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 and during the formation of our Solar System. Meteorites are fragments of asteroids—small bodies that originated between Mars and Jupiter—and are likely the last remnants of objects that gave rise to the terrestrial planets. He is particularly interested in the analysis of chondrules, millimeter-size spherical objects that are the dominant constituent of the most primitive types of meteorites. Chondrules formed as molten droplets prior to the formation of the asteroids.

 Alexander develops techniques to measure precisely the different isotopes, atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons, of potassium, iron, magnesium, and oxygen in meteorite samples. Depending on the conditions, these elements may have evaporated and recondensed during chondrule formation. The isotopic compositions can indicate the extent of evaporation and recondensation, which can reveal the conditions under which the chondrules formed.

Alexander's other major interest is presolar materials preserved in meteorites. These include the tiny grains that emerged around dying stars and interstellar organic matter. By deciphering these relics, he hopes to understand the processes of galaxy evolution, the formation of the elements inside stars via nucleosynthesis, and stellar evolution.

In recent years, evidence has mounted that meteorites may have played a role in the origin of life on Earth. Alexander studies this possibility as part of his work on the origin of interstellar organic matter in meteorites. In addition, a small number of meteorites come from Mars. They have a wide age range and contain water-bearing minerals. By studying the hydrogen isotopes of this water, Alexander hopes to test ideas about what happened to the water that was originally on that planet.

Alexander received his B.S. Geology from  Imperial College, University of London and his Ph.D. in experimental physics from the University of Essex. For more information see  http://www.dtm.ciw.edu/people/conel-m-od-alexander

Explore Carnegie Science

This cartoon courtesy of Anthony Piro illustrates three possibilities for the origin of the mysterious hydrogen emissions from the Type IA supernova called ASASSN-18tb that were observed by the Carnegie astronomers.
May 7, 2019

Pasadena, CA—Detection of a supernova with an unusual chemical signature by a team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Juna Kollmeier—and including Carnegie’s Nidia Morrell, Anthony Piro, Mark Phillips, and Josh Simon—may hold the key to solving the longstanding mystery that is the source of these violent explosions. Observations taken by the Magellan telescopes at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile were crucial to detecting the emission of hydrogen that makes this supernova, called ASASSN-18tb, so distinctive.   

Their work is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Type Ia supernovae play a

Earth's Moon, public domain image
January 23, 2019

Pasadena, CA— “Can moons have moons?”

This simple question—asked by the four-year old son of Carnegie’s Juna Kollmeier—started it all.  Not long after this initial bedtime query,  Kollmeier was coordinating a program at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP)  on the Milky Way while her one-time college classmate Sean Raymond of Université de Bordeaux was attending a parallel KITP program on the dynamics of Earth-like planets.   After discussing this very simple question at a seminar, the two joined forces to solve it.  Their findings are the basis of a paper published in Monthly Notices

December 14, 2018

Pasadena, CA— Miguel Roth, director of Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile from 1990 to 2014 and the current representative of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) in Chile was awarded the Bernardo O’Higgins Order by the Chilean Foreign Affairs Ministry in Santiago today. The honor is in recognition “of his contribution to the development of astronomy in Chile, and for inspiring appreciation and knowledge of astronomy among students and people of all ages.”

The award is the highest civilian honor for non-Chileans. O’Higgins was one of the founders of the Chilean Republic. The award was established in 1965 to recognize

An artist’s conception of a type Ia supernova exploding, courtesy of ESO.
December 11, 2018

Pasadena, CA—New work from the Carnegie Supernova Project provides the best-yet calibrations for using type Ia supernovae to measure cosmic distances, which has implications for our understanding of how fast the universe is expanding and the role dark energy may play in driving this process. Led by Carnegie astronomer Chris Burns, the team’s findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.  

Type Ia supernovae are fantastically bright stellar phenomena. They are violent explosions of a white dwarf—the crystalline remnant of a star that has exhausted its nuclear fuel—which is part of a binary system with another star.

In addition to being

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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. 

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 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/

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joins the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in the summer of 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments.