Astronomy Stories
Dr. John Mulchaey Staff Scientist Carnegie Observatories The light we see with our eyes only tells a small part of the Universe's story. To get a complete picture of how the Universe works,...
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Pasadena, CA— The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) has passed a major milestone as 11 international partners—including Carnegie—approved its construction, which secures the project...
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Pasadena, CA— Type Ia supernovae are violent stellar explosions that shine as some of the brightest objects in the universe. But there are still many mysteries surrounding their origin—...
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Type Ia supernovae are violent stellar explosions that shine as some of the brightest objects in the universe. But there are still many mysteries surrounding their origin—what kind of star...
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Two nights ago, for the first time in history, astronomers from University of Arizona and Carnegie's Yuri Beletsky at Las Campanas Observatory used the Clay Magellan telescope together with...
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Pasadena, CA- John Mulchaey has been appointed the new Crawford H. Greenewalt Director of the Carnegie Observatories. He is the eleventh director of the historic department, which was founded in 1904...
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Carnegie's John Mulchaey talks to NPR's Morning Edition about Edwin Hubble's work at the Mount Wilson Obeservatory and his famous Andromeda plates....
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A Carnegie-based search of nearby galaxies for their oldest stars has uncovered two stars in the Sculptor dwarf galaxy that were born shortly after the galaxy formed, approximately 13 billion years...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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,...
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Some 40 thousand tons of extraterrestrial material fall on Earth every year. This cosmic debris provides cosmochemist Conel Alexander with information about the formation of the Solar System, our galaxy, and perhaps the origin of life. Alexander studies meteorites to determine what went on before...
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Anthony Piro is the George Ellery Hale Distinguished Scholar in Theoretical Astrophysics at the Carnegie Observatories. He is a theoretical astrophysicist studying compact objects, astrophysical explosions, accretion flows, and stellar dynamics. His expertise is in nuclear physics, thermodynamics,...
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  Washington, DC—Un grupo de astrónomos del Observatorio Las Campanas, de Carnegie, incluyendo a Mark Phillips y Guillermo Blanc, junto a Miguel Roth de la Organización Telescopio Magallanes Gigante...
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AudioPasadena, CA—Quasars are supermassive black holes that live at the center of distant massive galaxies. They shine as the most luminous beacons in the sky across the entire electromagnetic...
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Yuri Beletsky's recent image of  the lunar eclipse at  Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory has been published by NASA as the Astronomy Picture of the Day, October 1, 2015.
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 "Blue Snowball" planetary nebula, courtesy of Eric Hsiao.
September 10, 2020

Pasadena, CA—An unusual stellar explosion is shining new light on the origins of a specific subgroup of Type Ia supernovae.

Called LSQ14fmg, the exploding star exhibits certain characteristics that are unlike any other supernova. For example, its brightness increases at an extremely slow rate compared to other Type Ia supernovae. Despite this, it is also one of the brightest explosions in its class.

“Type Ia supernovae are violent, fantastically bright explosions of a white dwarf—the remnant of a star that has exhausted its nuclear fuel—which is part of a binary system with another star,” said Carnegie astronomer Mark Phillips, an expert in

Widmanstatten pattern characteristic of iron meteorites, courtesy of Peng Ni.
August 3, 2020

Washington, DC— Work led by Carnegie’s Peng Ni and Anat Shahar uncovers new details about our Solar System’s oldest planetary objects, which broke apart in long-ago collisions to form iron-rich meteorites.  Their findings reveal that the distinct chemical signatures of these meteorites can be explained by the process of core crystallization in their parent bodies, deepening our understanding of the geochemistry occurring in the Solar System’s youth. They are published by Nature Geoscience.

Many of the meteorites that shot through our planet’s atmosphere and crashed on its surface were once part of larger objects that broke up at some point in our

Phoenix Stellar Stream illustration courtesy of Geraint F. Lewis.
July 29, 2020

Pasadena, CA—A team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Ting Li and Alexander Ji discovered a stellar stream composed of the remnants of an ancient globular cluster that was torn apart by the Milky Way’s gravity 2 billion years ago, when Earth’s most-complex lifeforms were single-celled organisms. This surprising finding, published in Nature, upends conventional wisdom about how these celestial objects form.

Imagine a sphere made up of a million stars bound by gravity and orbiting a galactic core. That’s a globular cluster. The Milky Way is home to about 150 of them, which form a tenuous halo that envelops our galaxy.

But the globular cluster

The du Pont telescope, courtesy Matias del Campo
July 20, 2020

Pasadena, CA— Filling in the most-significant gaps in our understanding of the universe’s history, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) released Sunday a comprehensive analysis of the largest three-dimensional map of the cosmos ever created.

The survey, of which Carnegie is an integral member, has been one of the most successful and influential in the history of astronomy. It operates out of both Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, home of the survey’s original 2.5-meter telescope, and Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, where it uses Carnegie’s du Pont telescope.

The new results come from the extended Baryon Oscillation

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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 data for 30 years, using the Precision Doppler technique.  Highlights of this program include the detection of five of the first six exoplanets, the first eccentric planet, the first multiple planet system, the first sub-Saturn mass planet, the first sub-Neptune mass planet, the first terrestrial mass planet, and the first transit planet.Over the course of 30 years we have

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 Carnegie Irvine Galaxy Survey is obtaining high-quality optical and near-infrared images of several hundred of the brightest galaxies in the southern hemisphere sky, at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory to investigate the structural properties of galaxies. For more see

Staff member emeritus François Schweizer studies galaxy assembly and evolution by observing nearby galaxies, particularly how collisions and mergers affect their properties. His research has added to the awareness that these events are dominant processes in shaping galaxies and determining their stellar and gaseous contents.

When nearby galaxies collide and merge they yield valuable clues about processes that occurred much more frequently in the younger, distant universe. When two gas-rich galaxies collide, their pervasive interstellar gas gets compressed, clumps into dense clouds, and fuels the sudden birth of billions of new stars and thousands of star clusters.

The entire universe—galaxies, stars, and planets—originally condensed from a vast network of tenuous, gaseous filaments, known as the intergalactic medium, or the gaseous cosmic web. Most of the matter in this giant reservoir has never been incorporated into galaxies; it keeps floating about in intergalactic space, largely in the form of ionized hydrogen gas.

 Michael Rauch is interested in all aspects of the intergalactic medium. He uses large telescopes, like the Magellans, to take spectra—light that reveals the chemical makeup of distant objects— of background quasars, which are highly energetic and extremely remote. He is looking for evidence of

Director Emeritus, George Preston has been deciphering the chemical evolution of stars in our Milky Way for a quarter of a century. He and Steve Shectman started this quest using a special technique to conduct a needle-in-the-haystack search for the few, first-generation stars, whose chemical compositions sketch the history of element formation in the galaxy. These earliest stars are very rare and they are characteristically low in heavy metals because of their age. They were made of Big Bang material, mostly hydrogen and helium. It was only later that heavier elements were formed in the nuclear furnaces of newer stars.

 In their first study, Preston and Shectman compiled a

With the proliferation of discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, the race is on to find habitable worlds akin to the Earth. At present, however, extrasolar planets less massive than Saturn cannot be reliably detected. Astrophysicist John Chambers models the dynamics of these newly found giant planetary systems to understand their formation history and to determine the best way to predict the existence and frequency of smaller Earth-like worlds.

As part of this research, Chambers explores the basic physical, chemical, and dynamical aspects that led to the formation of our own Solar System--an event that is still poorly understood. His ultimate goal is to determine if similar