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 to survey one-square degree of sky. They find and measure thousands of these objects’ brightness, estimate their distances and intrinsic luminosities, and examine the way they cluster. The group is developing another camera with a focal plane IR detector array 25 times more powerful than that of the present camera to survey with unprecedented depth and area.

Serendipitously, Persson’s group (and others) found distant galaxies that emit virtually all of their energy in the infrared. These objects are so rare that enormous areas of sky must be studied to find them. Preliminary evidence suggests they are a varied population: most seem to be passively evolving objects in which star formation stopped several billion years ago, while some appear to have intense star formation within optically opaque dust clouds.

Persson and collaborators also study the distance-scale of the universe using newly found Type Ia supernovae—exploding stars that may provide the key to reconcile the timescale, geometry, and mass content of the universe within the framework of general relativity. These supernovae events appear to have a well-defined brightness and as they rise to maximum luminosity and decline, and equivalent luminosity at maximum, which can be used to determine relative distances.

To determine that local and distant supernovae are physically equivalent, the scientists are looking at their light variation over time at near-infrared wavelengths. This work is used to calibrate their distances and it is overcoming systematic effects that hamper optical observations.

Persson received his B.Sc. in physics from McGill University and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Caltech. Before joining Carnegie in 1975, he was a postdoctoral associate at Harvard College Observatory.

Scientific Area: 

Explore Carnegie Science

Decker French
July 24, 2019

Pasadena, CA— Carnegie’s K. Decker French was recognized by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific with its Robert J. Trumpler Award, which is presented to a recent Ph.D. graduate “whose research is considered unusually important to astronomy.” French completed her doctorate at the University of Arizona Tucson in 2017 and is currently a Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories.

Her research focuses on a radio survey of the gas clouds within galaxies that have recently ended the star-forming phase of their evolution.  The lack of star formation in these galaxies has long been assumed to be caused by a depletion of the cold, dense molecular gases

Vera measuring spectra with DTM measuring engine, courtesy of Carnegie Science.
July 24, 2019

Washington, DC—The House approved yesterday a bill to name the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in honor of late Carnegie scientist Vera Rubin, who confirmed the existence of dark matter.

Rubin received the National Medal of Science for her research on how stars orbit their galactic centers. She revealed that stars at varying distances from the center of a spiral galaxy orbit at the same speed, rather than at decreasing speeds away from the center, providing undeniable evidence that each galaxy is embedded in a halo of dark matter holding its mass together.

She died in December 2016.

“Vera demonstrated intellectual courage and a tireless commitment to

An image of the Hubble Space Telescope floating against the background of space courtesy of NASA.
July 16, 2019

Pasadena, CA—A team of collaborators from Carnegie and the University of Chicago used red giant stars that were observed by the Hubble Space Telescope to make an entirely new measurement of how fast the universe is expanding, throwing their hats into the ring of a hotly contested debate. Their result—which falls squarely between the two previous, competing values—will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Nearly a century ago, Carnegie astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe has been growing continuously since it exploded into being during the Big Bang. But precisely how fast it’s moving—a value termed the Hubble constant in his

This cartoon courtesy of Anthony Piro illustrates three possibilities for the origin of the mysterious hydrogen emissions from the Type IA supernova called ASASSN-18tb that were observed by the Carnegie astronomers.
May 7, 2019

Pasadena, CA—Detection of a supernova with an unusual chemical signature by a team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Juna Kollmeier—and including Carnegie’s Nidia Morrell, Anthony Piro, Mark Phillips, and Josh Simon—may hold the key to solving the longstanding mystery that is the source of these violent explosions. Observations taken by the Magellan telescopes at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile were crucial to detecting the emission of hydrogen that makes this supernova, called ASASSN-18tb, so distinctive.   

Their work is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Type Ia supernovae play a

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

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

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/

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments. 

Nick Konidaris is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Observatories and Instrument Lead for the SDSS-V Local Volume Mapper (LVM). He works on a broad range of new optical instrumentation projects in astronomy and remote sensing. Nick's projects range from experimental to large workhorse facilities. On the experimental side, he recently began working on a new development platform for the 40-inch Swope telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory that will be used to explore and understand the explosive universe.

 Nick and his colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology are leveraging the work on Swope to develop a new airborne spectrograph that will be