Dr Benjamin Pope

ARC DECRA Fellow

Physics
Faculty of Science

Overview

I research extrasolar planets - planets around other stars - and focus on developing and applying new data science approaches for detecting and characterizing them. I have taken nearly every approach to exoplanet and stellar observation, including transits, radial velocities, direct imaging, and asteroseismology.

As an ARC DECRA Fellow, I'm working on a survey of naked-eye stars in Kepler, K2, and TESS, to search for transiting planets. I'm also interested in exoplanet direct imaging, as a co-investigator on three accepted James Webb Space Telescope projects to study brown dwarfs, planets, and asteroids with new data analysis techniques. I've recently begun thinking about using radio astronomy to study planets' magnetic interactions with their host stars, from both a theoretical perspective (modelling exoplanet transits with the Square Kilometre Array) and observationally (providing optical follow-up for colleagues at the European LOFAR telescope who have detected possibly the first radio exoplanets).

I grew up in Sydney, New South Wales, and studied for my Honours and Masters at the University of Sydney. I studied abroad at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2017 I completed my DPhil in Astrophysics at Balliol College, Oxford. From 2017-20 was a NASA Sagan Fellow at the NYU Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics and Center for Data Science. I'm now a Lecturer in Astrophysics and DECRA Fellow at the University of Queensland.

I'm vegetarian, keen on Python, Bayes, cycling, coffee, and Earl Grey. I was a member of the winning Balliol College team in the 2016-17 series of University Challenge on BBC2, with the wonderful Joey Goldman, Freddy Potts, and Jacob Lloyd. Sometimes I write: see my latest piece in The Monthly, about the possible discovery of phosphine on Venus.

Research Interests

  • Exoplanets
  • Stellar Astrophysics
  • Machine Learning
  • Interferometry
  • Image Processing

Qualifications

  • Master of Science, The University of Sydney
  • Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours), The University of Sydney
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Oxf.

Publications

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Pueyo, Laurent, Xin, Yinzi and Tuthill, Peter G. (2021). Kernel phase and coronagraphy with automatic differentiation. The Astrophysical Journal, 907 (1) 40, 1-14. doi: 10.3847/1538-4357/abcb00

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Bedell, Megan, Callingham, Joseph R., Vedantham, Harish K., Snellen, Ignas A. G., Price-Whelan, Adrian M. and Shimwell, Timothy W. (2020). No massive companion to the coherent radio-emitting M Dwarf GJ 1151. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 890 (2) L19. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab5b99

  • Vedantham, H. K., Callingham, J. R., Shimwell, T. W., Tasse, C., Pope, B. J. S., Bedell, M., Snellen, I., Best, P., Hardcastle, M. J., Haverkorn, M., Mechev, A., O'Sullivan, S. P., Rottgering, H. J. A. and White, G. J. (2020). Coherent radio emission from a quiescent red dwarf indicative of star-planet interaction. Nature Astronomy, 4 (6), 577-583. doi: 10.1038/s41550-020-1011-9

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., White, Timothy R., Farr, Will M., Yu, Jie, Greklek-McKeon, Michael, Huber, Daniel, Aerts, Conny, Aigrain, Suzanne, Bedding, Timothy R., Boyajian, Tabetha, Creevey, Orlagh L. and Hogg, David W. (2019). The K2 Bright Star Survey. I. Methodology and data release. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 245 (1). doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab3d29

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Davies, Guy R., Hawkins, Keith, White, Timothy R., Stokholm, Amalie, Bieryla, Allyson, Latham, David W., Lucey, Madeline, Aerts, Conny, Aigrain, Suzanne, Antoci, Victoria, Bedding, Timothy R., Bowman, Dominic M., Caldwell, Douglas A., Chontos, Ashley, Esquerdo, Gilbert A., Huber, Daniel, Jofre, Paula, Murphy, Simon J., van Reeth, Timothy, Aguirre, Victor Silva and Yu, Jie (2019). The Kepler Smear Campaign: Light Curves for 102 Very Bright Stars. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 244 (1) 18. doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab2c04

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Withers, Paul, Callingham, Joseph R. and Vogt, Marissa F. (2019). Exoplanet transits with next-generation radio telescopes. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 484 (1), 648-658. doi: 10.1093/mnras/sty3512

  • Callingham, J. R., Tuthill, P. G., Pope, B. J. S., Williams, P. M., Crowther, P. A., Edwards, M., Norris, B. and Kedziora-Chudczer, L. (2018). Anisotropic winds in a Wolf-Rayet binary identify a potential gamma-ray burst progenitor. Nature Astronomy, 3 (1), 82-87. doi: 10.1038/s41550-018-0617-7

  • White, T. R., Pope, B. J. S., Antoci, V., Papics, P. I., Aerts, C., Gies, D. R., Gordon, K., Huber, D., Schaefer, G. H., Aigrain, S., Albrecht, S., Barclay, T., Barentsen, G., Beck, P. G., Bedding, T. R., Andersen, M. Fredslund, Grundahl, F., Howell, S. B., Ireland, M. J., Murphy, S. J., Nielsen, M. B., Aguirre, V. Silva and Tuthill, P. G. (2017). Beyond the Kepler/K2 bright limit: variability in the seven brightest members of the Pleiades. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 471 (3), 2882-2901. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stx1050

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Parviainen, Hannu and Aigrain, Suzanne (2016). Transiting exoplanet candidates from K2 Campaigns 5 and 6. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 461 (4), 3399-3409. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw1373

  • Pope, B. J. S., White, T. R., Huber, D., Murphy, S. J., Bedding, T. R., Caldwell, D. A., Sarai, A., Aigrain, S. and Barclay, T. (2016). Photometry of very bright stars with Kepler and K2 smear data. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 455 (1), L36-L40. doi: 10.1093/mnrasl/slv143

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Grants

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Available Projects

  • Apply for PhD Positions through RTP

    Honours Projects Available

    Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered with optical astronomy, whether by using the Doppler effect to see the planet pulling its star back and forth (the radial velocity method, which won Didier Queloz & Michel Mayor the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics), or looking for the dip in brightness as a planet passes in front of a star (the transit method). In our Solar System, the Sun, Earth, and the gas giants are bright sources of radio waves, which tell us a great deal about their magnetic fields and interactions, and for decades astronomers have searched for these effects in more distant planetary systems. Only a couple of the closest stars have been detected in radio waves - otherwise most radio sources are exotic stellar remnants, or black holes at the centres of galaxies. A handful of planets have been discovered by radio astronomy around neutron stars, but the search for radio emission from exoplanets around ordinary stars has until recently not yielded results.

