Theses Doctoral

Decoding Starlight with Big Survey Data, Machine Learning, and Cosmological Simulations

Blancato, Kirsten Nicole

Stars, and collections of stars, encode rich signatures of stellar physics and galaxy evolution. With properties influenced by both their environment and intrinsic nature, stars retain information about astrophysical phenomena that are not otherwise directly observable. In the time-domain, the observed brightness variability of a star can be used to investigate physical processes occurring at the stellar surface and in the stellar interior. On a galactic scale, comparatively fixed properties of stars, including chemical abundances and stellar ages, serve as a multi-dimensional record of the origin of the galaxy. In the Milky Way, together with orbital properties, this informs the details of the subsequent evolution of our Galaxy since its formation. Extending beyond the Local Group, the attributes of unresolved stellar populations allow us to study the diversity of galaxies in the Universe.

By examining the properties of stars, and how they vary across a range of spatial and temporal scales, this Dissertation connects the information residing within stars, to global processes in galactic formation and evolution. We develop new approaches to determine stellar properties, including rotation and surface gravity, from the variability that we directly observe. We offer new insight into the chemical enrichment history of the Milky Way, tracing different stellar explosions, that capture billions of years of evolution. We advance knowledge and understanding of how stars and galaxies are linked, by examining differences in the initial stellar mass distributions comprising galaxies, as they form. In building up this knowledge, we highlight current tensions between data and theory. By synthesizing numerical simulations, large observational data sets, and machine learning techniques, this work makes valuable methodological contributions to maximize insights from diverse ensembles of current and future stellar observations.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ness, Melissa Kay
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2020