Department of Physics and Astronomy, George Mason University


Here is a compilation of resources we use in our research and recommend for beginning researchers.

An artist’s impression of an accretion disk around a black hole. Image credit: XMM-Newton / ESA / NASA.

General Overviews

IPAC Level 5: General knowledge-base for extragalactic astronomy

What Drives the Growth of Black Holes?: Review article by David Alexander and Ryan Hickox on black hole accretion, feedback, and evolution

Supermassive Black Holes in Galactic Nuclei: Past, Present, and Future Research: Review article by Laura Ferrarese and Holland Ford about observational studies of supermassive black holes


Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae and Active Galactic Nuclei: Advanced undergraduate to graduate-level textbook by Donald Osterbrock and Gary Ferland discussing emission and properties of nebulae and AGN.

Active Galactic Nuclei: Review textbook by Bradley Peterson on observational studies of AGN.

Active Galactic Nuclei: Comprehensive textbook by Julian Krolik on AGN.


Cloudy: A photoionization modeling code used in our theoretical work to simulate emission from gas around an accreting black hole

Saas-Fee School on Black Hole Formation and Growth: This winter school from 2018 discusses the theory behind the formation of black holes at high redshifts, and their growth through mergers and accretion processes.  Slides from this class are available at their website.

Observation Planning

Hubble Space Telescope: Space-based mission for infrared, optical, and ultraviolet spectroscopy and imaging

James Webb Space Telescope: Upcoming (2021) space-based mission for near-infrared and mid-infrared (1-30 µm) spectroscopy and imaging

W.M. Keck Observatory: Ground-based from Mauna Kea, Hawaii for infrared and optical spectroscopy and imaging

Gemini Observatory: Ground-based from Mauna Kea, Hawaii for infrared and optical spectroscopy and imaging

Large Binocular Telescope Observatory: Ground-based from Emerald Peak, Arizona for infrared and optical spectroscopy and imaging

Chandra: Space-based X-ray (~0.8 – 10 keV) observatory

XMM-Newton: Space-based X-ray (0.15 – 12 keV) observatory

NuSTAR: Space-based X-ray (3 – 79 keV) observatory

ALMA:  Radio (31 – 950 GHz) array in the Atacama Desert, Chile

VLA: Radio (74 – 50,000 MHz) array in the Plains of San Agustin, New Mexico

VLBA: Radio (312 MHz – 96 GHz) array controlled remotely from Soccoro, New Mexico, with antennas in Hawaii, California, Washington, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the Virgin Islands

Keck Guidestar Catalog: Tool to find suitable guidestars for AO observations for Keck instruments (OSIRIS, NIIRC2, NIIRSPAO)

Gemini Telluric Standards Catalog:  Tool to find telluric standards for NIR spectroscopy.

Keck Air Mass Calculator and Observation Planner: Tool to check visibility and airmass for observations at Keck on Mauna Kea


Current Research in the Field

Elusive AGN Conference: This conference was hosted by our research group at GMU in June 2017 and discussed the various ways AGN can be “hidden” by standard diagnostics.  Videos and slides of the talks can be found on the website.

Hidden Monsters – Obscured AGN and Connections to Galaxy Evolution: This conference was hosted at Dartmouth College in August 2016 to discuss heavily obscured AGN and their relationship with the host galaxy.

SAO/ADS and astro-ph:  Online journal article databases

Astrobytes: The “reader’s digest” version of astro-ph

Publishing and Presenting Your Research

Overleaf:  An online Latex editor.  There is also a comprehensive tutorial on how to code in Latex here.
International Conferences: Directory of upcoming international conferences compiled by the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre

Working With Data

A Beginner’s Guide to Working With Astronomical Data: General overview of tools used when working with astrophysical data
TopCat: Interactive tool for data table analysis and plotting
Python: Coding language commonly used in astronomy.  We recommend using Anaconda for easy installation of libraries.
Astropy: Python library specifically created to work with astronomical data
Pandas: Python data analysis library
APLpy: Python library used to make publication-ready plots of astronomical images
Scikit-Learn: Machine learning library for Python
Keras: Deep learning/neural network library for Python
Tensorflow: Machine learning library for Python
R: Data science and statistics software
Statistical Methods Resources: More resources about statistical methods can be found at this course website for CSI 763 by Bob Weigel at GMU.
Ciao: Data reduction and analysis package for Chandra data
XSPEC:  An X-ray spectral fitting and modeling code
IRAF: Data reduction package for infrared spectroscopy and photometry data.  A video tutorial can be found here.

Miscellaneous Resources

NIST Atomic Spectra Lines / Ionization Energies: Online reference tool used to find emission lines within a given wavelength range, or to determine the ionization energy of a given ion

The AGN Black Hole Mass Database: Compilation of all known black hole masses calculated using reverberation mapping

Astrobetter: Blog providing tips for professional astronomers and students

Illustration of supermassive black hole pair. Credits: NASA/CXC/A.Hobart