    A controversial new discovery by the LOFAR radio telescope in Europe may have opened the window to an important new way to discover and understand exoplanets. LOFAR has found the nearby old, quiet red dwarf GJ 1151 was found to emit circularly polarized radio waves, which we have interpreted as evidence of star-planet magnetic interaction. RV instruments have searched for such a short-period planet, with inconclusive and controversial results. There are other systems we don't believe to be from planetary interactions, but might be new and interesting stellar astrophysics. With many more detections on the way from LOFAR, this could be the beginning of exoplanet radio astronomy. LOFAR is a pathfinder for the recently-approved Square Kilometre Array to be built in Australia, which will be nearly an order of magnitude more sensitive, with the potential to discover hundreds or thousands of these systems.

    I have been involved in this project from the beginning, particularly in optical follow-up to search for these planets and understand these stars with ground-based telescopes and satellite data. I have also published theoretical work on what to expect from exoplanet radio observations. There are Honours and PhD projects available in:

    • Helping radial-velocity and TESS photometry follow-up of radio-detected stars
    • Theoretical predictions of discoveries with the SKA

    These would be great projects for students wanting to do a lot of classical observational astronomy, or who want to get to grips with plasma physics.

  • 2 ARC-Funded PhD Scholarships Available

    Honours Projects Available

    There is a second side to the ARC DECRA-supported research on naked-eye bright stars: using the Mount Kent Observatory, near Toowoomba, to measure the masses the brightest red giant stars in the sky. The Sun, like many other stars, rings like a bell, and its dominant note has a period of about 5 minutes. The turbulent motion of gas in the Sun couples to normal modes of acoustic oscillation and cause it to ring in a band of frequencies that are precisely diagnostic of conditions in the stellar interior. Larger stars, like larger instruments, have lower notes, so that many red giant stars might mainly ring at periods of days or weeks. The science of asteroseismology is about studying the interiors of stars through oscillations like this, and can be used to determine stellar masses and ages. It has been revolutionised by the Kepler Space Telescope's long, precise, uniform time series of stellar brightnesses.

    On the ground-based side, we are interested in doing asteroseismology of the brightest red giant stars in the sky. With pulsation periods of about a week, they are too long to measure well with TESS (which observes most parts of the sky for a month at a time). The Mount Kent Observatory, near Toowoomba, hosts arrays of 0.7m robotic telescopes coupled to radial velocity spectrographs Minerva and SONG, which can automatically obtain RVs of many bright stars per night. In order to hit the whole sky, we want to conduct as few observations of each star as possible, while still getting enough to constrain their physics well - and as a consequence, we will typically only get sparse and irregularly-sampled time series of each star.

    It turns out that Gaussian Process statistical models are well-suited to this, as my collaborators and I showed on the bright giant Aldebaran, a known planet host. By measuring its mass with asteroseismology to 5% precision, we showed that while its planet is now blasted with heat from the red giant, when it was a main sequence star the planet would have received a similar amount of sunlight to the Earth, and so it may have in the distant past been habitable.

    Part of this ARC DECRA project is therefore to scale up what we did on one star (Aldebaran) to all the giants in the sky, and build a new tool for doing asteroseismology from the ground.

    This project would be well suited to someone with an interest in statistics and programming in Python or Julia, and who wants to get to grips with Gaussian Process models, or the spectroscopic instruments SONG and Minerva at Mt Kent.

  • Honours Projects Available

    Co-supervised with Dr Pat Scott

    About 85% of the matter in the universe consists of dark matter, whose presence we infer from its gravitational effects but which cannot be seen directly. Most physicists now believe that this dark matter must consist of subatomic particles produced in vast quantities in the Big Bang, which interact with gravitation but at most only very slightly with electromagnetism or the weak nuclear force. Theorists have many ideas as to what these particles might be - perhaps 'axions', or perhaps 'supersymmetric' partners to the members of the known particle zoo - and high-energy experimentalists are racing to find out.

    One exciting possibility is that the answer may also come from astronomy, this time by studying the interiors of stars. Depending on the dark matter physics, certain kinds of it may pile up in stars, in quantities enough to affect the dynamics of the star. We might look for small quantities in the Sun (which we can study with great precision), or large quantities in evolved stars in the centre of the Galaxy where dark matter is denser (but which are harder to observe). The key observational technique is asteroseismology: the Sun and other stars ring like bells, with sound waves and buoyancy waves occupying discrete normal modes whose frequencies precisely constrain the structure of the star.

    This project would have two prongs: the student will help Dr Pat Scott simulate the effects of dark matter on asteroseismology, and with Dr Benjamin Pope to simulate what this would look like in real data from upcoming space telescopes. Will the new NASA Roman Space Telescope be able to see this? Or will we need a dedicated mission? Help us find out!

