Jason Kalirai of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, has been awarded the 2013 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize. This annual prize from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is for outstanding achievement in observational astronomy by an astronomer under the age of 36.
Kalirai, 34, received the award for his contributions to the field of stellar and galactic astrophysics, including establishing a fundamental relation of stellar astrophysics, the initial-final mass relation that maps the fraction of mass loss that stars experience over their lives.
“Being a professional astronomer is the most rewarding profession in the world,” Kalirai said. “I get to use some of the most advanced tools that humans have ever created to address the universe’s biggest mysteries. It doesn’t get cooler than that! The Pierce Prize from the AAS is the biggest honor I’ve received in my life and recognizes the many years of hard work and passion that I’ve put into astronomy.”
Kalirai’s work has provided new insights on the processes by which “stellar death” occurs, and directly impacts the future evolution and properties of our Sun. Working with his colleagues, he has led studies based on over 40 nights of telescope time on the 10-meter Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.
Kalirai’s research leads to new insights on the life cycle of a star by using a novel technique that connects the properties of stars that are at the end of their lives to those that are still burning hydrogen. Although one cannot see any particular star at both life cycle stages at the same time, Kalirai tailors his study to stars that are members of large clusters, where all of the objects have the same age. According to his research, our Sun will lose 45 percent of its mass when it exhausts its hydrogen supply several billion years from now.
Kalirai has also devised new methods to measure the age of the Milky Way galaxy using white dwarf stars, the remnants of stellar evolution. His recent work suggests that the inner halo of our galaxy is 11.4 billion years old.
Kalirai received a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of British Columbia in 2004. He was then selected as a Hubble Fellow Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz before coming to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland. Kalirai is currently an associate astronomer at STScI and an associate researcher at the Center for Astrophysical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University. In addition to his many research projects, Kalirai is the Deputy Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope.