Bill Blair's

Research Interests

Bill's primary research interests involve objects called supernova remnants (or SNRs for short), which are the expanding gaseous nebulas left over after certain stars come to the end of their evolution and explode as supernovas. Using a combination of imaging and a technique called spectroscopy (where the light from an object is broken up into a spectrum for analysis), Bill's research strives to better understand the chemical abundances and physical processes involved in these objects as they expand outward from the point of the explosion. Bill's research uses both ground-based telescopes and a number of space-based instruments to observe at optical, ultraviolet, infrared, and X-ray wavelengths of light. He not only observes SNRs in our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, but has been instrumental in surveys of nearby galaxies for SNRs. A current project with the Hubble Space Telescope, for instance, is studying some 250 SNRs in the galaxy M83.

As an extension of his work on supernova remnants, Bill is also interested in the interstellar medium--the vast regions of not-quite empty space out there between the stars. The FUSE satellite was particularly well-suited for studies of these interstellar regions, and Bill has published a number of research results related to these studies, both in the Milky Way galaxy and in our nearest neighbors, the Magellanic Clouds. One example is a compendium of FUSE spectra of hot stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, produced as a High Level Science Product at the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.

Bill's other area of research delves into understanding the processes involved in mass-transferring close binary stars known as cataclysmic variable stars, or CVs for short. These systems typically include a normal (but very low mass) cool star in a tight orbit about a very compact companion star called a white dwarf. The stars are in such close proximity that they orbit each other in a matter of a few hours! (Recall it takes the earth a whole year to orbit the sun once!) The strong gravitational attraction of the white dwarf star is such that the white dwarf actually accretes material from its companion, emitting ultraviolet and X-ray light in the process. Bill's research uses ultraviolet spectra to better understand what happens in these unusual stellar binary systems. More recently, Bill has also been involved in studying more extreme versions of this phenomenon, objects called X-ray binary stars, where the accreting object can be a neutron star or even a black hole.

While not a research area for Bill, he has nonetheless become very interested in the areas of global warming, climate change, and related matters. Bill gives public talks in this area, using it as an opportunity not only to engage the public in this important discussion, but also using it as a forum for educating people on the ways of science.

Click here for a listing of Bill's publications.

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Last updated: March 2013.

Bill Blair (