Astronomy Stories
It isn’t often that our Capital Science Evening speaker hints at soon-to-be-breaking news right from the stage. Tuesday night, Pierre Cox, Director of the Atacama Large Milimiter/submillimeter...
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A giant star being slowly devoured by a black hole courtesy of NASA Goddard.
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...
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An artist’s conception of GN-z11 courtesy of Jingchuan Yu.
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...
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The Blue Ring Nebula courtesy of Mark Seibert
Pasadena, CA— The mysterious Blue Ring Nebula has puzzled astronomers since it was discovered in 2004. New work published in Nature...
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Carnegie theoretical astrophysicist Anthony Piro engages with the VizLab wall.
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...
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unWISE / NASA/JPL-Caltech / D.Lang (Perimeter Institute).
Pasadena, CA- La quinta generación del Sloan Digital Sky Survey recogió sus primeras observaciones del cosmos a la 1:47 a.m. del 24 de octubre de 2020. Este innovador estudio del cielo...
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unWISE / NASA/JPL-Caltech / D.Lang (Perimeter Institute).
Pasadena, CA— The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation collected its very first observations of the cosmos at 1:47 a.m. MDT on October 24, 2020. This groundbreaking all-sky survey...
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 "Blue Snowball" planetary nebula, courtesy of Eric Hsiao.
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...
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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 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 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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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....
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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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Josh Simon uses observations of nearby galaxies to study problems related to dark matter, chemical evolution, star formation, and the process of galaxy evolution. In one area he looks at peculiarly dark galaxies. Interestingly, some galaxies are so dark they glow with the light of just a few...
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Washington, DC—El satélite Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) de la NASA ha observado por primera vez las secuelas de una estrella que fue violentamente desgarrada por un agujero negro...
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AudioWashington, D.C.—New modeling studies from Carnegie’s Alan Boss demonstrate that most of the stars we see were formed when unstable clusters of newly formed protostars broke up. These protostars...
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Pasadena, CA—An international team of astronomers, including Carnegie’s Eric Persson, has charted the rise and fall of galaxies over 90 percent of cosmic history. Their work, which includes some of...
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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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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 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

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. 

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

Rebecca Bernstein combines observational astronomy with developing new instruments and techniques to study her objects of interest. She focuses on formation and evolution of galaxies by studying the chemistry of objects called extra galactic globular clusters—old, spherical compact groups of stars that are gravitationally bound. She also studies the stellar components of clusters of galaxies and is engaged in various projects related to dark matter and dark energy—the invisible matter and repulsive force that make up most of the universe.

 Although Bernstein joined Carnegie as a staff scientist in 2012, she has had a long history of spectrographic and imaging

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 astronomers to accurately measure enormous numbers of distant galaxies. Kelson uses the Magellan 6.5-meter telescopes and high-resolution imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope to study distant galaxies.His observations of their masses, sizes and morphologies allow him to directly measure their stars' aging to infer their formation history. Kelson is the principal investigator of the Carnegie-

Globular clusters are spherical systems of some 100,000  gravitationally bound stars. They are among the oldest components of our galaxy and are key to understanding the age and scale of the universe. Previous measurements of their distances have compared the characteristics of different types of stars in the solar neighborhood with the same types of stars found in the clusters. However, these measurements have systematic errors, which limit the determination of cluster ages and distances.

 Ian Thompson has a different approach to the problem: using observations of exceedingly rare Detached Eclipsing Binary stars. These systems have two separated stars orbiting each