View all Available Projects

Publications

Featured Publications

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Pueyo, Laurent, Xin, Yinzi and Tuthill, Peter G. (2021). Kernel phase and coronagraphy with automatic differentiation. The Astrophysical Journal, 907 (1) 40, 1-14. doi: 10.3847/1538-4357/abcb00

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Bedell, Megan, Callingham, Joseph R., Vedantham, Harish K., Snellen, Ignas A. G., Price-Whelan, Adrian M. and Shimwell, Timothy W. (2020). No massive companion to the coherent radio-emitting M Dwarf GJ 1151. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 890 (2) L19. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab5b99

  • Vedantham, H. K., Callingham, J. R., Shimwell, T. W., Tasse, C., Pope, B. J. S., Bedell, M., Snellen, I., Best, P., Hardcastle, M. J., Haverkorn, M., Mechev, A., O'Sullivan, S. P., Rottgering, H. J. A. and White, G. J. (2020). Coherent radio emission from a quiescent red dwarf indicative of star-planet interaction. Nature Astronomy, 4 (6), 577-583. doi: 10.1038/s41550-020-1011-9

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., White, Timothy R., Farr, Will M., Yu, Jie, Greklek-McKeon, Michael, Huber, Daniel, Aerts, Conny, Aigrain, Suzanne, Bedding, Timothy R., Boyajian, Tabetha, Creevey, Orlagh L. and Hogg, David W. (2019). The K2 Bright Star Survey. I. Methodology and data release. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 245 (1). doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab3d29

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Davies, Guy R., Hawkins, Keith, White, Timothy R., Stokholm, Amalie, Bieryla, Allyson, Latham, David W., Lucey, Madeline, Aerts, Conny, Aigrain, Suzanne, Antoci, Victoria, Bedding, Timothy R., Bowman, Dominic M., Caldwell, Douglas A., Chontos, Ashley, Esquerdo, Gilbert A., Huber, Daniel, Jofre, Paula, Murphy, Simon J., van Reeth, Timothy, Aguirre, Victor Silva and Yu, Jie (2019). The Kepler Smear Campaign: Light Curves for 102 Very Bright Stars. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 244 (1) 18. doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab2c04

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Withers, Paul, Callingham, Joseph R. and Vogt, Marissa F. (2019). Exoplanet transits with next-generation radio telescopes. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 484 (1), 648-658. doi: 10.1093/mnras/sty3512

  • Callingham, J. R., Tuthill, P. G., Pope, B. J. S., Williams, P. M., Crowther, P. A., Edwards, M., Norris, B. and Kedziora-Chudczer, L. (2018). Anisotropic winds in a Wolf-Rayet binary identify a potential gamma-ray burst progenitor. Nature Astronomy, 3 (1), 82-87. doi: 10.1038/s41550-018-0617-7

  • White, T. R., Pope, B. J. S., Antoci, V., Papics, P. I., Aerts, C., Gies, D. R., Gordon, K., Huber, D., Schaefer, G. H., Aigrain, S., Albrecht, S., Barclay, T., Barentsen, G., Beck, P. G., Bedding, T. R., Andersen, M. Fredslund, Grundahl, F., Howell, S. B., Ireland, M. J., Murphy, S. J., Nielsen, M. B., Aguirre, V. Silva and Tuthill, P. G. (2017). Beyond the Kepler/K2 bright limit: variability in the seven brightest members of the Pleiades. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 471 (3), 2882-2901. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stx1050

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Parviainen, Hannu and Aigrain, Suzanne (2016). Transiting exoplanet candidates from K2 Campaigns 5 and 6. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 461 (4), 3399-3409. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw1373

  • Pope, B. J. S., White, T. R., Huber, D., Murphy, S. J., Bedding, T. R., Caldwell, D. A., Sarai, A., Aigrain, S. and Barclay, T. (2016). Photometry of very bright stars with Kepler and K2 smear data. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 455 (1), L36-L40. doi: 10.1093/mnrasl/slv143

Journal Article

  • Hey, Daniel R., Montet, Benjamin T., Pope, Benjamin J. S., Murphy, Simon J. and Bedding, Timothy R. (2021). A search for transits among the delta Scuti variables in Kepler. Astronomical Journal, 162 (5) 204. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/ac1b9b

  • Hill, Michelle L., Kane, Stephen R., Campante, Tiago L., Li, Zhexing, Dalba, Paul A., Brandt, Timothy D., White, Timothy R., Pope, Benjamin J. S., Stassun, Keivan G., Fulton, Benjamin J., Corsaro, Enrico, Li, Tanda, Ong, J. M. Joel, Bedding, Timothy R., Bossini, Diego, Buzasi, Derek L., Chaplin, William J., Cunha, Margarida S., García, Rafael A., Breton, Sylvain N., Hon, Marc, Huber, Daniel, Jiang, Chen, Kayhan, Cenk, Kuszlewicz, James S., Mathur, Savita, Serenelli, Aldo and Stello, Dennis (2021). Asteroseismology of iota Draconis and discovery of an additional long-period companion. The Astronomical Journal, 162 (5) 211, 211. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/ac1b31

  • Callingham, J. R., Vedantham, H. K., Shimwell, T. W., Pope, B. J. S., Davis, I. E., Best, P. N., Hardcastle, M. J., Röttgering, H. J. A., Sabater, J., Tasse, C., van Weeren, R. J., Williams, W. L., Zarka, P., de Gasperin, F. and Drabent, A. (2021). The population of M dwarfs observed at low radio frequencies. Nature Astronomy, 5 (12), 1233-1239. doi: 10.1038/s41550-021-01483-0

  • Handberg, Rasmus, Lund, Mikkel N., White, Timothy R., Hall, Oliver J., Buzasi, Derek L., Pope, Benjamin J. S., Hansen, Jonas S., von Essen, Carolina, Carboneau, Lindsey, Huber, Daniel, Vanderspek, Roland K., Fausnaugh, Michael M., Tenenbaum, Peter and Jenkins, Jon M. (2021). TESS Data for Asteroseismology: Photometry. The Astronomical Journal, 162 (4) 170. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/ac09f1

