A student works with the rooftop telescope.

Our faculty earn grants from institutions including NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Space Telescope Science Institute.


Andrej Prsa, PhD, recently received two grants from NASA, one for $250,000 for his project “Seeing Double: An Extensive Study Of Tess Eclipsing Binaries” and another for $44,316 for his project “TESS' royal road to stellar astrophysics - uniform analysis of hundreds of thousands of eclipsing binaries.”

Edward Sion, PhD, recently received a $377,897 grant from NASA for his project, “The Masses, Rotational Velocities and Chemical Abundances of White Dwarfs in Cataclysmic Variables.” He earned a $135,196 from the Space Telescope Science Institute for “Accreting White Dwarfs: Their Masses, Rotational Velocities and Chemical Abundances”

Edward Fitzpatrick, PhD, received two grants from the Space Telescope Science Institute—$74,694 for "A Comprehensive Investigation of Gas-Phase Element Abundances and Extinction by Dust in the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds” and $67,412 for “An NUV SNAP program to supplement and enhance the value of the ULLYSES OB star legacy data.”

Scott Engle, PhD, earned a $47,190 grant from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for his research project, “The X-ray Environments of Nearby, Potentially Habitable Planets.”

Edward Guinan, PhD, received two grants from NASA—one for $53,070 for his project “16 Cygni ABC Redox: Unraveling the widely different coronal properties of nearly-identical old Solar Twins with Chandra” and one for $63,569 for his project, “Revisiting the Hyades (DA2+dK2) Eclipsing Binary V471 Tauri with XMM-Newton.”

Harper, Graham M., Chambers, Edward, Vacca, William D., Wiesemeyer, Helmut, Fadda, Dario, and 10 colleagues, "SOFIA upGREAT/FIFI-LS Emission-line Observations of Betelgeuse during the Great Dimming of 2019/2020" - AJ, 162, 246 (2021) -

Petretti, Catherine and Guinan, Edward, "Analysis of High-precision TESS Photometry of the Black Hole X-Ray Binary Cygnus X-1: Evidence of Intrinsic Variability of the Luminous Blue Supergiant Component" - RNAAS, 5, 263 (2021) -

Pala, A. F., Gänsicke, B. T., Belloni, D., Parsons, S. G., Marsh, T. R., and 26 colleagues, "Constraining the Evolution of Cataclysmic Variables via the Masses and Accretion Rates of their Underlying White Dwarfs" - MNRAS.tmp, (2021) -

Evans, Nancy Remage, Pillitteri, Ignazio, Kervella, Pierre, Engle, Scott, Guinan, Edward, and 11 colleagues, "X-Rays in Cepheids: XMM-Newton Observations of η Aql" - AJ, 162, 92 (2021) -

Larsen, Conor M. and Guinan, Edward F., "Stars on the Verge: Investigating Semiregular Light Variations and Changing Multiperiods of the Luminous Red Supergiant μ Cephei from over 175 yr of Photometry" - RNAAS, 5, 177 (2021) -

Pala, Anna Francesca, Kupfer, Thomas, Anderson, Scott F., Breedt, Elme, De Martino, Domitilla, and 25 colleagues, "Accreting white dwarfs as probes of compact binary evolution" - hst..prop, 16659 (2021) -

Szkody, Paula, Godon, Patrick, Gänsicke, Boris T., Kafka, Stella, Castillo, Odette F. T., and 8 colleagues, "The Heating and Pulsations of V386 Serpentis after Its 2019 Dwarf Nova Outburst" - ApJ, 914, 40 (2021) -

Sparks, Warren M. and Sion, Edward M., "Nova-produced Common Envelope: Source of the Nonsolar Abundances and an Additional Frictional Angular Momentum Loss in Cataclysmic Variables" - ApJ, 914, 5 (2021) -

Gaia Collaboration, Brown, A. G. A., Vallenari, A., Prusti, T., de Bruijne, J. H. J., Babusiaux, and 421 colleagues, "Gaia Early Data Release 3. Summary of the contents and survey properties (Corrigendum)" - A&A, 650, C3 (2021) -

Mauron, N., Gigoyan, K. S., Kendall, T. R., and Hambleton, K. M., "A search for distant, pulsating red giants in the southern halo" - A&A, 650, A146 (2021) -

Gaia Collaboration, Klioner, S. A., Mignard, F., Lindegren, L., Bastian, U., McMillan, and 412 colleagues, "Gaia Early Data Release 3. Acceleration of the Solar System from Gaia astrometry" - A&A, 649, A9 (2021) -

Gaia Collaboration, Antoja, T., McMillan, P. J., Kordopatis, G., Ramos, P., Helmi, and 415 colleagues, "Gaia Early Data Release 3. The Galactic anticentre" - A&A, 649, A8 (2021) -

