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Royal Astronomical Society’s Herschel Medal awarded to Warwick researcher

The Royal Astronomical Society’s 2018 Herschel Medal has been awarded to a University of Warwick astrophysicist.


The medal - which is awarded for investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics – is conferred to Professor Tom Marsh of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group, for the development of the Doppler Tomography technique.

Professor Marsh has undertaken pioneering research into close binary star systems for the last thirty years.

Foremost among his numerous contributions has been the development of the Doppler Tomography technique, which was first described in a landmark paper in 1988 co-authored with Professor Keith Horne.

The method uses phase-resolved spectra to construct two-dimensional velocity-space images, allowing astronomers to break the diffraction limit of conventional imaging.

Its application reveals the micro-arcsecond structure of close binary star systems, delivering accurate masses for white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.

The technique unveils the detailed structure of accretion flows, including the intricate structure of accretion streams and hot-spot dynamics. It also led to the discovery of the theoretically anticipated spiralwave patterns that appear in accretion discs during dwarf nova outbursts.

Doppler Tomography has been applied to hundreds of binary systems by numerous researchers, leading to a much improved understanding of accretion disc physics.

Professor Tom Marsh leads the Astronomy & Astrophysics group in the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick. He commented:

“It's an honour to receive this award, and it has been gratifying to see the continued use of research from many years ago.

"Doppler tomography allows us to map complex variations in atomic line emission from binary stars into fixed patterns, revealing flow patterns otherwise hidden from us. It is a nice example of cross-over, as it uses the same mathematics as the technique of medical X-ray tomography developed to image the human brain in the 1970s."


In February 2016 it was reported that Professor Marsh and colleagues had identified the star AR Scorpii (AR Sco) as the first white dwarf version of a pulsar - objects found in the 1960s and associated with very different objects called neutron stars.

The white dwarf pulsar has eluded astronomers for over half a century before this research.

Image: Professor Tom Marsh - credit University of Warwick (click image for high res).

16 January 2018

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