Dr Nicholas James Rattenbury

PhD, The University of Auckland 2004

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Senior Lecturer


I am a Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellow. I completed my PhD in Physics at the University of Auckland and shortly thereafter left to do post-doctoral research at Jodrell Bank Observatory, The University of Manchester. After nearly five years of research, I worked for several years as a trainee patent attorney before returning to academia at Manchester Metropolitan University. As an RDF, I am returning to New Zealand to continue my research in astrophysics.

Research | Current

Astronomy and Astrophysics

  • The discovery of extra-solar planets through gravitational microlensing
  • Time domain astrophysics
  • Galactic structure

Space Systems Research

  • Auckland Programme for Space Systems
  • Synthetic Aperture Radar systems for nanosatellites
  • Ground station development
  • Nanosatellite sub-system design and development

Computational Physics

  • Genetic algorithms, machine learning, autonomous systems
  • Data Visualisation
  • Virtual reality 
  • Graphical Processing Units for scientific research

I am one of a team of University researchers working towards fostering the New Zealand space industry. My particular interest is in the develoment and use of nanosatellites to develop and test innovative satellite subsystems. Together with my colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering, we are developing new methods and antenna technologies to enable synthetic aperture radar observations from a nanosatellite platform. Our broader interests include developing optical communication and propulsion subsystems for nanosatellites. I also help guide our cross-disciplinary undergraduate student teams to design and develop space missions as part of our regular mission design competition, the Auckland Programme for Space Systems. I am also leading the design and construction of a satellite ground tracking station to monitor our satellite assets. 

My main astrophysics research interest is the detection of extra-solar planets through gravitational microlensing. This is where the gravitational field of a star - or a star and planetary system - deflects and distorts background light. We measure these distortions and infer the presence and characteristics of any planets in the "foreground" system of masses. Gravitational microlensing tends to detect planets cooler and further away from their host stars than those detected by other techniques. Discovering new planets via microlensing will help us figure out how planets form - which is still an open question.

I am specifically interested in creating alogrithms that can do the difficult task of analysing observed microlensing data without any human intervention. I am investigating how graphical processing units (GPUs) may be used to perform the intense numerical calculations necessary for modelling planetary microlensing events. In parallel with this, I am working to create "smart" algorithms that can - in real time - optimise their search strategy.

I am also interested in the general field of time-domain astrophysics, including the detection and analysis of transient events arising from gamma-ray bursts or other progenitors of gravitational waves.

Galaxy structure is another of my research interests. Working out the detailed structure of the inner part of our Galaxy will improve our understanding of how galaxies form in general. I am interested in improving the models of the inner galaxy, using the large amount of data collected from the microlensing databases.

Teaching | Current

PHYSICS 107 - Planets, Stars and Galaxies

PHYSICS 356 - Particle Physics and Astrophysics

Postgraduate supervision

Asha Sharan (PhD, 2014 -- present)

Alex Li (PhD, 2014 -- present)

Martin Donachie (MSc, 2014 -- present)

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Penny, M. T., Rattenbury, N. J., Gaudi, B. S., & Kerins, E. (2017). Predictions for the Detection and Characterization of a Population ofFree-floating Planets with K2 Campaign 9. Astronomical Journal, 153 (4).10.3847/1538-3881/aa61a1
  • Rattenbury, N. J., Bennett, D. P., Sumi, T., Koshimoto, N., Bond, I. A., Udalski, A., ... Dominik, M. (2017). Faint-source-star planetary microlensing: the discovery of the cold gas-giant planet OGLE-2014-BLG-0676Lb. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 466 (3), 2710-2717. 10.1093/mnras/stw3185
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/33281
  • Snjegota, A., & Rattenbury, N. J. (2017). Detecting Forward-Scattered Radio Signals from Atmospheric Meteors Using Low-Cost Software Defined Radio. The Physics Teacher, 55 (2), 115-117. 10.1119/1.4974127
  • Wyrzykowski Ł, Kostrzewa-Rutkowska, Z., Skowron, J., Rybicki, K. A., Mróz P, Kozłowski S, ... Soszyński I (2016). Black hole, neutron star and white dwarf candidates from microlensing with OGLE-III. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 458 (3), 3012-3026. 10.1093/mnras/stw426
  • Rattenbury, N. J., Bennett, D. P., Sumi, T., Koshimoto, N., Bond, I. A., Udalski, A., ... Fukui, A. (2015). MOA-2010-BLG-353Lb: a possible Saturn revealed. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 454 (1), 946-951. 10.1093/mnras/stv2045
  • Rattenbury, N. J., Wyrzykowski, Kostrzewa-Rutkowska, Z., Udalski, A., Koz owski S, Szyma ski MK, ... Ulaczyk, K. (2014). OGLE-BLG182.1.162852: an eclipsing binary with a circumstellar disc. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, 447 (1), L31-L34. 10.1093/mnrasl/slu176
  • Koshimoto, N., Udalski, A., Sumi, T., Bennett, D. P., Bond, I. A., Rattenbury, N., ... Fukagawa, M. (2014). OGLE-2008-BLG-355Lb: A MASSIVE PLANET AROUND A LATE-TYPE STAR. The Astrophysical Journal, 788 (2), 128-128. 10.1088/0004-637X/788/2/128
  • Penny, M. T., Kerins, E., Rattenbury, N., Beaulieu, J. P., Robin, A. C., Mao, S., ... Fouqúe P (2013). ExELS: An exoplanet legacy science proposal for the ESA euclid mission - I. cold exoplanets. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 434 (1), 2-22. 10.1093/mnras/stt927


Contact details

Primary location

Level 7, Room 719
New Zealand

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