Dr. Christine Jones Receives the 2013 Secretary's Distinguished Research Lecture Award
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
News Feature

Dr. Christine Jones, Director of the Consortium for Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe and Senior Astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, will receive the 2013 Secretary's Distinguished Research Lecture Award of the Smithsonian Institution.

This award recognizes a scholar’s sustained achievement in research, long-standing investment in the Smithsonian, outstanding contribution to a field, and ability to communicate research to a non-specialist audience.

Christine has been an astrophysicist at SAO since 1978, heading the Chandra Calibration Group from 1990–2010. She has served as Director of the Consortium for Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe since 2010. She began her career as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1974. In 1975, she was selected to be a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.

While an undergraduate at Harvard, Christine analyzed moon rocks and meteorites at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, for which she received the Nininger Meteorite Award. With the 1970 launch of Uhuru, the first satellite devoted exclusively to X-ray astronomy, Christine looked beyond our solar system to Cygnus X-1, a binary X-ray source in which a black hole orbits a normal star. In her graduate work at Harvard, Christine discovered more X-ray binary sources and identified several with visible-light stars. Since the brightest X-ray source in the sky is faint in visible light, it was a remarkable discovery to find that the visible counterparts of some X-ray binaries were bright enough to be seen with a good pair of binoculars.

With the launch of the Einstein Observatory in 1978, Christine's research shifted to galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The first Einstein images revealed that clusters of galaxies were not the fully formed systems most astronomers believed them to be. Instead, many clusters are still forming and growing. Observations also showed that elliptical galaxies were not devoid of gas as was universally accepted. Instead, the gas in these galaxies was so hot that it could only be seen in X-rays. Furthermore, the mass of the stars in these galaxies was not sufficient to prevent this gas from escaping. A massive halo of dark matter around the galaxy was required. For this work, Christine and her husband, Dr. William Forman, received the first Rossi Prize from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society.

With the launch of the Chandra Observatory in 1999, the X-ray vision of the sky became sharper still, allowing astronomers to resolve many unanswered questions. With Chandra, Christine and her colleagues have investigated the impact of supermassive black holes on galaxies and how clusters grow through the collisions of massive subclusters. For her contributions to NASA X-ray missions, she received four NASA group achievement awards and a NASA exceptional achievement medal. Her scientific accomplishments also have been recognized by the Marcel Grossmann Award, and by her election as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and as an Honorary Fellow in the Royal Astronomical Society.

The 14th recipient of the Secretary's Distinguished Research Lecture Award, Christine was selected from finalists recommended by a committee representing research areas across the spectrum of Smithsonian scholarship.

Christine will present her lecture, "Black Holes at Work: What 'Fossil Records' of the Impacts of Energetic Outbursts from Supermassive Black Holes Reveal About Galaxy Evolution" at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, in the Freer's Meyer Auditorium in Washington, D.C. A reception will follow in the Smithsonian Castle Commons.