Astronomy Stories
Kit Whitten in the plate analysis room. Photo by Cynthia Hunt
Cataloging Reflections by Kit Whitten, Carnegie Observatories Library Intern It is commonly believed that when looking for valuable treasure, the best place to look is the attic—after all,...
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Former Carnegie fellow and current trustee Sandy Faber has been selected to receive the 2018 American Philosophical Society’s Magellanic Premium Medal.  The medal is the nation’s...
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Pasadena, CA—Pomona College junior and returning Carnegie Observatories intern Sal Fu was awarded...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Las Campanas Observatory
La Serena, Chile—Last week, scientists and staff from Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory volunteered for Astroday 2018 at a 170-year-old school in the nearby city of Las Serena, the...
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Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years. Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team
In the days after the death of Stephen Hawking, some of our scientists reflected on meeting him, on his contributions to science and science communication, and his impact on humanity.  ALAN BOSS...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Roberto Marcos Molar
Washington, DC—A team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Meredith MacGregor and Alycia Weinberger detected a massive stellar flare—an energetic explosion of radiation—from the...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, European Southern Observatory
Pasadena, CA— A star about 100 light years away in the Pisces constellation, GJ 9827, hosts what may be one of the most massive and dense super-Earth planets detected to date, according to new...
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Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA, Larry Nittler
Washington, DC— Dust is everywhere—not just in your attic or under your bed, but also in outer space. To astronomers, dust can be a nuisance by blocking the light of distant stars, or it...
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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...
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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...
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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 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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Globular clusters are spherical systems of some 100,000  gravitationally bound stars. They are among the oldest components of our galaxy and are key to understanding the age and scale of the universe. Previous measurements of their distances have compared the characteristics of different types...
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Scott Sheppard studies the dynamical and physical properties of small bodies in our Solar System, such as asteroids, comets, moons and trans-neptunian objects (bodies that orbit beyond Neptune).  These objects have a fossilized imprint from the formation and migration of the major planets in...
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"Supernovae shape the universe we live in and there are still many unanswered questions about these explosions, even for the common ones," Ben Shappee tells The Washington Post about the...
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Washington, D.C.— Quasars--supermassive black holes found at the center of distant massive galaxies--are the most-luminous beacons in the sky. These central supermassive black holes actively accrete...
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Pasadena, CA – The board of directors of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) has informed the National Science Foundation (NSF) that they will not participate in an upcoming funding...
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Vera Rubin, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science
January 6, 2020

Washington, DC— The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and its joint funding agencies, the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, announced Monday that it will be renamed the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in honor of the late Carnegie astronomer whose research confirmed the existence of dark matter.

Rubin received the National Medal of Science in 1993 for her “significant contributions to the realization that the universe is more complex and more mysterious than had been imagined.” She died in 2016.

Rubin revealed that stars at varying distances from the center of a spiral galaxy orbit at the same speed, rather than at slower speeds farther from

Illustration by James Josephides, courtesy of Swinburne Astronomy Productions.
November 12, 2019

Pasadena, CA—A star traveling at ultrafast speeds after being ejected by the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy was spotted by an international team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Ting Li and Alex Ji. Their work is published by Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Hurtling at the blistering speed of 6 million kilometers per hour, the star is moving so fast that it will leave the Milky Way and head into intergalactic space.

Called S5-HVS1, the star was discovered in the Grus, or Crane, constellation by lead author Sergey Koposov of Carnegie Mellon University as part of the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey led by Carnegie

Ancient gas cloud courtesy of the Max Planck Society.
November 8, 2019

Washington, DC— The discovery of a 13 billion-year-old cosmic cloud of gas enabled a team of Carnegie astronomers to perform the earliest-ever measurement of how the universe was enriched with a diversity of chemical elements.  Their findings reveal that the first generation of stars formed more quickly than previously thought. The research, led by recent Carnegie-Princeton fellow Eduardo Bañados and including Carnegie’s Michael Rauch and Tom Cooper, is published by The Astrophysical Journal.

The Big Bang started the universe as a hot, murky soup of extremely energetic particles that was rapidly expanding.  As this material spread out, it cooled,

Patrick McCarthy courtesy of GMTO
October 1, 2019

Pasadena, CA—Carnegie astronomer and Vice President of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), Patrick McCarthy, has been appointed as the first Director of the National Science Foundation’s newly formed National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NSF’s OIR Lab).

McCarthy has been a member of the GMT project since its inception 15 years ago, helping to bring it from a sketch on a napkin to a 100-plus person organization with 12 U.S. and international partners. In 2008, 20 years into his tenure at Carnegie, McCarthy officially expanded his role when he accepted his current leadership position at GMT.

Working with then-Carnegie Observatories

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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

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/

The Carnegie Irvine Galaxy Survey is obtaining high-quality optical and near-infrared images of several hundred of the brightest galaxies in the southern hemisphere sky, at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory to investigate the structural properties of galaxies. For more see    http://cgs.obs.carnegiescience.edu/CGS/Home.html

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. 

While the planets in our Solar System are astonishingly diverse, all of them move around the Sun in approximately the same orbital plane, in the same direction, and primarily in circular orbits. Over the past 25 years Butler's work has focused on improving the measurement precision of stellar Doppler velocities, from 300 meters per second in the 1980s to 1 meter a second in the 2010s to detect planets around other stars. The ultimate goal is to find planets that resemble the Earth.

Butler designed and built the iodine absorption cell system at Lick Observatory, which resulted in the discovery of 5 of the first 6 known extrasolar planets.  This instrument has become the de

Gwen Rudie

Gwen Rudie studies the chemical and physical properties of very distant galaxies and their surrounding gas in order to further our understanding of the processes that are central to the formation and development of galaxies. Critical to this research is our ability to trace the raw materials of galaxy formation and its biproducts. These clues can be found in the gas that surrounds early galaxies. She is primarily an observational astronomer, working on the analysis and interpretation of high-resolution spectroscopy of distant quasars as well as near-infrared and optical spectroscopy of high-redshift galaxies. In addition to her scientific efforts, she is also the

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

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