Current Graduate Student in Planetary Science
Dan Tamayo is a graduate student working with Professors Joe Burns and Phil Nicholson. Dan is interested in orbital dynamics generally, but his research has focused on debris generated at the outermost gravitational reaches of the giant planets by the Jovian planets' irregular satellite populations. Such debris was recently discovered in the Saturnian system and this Phoebe Ring represents by far the largest planetary ring in the solar system. This is exciting since the irregular satellites that generated it are thought to be captured remains from the era of planet formation. As such, this "nearby" ring could provide an analogue for distant debris disks. Furthermore, such dust can dramatically alter the surfaces of inner satellites as it moves in toward the planet through Poynting-Robertson drag.
The first part of Dan's thesis work is theoretical. He has studied the
dynamics of dust from the Phoebe Ring to explain the perplexing
appearance of Satun's satellite Iapetus, which is ten times darker on
the side facing its orbital direction than its trailing side. While the
idea that dust decaying inward from Phoebe might be responsible has
been around for some time, his is the first in-depth analysis
incorporating all the relevant perturbations. He has also worked on
dynamical instabilities around high-obliquity planets and applied it to
explaining the color asymmetries observed on the Uranian regular
The second part of Dan's thesis work is observational. He is the principal investigator on a Herschel program to extend the wavelength coverage on the Phoebe Ring to longer wavelengths, and to search for similar rings around Uranus and Neptune. He is also pushing to shorter wavelengths with the Cassini spacecraft trying to characterize the Phoebe Ring in optical reflected light. The observations search for a dearth in signal along Saturn's shadow as it pierces through the Phoebe ring in a long tube.
Dan says he is very happy to have chosen to come to Cornell. He did not have a specific research project in mind at the time, and Cornell had the largest number of potentially interesting opportunities out of the universities he visited. He feels very fortunate with the number of opportunities he has had to attend conferences and to collaborate with a wide variety of scientists beyond the department.
Dan spent two years as a teaching assistant to introductory astronomy classes, and received the Cranson W. and Edna B. Shelley award for outstanding teaching in 2009. He is also actively involved in public outreach, including answering questions submitted to our Ask an Astronomer website, and co-starting the Cornell Ask An Astronomer podcast with other graduate students. In 2011, he also organized 'Museum in the Dark', a Halloween event for children at the local museum filled with astronomically themed stations.
Dan is the recipient of a Cornell first-year fellowship (2008), a AAS Division of Dynamical Astronomy Student Stipend Award(2010), and a NY Space Grant Fellowship (2013).