Astronomy Stories
It isn’t often that our Capital Science Evening speaker hints at soon-to-be-breaking news right from the stage. Tuesday night, Pierre Cox, Director of the Atacama Large Milimiter/submillimeter...
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Vera Rubin, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science
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...
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Illustration by James Josephides, courtesy of Swinburne Astronomy Productions.
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...
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Ancient gas cloud courtesy of the Max Planck Society.
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...
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lustración por Robin Dienel, cortesía de Carnegie Institution for Science.
Washington, DC—El satélite Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) de la NASA ha observado por primera vez las secuelas de una estrella que fue violentamente desgarrada por un...
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Illustration of a TDE by Robin Dienel, courtesy of Carnegie Science
Pasadena, CA—NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has for the first time seen the aftermath of a star that was violently ripped apart by a supermassive black hole. Catching...
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Decker French
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...
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The recent discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate has profoundly affected physics. If the universe were gravity-dominated then it should be decelerating. These contrary results suggest a new form of “dark energy”—some kind of repulsive force—is...
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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...
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The Carnegie-Spitzer-IMACS (CSI) survey, currently underway at the Magellan-Baade 6.5m telescope in Chile, has been specifically designed to characterize normal galaxies and their environments at a distance of about 4 billion years post Big Bang, expresses by astronomers as  z=1.5. The survey...
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Mark Phillips is the Las Campanas Observatory (LCO) Director Emeritus. From 2006 to 2017 Phillips served as the Associate Director for Magellan, and from 2014 to 2017 he was the interim LCO Director. He is a world-renowned supernova expert. Most stars die quietly by cooling down...
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Juna Kollmeier’s research is an unusual combination—she is as observationally-oriented theorist making predictions that can be compared to current and future observations. Her primary focus is on the emergence of structure in the universe. She combines cosmological hydrodynamic...
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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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New work from the Carnegie Supernova Project provides the best-yet calibrations for using type Ia supernovae to measure cosmic distances, which has implications for our understanding of how fast the...
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A team of astronomers, including Carnegie’s Benjamin Shappee, Nidia Morrell, and Ian Thompson, has discovered the most-luminous supernova ever observed, called ASAS-SN-15lh. It is two...
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Washington, D.C.— An international team of scientists, including Carnegie’s Paul Butler, has discovered that Tau Ceti, one of the closest and most Sun-like stars, may have five planets. Their work is...
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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

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/

The recent discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate has profoundly affected physics. If the universe were gravity-dominated then it should be decelerating. These contrary results suggest a new form of “dark energy”—some kind of repulsive force—is driving the universe. To get a grasp of dark energy, it is extremely important that scientists get the most accurate measurements possible of Type Ia supernovae. These are specific types of exploring stars with exceptional luminosity that allow astronomers to determine distances and the acceleration rate at different distances. At the moment, the reality of the accelerating universe remains

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 of stars in the solar neighborhood with the same types of stars found in the clusters. However, these measurements have systematic errors, which limit the determination of cluster ages and distances.

 Ian Thompson has a different approach to the problem: using observations of exceedingly rare Detached Eclipsing Binary stars. These systems have two separated stars orbiting each

With the proliferation of discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, the race is on to find habitable worlds akin to the Earth. At present, however, extrasolar planets less massive than Saturn cannot be reliably detected. Astrophysicist John Chambers models the dynamics of these newly found giant planetary systems to understand their formation history and to determine the best way to predict the existence and frequency of smaller Earth-like worlds.

As part of this research, Chambers explores the basic physical, chemical, and dynamical aspects that led to the formation of our own Solar System--an event that is still poorly understood. His ultimate goal is to determine if similar

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

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 our Solar System, which allow us to understand how the Solar System came to be.

The major planets in our Solar System travel around the Sun in fairly circular orbits and on similar planes. However, since the discovery of wildly varying planetary systems around other stars, and given our increased understanding about small, primordial bodies in our celestial neighborhood, the notion that