Gaia Collaboration, Luri, X., Chemin, L., Clementini, G., Delgado, H. E., McMillan, and 415 colleagues, "Gaia Early Data Release 3. Structure and properties of the Magellanic Clouds" - A&A, 649, A7 (2021) -

Gaia Collaboration, Smart, R. L., Sarro, L. M., Rybizki, J., Reylé, C., Robin, and 418 colleagues, "Gaia Early Data Release 3. The Gaia Catalogue of Nearby Stars" - A&A, 649, A6 (2021) -

Gaia Collaboration, Brown, A. G. A., Vallenari, A., Prusti, T., de Bruijne, J. H. J., Babusiaux, and 421 colleagues, "Gaia Early Data Release 3. Summary of the contents and survey properties" - A&A, 649, A1 (2021) -

Dupree, Andrea, Calderwood, T., Guinan, E., and Montarges, M., "The Mysterious Great Dimming of Betelgeuse" - csss.conf, 190 (2021) -

Wells, Mark A. and Prša, Andrej, "Building and Calibrating the Binary Star Population Using Kepler Data" - ApJS, 253, 32 (2021) -

Godon, Patrick and Sion, Edward M., "White Dwarf Photospheric Abundances in Cataclysmic Variables. I. SS Aurigae and TU Mensae" - ApJ, 908, 173 (2021) -

Korth, J., Moharana, A., Pešta, M., Czavalinga, D. R., and Conroy, K. E., "Consequences of parameterization choice on eclipsing binary light curve solutions" - CoSka, 51, 58-67 (2021) -

Bryson, Steve, Kunimoto, Michelle, Kopparapu, Ravi K., Coughlin, Jeffrey L., Borucki, William J., and 77 colleagues, "The Occurrence of Rocky Habitable-zone Planets around Solar-like Stars from Kepler Data" - AJ, 161, 36 (2021) -

Mortensen, D., Eisner, N., IJspeert, L., Kochoska, A., and Prsa, A., "TESS Eclipsing Binary Data Validation" - AAS, 53, 530.01 (2021) -

Gunther, S. and Guinan, E. F., "Refined Orbital Period Decay Analysis Reinforces the Migration Theory for the Formation and Evolution of HD 189733 & Other Hot Jupiter Systems" - AAS, 53, 344.03 (2021) -

Wells, M. and Prsa, A., "Modeling the Kepler Binary Star Population" - AAS, 53, 333.06 (2021) -

Dickerman, L., Guinan, E. F., Wasatonic, R., Harper, G., and Carona, D., "Studying Semi-Regular Light Variations & Pulsation Periods of Betelgeuse from  180 years of Photometry: Implications for Evolutionary Changes and for the 2020 Great Dimming" - AAS, 53, 141.06 (2021) -

Conroy, K. E., Kochoska, A., Hey, D., Pablo, H., Hambleton, K. M., and 4 colleagues, "Introducing Inverse Problem Solvers in the 2.3 Release of the PHOEBE Eclipsing Binary Modeling Code" - AAS, 53, 140.03 (2021) -

Prsa, A., "Advanced models of pulsating components in eclipsing binary systems" - AAS, 53, 133.03 (2021) -

Kochoska, A., Conroy, K., Hey, D., and Prsa, A., "phoetting: guidelines and best practices for fitting with PHOEBE" - AAS, 53, 133.02 (2021) -

Swope, R. and Prsa, A., "Pilot study for the autonomous discovery of unknown unknowns in photometric timeseries data" - AAS, 53, 127.07 (2021) -


Learn more about our faculty and their accomplishments on their faculty bios.


Our Facilities

Faculty, staff and students at the Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Science have access to a wide range of facilities and equipment to aid their teaching, learning and research activities.

Astronomy is a highly technical field and significant material resources are required for achieving our mission of disseminating the existing knowledge and understanding of the physical Universe to our students and to the community-at-large and developing new knowledge. On-site facilities include three 14” telescopes and one 20” telescope, housed in two separate Mendel Science Center observatories, as well as numerous smaller portable telescopes.  The telescopes are equipped for visual observing, as well as the acquisition of professional-grade imaging, photometric, and spectroscopic data.  Additional resources include a weather station, high speed computing facilities for astrophysical modeling and data processing/analysis, and the Edward F. Jenkins, O.S.A. Memorial Astronomy Library with subscriptions to the major astronomical journals.

Off-site facilities include access to the 50” Robotically-Controlled Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, via Villanova’s membership in the RCT Consortium.  In addition, students regularly have access to new data from the NOAO observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and other national/international facilities via faculty research programs.

The Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Science maintains a weather station on the roof of the Mendel Science Center on Villanova University’s Campus.

Measurements include temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rainfall, wind speed and direction. In addition, daily high/low temperature, wind gust, wind chill, heat index, barometric trend, dew point and monthly and daily rainfall and rainfall rates are recorded. The instruments are read at one-minute intervals.

