Intro

Hello! My name is Luca Matrà and I am an astronomer working as Lecturer at the School of Physics of the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) in Galway, Ireland. I graduated from a BA in Physics with Astrophysics from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), and later from my PhD at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge (UK). There, I worked mainly with Prof. Mark Wyatt, but I was also fortunate to spend a year as a European Southern Observatory (ESO) student in Santiago (Chile), working with Dr. Bill Dent at the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope.
Finally, I was a Fellow at the Submillimeter Array (SMA) telescope project, part of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge (MA). There, I got to operate and use the SMA (situated on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i) for science and teaching.
When I am researching belts of exocomets around other stars or teaching, you'll find me backpacking on some long-distance trail, playing sports/games, watching/reading sci-fi, cooking or gardening.

Research

Exocomets

My research focuses on observations of belts of comets around stars other than our own Sun, or in other words exocomets. I am particularly interested in the gas that is released as these exocomets collide with each other and/or evaporate. For example, above is an image I produced of carbon monoxide (CO) gas released within a belt of exocomets around the star beta Pictoris, beyond the orbit of the planet beta Pic b (we are viewing this planetary system edge-on). The bright clump on the right-hand side is caused by comets colliding at this preferential location, most likely due to the gravitational influence of a yet unseen beta Pic c planet.

Their composition, origin and evolution

Observations of this gas can tell us about the volatile composition of cometary ices. These volatiles have been observed to be as complex as prebiotic molecules such as amino acids in Solar System comets, such as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (right, as shown by the Rosetta mission). Therefore, studying (exo)comets is important as they may play a key role in delivering large amounts of complex volatiles to rocky planets like our Earth, potentially providing the basic ingredients for the development of life. As well as in their volatile compositions, I am interested in understanding how these exocometary belts form, evolve, and dynamically interact with planets within the same planetary system. I do so mainly through modelling and observations at millimeter/submillimeter and near-IR wavelengths.

Millimetre-wavelength observations

The CO image at the top was obtained with ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array, an array of 66 telescopes observing in sync as a so-called interferometer, located up in the Chilean Andes at over 5000m altitude. Using such arrays allows us to see fainter objects and obtain millimetre-wavelength images at a much higher resolution than possible with a single antenna. The Submillimeter Array (SMA) (an array of 8 telescopes, see photo on the left, and background intro image) located atop the Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island of Hawai'i is another example of such interferometers, and was the pioneer that paved the way for ALMA. In my time as SMA Fellow, I observed with and operated this array both in Hawai'i and remotely from Cambridge, MA. My research makes extensive use of ALMA and SMA data, but also combines this information with that obtained through space observations at shorter, UV and IR wavelengths, such as with the Hubble and Herschel Space Telescopes.

Press

Here are some highlights of my research that made the news:

Exocometary gas discovered around famous Fomalhaut ring

Scientific American
NASA
International Business Times
Harvard-Smithsonian CfA
University of Cambridge
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Space.com
IFLScience
SIFYWire
CNET.com
Original Article 1 (ApJ) Original Article 2 (ApJ)
ArXiv version (Article 1) ArXiv version (Article 2)

Using novel gas observations to probe exocomet composition

University of Cambridge, IoA
Original Article (MNRAS)
ArXiv version





First discovery of exocometary gas in a belt around a young Sun analog

University of Cambridge
LA Times
European Southern Observatory
Daily Mail
Astronomy Now
Astronomy.com
Original Article (MNRAS)
ArXiv version

Cometary Belt around Distant Multi-Planet System suggests additional Hidden Planets

Harvard-Smithsonian CfA
ALMA Observatory
Sky and Telescope
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Royal Astronomical Society
Phys.org
Original Article (MNRAS)
ArXiv version


Found: low-mass companion inside nearby star's cometary belt

Phys.org
Original Article (A&A)
ArXiv version

Contact

If you'd like to get in touch about research and outreach opportunities, feel free to send me an email at:
luca *dot* matra *at* nuigalway *dot* ie

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