Andy Howell

Redirecting to

Staff Scientist, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

Adjunct Faculty, University of California Santa Barbara

Facebook  Twitter

General Stuff 

New:  Press release on superluminous supernovae, including one of the most luminous and most distant ever seen.  We matched the spectra to theoretical models showing they may result from the birth and spin-down of a magnetar.

Latest movie writing:  The science of Gravity!

Latest popular talk: At the St. Louis Science center, I talked about Doctor Who in "The Science and Science Fiction of Time:  from Spacetime to the TARDIS."  [SLSC] [YouTube] [Blog and photos]

Latest popular article: in American Scientist talks about making explosions on Earth, Dark Energy, our global observatory network, and spy satellites:  Illuminating Dark Energy with Supernovae [pdf]. 

Supernovae: In research led by a postdoc working with me, Ben Dilday, and published in Science, we found a Type Ia (thermonuclear) supernova that came from a white dwarf and red giant binary system that was previously undergoing nova eruptions. This is a big deal because generally we don't know what the progenitors of supernovae are, even though we use them to measure Dark Energy.  They've never been conclusively linked to novae before.  Previously, there was good evidence that some (if not all) supernovae came from the merger of two white dwarfs.  So this says there must be more than one way to create a Type Ia supernova.

Articles in:  NBC/ (this one is the best description),  the New York Times,  Time magazine (The Exploding Monty Python Star!); the LA Times (has some of the facts wrong), New Scientist (this one is just weird), and finally the UCSB press release.  Here's a Science podcast with Ben.

Feb. 16, 2012 we published a paper in Nature revealing that we have discovered light echoes from eta Carinae, a massive binary star system in the Milky Way [News & Views].  In the mid-1800s it became the second brightest star in the sky due to an eruption of unknown cause.  But astronomers didn't have cameras.  But some of the light that was directed away from Earth reflected off of dust clouds and we re-observed the explosion 170 years later.  UCSB Press release (with video).  Discovery News.  Nature News, Time, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, Ars Technica, Science News.

Tues, Jan 10, 2012 I hosted a screening of Armageddon at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin with a bunch of astronomers where we tore it apart scientifically.

Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 I gave a Hot Science, Cool Talks public lecture put on by the Environmental Science Institute on Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars.  

My old postdoctoral mentor at LBL, Saul Perlmutter, won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with my friends and collaborators Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess, for the discovery of the accelerating universe (aka Dark Energy)!  [article] Congratulations to them!  Earlier this year I wrote a review article for Nature Communications on the subject for which they are cited:  Type Ia Supernovae as Stellar Endpoints and Cosmological Tools [PDF].

September 25, 2011 I participated in the Fantastic Debates at Fantastic Fest in Austin:  two rounds of debate followed by two rounds of boxing!  My opponent was a NASA conspiracy theorist (warning, idiocy and nasty language are all you'll get on his youtube videos).  Here is the announcement and poster of the event (which also included a Hobbit fight).  It turns out he was not just dumb, but tiny and ill-prepared.  Here are descriptions of the event from Austin360 and HitFix, and here is a video of the boxing match.

Our team, the Palomar Transient Factory, has discovered a supernova in M101, the nearest Type Ia in 25 years!  It is the youngest Type Ia ever seen, observed within hours of the explosion.  APOD.  Bad Astronomy.  UCSB press release.

In 2011 UCSB issued a press release about "zombie stars," based on my review article on Type Ia Supernovae as Stellar Endpoints and Cosmological Tools [PDF].  I talked about it on the July 26 episode of Radio Causeway. Hundreds of articles were written about it, but here are a few:
TV:  I was mentioned in the 6/30/11 episode of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  A clip of me and Mike Massimino is shown at about 29 minutes in, and I'm mentioned at the end of Mike's segment.

I'm a host of the 3rd season of Known Universe on the National Geographic Channel.   All episodes have now aired in the US.   Here's the trailer.   I've written a series of articles on Ain't It Cool News about each episode:
301:  Surviving Space
302:  Treasure Hunt
303:  Most Powerful Stars
304:  Extreme Space Tech
305:  Biggest Cosmic Blasts
306:  Construction Zone
307:  Escaping Earth
308:  Beginning of the End

And here's an article about my participation in the series in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Another show I was on, Inside the Milky Way, is now on DVD.


