I am an Assistant Professor primarily working in the field of transiting exoplanets. I obtained my PhD from Queen's University, Belfast in 2012. The main focus of my PhD was the prototyping phase of the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS). I worked on La Palma for 5 years starting in 2009 (INT studentship & WHT telescope operator/support astronomer) and moved to Warwick in 2014 as a postdoc on the NGTS project. In 2018 I began working in the PLATO Data Centre (PDC) at Warwick, focusing on the removal of systematic noise for the mission. More recently I've started working with the Space Domain Awareness group at Warwick.
PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations (PLATO)Link opens in a new window is a European Space Agency medium class mission to be launched in 2026 with the goal of discovering and characterising Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. Below is a rendering of the spacecraft. My contribution to the mission is the data centre, working closely with Dr. Richard West, focusing on the removal of systematic noise.
The 6 cameras within each group are co-pointed to the same patch of sky. The 4 camera groups overlap with one another to produce the combined footprint shown above. Therefore, different stars will be observed with either 6, 12, 18 or 24 cameras depending on their location in the field of view. Combining the light curves from multiple cameras increases the SNR of the final light curve and also allows us to better disentangle real astrophysical signals from systematic noise.
And of course, we cannot be a serious space telescope without a LEGO model! https://platomission.com/2019/06/03/plato-lego-model/
Space Domain Awareness
Accurate orbital parameters for satellites and space debris are becoming evermore important in the new era of satellite mega constellations (e.g. SpaceX Starlink). Precise tracking of satellites requires measuring their position and velocity in 3 dimensions. Optical measurements traditionally obtain 2 dimensional information only (position on the sky) and lack the height of the satellite above the Earth. Together with Dr. Paul Chote and Prof. Don Pollacco we are developing a new method of measuring accurate distances to satellites. By using pairs of optical observations obtained from different locations on the ground and employing the parallax technique we can obtain accurate heights with the goal of improving orbital parameters for the targets. We have a stationary telescope on La Palma and are developing a new portable system that will be deployed at a second location in order to obtain the parallax measurements. We are currently offering a PhD project on this project starting October 2023 (add link).
I am an APM PMQ qualified project manager (part-time) on the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO)Link opens in a new window project. GOTO is designed to survey large areas of sky rapidly with the goal of measuring the optical flashes associated with the merger of binary neutron star/black hole systems. The GOTO network consists of 4 telescope nodes, two on La Palma and two at Siding Springs. Each node contains 8x40cm telescopes on a common mount. The focus of this work has been delivering the second telescope node on La Palma and developing the southern installation at Siding Springs Observatory, Australia.
I previously worked on the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS)Link opens in a new window as the operations postdoc (2014-2018). NGTS is a robotic observatory dedicated to transiting exoplanet science. The facility consists of 12x20cm telescopes, each on an independently steerable mount. It is located in the southern hemisphere at ESO's Paranal Observatory, Chile. NGTS achieves a low level of systematic noise partly thanks to our extremely stable autoguiding method (Donuts). By combining light curves from multiple telescopes NGTS is able suppress atmospheric scintillation noise and perform photometry comparable to space-based telescopes.
While I have no official teaching duties I enjoy demonstrating in the first and second year Python labs (PX150 and PX281).
In the 22/23 academic year I am offering a BSc project in astronomy. The project is focused on searching for transits on White Dwarf stars in NGTS. More information can be found on Moodle
Add link to PhD project description for Parallax
A list of my publications can be found here
Dr. James McCormac
Department of Physics,
University of Warwick,
Gibbet Hill Road
Office: Milburn House F43
GithubLink opens in a new window