Astronomy Stories
Pasadena, CA— A team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Ian Thompson have managed to improve the measurement of the distance to our nearest neighbor galaxy and, in the process, refine an...
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Pasadena, CA—Type II supernovae are formed when massive stars collapse, initiating giant explosions. It is thought that stars emit a burst of mass as a precursor to the supernova explosion. If...
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Washington, D.C.— An international team of scientists, including Carnegie’s Paul Butler, has discovered that Tau Ceti, one of the closest and most Sun-like stars, may have five planets. Their work is...
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Pasadena, CA— A team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Daniel Kelson have set a new distance record for finding the farthest galaxy yet seen in the universe. By combining the power of NASA's Hubble...
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Washington, D.C.—Astronomers have discovered a new super-Earth in the habitable zone, where liquid water and a stable atmosphere could reside, around the nearby star HD 40307. It is one of three new...
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Washington, D.C.--Scientists with the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization have completed the most challenging large astronomical mirror ever made. The mirror will be part of the 25-meter Giant...
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Pasadena, CA— A team of astronomers, led by Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories, have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope...
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Pasadena, CA— With the combined power of NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, as well as a cosmic magnification effect, a team of astronomers, including Carnegie’s Daniel Kelson, have spotted...
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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...
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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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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...
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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...
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The earliest galaxies are those that are most distant. Staff associate Dan Kelson is interested in how these ancient relics evolved. The latest generation of telescopes and advanced spectrographs—instruments that analyze light to determine properties of celestial objects—allow...
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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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Pasadena, CA— A team of astronomers, led by Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories, have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to make one of the most accurate and precise measurement...
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AudioPasadena, CA— Some galaxies grew up in a hurry. Most of the galaxies that have been observed from the early days of the universe were young and actively forming stars. Now, an international team...
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Washington, D.C.—Astronomers have discovered an extremely cool object that could have a particularly diverse history—although it is now as cool as a planet, it may have spent much of its youth as hot...
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Vera Rubin, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science
January 6, 2020

Washington, DC— The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and its joint funding agencies, the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, announced Monday that it will be renamed the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in honor of the late Carnegie astronomer whose research confirmed the existence of dark matter.

Rubin received the National Medal of Science in 1993 for her “significant contributions to the realization that the universe is more complex and more mysterious than had been imagined.” She died in 2016.

Rubin revealed that stars at varying distances from the center of a spiral galaxy orbit at the same speed, rather than at slower speeds farther from

Illustration by James Josephides, courtesy of Swinburne Astronomy Productions.
November 12, 2019

Pasadena, CA—A star traveling at ultrafast speeds after being ejected by the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy was spotted by an international team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Ting Li and Alex Ji. Their work is published by Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Hurtling at the blistering speed of 6 million kilometers per hour, the star is moving so fast that it will leave the Milky Way and head into intergalactic space.

Called S5-HVS1, the star was discovered in the Grus, or Crane, constellation by lead author Sergey Koposov of Carnegie Mellon University as part of the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey led by Carnegie

Ancient gas cloud courtesy of the Max Planck Society.
November 8, 2019

Washington, DC— The discovery of a 13 billion-year-old cosmic cloud of gas enabled a team of Carnegie astronomers to perform the earliest-ever measurement of how the universe was enriched with a diversity of chemical elements.  Their findings reveal that the first generation of stars formed more quickly than previously thought. The research, led by recent Carnegie-Princeton fellow Eduardo Bañados and including Carnegie’s Michael Rauch and Tom Cooper, is published by The Astrophysical Journal.

The Big Bang started the universe as a hot, murky soup of extremely energetic particles that was rapidly expanding.  As this material spread out, it cooled,

Patrick McCarthy courtesy of GMTO
October 1, 2019

Pasadena, CA—Carnegie astronomer and Vice President of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), Patrick McCarthy, has been appointed as the first Director of the National Science Foundation’s newly formed National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NSF’s OIR Lab).

McCarthy has been a member of the GMT project since its inception 15 years ago, helping to bring it from a sketch on a napkin to a 100-plus person organization with 12 U.S. and international partners. In 2008, 20 years into his tenure at Carnegie, McCarthy officially expanded his role when he accepted his current leadership position at GMT.

Working with then-Carnegie Observatories

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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  http://instrumentation.obs.carnegiescience.edu/

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

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

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. 

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

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

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. Young disks contain the raw materials for building planets and the ultimate architecture of planetary systems depends on how these raw materials are distributed, what the balance of different elements and ices is within the gas and dust, and how fast the disks dissipate.

Weinberger uses a variety of observational techniques and facilities, particularly ultra-high spatial-

John Mulchaey is the director and the Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair of the Carnegie Observatories. He investigates groups and clusters of galaxies, elliptical galaxies, dark matter—the invisible material that makes up most of the universe—active galaxies and black holes. He is also a scientific editor for The Astrophysical Journal and is actively involved in public outreach and education.

Most galaxies including our own Milky Way, exist in collections known as groups, which are the most common galaxy systems and are important laboratories for studying galaxy formation and evolution. Mulchaey studies galaxy groups to understand the processes that affect most