  • Wong, Alison, Pope, Benjamin, Desdoigts, Louis, Tuthill, Peter, Norris, Barnaby and Betters, Chris (2021). Phase retrieval and design with automatic differentiation: tutorial. Journal of the Optical Society of America B: Optical Physics, 38 (9), 2465-2478. doi: 10.1364/JOSAB.432723

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Callingham, Joseph R., Feinstein, Adina D., Günther, Maximilian N., Vedantham, Harish K., Ansdell, Megan and Shimwell, Timothy W. (2021). The TESS view of LOFAR radio-emitting stars. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 919 (1) L10. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac230c

  • Callingham, J. R., Pope, B. J. S., Feinstein, A. D., Vedantham, H. K., Shimwell, T. W., Lamy, L., Zarka, P., Veken, K., Toet, S., Sabater, J., Tasse, C., Best, P. N., van Weeren, R. J. and Ray, T. P. (2021). Low-frequency monitoring of flare star binary CR Draconis: Long-term electron-cyclotron maser emission. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 648, A13. doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/202039144

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Pueyo, Laurent, Xin, Yinzi and Tuthill, Peter G. (2021). Kernel phase and coronagraphy with automatic differentiation. The Astrophysical Journal, 907 (1) 40, 1-14. doi: 10.3847/1538-4357/abcb00

  • Han, Y., Tuthill, P. G., Lau, R. M., Soulain, A., Callingham, J. R., Williams, P. M., Crowther, P. A., Pope, B. J. S. and Marcote, B. (2020). The extreme colliding-wind system Apep: resolved imagery of the central binary and dust plume in the infrared. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 498 (4), 5604-5619. doi: 10.1093/mnras/staa2349

  • Lancaster, Lachlan, Greene, Jenny E., Ting, Yuan-Sen, Koposov, Sergey E., Pope, Benjamin J. S. and Beaton, Rachael L. (2020). A mystery in Chamaeleon: serendipitous discovery of a galactic symbiotic nova. Astronomical Journal, 160 (3) 125, 125. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/aba435

  • Hey, Daniel, Murphy, Simon, Foreman-Mackey, Daniel, Bedding, Timothy, Pope, Benjamin and Hogg, David (2020). Maelstrom: a Python package for identifying companions to pulsating stars from their light travel time variations. Journal of Open Source Software, 5 (51) 2125. doi: 10.21105/joss.02125

  • Callingham, J. R., Crowther, P. A., Williams, P. M., Tuthill, P. G., Han, Y., Pope, B. J. S. and Marcote, B. (2020). Two Wolf-Rayet stars at the heart of colliding-wind binary Apep. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 495 (3), 3323-3331. doi: 10.1093/mnras/staa1244

  • Hey, Daniel R., Murphy, Simon J., Foreman-Mackey, Daniel, Bedding, Timothy R., Pope, Benjamin J. S. and Hogg, David W. (2020). Forward modeling the orbits of companions to pulsating stars from their light travel time variations. Astronomical Journal, 159 (5) 202. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/ab7d38

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Bedell, Megan, Callingham, Joseph R., Vedantham, Harish K., Snellen, Ignas A. G., Price-Whelan, Adrian M. and Shimwell, Timothy W. (2020). No massive companion to the coherent radio-emitting M Dwarf GJ 1151. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 890 (2) L19. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab5b99

  • Vedantham, H. K., Callingham, J. R., Shimwell, T. W., Tasse, C., Pope, B. J. S., Bedell, M., Snellen, I., Best, P., Hardcastle, M. J., Haverkorn, M., Mechev, A., O'Sullivan, S. P., Rottgering, H. J. A. and White, G. J. (2020). Coherent radio emission from a quiescent red dwarf indicative of star-planet interaction. Nature Astronomy, 4 (6), 577-583. doi: 10.1038/s41550-020-1011-9

  • Lecoanet, Daniel, Cantiello, Matteo, Quataert, Eliot, Couston, Louis-Alexandre, Burns, Keaton J., Pope, Benjamin J. S., Jermyn, Adam S., Favier, Benjamin and Le Bars, Michael (2019). Low-frequency variability in massive stars: core generation or surface phenomenon?. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 886 (1) L15. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab5446

  • Scifo, A., Kuitems, M., Neocleous, A., Pope, B. J. S., Miles, D., Jansma, E., Doeve, P., Smith, A. M., Miyake, F. and Dee, M. W. (2019). Radiocarbon production events and their potential relationship with the Schwabe cycle. Scientific Reports, 9 (1) 17056. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-53296-x

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., White, Timothy R., Farr, Will M., Yu, Jie, Greklek-McKeon, Michael, Huber, Daniel, Aerts, Conny, Aigrain, Suzanne, Bedding, Timothy R., Boyajian, Tabetha, Creevey, Orlagh L. and Hogg, David W. (2019). The K2 Bright Star Survey. I. Methodology and data release. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 245 (1). doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab3d29

  • Eisner, Nora L., Pope, Benjamin J. S., Aigrain, Suzanne, Barragán, Oscar, White, Timothy R., Huang, Chelsea X., Lintott, Chris and Volkov, Andrey (2019). A ghost in the toast: TESS background light produces a false “transit” across τ Ceti. Research Notes of the AAS, 3 (10) 145. doi: 10.3847/2515-5172/ab49ff

  • Plachy, Emese, Molnar, Laszlo, Bodi, Attila, Skarka, Marek, Szabo, Pal, Szabo, Robert, Klagyivik, Peter, Sodor, Adam and Pope, Benjamin J. S. (2019). Extended aperture photometry of K2 RR Lyrae stars. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 244 (2). doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab4132

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Davies, Guy R., Hawkins, Keith, White, Timothy R., Stokholm, Amalie, Bieryla, Allyson, Latham, David W., Lucey, Madeline, Aerts, Conny, Aigrain, Suzanne, Antoci, Victoria, Bedding, Timothy R., Bowman, Dominic M., Caldwell, Douglas A., Chontos, Ashley, Esquerdo, Gilbert A., Huber, Daniel, Jofre, Paula, Murphy, Simon J., van Reeth, Timothy, Aguirre, Victor Silva and Yu, Jie (2019). The Kepler Smear Campaign: Light Curves for 102 Very Bright Stars. Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 244 (1) 18. doi: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab2c04