The George P. McCook Observatory on the fourth Floor of Mendel Science Center is the main on-site observatory for students, staff and faculty in the Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Science. Astronomy and Astrophysics students are introduced to the equipment during their sophomore year via the year-long Observational Lab series and many continue observational work in the Observatory throughout their undergraduate careers. The Observatory contains three main telescopes, each equipped with modern computer-controlled digital instrumentation, and provides students a full hands-on learning experience with the acquisition and processing of photometric, spectroscopic and imaging data.

The telescopes include:

  1. A PlaneWave Instruments CDK20 20-inch telescope, mounted on a Software Bisque Paramount ME and equipped with a SBIG STX-16803 CCD camera featuring a 4096x4096 pixel array;
  2. A Celestron C14 14-inch telescope, mounted on a Paramount ME and equipped with a SBIG ST-8XE CCD camera featuring a 1530x1020 imaging array;
  3. A Celestron C14 14-inch telescope, on a DFM Engineering mount and equipped with a SBIG Self Guiding Spectrograph and ST-7XE camera.

In addition, a Meade Coronado SolarMax II 60 solar telescope is side-mounted on one of the 14-inch Celestrons. The telescopes and instrumentation are all computer-controlled from a separate observing room, known as “the Greenhouse.”

The Observatory serves some of the main goals of our Department, including teaching fundamental research techniques and instilling in students a sense of joy and the rewards of participating in the development of new knowledge. The research projects carried out by the students on these telescopes help fulfill the College’s mission of promoting intellectual curiosity, within a discipline which demands critical insight, mature judgment and independent thinking.

Villanova University, along with Western Kentucky University and South Carolina State University, is a member of the RCT Consortium which operates a 1.3-meter (50-inch) Roboticallly-Controlled Telescope (RCT) located at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in southern Arizona. The KPNO 1.3-meter telescope served as an important testbed for the development of IR instrumentation, but was closed in 1995 due to budgetary constraints. The RCT Consortium successfully petitioned for the operation of the telescope and, following a NASA-funded refurbishment, it was transformed into the RCT and returned to active in 2004, with full operations beginning in 2009.

The RCT is a state-of-the-art f/4 Casegrain optical telescope on a German-equatorial mount. It is equipped with a cryogenically cooled 2048x2048 pixel SITe CCD camera with a wide range of broad-and narrow-band filters available. The camera has a 9.6x9.6 arcmin field of view. The telescope can be operated in a completely automated mode, allowing remote observing. As such, it is an extremely important instrument for teaching and research at Villanova, as travel to off-site facilities, especially during the school year, is not desirable.

Given the high sensitivity of the instrument and the quality of the observing site, we are able to carry out exciting new observations of many objects that are too faint to observe from our on-site telescopes. Such objects include protostars, novae, supernovae, black holes candidates, quasars, active galaxies, white dwarfs and brown dwarfs. Faculty and students utilize the RCT to enhance the undergraduate research experience and to augment our space-based observations on a variety of existing and newly conceived teaching and research projects.

For further information, visit the RCT Website. For questions about Villanova’s use of the RCT, contact Edward Guinan, PhD.

The Department maintains a high-performance computing cluster, aka “CLUSTY,” for the use of its faculty, staff and students. The cluster features 212 computing cores, 280GB of RAM, and 15TB of disk space. CLUSTY was originally purchased in 2006, upgraded in 2011, and again upgraded in 2014. Further upgrades and expansions are planned, as dictated by the demand on the cluster’s resources. The cluster is housed within the Department, on the fourth floor of the Mendel Science Center.

CLUSTY serves three primary purposes within the Department:

  1. Educational – All astronomy and astrophysics students have an account on the cluster and have full access to the modern tools and large-scale datasets that are used in the state-of-the-art processing and analysis.
  2. Academic – Faculty and students active in research are conducting computationally extensive simulations that require significant processing power; these computations play a crucial part in ongoing research and have resulted in a number of papers involving computational astrophysics.
  3. Infrastructure – The cluster serves the web pages, file versioning control and databases for the international audience. Professional catalogs and databases have over 100,000 hits since their deployment in 2011.

For questions about CLUSTY, please contact Andrej Prsa, PhD.

Chair: Edward L. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.
Dept. of Astrophysics & Planetary Science
Villanova University
Mendel Hall, Rm. 458A
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085


Carol Ambruster Memorial Fund

The Society for Cultural Astronomy in the American Southwest (SCAAS) established the Carol Ambruster Memorial Fund, in tribute to former Villanova University Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Science faculty member Carol W. Ambruster. The fund is used to provide awards for outstanding scholarship in cultural astronomy of the American Southwest, and field research support in her name. Visit the SCAAS website for more information and how to donate.