Coughlin and Criswell part of comprehensive UV light survey

Assistant Professor Michael Coughlin and graduate student Alexander Criswell of the School of Physics and Astronomy are part of a new mission that has just been selected to conduct a comprehensive survey of ultraviolet light spanning the entire sky. UVEX (UltraViolet EXplorer) is an innovative satellite telescope now planned for launch in 2030 as NASA’s next Astrophysics Medium-Class Explorer mission. It is highly complementary to forthcoming ground and space-based observatories, including the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time which will perform a deep optical survey from the ground, and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which will perform an infrared survey from space. It will be capable of swiftly observing ultraviolet light sources across the universe, including the explosive aftermath of neutron star mergers following their detection in gravitational waves by ground-based interferometers such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), part of the International Gravitational-wave Network (IGWN).

UVEX is scheduled to overlap with IGWN's sixth observing run (O6), opening the door for the discovery of many multi-messenger sources — that is, astrophysical phenomena observed both in light and in gravitational waves. "The sensitivity of UVEX will be key for studying many rare astronomical transients, including the earliest glimpses at neutron star mergers, a not-yet explored part of the electromagnetic spectrum" said Coughlin. "UVEX includes both near- and far-UV imaging in addition to a spectrograph that will study stellar explosions and massive stars, a unique combination particularly suited to transient science."

Criswell is part of the University of Minnesota's Data Science in Multi-Messenger Astrophysics (DSMMA) program, and their involvement in UVEX traces back to their associated internship at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland with Dr. Leo Singer. Criswell noted "DSMMA was instrumental in getting me involved with UVEX right from the start of the process. It’s been an incredible experience to play a part in UVEX’s growth from an idea to an actual NASA mission, and I’m deeply excited to see UVEX selected!"