  • Bowman, Dominic M., Burssens, Siemen, Pedersen, May G., Johnston, Cole, Aerts, Conny, Buysschaert, Bram, Michielsen, Mathias, Tkachenko, Andrew, Rogers, Tamara M., Edemann, Philipp V. F., Ratnasingam, Rathish P., Simon-Diaz, Sergio, Castro, Norberto, Moravveji, Ehsan, Pope, Benjamin J. S., White, Timothy R. and De Cat, Peter (2019). Low-frequency gravity waves in blue supergiants revealed by high-precision space photometry. Nature Astronomy, 3 (8), 760-765. doi: 10.1038/s41550-019-0768-1

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Withers, Paul, Callingham, Joseph R. and Vogt, Marissa F. (2019). Exoplanet transits with next-generation radio telescopes. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 484 (1), 648-658. doi: 10.1093/mnras/sty3512

  • Callingham, J. R., Vedantham, H. K., Pope, B. J. S., Shimwell, T. W. and the LoTSS team (2019). LoTSS-HETDEX and Gaia: Blind search for radio emission from stellar systems dominated by false positives. Research Notes of the AAS, 3 (2) 37. doi: 10.3847/2515-5172/ab07c3

  • Arentoft, T., Grundahl, F., White, T. R., Slumstrup, D., Handberg, R., Lund, M. N., Brogaard, K., Andersen, M. F., Aguirre, V. Silva, Zhang, C., Chen, X., Yan, Z., Pope, B. J. S., Huber, D., Kjeldsen, H., Christensen-Dalsgaard, J., Jessen-Hansen, J., Antoci, V., Frandsen, S., Bedding, T. R., Palle, P. L., Garcia, R. A., Deng, L., Hon, M., Stello, D. and Jorgensen, U. G. (2019). Asteroseismology of the Hyades red giant and planet host epsilon Tauri. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 622. doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/201834690

  • Callingham, J. R., Tuthill, P. G., Pope, B. J. S., Williams, P. M., Crowther, P. A., Edwards, M., Norris, B. and Kedziora-Chudczer, L. (2018). Anisotropic winds in a Wolf-Rayet binary identify a potential gamma-ray burst progenitor. Nature Astronomy, 3 (1), 82-87. doi: 10.1038/s41550-018-0617-7

  • Farr, Will M., Pope, Benjamin J. S., Davies, Guy R., North, Thomas S. H., White, Timothy R., Barrett, Jim W., Miglio, Andrea, Lund, Mikkel N., Antoci, Victoria, Andersen, Mads Fredslund, Grundahl, Frank and Huber, Daniel (2018). Aldebaran b's temperate past uncovered in planet search data. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 865 (2) L20. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/aadfde

  • White, T. R., Pope, B. J. S., Antoci, V., Papics, P. I., Aerts, C., Gies, D. R., Gordon, K., Huber, D., Schaefer, G. H., Aigrain, S., Albrecht, S., Barclay, T., Barentsen, G., Beck, P. G., Bedding, T. R., Andersen, M. Fredslund, Grundahl, F., Howell, S. B., Ireland, M. J., Murphy, S. J., Nielsen, M. B., Aguirre, V. Silva and Tuthill, P. G. (2017). Beyond the Kepler/K2 bright limit: variability in the seven brightest members of the Pleiades. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 471 (3), 2882-2901. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stx1050

  • Pepper, Joshua, Gillen, Ed, Parviainen, Hannu, Hillenbrand, Lynne A., Cody, Ann Marie, Aigrain, Suzanne, Stauffer, John, Vrba, Frederick J., David, Trevor, Lillo-Box, Jorge, Stassun, Keivan G., Conroy, Kyle E., Pope, Benjamin J. S. and Barrado, David (2017). A low-mass exoplanet candidate detected by K2 transiting the Praesepe M Dwarf JS 183. Astronomical Journal, 153 (4) 177. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/aa62ab

  • Hjorringgaard, J. G., Aguirre, V. Silva, White, T. R., Huber, D., Pope, B. J. S., Casagrande, L., Justesen, A. B. and Christensen-Dalsgaard, J. (2017). Testing stellar evolution models with the retired A star HD 185351. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 464 (3), 3713-3719. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw2559

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S. (2016). Kernel phase and kernel amplitude in Fizeau imaging. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 463 (4), 3573-3581. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw2215

  • Pope, Benjamin J. S., Parviainen, Hannu and Aigrain, Suzanne (2016). Transiting exoplanet candidates from K2 Campaigns 5 and 6. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 461 (4), 3399-3409. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw1373

  • Dee, Michael W. and Pope, Benjamin J. S. (2016). Anchoring historical sequences using a new source of astro-chronological tie-points. Proceedings of the Royal Society A-Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences, 472 (2192), 20160263. doi: 10.1098/rspa.2016.0263

  • Aigrain, S., Parviainen, H. and Pope, B. J. S. (2016). K2SC: flexible systematics correction and detrending of K2 light curves using Gaussian process regression. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 459 (3), 2408-2419. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw706

  • Pope, Benjamin, Tuthill, Peter, Hinkley, Sasha, Ireland, Michael J., Greenbaum, Alexandra, Latyshev, Alexey, Monnier, John D. and Martinache, Frantz (2016). The Palomar kernel-phase experiment: testing kernel phase interferometry for ground-based astronomical observations. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 455 (2), 1647-1653. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stv2442

  • Pope, B. J. S., White, T. R., Huber, D., Murphy, S. J., Bedding, T. R., Caldwell, D. A., Sarai, A., Aigrain, S. and Barclay, T. (2016). Photometry of very bright stars with Kepler and K2 smear data. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 455 (1), L36-L40. doi: 10.1093/mnrasl/slv143

