Mark Phillips wears several hats. He is the Associate Director for Magellan, the Director for Las Campanas Observatory, and a world-renowned supernova expert. Most stars die quietly by cooling down and “turning off” when they have exhausted their nuclear fuel. But, a few stars end in a gigantic thermonuclear explosion known as a supernova. These objects remain extremely bright for a few weeks, sometimes outshining the galaxies in which they reside. Their extreme brightness at maximum makes them potentially powerful “standard candles”—baselines for probing distances, geometry, and expansion of the universe.

Type Ia supernovae are especially attractive. Thought to be the complete thermonuclear disruption of a small, very dense stellar remnant called a white dwarf, they are highly uniform. And because of their immense luminosity at maximum light (up to 10 billion times that of the Sun), they can be observed at great distances. Phillips wants to understand the role they have in the evolution of the universe, and to determine how they can be used as standard candles for measuring distance.

Phillips has shown that Type Ia supernovae can be used as standard candles because of a tight correlation between the rate of decline from maximum light and peak luminosity. Phillips and collaborators have extended their supernovae observations to the infrared and found that Type Ia supernovae exhibit a much smaller range of luminosities at these wavelengths, making them nearly perfect standard candles. Particularly important is that in infrared the absorption of the supernova light due to dust is negligible.

Phillip joined a two-part, 5-year project called the Carnegie Supernova Program (CSP). The team is obtaining light curves—how light varies over time—of some 100 nearby Type Ia supernovae in the optical and infrared. This sample will provide a comparison for the second component of the project—near-infrared observations of about 50 very distant—known as high-redshift (0.3 < z < 0.7) —Type Ia supernovae. The goal is to measure the expansion history of the universe at different distances for a new measurement of the acceleration of the universe, which should provide clues to the nature of the mysterious dark energy that is driving the acceleration.

Phillips received an A.B. from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. in astronomy from UC-Santa Cruz. After graduate school, he was a postdoctoral associate at both Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), and the Anglo-Australian Observatory. He then moved back to Chile in 1982 to become a staff astronomer at CTIO. He was later director of the CTIO  National Optical Astronomy Observatory, before joining Carnegie  in 1998.  For more see

Scientific Area: 

Explore Carnegie Science

January 24, 2017

Pasadena, CA –The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) announces the appointment of physicist Robert N. Shelton to become its president, effective February 20, 2017. Shelton will lead the organization behind the development of the 24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which is poised to be the world’s largest astronomical telescope when operational in the next decade.  Shelton will work closely with the GMTO Board of Directors, the leadership at the partner institutions, and the GMT team to complete construction of the observatory.

As a founding institution of the Giant Magellan Telescope, Carnegie President Matthew Scott remarked, “Robert Shelton is an ideal choice

November 16, 2016

Pasadena, CA – The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) today announced the appointment of Walter E. Massey, PhD, and Taft Armandroff, PhD, to the positions of Board Chair and Vice Chair, respectively. Continuing their involvement in new leadership capacities, Massey and Armandroff will guide the GMTO Board, overseeing the construction of the 24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in the Chilean Andes and working to complete the partnership of universities, research institutions and private donors who will contribute to the construction and operation of the GMT.

Poised to be the first of a new generation of extremely large telescopes, the GMT will be the largest optical

October 3, 2016

Pasadena, CA— A star known by the unassuming name of KIC 8462852 in the constellation Cygnus has been raising eyebrows both in and outside of the scientific community for the past year. In 2015 a team of astronomers announced that the star underwent a series of very brief, non-periodic dimming events while it was being monitored by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, and no one could quite figure out what caused them. A new study from Carnegie’s Josh Simon and Caltech’s Ben Montet has deepened the mystery.  

Simon and Montet’s findings caused a stir in August, when they were posted on a preprint server while their paper was being reviewed. Now their work is now accepted for publication

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, ESO, European Southern Observatory, M. Kornmesser
September 12, 2016

Pasadena, CA— Quasars are supermassive black holes that sit at the center of enormous galaxies, accreting matter. They shine so brightly that they are often referred to as beacons and are among the most-distant objects in the universe that we can currently study. New work from a team led by Carnegie’s Eduardo Bañados has discovered 63 new quasars from when the universe was only a billion years old. (It’s about 14 billion years old today.)

This is the largest sample of such distant quasars presented in a single scientific article, almost doubling the number of ancient quasars previously known. The findings will be published by The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

No content in this section.

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 improved the

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 will

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

Peter van Keken studies the thermal and chemical evolution of the Earth. In particularly he looks at the causes and consequences of plate tectonics; element modeling of mantle convection,  and the dynamics of subduction zones--locations where one tectonic plate slides under another. He also studies mantle plumes; the integration of geodynamics with seismology; geochemistry and mineral physics. He uses parallel computing and scientific visualization in this work.

He received his BS and Ph D from the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands. Prior to joining Carnegie he was on the faculty of the University of Michigan.

Peter Driscoll studies the evolution of Earth’s core and magnetic field including magnetic pole reversal. Over the last 20 million or so years, the north and south magnetic poles on Earth have reversed about every 200,000, to 300,000 years and is now long overdue. He also investigates the Earth’s inner core structure; core-mantle coupling; tectonic-volatile cycling; orbital migration—how Earth’s orbit moves—and tidal dissipation—the dissipation of tidal forces between two closely orbiting bodies. He is also interested in planetary interiors, dynamos, upper planetary atmospheres and exoplanets—planets orbiting other stars. He uses large-scale numerical simulations in much of his research

Andrew Newman works in several areas in extragalactic astronomy, including the distribution of dark matter--the mysterious, invisible  matter that makes up most of the universe--on galaxies, the evolution of the structure and dynamics of massive early galaxies including dwarf galaxies, ellipticals and cluster. He uses tools such as gravitational lensing, stellar dynamics, and stellar population synthesis from data gathered from the Magellan, Keck, Palomar, and Hubble telescopes.

Newman received his AB in physics and mathematics from the Washington University in St. Louis, and his MS and Ph D in astrophysics from Caltech. Before becomming a staff astronomer in 2015, he was a

Gwen Rudie studies the chemical and physical properties of very distant, so-called  high-redshift galaxies and their surrounding circumgalactic medium. She is primarily an observational astronomer working on the analysis and interpretation of high-resolution spectroscopy of high-redshift Quasi Stellar Objects and low to medium-resolution near-infrared and optical spectroscopy of high-redshift galaxies. She is interested in understanding the intergalactic medium as a tool for understanding galaxy evolution and the physical properties of very distant galaxies such as the composition of stars and their star formation rates

Rudie received her AB from Dartmouth College and her Ph D