Evolution of Massive stars, Supernovae and eruptive transients, Star forming regions, Interstellar medium and circumstellar material
Dr. Nathan Smith is interested in understanding the evolution and fate of massive stars, and their influence on the surrounding interstellar medium. His primary focus is on the violent explosions and eruptions that occur as a massive star approaches its death, especially those of the most massive and luminous stars known. Although these stars drive the energetics of the interstellar medium and are extremely bright and easy to observe, the way they reach their demise and finally explode is still very poorly understood. Nathan specializes in multiwavelength spectroscopy and high-resolution imaging of supernovae and other transients in order to study explosions observed in real time, and he studies spatially resolved circumstellar material in order to constrain the physical properties of mass-loss episodes that have occurred in the past.
Another main area of interest is the evolution of massive star-forming regions, where energy input from the radiation, winds, and explosions of massive stars can influence star and planet formation in the surrounding cloud. Nathan performs detailed mutiwavelength studies of nearby stellar nurseries, working toward a complete picture of the complex processes that dominate the massive star-forming environment, trying to understand the interplay between star death and birth. This impacts our own origins, since the Solar system is thought to have formed in such a region, probably exposed to nearby supernovae.
Nathan conducts observations using the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA missions, plus numerous ground-based optical/infrared telescopes. Although primarily an observer, he incorporates theoretical tools in his work, and has a broad interest in Galactic astronomy including stellar evolution, mass loss, circumstellar material, shock physics, HII regions, disks, jets, planetary nebulae, dust formation, and nebular spectroscopy. Nathan earned undergraduate degrees in music and astronomy, plus a master's degree and a Ph.D. in Astrophysics.