  • David, Trevor J., Stauffer, John, Hillenbrand, Lynne A., Cody, Ann Marie, Conroy, Kyle, Stassun, Keivan G., Pope, Benjamin, Aigrain, Suzanne, Gillen, Ed, Cameron, Andrew Collier, Barrado, David, Rebull, L. M., Isaacson, Howard, Marcy, Geoffrey W., Zhang, Celia, Riddle, Reed L., Ziegler, Carl, Law, Nicholas M. and Baranec, Christoph (2015). HII 2407: an eclipsing binary revealed by K2 observations of the Pleiades. Astrophysical Journal, 814 (1) 62. doi: 10.1088/0004-637x/814/1/62

  • Pope, Benjamin, Cvetojevic, Nick, Cheetham, Anthony, Martinache, Frantz, Norris, Barnaby and Tuthill, Peter (2014). A demonstration of wavefront sensing and mirror phasing from the image domain. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 440 (1), 125-133. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stu218

  • White, T. R., Huber, D., Maestro, V., Bedding, T. R., Ireland, M. J., Baron, F., Boyajian, T. S., Che, X., Monnier, J. D., Pope, B. J. S., Roettenbacher, R. M., Stello, D., Tuthill, P. G., Farrington, C. D., Goldfinger, P. J., McAlister, H. A., Schaefer, G. H., Sturmann, J., Sturmann, L., ten Brummelaar, T. A. and Turner, N. H. (2013). Interferometric radii of bright Kepler stars with the CHARA Array: theta Cygni and 16 Cygni A and B. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 433 (2), 1262-1270. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stt802

  • Pope, Benjamin, Martinache, Frantz and Tuthill, Peter (2013). Dancing in the dark: new brown dwarf binaries from kernel phase interferometry. Astrophysical Journal, 767 (2). doi: 10.1088/0004-637x/767/2/110

  • Tuniz, Alessandro, Pope, Benjamin, Wang, Anna, Large, Maryanne C. J., Atakaramians, Shaghik, Min, Seong-Sik, Pogson, Elise M., Lewis, Roger A., Bendavid, Avi, Argyros, Alexander, Fleming, Simon C. and Kuhlmey, Boris T. (2012). Spatial dispersion in three-dimensional drawn magnetic metamaterials. Optics Express, 20 (11), 11924-11935. doi: 10.1364/oe.20.011924

Conference Publication

  • Tuthill, Peter, Bendek, Eduardo, Guyon, Olivier, Horton, Anthony, Jeffries, Bryn, Jovanovic, Nemanja, Klupar, Pete, Larkin, Kieren, Norris, Bernaby, Pope, Benjamin and Shao, Mike (2018). The TOLIMAN space telescope. Conference on Optical and Infrared Interferometry and Imaging VI, Austin, TX, United States, 11-15 June, 2018. Bellingham, WA, United States: S P I E - International Society for Optical Engineering. doi: 10.1117/12.2313269

  • Dee, Michael, Pope, Benjamin, Miles, Daniel, Manning, Sturt and Miyake, Fusa (2017). Supernovae and single-year anomalies in the atmospheric radiocarbon record. 22nd International Radiocarbon Conference, Dakar, Senegal, 16-20 November, 2015. New York, NY, United States: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/rdc.2016.50

  • Sivaramakrishnan, Anand, Cheetham, Anthony, Greenbaum, Alexandra Z., Tuthill, Peter G., Acton, D. Scott, Pope, Benjamin, Martinache, Frantz, Thatte, Deepashri and Nelan, Edmund P. (2014). Non-redundant masking ideas on JWST. Conference on Space Telescopes and Instrumentation - Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave, Montreal, Canada, 22-27 June, 2014. Bellingham, WA, United States: S P I E - International Society for Optical Engineering. doi: 10.1117/12.2056639

  • Pope, Benjamin, Thatte, Niranjan, Burruss, Rick, Tecza, Matthias, Clarke, Fraser and Cotter, Garret (2014). Wavefront sensing from the image domain with the Oxford-SWIFT integral field spectrograph. Conference on Adaptive Optics Systems IV, Montreal, Canada, 22-27 June, 2014. Bellingham, WA, United States: S P I E - International Society for Optical Engineering. doi: 10.1117/12.2055334

  • Tuthill, Peter, Jovanovic, Nemanja, Lacour, Sylvestre, Lehmann, Andrew, Ams, Martin, Marshall, Graham, Lawrence, Jon, Withford, Michael, Robertson, Gordon, Ireland, Michael, Pope, Benjamin and Stewart, Paul (2010). Photonic technologies for a pupil remapping interferometer. Conference on Optical and Infrared Interferometry II, San Diego, CA, United States, 27 June-2 July, 2010. Bellingham, WA, United States: S P I E - International Society for Optical Engineering. doi: 10.1117/12.856770

Grants (Administered at UQ)

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • Apply for PhD Positions through RTP

    Honours Projects Available

    Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered with optical astronomy, whether by using the Doppler effect to see the planet pulling its star back and forth (the radial velocity method, which won Didier Queloz & Michel Mayor the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics), or looking for the dip in brightness as a planet passes in front of a star (the transit method). In our Solar System, the Sun, Earth, and the gas giants are bright sources of radio waves, which tell us a great deal about their magnetic fields and interactions, and for decades astronomers have searched for these effects in more distant planetary systems. Only a couple of the closest stars have been detected in radio waves - otherwise most radio sources are exotic stellar remnants, or black holes at the centres of galaxies. A handful of planets have been discovered by radio astronomy around neutron stars, but the search for radio emission from exoplanets around ordinary stars has until recently not yielded results.

    A controversial new discovery by the LOFAR radio telescope in Europe may have opened the window to an important new way to discover and understand exoplanets. LOFAR has found the nearby old, quiet red dwarf GJ 1151 was found to emit circularly polarized radio waves, which we have interpreted as evidence of star-planet magnetic interaction. RV instruments have searched for such a short-period planet, with inconclusive and controversial results. There are other systems we don't believe to be from planetary interactions, but might be new and interesting stellar astrophysics. With many more detections on the way from LOFAR, this could be the beginning of exoplanet radio astronomy. LOFAR is a pathfinder for the recently-approved Square Kilometre Array to be built in Australia, which will be nearly an order of magnitude more sensitive, with the potential to discover hundreds or thousands of these systems.

    I have been involved in this project from the beginning, particularly in optical follow-up to search for these planets and understand these stars with ground-based telescopes and satellite data. I have also published theoretical work on what to expect from exoplanet radio observations. There are Honours and PhD projects available in:

    • Helping radial-velocity and TESS photometry follow-up of radio-detected stars
    • Theoretical predictions of discoveries with the SKA

    These would be great projects for students wanting to do a lot of classical observational astronomy, or who want to get to grips with plasma physics.

  • 2 ARC-Funded PhD Scholarships Available

    Honours Projects Available

    There is a second side to the ARC DECRA-supported research on naked-eye bright stars: using the Mount Kent Observatory, near Toowoomba, to measure the masses the brightest red giant stars in the sky. The Sun, like many other stars, rings like a bell, and its dominant note has a period of about 5 minutes. The turbulent motion of gas in the Sun couples to normal modes of acoustic oscillation and cause it to ring in a band of frequencies that are precisely diagnostic of conditions in the stellar interior. Larger stars, like larger instruments, have lower notes, so that many red giant stars might mainly ring at periods of days or weeks. The science of asteroseismology is about studying the interiors of stars through oscillations like this, and can be used to determine stellar masses and ages. It has been revolutionised by the Kepler Space Telescope's long, precise, uniform time series of stellar brightnesses.

    On the ground-based side, we are interested in doing asteroseismology of the brightest red giant stars in the sky. With pulsation periods of about a week, they are too long to measure well with TESS (which observes most parts of the sky for a month at a time). The Mount Kent Observatory, near Toowoomba, hosts arrays of 0.7m robotic telescopes coupled to radial velocity spectrographs Minerva and SONG, which can automatically obtain RVs of many bright stars per night. In order to hit the whole sky, we want to conduct as few observations of each star as possible, while still getting enough to constrain their physics well - and as a consequence, we will typically only get sparse and irregularly-sampled time series of each star.

    It turns out that Gaussian Process statistical models are well-suited to this, as my collaborators and I showed on the bright giant Aldebaran, a known planet host. By measuring its mass with asteroseismology to 5% precision, we showed that while its planet is now blasted with heat from the red giant, when it was a main sequence star the planet would have received a similar amount of sunlight to the Earth, and so it may have in the distant past been habitable.

    Part of this ARC DECRA project is therefore to scale up what we did on one star (Aldebaran) to all the giants in the sky, and build a new tool for doing asteroseismology from the ground.

    This project would be well suited to someone with an interest in statistics and programming in Python or Julia, and who wants to get to grips with Gaussian Process models, or the spectroscopic instruments SONG and Minerva at Mt Kent.

  • Honours Projects Available

    Co-supervised with Dr Pat Scott

    About 85% of the matter in the universe consists of dark matter, whose presence we infer from its gravitational effects but which cannot be seen directly. Most physicists now believe that this dark matter must consist of subatomic particles produced in vast quantities in the Big Bang, which interact with gravitation but at most only very slightly with electromagnetism or the weak nuclear force. Theorists have many ideas as to what these particles might be - perhaps 'axions', or perhaps 'supersymmetric' partners to the members of the known particle zoo - and high-energy experimentalists are racing to find out.

    One exciting possibility is that the answer may also come from astronomy, this time by studying the interiors of stars. Depending on the dark matter physics, certain kinds of it may pile up in stars, in quantities enough to affect the dynamics of the star. We might look for small quantities in the Sun (which we can study with great precision), or large quantities in evolved stars in the centre of the Galaxy where dark matter is denser (but which are harder to observe). The key observational technique is asteroseismology: the Sun and other stars ring like bells, with sound waves and buoyancy waves occupying discrete normal modes whose frequencies precisely constrain the structure of the star.

    This project would have two prongs: the student will help Dr Pat Scott simulate the effects of dark matter on asteroseismology, and with Dr Benjamin Pope to simulate what this would look like in real data from upcoming space telescopes. Will the new NASA Roman Space Telescope be able to see this? Or will we need a dedicated mission? Help us find out!

  • There are pretty open-ended projects, more for Honours than PhD, available in modelling interstellar and intergalactic travel and colonization for understanding the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the Fermi Paradox. For example - how easy is intergalactic travel, really, in an expanding universe? Full relativistic calculations of this would shed light on whether recent studies, suggesting 'grabby aliens' could rapidly conquer the whole universe, are realistic. As another example - what would our ability be to resist colonization of our own solar system by an external civilization? There is an asymmetry here - where it takes enormous energy to achieve interstellar travel, planetary defence against natural asteroids and comets in our own solar system is already within our captabilities. How easily would this be adapted to face hostile efforts - and what consequences would this have politically, legally, and for the Fermi Paradox?

  • We've recently been very excited to receive an ARC LIEF grant to join the international MARVEL radial velocity instrument consortium, building a four-telescope array in the Canary Islands for exoplanet hunting. There is huge potential for enhancing the instrument's precision and detecting hitherto inaccessible planets using software, whether based on deterministic physics or machine learning (or preferably both). For example, consider the Excalibur pipeline for high precision wavelength calibration (Zhao et al, 2021) or the Wobble pipeline for nonparametrically separating out stellar templates, telluric spectral lines, and precise radial velocities from HARPS data (Bedell et al, 2019).