I also write about movies -- I cover film festivals, but I also write about the science of movies:

Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek (2009) [And follow-up chat with writers]
Green Lantern
Conversation with James Cameron on Avatar

Areas of reserach:  Type Ia supernovae, cosmology, Dark Energy, core-collapse supernovae, gamma ray bursts, galaxies

Review article on Type Ia Supernovae as Stellar Endpoints and Cosmological Tools for Nature Communications [PDF].

Comments by me on research putting limits on the progenitors of SNe Ia from Scientific American and Sky and Telescope.

I recently wrote a Nature News and Views [pdf] (for scientists, but written generally) on a simulation that smashed two white dwarfs together to produce a supernova.  And together with much of my field, I wrote this white paper about the future prospects for research in thermonuclear (Type Ia) supernovae.

Help us to find supernovae using Galaxy Zoo: The Hunt for Supernovae!  With our new project, the Palomar Transient Factory, we are taking data at such a high rate that we can't keep up with the discoveries.  So we need your help!

I was the co-chair of the scientific organizing committee for a June, 2011 conference in Sydney, Austrialia, called Supernovae and their Host Galaxies. I was also recently on the SOC for a conference in the Netherlands called Observational Signatures of Type Ia Supernova Progenitors.

Video of two talks I've given at KITP (for scientists):  2009: What the hell is this?, and 2007: Is the brightest SN Ia really super-Chandra?

PhD Dissertation: pdf  Publications: ADS 

I wrote the supernova spectrum fitting program superfit.   Contact me if you want to use it. 

Sky & Telescope article I co-wrote:  Nov. 2002, Anatomy of a Supernova: pdf 

Radio:  Quirks and Quarks [mp3], BBC Leading Edge [mp3], BBC World Service  Science in Action [mp3].

I'm a member of the Supernova Legacy Survey, which discovers and follows supernovae to probe the history of the expansion of the universe and determine the nature of Dark Energy.  We've discovered almost 2000 likely supernovae: list.  I'm also a member of Pan-STARRS1, which is also finding and following thousands of explosive and transient events in the universe.

Random articles with quotes:   


Super-Chandra:  In the Sept. 21, 2006 issue of Nature, I led a paper showing that the Type Ia supernova SNLS-03D3bb was the explosion of a white dwarf that exceeded the Chandrasekhar mass.  Type Ia supernovae are thought to be the thermonuclear explosion of a white dwarf star in a binary system with another star.  The white dwarf steals matter from the secondary star until it gets near the Chandrasekhar mass and explodes.  But somehow this white dwarf exceeded the limit.  Download the News & Views[pdf].  Press:  New Scientist, BBC News, MSNBC, CBC, ABC News, Physics World, ESPN, Space Daily, Sky & Telescope, AMNH, Cosmos Magazine, Universe Today, Need subscription: Science, Nature web site, BBC Sky at Night (Jan. 2007)Sky & Telescope (July 2007), Science News (Oct. 7, 2006), Western Standard (Oct. 23, 2006),

Evolving supernova demographics:  In a recent ApJ Letter we showed that Type Ia supernovae in the early universe were on average 12% brighter than modern supernovae.  This is because there was more star formation early on, and SNe Ia from young, massive stars are brighter.  Press: New Scientist, Science Daily, Subscription required: Nature Research Highlights, Link broken:  Discovery Channel News (cached).

Dark Energy:  Our first-year cosmology results, published in Astier et al. 2006 show that the Dark Energy is consistent with Einstein's Cosmological Constant to within 9% statistical error.  Our new results, released in 2011, provide a 5-6% constraint.  If the Dark Energy is a cosmological constant, it has some pretty remarkable properties.  That means it is a property of the vacuum of space itself.  As the universe expands, the Dark Energy does not get diluted like normal matter.


I most recently taught Astro 1 at UCSB in spring 2011.