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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This artist's impression of the quasar P172+18. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.
Pasadena, CA— The Magellan Baade telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory played an important role in the discovery of the most-distant known quasar with a bright radio emission,...
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3D spatial distribution of 16 spectroscopically confirmed proto-clusters.
Las Campanas Observatory—When the universe was about 350 million years old it was dark: there were no stars or galaxies, only neutral gas—mainly hydrogen—the residue of the Big Bang...
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Vicinity of Tucana II ultra-faint dwarf galaxy. Credit: Anirudh Chiti/MIT.
Pasadena, CA—An MIT-led team of astronomers that includes Carnegie’s Joshua Simon, Lina Necib, and Alexander Ji has discovered an unexpected outer suburb of stars on the distant fringes...
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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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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 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...
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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...
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The entire universe—galaxies, stars, and planets—originally condensed from a vast network of tenuous, gaseous filaments, known as the intergalactic medium, or the gaseous cosmic web. Most of the matter in this giant reservoir has never been incorporated into galaxies; it keeps floating...
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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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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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The lightest few elements in the periodic table formed minutes after the Big Bang.  Heavier chemical elements are created by stars, either from nuclear fusion in their interiors or in...
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A team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Eduardo Bañados used Carnegie’s Magellan telescopes to discover the most-distant supermassive black hole ever observed. It resides in a...
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This artist's impression of the quasar P172+18. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.
March 8, 2021

Pasadena, CA— The Magellan Baade telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory played an important role in the discovery of the most-distant known quasar with a bright radio emission, which was announced by a Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg and European Southern Observatory-led team and published in The Astrophysical Journal. One of the fastest-growing supermassive black holes ever observed, it is emitting about 580 times the energy as the entire Milky Way galaxy.

Quasars are incredibly luminous supermassive black holes accreting matter at the centers of massive galaxies. Their brightness allows astronomers to study them in detail even at great

3D spatial distribution of 16 spectroscopically confirmed proto-clusters.
February 12, 2021

Las Campanas Observatory—When the universe was about 350 million years old it was dark: there were no stars or galaxies, only neutral gas—mainly hydrogen—the residue of the Big Bang. That foggy period began to clear as atoms clumped together to form the first stars and the first quasars, causing the gas to ionize and high-energy photons to travel freely through space. 

This epoch, called the “reionization” epoch, lasted about 370 million years and the first large structures in the universe appear as groups or clusters of galaxies. 

An international team of astronomers grouped in the LAGER consortium (Lyman Alpha Galaxies in the Epoch

Vicinity of Tucana II ultra-faint dwarf galaxy. Credit: Anirudh Chiti/MIT.
February 1, 2021

Pasadena, CA—An MIT-led team of astronomers that includes Carnegie’s Joshua Simon, Lina Necib, and Alexander Ji has discovered an unexpected outer suburb of stars on the distant fringes of the dwarf galaxy Tucana II. Their detection, published by Nature Astronomy, confirms that the cosmos’ oldest galaxies formed inside massive clumps of dark matter—what astronomers refer to as a “dark matter halo."

Our own Milky Way is surrounded by a cadre of orbiting dwarf galaxies—relics of the ancient universe. A new technique developed by lead author Anirudh Chiti of MIT extended the astronomers’ reach and revealed never-before-seen stars on the

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

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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 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 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 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 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

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

Like some other Carnegie astronomers, staff associate Jeffrey Crane blends science with technology. His primary interests are instrumentation, the Milky Way and the neighboring Local Group of galaxies, in addition to extrasolar planets. In 2004, then-research associate Crane joined Steve Shectman, Ian Thompson, and the Carnegie team to design the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS), now installed and operational on the Magellan Clay telescope.

Radial velocities are the speeds and directions of stars moving away from or toward the Earth.  Extrasolar planet hunters use them to detect the telltale wobbles of stars that are gravitationally tugged by orbiting planets. Astronomical

Guillermo Blanc wants to understand the processes by which galaxies form and evolve over the course of the history of the universe. He studies local galaxies in the “present day” universe as well as very distant and therefore older galaxies to observe the early epochs of galaxy evolution. Blanc conducts a series of research projects on the properties of young and distant galaxies, the large-scale structure of the universe, the nature of Dark Energy—the mysterious repulsive force, the process of star formation at galactic scales, and the measurement of chemical abundances in galaxies.

To conduct this work, he takes a multi-wavelength approach including

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