    There are a range of possibilities for Honours or PhD projects expanding on these ideas to enhance MARVEL and other instruments, and use this to find exoplanets!

  • An Honours project offered in collaboration with Dr Tessa Charles, University of Liverpool, UK.

    In a recent paper, our group showed you could use the technology underlying deep learning - automatic differentiation - to design complicated optical systems. Using software like TensorFlow or Google Jax, you can calculate exact derivatives of the outputs of almost any numerical code - such as a physics simulation. This means if you can simulate a system, you can design improvements by gradient descent - or roll it together with a neural network for 'simulation intelligence' machine learning!

    With my collaborator Tessa Charles, we think we can apply these ideas beyond just optics, and improve particle accelerator technology.

    The simplest particle accelerator component to model and optimize, we think, would be a "bunch compressor" - a set of just 4 dipole magnets that bends a bunch of particles in a beam out and back again, compressing it longitudinally. We would have to simulate a Monte Carlo particle transport model accounting for the "microbunching instability", in which electron bunches self-interact via synchrotron radiation. Then we should be able to optimize magnet settings to achieve tighter particle bunches - and a proof of concept for how to design the next generation of particle accelerators.

  • Apply for PhD Positions through RTP

    Honours Projects Available

    The James Webb Space Telescope, which at $10B USD is history's most expensive single astronomical project, is finally due to launch in late 2021 for a five-year mission. A 6m infrared telescope billed as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, it is equipped with a range of instruments for imaging and spectroscopy from the near to the mid infrared. Thousands of scientists have projects using JWST, whose time is worth $250k/hr, and it is important to optimize how it works and push its limits to get the best science out!

    I have been lucky enough to be part of three approved JWST proposals in Cycle 1: two on kernel phase interferometry for high angular resolution imaging (led by PIs Kammerer and Albert). These are to detect binaries among the very coldest brown dwarfs, and to look for faint companions to stars at very high resolution. In another proposal, we are looking at asteroids in the Solar System too bright to otherwise observe (with PI Rivkin). I also collaborate with the JWST Aperture Masking team at the Space Telescope Science Institute (PI Sivaramakrishnan), who are undertaking as series of Guaranteed Time observations.

    There are several interesting directions to go. One is to work high angular resolution astronomy, with kernel phase or aperture masking - how do we get the best possible signal-to-noise and resolution for imaging the formation of planets and the cores of active galactic nuclei? Another is to look at the bright end: can we use JWST to look at extremely bright objects, such as naked-eye stars or Solar System asteroids? It would ordinarily saturate, but we believe we can overcome this with methods like the 'halo photometry' I helped develop for Kepler.

    This is a very open-ended research direction in pushing the limits of JWST, overlapping with the halo photometry and automatic differentiation projects but from a JWST observational perspective.

  • Honours Projects Available

    Radiocarbon dating is used by archaeologists to determine the ages of wooden artefacts and remains of living things, by measuring how much carbon-13 has decayed to carbon-12 since the material last took in fresh carbon from the air. The amount of carbon-13 in the atmosphere has slowly varied over time due to solar activity and volcanic eruptions, so to calibrate their radiocarbon dates, archaeologists use precise measurements of tree rings of known age. With alternating patterns of slow and fast growth, tree rings form a barcode pattern that can be matched to libraries stretching back millennia, giving us precise radiocarbon references for almost any year since the last Ice Age.

    In 2012, a remarkable discovery was made by Fusa Miyake: in 774 AD, there was a huge spike in radiocarbon all over the world, that decayed over the course of a year or two, and may have been associated with powerful aurorae noted by mediaeval monks. It was almost certainly astrophysical in origin. Now several 'Miyake events' have been discovered, and astronomers wonder: was this a powerful solar flare? A supernova? Or the result of a 'magnetar burst', the powerful blast of a magnetised neutron star rearranging itself.

    New radiocarbon data in the IntCal20 record are ripe for analysis, by statistically digging into the vast new dataset to find new Miyake events hiding in the noise. We can then determine the true rate of their occurrence, their amplitude and timing, and help narrow down the astrophysical origin of this event. This is an ideal Honours project for a student with strong Python skills and an interest in statistics and interdisciplinary studies.

  • Apply for PhD Positions through RTP

    Honours Projects Available

    Looking for a planet next to a star is like looking for a firefly next to a searchlight - a planet might be millions of times fainter if you're lucky, and the Earth would be billions of times fainter than the Sun to distant astronomers. The problem gets worse: if you shine a laser at a wall, you'll notice you get a big cloud of speckles around the central dot. The same thing happens looking at a star with a telescope: any optical distortions introduce clouds of speckles that spread starlight out over a wide area. Our pale blue dot would be completely washed out with stray light from the Sun, and a key challenge in astronomy is figuring out ways to manage and suppress starlight to see faint objects nearby.

    Many optical instruments exist for doing this - for example coronagraphs and interferometers - but they are a challenge to design and implement. Alternatively, you can use plain old telescopes and try to correct the speckles in post-processing on a computer. This is going to be hugely important for the new ten-billion-dollar James Webb Space Telescope to fulfil its promises.

    The key technology that underlies machine learning is automatic differentiation - you want to train a neural network with a million parameters, so you want to calculate exact derivatives of the loss function and use gradient descent. Thanks to the massive investment in machine learning from tech giants like Google, there are now software packages like TensorFlow and Jax that let you differentiate essentially any numerical functions you can write in (say) Python.

    We can now use this to optimize optical systems by gradient descent - the shapes and sizes of mirrors, the patterns on phase plates, and many other things. We can also use the same software to help generate better post-processing corrections.

    This is an opportunity for pretty open-ended, computationally-intensive PhD and Honours projects for students with an interest in machine learning, computer science, and high precision astronomy. You might:

    • Simulate and optimize coronagraphs
    • Measure the warping of the Hubble Space Telescope from archival data
    • Help better understand and commission the James Webb Space Telescope optics!