Washington, DC — Molecules containing large chains of carbon and hydrogen--the building blocks of all life on Earth--have been the targets of missions to Mars from Viking to the present day. While...
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Washington, D.C.— In the search for Earth-like planets, it is helpful to look for clues and patterns that can help scientist narrow down the types of systems where potentially habitable planets are...
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Washington, D.C—Geochemist Richard Carlson of Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism has been elected a member of the National Academy of...
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Washington, D.C. — Scientists have long speculated about why there is a large change in the strength of rocks that lie at the boundary between two layers immediately under Earth’s crust: the...
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Washington, D.C.—On March 17, the tiny MESSENGER spacecraft completed its primary mission to orbit and observe the planet Mercury for one Earth-year. The bounty of surprises from the mission has...
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Washington, D.C.— Seawater circulation pumps hydrogen and boron into the oceanic plates that make up the seafloor, and some of this seawater remains trapped as the plates descend into the mantle at...
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Washington, D.C.— An international team of scientists led by Carnegie’s Guillem Anglada-Escudé and Paul Butler has discovered a potentially habitable super-Earth orbiting a nearby star. The star is a...
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Carnegie scientists participate in NASA's Kepler missions, the first mission capable of finding Earth-size planets around other stars. The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of...
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Superdeep diamonds are  tiny time capsules carrying unchanged impurities made eons ago and providing researchers with important clues about Earth’s formation.  Diamonds derived from below the continental lithosphere, are most likely from the transition zone (415 miles, or 670km deep...
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Andrew Steele joins the Rosetta team as a co-investigator working on the COSAC instrument aboard the Philae lander (Fred Goesmann Max Planck Institute - PI). On 12 November 2014 the Philae system will be deployed to land on the comet and begin operations. Before this, several analyses of the comet...
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Alan Linde is trying to understand the tectonic activity that is associated with earthquakes and volcanos, with the hope of helping predictions methods.  He uses highly sensitive data that measures how the Earth is changing below the surface with devises called borehole strainmeters that...
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Anat Shahar is pioneering a field that blends isotope geochemistry with high-pressure experiments to examine planetary cores and the Solar System’s formation, prior to planet formation, and how the planets formed and differentiated. Stable isotope geochemistry is the study of how physical and...
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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...
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Not only did our early Solar System potentially consist of five or even six giant worlds, but there may have been a large number of inner, terrestrial planets that were ejected back in the Solar...
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New work from Carnegie’s Stephen Elardo and Anat Shahar shows that interactions between iron and nickel under the extreme pressures and temperatures similar to a planetary interior can help...
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A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our Solar System.  It is the first known Solar System object that has been detected at a distance that is more than...
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Explore Carnegie Science

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August 19, 2019

Washington, DC— Carnegie scientists Michael Walter and Robert Hazen have been elected 2019 Fellows of the American Geophysical Union.

Fellows are recognized for visionary leadership and scientific excellence that has fundamentally advanced research in the Earth and space sciences. “Their breadth of interests and the scope of their contributions are remarkable and often groundbreaking,” said the organization in its announcement of the new class.  

The Director of Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory, Walter is an experimental petrologist whose research focuses on early Earth’s history, shortly after the planet accreted from the cloud of gas

Telica Volcano in Nicaragua, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
August 6, 2019

Washington, DC—Some volcanoes take their time—experiencing protracted, years-long periods of unrest before eventually erupting. This makes it difficult to forecast when they pose a danger to their surrounding areas, but Carnegie’s Diana Roman and Penn State’s Peter LaFemina are trying to change that.

“Dormancy, brief unrest, eruption—this is a familiar pattern for many volcanoes, and for many parents,” joked Roman. “But for some volcanoes the unrest is anything but brief—potentially lasting for decades.”

It turns out that these so-called “persistently restless volcanoes” experience three different

An artist’s illustration courtesy of Carl Sagan Institute/Jack Madden
July 31, 2019

Pasadena, CA— Sometimes there is more to a planetary system than initially meets the eye. 

