Astronomy Stories
Kit Whitten in the plate analysis room. Photo by Cynthia Hunt
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,...
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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...
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Pasadena, CA—Pomona College junior and returning Carnegie Observatories intern Sal Fu was awarded...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Las Campanas Observatory
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...
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Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years. Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team
In the days after the death of Stephen Hawking, some of our scientists reflected on meeting him, on his contributions to science and science communication, and his impact on humanity.  ALAN BOSS...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Roberto Marcos Molar
Washington, DC—A team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Meredith MacGregor and Alycia Weinberger detected a massive stellar flare—an energetic explosion of radiation—from the...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, European Southern Observatory
Pasadena, CA— A star about 100 light years away in the Pisces constellation, GJ 9827, hosts what may be one of the most massive and dense super-Earth planets detected to date, according to new...
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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...
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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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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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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...
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Looking far into space is looking back in time. Staff astronomer emeritus Alan Dressler began his career at Carnegie some years ago as a Carnegie Fellow. Today, he and colleagues use Magellan and the Hubble Space Telescope to study galaxy evolution—how galaxy structures and shapes change, the...
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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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Carnegie’s Benjamin Shappee is part of a team of scientists, including an Australian amateur astronomer, which discovered a new comet last week. Called the All Sky Automated Survey for...
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A team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Meredith MacGregor and Alycia Weinberger detected a massive stellar flare—an energetic explosion of radiation—from the closest star to our...
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Pasadena, CA—The Big Bang produced lots of hydrogen and helium and a smidgen of lithium. All heavier elements found on the periodic table have been produced by stars over the last 13.7 billion years...
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A giant star being slowly devoured by a black hole courtesy of NASA Goddard.
January 12, 2021

Pasadena, CA—In a case of cosmic mistaken identity, an international team of astronomers revealed that what they once thought was a supernova is actually periodic flaring from a galaxy where a supermassive black hole gives off bursts of energy every 114 days as it tears off chunks of an orbiting star.

Six years after its initial discovery—reported in The Astronomer’s Telegram by Carnegie’s Thomas Holoien—the researchers, led by Anna Payne of University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, can now say that the phenomenon they observed, called ASASSN-14ko, is a periodically recurring flare from the center of a galaxy more than 570 million light-years away in the

An artist’s conception of GN-z11 courtesy of Jingchuan Yu.
December 14, 2020

Pasadena, CA— New work from an international team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Gregory Walth improves our understanding of the most-distant known astrophysical object— GN-z11, a galaxy 13.4 billion light-years from Earth.

Formed 400 million years after the Big Bang, GN-z11 was previously determined by space telescope data to be the most-distant object yet discovered. In two newly published Nature Astronomy papers, a team led by Linhua Jiang at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University took near-infrared spectra using ground-based telescopes that confirmed the galaxy’s distance. They also caught an ultraviolet flash

The Blue Ring Nebula courtesy of Mark Seibert
November 18, 2020

Pasadena, CA— The mysterious Blue Ring Nebula has puzzled astronomers since it was discovered in 2004. New work published in Nature by a Caltech-led team including Carnegie astrophysicists Mark Seibert and Andrew McWilliam revealed that the phenomenon is the extremely difficult-to-spot result of a stellar collision in which two stars merged into one.

Sixteen years ago, NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) spacecraft discovered a large, faint blob of gas with a star at its center—an object unlike anything previously seen in our Milky Way galaxy. The blob is represented as blue in the ultraviolet images of GALEX—although it doesn't actually emit

Carnegie theoretical astrophysicist Anthony Piro engages with the VizLab wall.
November 18, 2020

Pasadena, CA— In a refurbished Southern California garage, Carnegie astrophysicists are creating the virtual reality-enabled scientific workspace of the future where they will unlock the mysteries of the cosmos.

Imagine standing in front of a wave of data and probing the mysteries of the universe’s most-ancient galaxies side-by-side with swirling, colorful simulations of galaxy formation—seeing what aligns with expectations and what needs further interrogation.  A portal to fake universes may sound like science fiction, but it is now a reality at the Carnegie Observatories. 

The campus has just undertaken its new experiential

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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 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

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 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 a grasp of dark energy, it is extremely important that scientists get the most accurate measurements possible of Type Ia supernovae. These are specific types of exploring stars with exceptional luminosity that allow astronomers to determine distances and the acceleration rate at different distances. At the moment, the reality of the accelerating universe remains

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

Looking far into space is looking back in time. Staff astronomer emeritus Alan Dressler began his career at Carnegie some years ago as a Carnegie Fellow. Today, he and colleagues use Magellan and the Hubble Space Telescope to study galaxy evolution—how galaxy structures and shapes change, the pace and character of star birth, and how large galaxies form from earlier, smaller systems.

Dressler is also intricately involved in instrumentation. He led the effort for the Inamori Magellan Areal Spectrogrph (IMACS), a wide-field imager and multi-object spectrograph which became operational in 2003 on the Baade telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory. Spectrographs

Staff astronomer emeritus Eric Persson headed a group that develops and uses telescope instrumentation to exploit new near-infrared (IR) imaging array detectors. The team built a wide-field survey camera for the du Pont 2.5-meter telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and the first of two cameras for the Magellan Baade telescope. Magellan consortium astronomers use the Baade camera for various IR-imaging projects, while his group focuses on distant galaxies and supernovae.

Until recently, it was difficult to find large numbers of galaxies at near-IR wavelengths. But significant advances in the size of IR detector arrays have allowed the Persson group

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.

Stephen Shectman blends his celestial interests with his gift of developing novel telescope instrumentation. He investigates the large-scale structure of the galaxy distribution; searches for ancient stars that have few elements; develops astronomical instruments; and constructs large telescopes. Shectman was the former project scientist for Magellan and is largely responsible for the superb quality of 6.5-meter telescopes. He is now a member of the Giant Magellan Telescope Project Scientists’ Working Group.

 To understand large-scale structure, Shectman has participated in several galaxy surveys. He and collaborators discovered a particularly large void in the galaxy