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 to survey one-square degree of sky. They find and measure thousands of these objects’ brightness, estimate their distances and intrinsic luminosities, and examine the way they cluster. The group is developing another camera with a focal plane IR detector array 25 times more powerful than that of the present camera to survey with unprecedented depth and area.

Serendipitously, Persson’s group (and others) found distant galaxies that emit virtually all of their energy in the infrared. These objects are so rare that enormous areas of sky must be studied to find them. Preliminary evidence suggests they are a varied population: most seem to be passively evolving objects in which star formation stopped several billion years ago, while some appear to have intense star formation within optically opaque dust clouds.

Persson and collaborators also study the distance-scale of the universe using newly found Type Ia supernovae—exploding stars that may provide the key to reconcile the timescale, geometry, and mass content of the universe within the framework of general relativity. These supernovae events appear to have a well-defined brightness and as they rise to maximum luminosity and decline, and equivalent luminosity at maximum, which can be used to determine relative distances.

To determine that local and distant supernovae are physically equivalent, the scientists are looking at their light variation over time at near-infrared wavelengths. This work is used to calibrate their distances and it is overcoming systematic effects that hamper optical observations.

Persson received his B.Sc. in physics from McGill University and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Caltech. Before joining Carnegie in 1975, he was a postdoctoral associate at Harvard College Observatory.

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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

unWISE / NASA/JPL-Caltech / D.Lang (Perimeter Institute).
November 2, 2020

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 reforzará nuestra comprensión de la formación y evolución de las galaxias- incluyendo nuestra Vía Láctea- y los agujeros negros supermasivos que acechan en sus centros.  

El recién lanzado SDSS-V continuará la tradición pionera establecida por las generaciones anteriores, con un enfoque en el siempre cambiante cielo nocturno y los procesos físicos que ocurren en los objetos que componen nuestra visió

unWISE / NASA/JPL-Caltech / D.Lang (Perimeter Institute).
November 2, 2020

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 will bolster our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies—including our own Milky Way—and the supermassive black holes that lurk at their centers.  

The newly-launched SDSS-V will continue the path-breaking tradition set by the survey's previous generations, with a focus on the ever-changing night sky and the physical processes that drive these changes, from flickers and flares of supermassive black holes to the back-and-forth shifts of stars

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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/

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation

Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford

Brittany Belin joined the Department of Embryology staff in August 2020. Her Ph.D. research involved developing new tools for in vivo imaging of actin in cell nuclei. Actin is a major structural element in eukaryotic cells—cells with a nucleus and organelles —forming contractile polymers that drive muscle contraction, the migration of immune cells to  infection sites, and the movement of signals from one part of a cell to another. Using the tools developed in her Ph.D., Belin discovered a new role for actin in aiding the repair of DNA breaks in human cells caused by carcinogens, UV light, and other mutagens.

Belin changed course for her postdoctoral work, in

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 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