Tommy Nelson

311 Allen Hall
(412) 624-1831


My research focuses on multiwavelength observations of nova outbursts - a class of stellar explosion in which a thermonuclear runaway occurs on the surface of a white dwarf once it has accreted a critical amount of matter from a companion star. In contrast to supernovae, this explosion does not destroy the white dwarf; it instead ejects only the shell of material on the surface of the white dwarf into space. I use observations across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio to X-rays, to determine the mass and energetics of this ejected shell. My long-term goal is to determine if these explosions lead to the mass of the white dwarf growing or shrinking over time. Knowing this, we can assess whether some nova-hosting systems will end their existence in the most dramatic stellar explosion of all - a type Ia supernova. 

I’m constantly striving to be a better teacher, and I’m currently involved in project funded by the National Science Foundation to develop new materials and activities for introductory astronomy courses for non-science majors.  The goal is to give students a better idea of how astronomers work and how research is done by giving them access to real astronomical data and easy-to-learn data analysis tools.  This project is a collaborative effort with colleagues at Northwestern University and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, IL.


Selected Publications