A giant star being slowly devoured by a black hole courtesy of NASA Goddard.

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 southern constellation Pictor.

Rough diamond photograph purchased from iStock

Minerals are the most durable, information-rich objects we can study to understand our planet’s origin and evolution. The current approach to categorizing minerals doesn’t work well for planetary and other historically oriented geosciences, where the emphasis is on understanding the formation and development of planetary bodies. Carnegie's Robert Hazen and Shaunna Morrison along with philosophy of science expert Carol Cleland of CU Boulder advocate for a new evolutionary approach to classifying minerals that complements the existing protocols and offers an opportunity to rigorously document Earth’s history.

Heart Reef in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, public domain.

The CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system can help scientists understand, and possibly improve, how corals respond to the environmental stresses of climate change. Work led by Phillip Cleves—who joined Carnegie’s Department of Embryology this fall—details how the revolutionary, Nobel Prize-winning technology can be deployed to guide conservation efforts for fragile reef ecosystems.

If every country in the world started to cut emissions by 2 percent annually in 2020, the world would warm to the climate-stabilizing Paris Agreement goal of 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial era. However, lead author Carnegie's Lei Duan explained, “we determined that if decarbonization began only when a country reached a $10,000 per capita GDP, it would cause less than 0.3 degrees Celsius additional warming. This demonstrates that the onus of fighting climate change really falls on the shoulders of more developed nations.”

An artist’s conception of GN-z11 courtesy of Jingchuan Yu.

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. 

Islands of Four Mountains, Alaska. USGS Photo by John Lyons.

A small group of volcanic islands in Alaska's Aleutian chain could actually be part of a single, previously unrecognized giant volcano in the same category as Yellowstone, according to work from a research team, including Carnegie’s Diana Roman, Lara Wagner, Hélène Le Mével, and Daniel Portner, as well as recently departed postdoc Helen Janiszewski (now at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), who will present their findings at the American Geophysical Union’s 2020 Fall Meeting.

Orange peyssonnelid algal crusts courtesy of Peter Edmunds.

Human activity endangers coral health around the world. A new algal threat is taking advantage of coral’s already precarious situation in the Caribbean and making it even harder for reef ecosystems to grow. Just-published research in Scientific Reports details how an aggressive, golden-brown, crust-like alga is rapidly overgrowing shallow reefs, taking the place of coral that was damaged by extreme storms and exacerbating the damage caused by ocean acidification, disease, pollution, and bleaching.

Senna tora photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Palo Alto, CA— Anthraquinones are a class of naturally occurring compounds prized for their medicinal properties, as well as

Richard Carlson, Director Carnegie Earth and Planets Laboratory

Richard Carlson, Director of Carnegie’s Earth and Planets Laboratory, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was selected for his “outstanding research, leadership, innovation, and service to the community in geochemistry and geology.” The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874 and election for this honor is bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. This year 489 members have been selected due to their “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.” 

The Blue Ring Nebula courtesy of Mark Seibert

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.

Carnegie theoretical astrophysicist Anthony Piro engages with the VizLab wall.

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. “Science is collaborative and multi-disciplinary,” said Juna Kollmeier, Director of the Carnegie Theoretical Astrophysics Center. “But our workspaces are often solitary and siloed.  I envisioned a space where teams could work together as they synthesize an unprecedented amount of data.  21st century data require 21st century laboratories.”

Don Brooks

With more than a half-century of employment under his belt, Building Maintenance Specialist Don Brooks’ career traced the path of Carnegie’s modern administrative history. He died of complications related to coronavirus on October 24, just months shy of retirement. He was 75. Brooks worked for Carnegie for 52 years, advancing through several positions over the course of seven presidential administrations at the institution, often interacting closely with leadership.

unWISE / NASA/JPL-Caltech / D.Lang (Perimeter Institute).

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation collected its very first observations of the cosmos at 1:47 a.m. 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.

Saturn image is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

New work led by Carnegie’s Matt Clement reveals the likely original locations of Saturn and Jupiter. These findings refine our understanding of the forces that determined our Solar System’s unusual architecture, including the ejection of an additional planet between Saturn and Uranus, ensuring that only small, rocky planets, like Earth, formed inward of Jupiter.

PolyP courtesy of Arthur Grossman and Emanuel Sanz-Luque

In a changing climate, understanding how organisms respond to stress conditions is increasingly important. New work led by Carnegie’s Arthur Grossman and Emanuel Sanz-Luque could enable scientists to engineer the metabolism of organisms to be more resilient and productive in a range of environments.Their research focuses on polyphosphate, an energy-rich polymer of tens to hundreds phosphate groups which is conserved in all kingdoms of life and is integral to many cellular activities, including an organism’s ability to respond to changing environmental conditions.

Recently published work from Carnegie’s Allan Spradling and Wanbao Niu revealed in unprecedented detail the genetic instructions immature egg cells go through step by step as they mature into functionality. Their findings improve our understanding of how ovaries maintain a female’s fertility.