/Liverpool’s Sky At Night … Mike Healy

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Date: 22nd February 2019

Liverpool’s Sky At Night … Mike Healy

In our newest 'Liverpool's Sky At Night' edition, we caught up with Mike Healy from LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute. The ARI are based out of iC2 and are setting the pace of astrophysics research globally. Their research interests are as varied as they are, and so we are delighted to introduced the human faces behind the science.

Mike Healy is a PhD student at LJMU’s Astrophysics Research Institute, where he researches classical and recurrent novae as part of the Time Domain Astrophysics group.

I was awarded an integrated masters of mathematics degree from the University of Liverpool in July 2015 and later on in the year began a one-year distance learning masters degree in astrophysics with LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI), which I was awarded in October 2016. I am currently a second-year astrophysics PhD student at the ARI, beginning my research in October 2017.

My research belongs to the field of time-domain astrophysics, which focuses on astrophysical phenomenon that change over relatively short time periods (compared to other parts of astrophysics). More specifically, I research novae which manifest as bright (apparently new!) stars in the night sky but then fade from sight over varying timescales. They are in fact the result of a violent eruption of material off the surface of white dwarf star which has been accreted from a less massive orbiting companion star.

Researching these objects is important for many reasons of which I will highlight a few. Firstly, they are potential progenitors of Type Ia supernovae which themselves are used as cosmological distance indicators providing evidence for the presence of dark energy. Additionally, as they produce significant amounts of beryllium-7 that decays into lithium-7 after being ejected, novae provide astronomers with another way to help solve the ‘lithium problem’. Lastly, the elements that make up the building blocks of life such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen are all created during the hot CNO cycle on the surface of the white dwarf before the eruption occurs.

The Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI) is part of Liverpool John Moores University and based in the IC2 building at the Liverpool Science Park. Comprised of nearly seventy research staff and forty graduate students, the work of the ARI encompasses a range of observational and theoretical research: Star Formation and Stellar Populations, Time Domain Astrophysics (focussing on rapidly changing astrophysical phenomena such as supernovae), Galaxy Formation and Evolution, Astronomical Instrumentation, and Computational Cosmology.
Additionally, the ARI works with the University of Liverpool to deliver Bachelor and Master’s courses in astronomy, and also provides a range of distance learning courses. Through its operation of the world’s largest robotic telescope, the National Schools’ Observatory provides data and telescope time to schools around the UK, helping to make professional astronomy accessible to the next generation