Distant galaxies offer a glimpse of the universe as it was billions of years ago. Understanding how the Milky Way and other galaxies originated provides a unique perspective on the fundamental physics of cosmology, the invisible dark matter, and  repulsive force of dark energy. Patrick McCarthy uses the facilities at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory to explore the early formation and evolution of galaxies. He is also director of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, an international consortium that is building the next generation giant telescope.  

Galaxy formation is driven by the interplay between the large-scale distribution of dark matter—that non-luminous unidentified fundamental particles—and processes at the atomic scale that regulate the cooling of gas into stars. McCarthy wants to understand when the first massive, gravitationally bound stellar systems formed and how the diverse properties of today’s galaxies are linked to their histories.

Using the du Pont telescope and the Wide-field Infrared Camera (WIRC) built by Eric Persson, McCarthy has mapped several areas of the faint sky to identify the most massive stellar systems at each point in time. He surprisingly found many galaxies with masses in excess of 100 billion solar masses when the universe was only 3 billion years old. The data indicate their stars are 2-3 billion years old, implying an early formation.

Also contrary to theory, McCarthy and colleagues find that the largest and most massive galaxies formed earliest in the universe, while the small and dwarf galaxies formed late; many are still forming today. High-resolution images, obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope, indicate that they are structurally similar to today’s elliptical galaxies and the central bulge of the Milky Way. McCarthy also uses the IMACS spectrograph on the Baade telescope to explore the connection between environment, mass, and star formation history in distant galaxies.

McCarthy received his B.S. in physics and astronomy at the University of Arizona and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining the scientific staff in 1993, he was a Carnegie and Hubble fellow at the Observatories. For more information see http://obs.carnegiescience.edu/users/pmc2

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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

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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