Published: May 25, 2021

This announcement was adapted from a version published by the American Astronomical Society. Read the original story.

Ann-Marie Madigan

CU Boulder astrophysicist Ann-Marie Madigan has taken home a prestigious prize in recognition of her research exploring the dynamics of objects in space—from stars circling black holes to icy dwarf planets in the outer solar system.

This week, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Division on Dynamical Astronomy (DDA) awarded Madigan its 2021 Vera Rubin Early Career Prize. The scientist, an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and a fellow at JILA, will present a lecture at the 53rd annual DDA meeting in spring 2022.

“I'm honored to receive the Vera Rubin Early Career Prize and am looking forward to presenting at next year's DDA conference,” Madigan said. “I also want to thank my entire research group here in Boulder. They are the ones doing the hard work, and I'm really lucky to get to work with them."

This annual honor recognizes an early career dynamicist who demonstrates excellence in scientific research in dynamical astronomy or a closely related field, has had impact and influence on these fields and shows a promise of continued excellence as demonstrated by past practice in research, teaching and the advancement and support of the field of dynamical astronomy. Madigan received the 2021 prize for her work on the dynamics of near-Keplerian systems composed of objects that are individually small but collectively massive. 

Madigan earned her PhD from Leiden University in 2012 under the direction of Yuri Levin, then held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California, Berkeley, before her appointment at CU Boulder in 2016. Her work spans a wide range of astrophysical and planetary sciences, from the dynamics of stars and gas around supermassive black holes to the collective gravity of minor planets in the outer solar system.

Interactions between stars and their remnants with supermassive black holes produce exotic astrophysical events including tidal disruptions of stars, ejections of hypervelocity stars into a galaxy’s halo and gravitational-wave-driven inspirals of compact objects into the central black hole. Madigan has advanced our understanding of the statistical properties of the orbits of stars around these supermassive black holes, the interactions of intermediate black holes with supermassive ones and the stability of stellar disks in active galactic nuclei. She also has probed the formation history of stars near galactic nuclei, the evolution of their orbits and the mechanism by which they can be disrupted and ultimately captured by the central black hole.

Madigan has further applied her knowledge of near-Keplerian systems to other scales. For example, she has suggested a possible mechanism by which the observed alignments of the orbits of long-period Kuiper belt objects could arise, and she has proposed that the mutual gravity of comets could cause a periodic influx of comets into the inner solar system.