office of Vice-Principal (Research and
Animation by Daniel Cantin, DarwinDimensions
The McGill Neutron Star theorists are interested in the fundamental
structure of neutron stars. We investigate the origin and evolution of
their spin and magnetism, their interior structure, and the properties of
neutron star binary systems.
The Galaxies and Cosmology group at McGill includes observers, theorists
and experimentalists studying the evolution of galaxies, clusters of
galaxies and the cosmic microwave background in order to understand the
processes by which our Universe formed and evolved.
Deep Field »
Hubble Deep Field.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team
McGill is involved in numerous CMB experiments. One of these experiments is
the South Pole Telescope (SPT), which
is surveying the CMB for “shadows” of galaxy clusters:
the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe. The detection
and characterization of these galaxy clusters allows us to probe structure
formation, cosmological parameters and the equation of state of dark energy:
an enigmatic substance driving the accelerated expansion of our universe.
Our observational cosmologists use world-class telescopes such as
the Spitzer Space Telescope
and the Very Large Array to look
back in time and investigate the detailed physics of galaxy evolution. We
are interested in the processes which build the stellar mass of galaxies,
feed the supermassive black-holes at their centers, and group them into the
structures and shapes we see around us today.
The experimental astrophysicists at McGill contribute to the building of
observational facilities to explore various energy bands in astrophysics.
Our high-energy research is carried out with the
in Arizona which is sensitive to gamma rays with energies from 100 GeV to
over 30 TeV.
Frequency multiplexer »
Digital frequency multiplexing board, developed at McGill for
reading out large arrays of low temperature bolometric detectors.
We also have an active cosmology instrumentation lab that has developed
important components for cosmic microwave background detectors such as the
South Pole Telescope and the balloon-borne polarimeter,
Key components of the proposed
CHIME hydrogen mapping
experiment will be developed at McGill.
An artist's impression of a possible exoplanet.
A tremendous number of different kinds of observations of exoplanets are
now available, including statistical distributions of planet properties
and orbits, the surface temperature profiles of hot jupiters, and even
the obliquities of their orbits. The numbers will continue to grow over
the next few years, including new samples of exoplanets such as those from
direct-detection surveys. These observations offer an opportunity to answer
basic questions about planet formation and the physical processes occurring
in exoplanet interiors.
At McGill, we are working on two aspects of exoplanets. The first is the
statistical properties of the sample of exoplanets, which have a lot to tell
us about the physics of planet formation. Part of this work involves applying
Bayesian techniques to the detection of planetary orbits and constraining
properties of the planet population.
Second, we are engaged in a number of studies of the physics of gas giant
planets, with projects including ohmic heating as a way to inflate some of
the hot jupiters, the early evolution of young gas giant planets, and how
we can use observations of directly-detected gas giants to constrain the
formation process and their internal properties.
Nuclear astrophysics is at the intersection of astrophysics and nuclear
physics. It concerns the study of the origin of the chemical elements in
stars and supernovae, explosive events such as supernovae, classical novae,
and X-ray bursts, and the properties of matter at high densities as found in
the interiors of neutron stars. Nuclear astrophysics research at McGill is
focussed on developing connections between nuclear properties and
astrophysical observations through the study of neutron stars.
Thermonuclear flash »
Thermonuclear flash on an accreting neutron star
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
One focus of research at McGill is modelling the transient behavior of
accreting neutron stars on timescales of seconds to years. This requires
knowing the properties of nuclei across the mass table, from the most proton
rich radioactive nuclei to the most neutron rich. Thermonuclear flashes from
unstable hydrogen and helium burning on the surface of an accreting neutron
star involve the rp-process, a rapid proton capture process that produces
heavy nuclei near the proton drip line. Deeper inside the neutron star
crust, nuclei at and beyond neutron drip are present, and determine the
transport properties of the crust that can be probed with observations of
crust cooling on timescales of months to years.
Another focus is measuring the radius of neutron stars. Neutron star radius
and mass measurements give powerful constraints on the properties of the
bulk nuclear matter that should exist in the cores of neutron stars. At
McGill, we use observations of the thermal emission from neutron stars to
measure the neutron star radius and constrain the equation of state of dense
McGill is an Associate Member of the Joint
Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics - Centre for Evolution of the