Astronomy Stories
Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA, Larry Nittler
Washington, DC— Dust is everywhere—not just in your attic or under your bed, but also in outer space. To astronomers, dust can be a nuisance by blocking the light of distant stars, or it can be a...
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National Harbor, MD—How far away is that galaxy?  Our entire understanding of the Universe is based on knowing the distances to other galaxies, yet this seemingly-simple question turns out to be...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, SDSS-IV
National Harbor, MD—Astronomers with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have learned that the chemical composition of a star can exert unexpected influence on its...
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Pasadena, CA— A team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Eduardo Bañados used Carnegie’s Magellan telescopes to discover the most-distant supermassive black hole ever observed. It resides in a luminous...
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SN2015J, a very bright and peculiar supernova, which initially did not have a certain home, now has received its happy ending.  Discovered on April 27, 2015, by the Siding Springs Observatory in...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Robin Dienel, SDSS-V, Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Pasadena, CA— The next generation of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-V), directed by Carnegie’s Juna Kollmeier, will move forward with mapping the entire sky following a $16 million grant from the...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, European Southern Observatory, ESO/M. Kornmesser
Pasadena, CA— It’s the celestial equivalent of a horror movie villain—a star that wouldn’t stay dead. An international team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Nick Konidaris and Benjamin Shappee...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, GMTO
Pasadena, CA—The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) today announced that it has initiated the casting of the fifth of seven mirrors that will form the heart of the Giant Magellan Telescope...
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The Earthbound Planet Search Program has discovered hundreds of planets orbiting nearby stars using telescopes at Lick Observatory, Keck Observatory, the Anglo-Australian Observatory, Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory, and the ESO Paranal Observatory.  Our multi-national team has been collecting...
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The recent discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate has profoundly affected physics. If the universe were gravity-dominated then it should be decelerating. These contrary results suggest a new form of “dark energy”—some kind of repulsive force—is driving the universe. To get...
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The fund supports a postdoctoral fellowship in astronomy that rotates between the Carnegie Science departments of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D.C., and the Observatories in Pasadena California. 
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While the planets in our Solar System are astonishingly diverse, all of them move around the Sun in approximately the same orbital plane, in the same direction, and primarily in circular orbits. Over the past 25 years Butler's work has focused on improving the measurement precision of stellar...
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Alycia Weinberger wants to understand how planets form, so she observes young stars in our galaxy and their disks, from which planets are born. She also looks for and studies planetary systems. Studying disks surrounding nearby stars help us determine the necessary conditions for planet formation....
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Scott Sheppard studies the dynamical and physical properties of small bodies in our Solar System, such as asteroids, comets, moons and trans-neptunian objects (bodies that orbit beyond Neptune).  These objects have a fossilized imprint from the formation and migration of the major planets in our...
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Pasadena, CA—Type Ia supernovae are important stellar phenomena, used to measure the expansion of the universe. But astronomers know embarrassingly little about the stars they come from and how the...
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NPR covers the discovery of the most-luminous supernova by a team of astronomers, including Ben Shappee. More
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Explore Carnegie Science

Kit Whitten in the plate analysis room. Photo by Cynthia Hunt
May 3, 2018

Cataloging Reflections by Kit Whitten, Carnegie Observatories Library Intern

It is commonly believed that when looking for valuable treasure, the best place to look is the attic—after all, works by Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Jackson Pollack have been discovered in attics—but not everyone thinks to look in the basement. Yet institutions like Carnegie Observatories often keep the best stuff in the basement.

The underground vault at the Observatories houses the nation’s second-largest, single-institution collection of astronomical glass plates, which are thin sheets of glass with an emulsion image of celestial bodies.  Photographic plates preceded plastic

April 27, 2018

Former Carnegie fellow and current trustee Sandy Faber has been selected to receive the 2018 American Philosophical Society’s Magellanic Premium Medal.  The medal is the nation’s oldest for scientific achievement. It was established in 1786. It is awarded from time to time “ to the author of the best discovery or most useful invention related to navigation, astronomy, or natural philosophy…”

Dr. Faber is the University of California, Santa Cruz, University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and has been a Carnegie trustee since 1985.  After receiving a B.A. in physics from Swarthmore College, she pursued her Ph.D. in astronomy at Harvard, which she received in 1972. Much of

April 5, 2018

Pasadena, CA—Pomona College junior and returning Carnegie Observatories intern Sal Fu was awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in recognition of her academic and research success and to support her continued “academic study and research in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering.” Fu has participated in the Carnegie Summer Undergraduate Research program over the past two summers, working with staff astronomer Josh Simon studying dwarf galaxies and streams of stars surrounding our Milky Way using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

“The Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the Carnegie Observatories provides undergraduate students the exciting opportunity to

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Las Campanas Observatory
March 23, 2018

La Serena, Chile—Last week, scientists and staff from Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory volunteered for Astroday 2018 at a 170-year-old school in the nearby city of Las Serena, the Colegio Seminario Conciliar.

Organized by the Gemini Observatory, the daylong outreach event features activities including a planetarium, science projects, a 3-D movie, and night sky viewing. Several Chile-based astronomy facilities participated, both from the research and tourist sectors, all sharing the wonders of the universe with the community.

Since its inception in 2006, thousands of La Serena residents have participated in Astroday.

Led by Roberto Bermúdez, the Las Campanas

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The Carnegie Hubble program is an ongoing comprehensive effort that has a goal of determining the Hubble constant, the expansion rate of the universe,  to a systematic accuracy of 2%. As part of this program, astronomers are obtaining data at the 3.6 micron wavelength using the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) on Spitzer Space Telescope. The team has demonstrated that the mid-infrared period-luminosity relation for Cepheids, variable stars used to determine distances and the rate of the expansion,  at 3.6 microns is the most accurate means of measuring Cepheid distances to date. At 3.6 microns, it is possible to minimize the known remaining systematic uncertainties in the Cepheid

Along with Alycia Weinberger and Ian Thompson, Alan Boss has been running the Carnegie Astrometric Planet Search (CAPS) program, which searches for extrasolar planets by the astrometric method, where the planet's presence is detected indirectly through the wobble of the host star around the center of mass of the system. With over eight years of CAPSCam data, they are beginning to see likely true astrometric wobbles beginning to appear. The CAPSCam planet search effort is on the verge of yielding a harvest of astrometrically discovered planets, as well as accurate parallactic distances to many young stars and M dwarfs. For more see

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be one member of the next class of super giant earth-based telescopes that promises to revolutionize our view and understanding of the universe. It will be constructed in the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Commissioning of the telescope is scheduled to begin in 2021.

The GMT has a unique design that offers several advantages. It is a segmented mirror telescope that employs seven of today’s largest stiff monolith mirrors as segments. Six off-axis 8.4 meter or 27-foot segments surround a central on-axis segment, forming a single optical surface 24.5 meters, or 80 feet, in diameter with a total collecting area of 368 square meters. The GMT will

The Carnegie-Spitzer-IMACS (CSI) survey, currently underway at the Magellan-Baade 6.5m telescope in Chile, has been specifically designed to characterize normal galaxies and their environments at a distance of about 4 billion years post Big Bang, expresses by astronomers as  z=1.5.

The survey selection is done using the Spitzer Space Telescope Legacy fields, which provides as close a selection by stellar mass as possible.

Using the IMACS infrared camera, the survey goal is to study galaxies down to low light magnitudes. The goal is to reduce the variance in the density of massive galaxies at these distances and times to accurately trace the evolution of the galaxy mass

Galacticus is not a super hero; it’s a super model used to determine the formation and evolution of the galaxies. Developed by Andrew Benson, the George Ellery Hale Distinguished Scholar in Theoretical Astrophysics, it is one of the most advanced models of galaxy formation available.

Rather than building his model around observational data, Benson’s Galacticus relies on known laws of physics and the so-called N-body problem, which predicts the motions of celestial bodies that interact gravitationally in groups. Galacticus’ now an open- source model produces results as stunning 3-D videos.

Some 80% of the matter in the universe cannot be seen. This unseen matter is believed

Guillermo Blanc wants to understand the processes by which galaxies form and evolve over the course of the history of the universe. He studies local galaxies in the “present day” universe as well as very distant and therefore older galaxies to observe the early epochs of galaxy evolution. Blanc conducts a series of research projects on the properties of young and distant galaxies, the large-scale structure of the universe, the nature of Dark Energy—the mysterious repulsive force, the process of star formation at galactic scales, and the measurement of chemical abundances in galaxies.

To conduct this work, he takes a multi-wavelength approach including observations in the UV,

Like some other Carnegie astronomers, staff associate Jeffrey Crane blends science with technology. His primary interests are instrumentation, the Milky Way and the neighboring Local Group of galaxies, in addition to extrasolar planets. In 2004, then-research associate Crane joined Steve Shectman, Ian Thompson, and the Carnegie team to design the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS), now installed and operational on the Magellan Clay telescope.

Radial velocities are the speeds and directions of stars moving away from or toward the Earth.  Extrasolar planet hunters use them to detect the telltale wobbles of stars that are gravitationally tugged by orbiting planets. Astronomical

Gwen Rudie

Gwen Rudie studies the chemical and physical properties of very distant galaxies and their surrounding gas in order to further our understanding of the processes that are central to the formation and development of galaxies. Critical to this research is our ability to trace the raw materials of galaxy formation and its biproducts. These clues can be found in the gas that surrounds early galaxies. She is primarily an observational astronomer, working on the analysis and interpretation of high-resolution spectroscopy of distant quasars as well as near-infrared and optical spectroscopy of high-redshift galaxies. In addition to her scientific efforts, she is also the director of the