Ground-based observations following up on the discovery of a small planet by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) revealed two additional planets in the same system, one of which is located far enough from its star to be potentially habitable.  These findings were announced in Astronomy & Astrophysics by an international team that included several Carnegie astronomers and instrumentation specialists.

The newly found exoplanets orbit a star named GJ 357, an M-type dwarf that’s about one-third of the Sun’s mass and located 31

July 15, 2019

A $2.7 million multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional NSF-Frontiers of Earth Science grant has been awarded to a team led by Carnegie’s Lara Wagner to study an active flat slab in Colombia. A flat slab is produced when a tectonic plate descends to depths of about 30 to 60 miles (~50-100 km) then flattens and travels horizontally for hundreds of miles before descending farther into Earth’s mantle. Flat slabs are unlike standard subduction, in which a tectonic plate descends more steeply beneath another plate directly into the Earth. 

Because flat slabs travel horizontally directly beneath the overriding continents for hundreds of miles, they have more extensive

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Carnegie scientists participate in NASA's Kepler missions, the first mission capable of finding Earth-size planets around other stars. The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars. There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants.

The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist.

Andrew Steele joins the Rosetta team as a co-investigator working on the COSAC instrument aboard the Philae lander (Fred Goesmann Max Planck Institute - PI). On 12 November 2014 the Philae system will be deployed to land on the comet and begin operations. Before this, several analyses of the comet environment are scheduled from an approximate orbit of 10 km from the comet. The COSAC instrument is a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer that will measure the abundance of volatile gases and organic carbon compounds in the coma and solid samples of the comet.

Carbon plays an unparalleled role in our lives: as the element of life, as the basis of most of society’s energy, as the backbone of most new materials, and as the central focus in efforts to understand Earth’s variable and uncertain climate. Yet in spite of carbon’s importance, scientists remain largely ignorant of the physical, chemical, and biological behavior of many of Earth’s carbon-bearing systems. The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) is a global research program to transform our understanding of carbon in Earth. At its heart, DCO is a community of scientists, from biologists to physicists, geoscientists to chemists, and many others whose work crosses these

High-elevation, low relief surfaces are common on continents. These intercontinental plateaus influence river networks, climate, and the migration of plants and animals. How these plateaus form is not clear. Researchers are studying the geodynamic processes responsible for surface uplift in the Hangay in central Mongolia to better understand the origin of high topography in continental interiors.

This work focuses on characterizing the physical properties and structure of the lithosphere and sublithospheric mantle, and the timing, rate, and pattern of surface uplift in the Hangay. They are carrying out studies in geomorphology, geochronology, thermochronology, paleoaltimetry,

Geochemist and director of Terrestrial Magnetism, Richard Carlson, looks at the diversity of the chemistry of the early solar nebula and the incorporation of that chemistry into the terrestrial planets. He is also interested in questions related to the origin and evolution of Earth’s continental crust.

  Most all of the chemical diversity in the universe comes from the nuclear reactions inside stars, in a process called nucleosynthesis. To answer his questions, Carlson developes novel procedures using instruments called mass spectrometers to make precise measurements of isotopes--atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons--of Chromium (Cr), strontium (Sr),

Cosmochemist Larry Nittler studies extraterrestrial materials, including meteorites and interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), to understand the formation of the Solar System, the galaxy, and the universe and to identify the materials involved. He is particularly interested in developing new techniques to analyze different variants of the same atom—isotopes—in small samples. In related studies, he uses space-based X-ray and gamma-ray instrumentation to determine the composition of planetary surfaces. He was part of the 2000-2001 scientific team to hunt for meteorites in Antarctica.

Nittler is especially interested in presolar grains contained in meteorites and in what

Roiling cauldrons of liquid-laden material flow within Earth’s rocky interior. Understanding how this matter moves and changes is essential to deciphering Earth’s formation and evolution as well as the processes that create seismic activity, such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Bjørn Mysen probes this hidden environment in the laboratory and, based on his results, models can help explain what goes on in this remote realm.

Mysen investigates changes in the atomic properties of molten silicates at high pressures and temperatures that pervade the interior Earth. Silicates comprise most of the Earth's crust and mantle. He uses devices, such as the diamond anvil

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