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December 26, 2008

Dr. Stephen Pompea holds the eye piece from the Galileoscope.

‘Galileoscope’ celebrates birth of modern astronomy |  When Stephen Pompea sat inside a UC Berkeley cafe and pulled a black telescope from its protective case, he did so with the care reserved for a fine instrument. And indeed it is, even if it’s about the cheapest new telescope on the market. Contra Costa Times article

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December 23, 2008

Dr. Frank Edmondson poses with Dr. Caty Pilachowski

Frank Kelley Edmondson • August 1, 1912—December 8, 2008 |  Indiana University Emeritus Professor Frank Kelley Edmondson passed away on Monday, December 8. He was 96. Professor Edmondson was one of the major players in the creation of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Observatory. Dr. Edmondson's Obituary

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October 7, 2008

M86-NGC4438 complex

Big Galaxy Collisions Can Stunt Star Formation |  A deep new image of the Virgo cluster has revealed monumental tendrils of ionized hydrogen gas 400,000 light-years long connecting the elliptical galaxy M86 and the disturbed spiral galaxy NGC 4438.

Taken with the wide-field Mosaic imager on the National Science Foundation’s Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, this Hydrogen-alpha image and related spectroscopic measurements of the filament provide striking evidence of a previously unsuspected high-speed collision between the two galaxies. NOAO Press Release 08-07

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September 10, 2008

Artist's rendering of the explosion

Probing a New Type of Stellar Explosion |  Astronomers have been puzzling over the engine behind the historical 1843 outburst of Eta Carinae since it happened, but new observations with the Gemini South and the Blanco telescopes in Chile add a startling new clue. The new observations reveal faint but extremely fast material indicative of a powerful shock wave produced by the 1843 event, suggesting that its driving mechanism was an explosion rather than a steady wind. The research, led by Nathan Smith of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that the famous nebulosity around the star Eta Carinae contains extremely fast-moving filaments of material that had not been seen before, and are not explained by current theories. The result is featured in the September 11, 2008 issue of the journal Nature. Gemini Press Release | Berkeley Press Release

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August 20, 2008

Dr. R. Chris Smith

Chris Smith Named Director of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory |  Dr. R. Chris Smith has been selected as the next director of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). Smith will succeed Dr. Alistair Walker in November. Walker will return to the scientific staff of CTIO after five years as director.

Based in La Serena, Chile, CTIO is part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), the US national observatory for nighttime optical/infrared astronomy funded by the National Science Foundation. On Cerro Tololo, CTIO operates the Blanco 4-meter telescope and a suite of one meter-class telescopes for a university consortium called SMARTS (as well as several tenant facilities). On nearby Cerro Pachón, CTIO operates the SOAR 4.1-meter telescope (on behalf of an international partnership) and supports U.S. participation in the international Gemini South 8-meter telescope. NOAO Press Release 08-06

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August 7, 2008

Larry Cowell with his dog

Skilled draftsman loved flying, but becoming a geezer beat it all |  Larry Cowell was a geezer and proud of it.

He said as much in the autobiography he wrote for family members and friends, titled "How I Became a Geezer."

As the only child of Harold, a bookkeeper, and Hannah, a nurse, Cowell thought it was important to record his family history for his children, grandchildren and generations beyond. Arizona Daily Star story.

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July 30, 2008

iSGTW Feature—Preparing for the Dark Energy Survey |  Ever since the universe exploded into existence, it has been violently rushing outward. Scientists expected the inward tug of gravity to slow this expansion over time, but the opposite is true. The startling discovery that the universe’s expansion is accelerating has led scientists to postulate the existence of an outward-pushing dark energy. To better understand dark energy and its implications on our current knowledge of matter, energy, space, and time, scientists will conduct the large-scale Dark Energy Survey (DES), starting in 2012. Atop a mountain at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, researchers will use the 4-meter Blanco telescope, equipped with the Dark Energy Camera, to capture brilliant images of more than 300 million galaxies. They expect to measure quantities related to pressure and energy density five times more precisely than currently possible, says physicist Huan Lin of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. International Science Grid This Week story.

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July 29, 2008

Stargazing: A trip to Kitt Peak National Observatory a way for families to get special glimpse at the day and night skies |  Arizona is the center for ground-based astronomy, Robert Wilson said. And a trip to Kitt Peak National Observatory is a way for families to get a special glimpse at the day and night skies and learn about the home to the largest collection of optical telescopes on any one mountain in the world. “It’s a fascinating place to see, to be among all those telescopes,” Wilson said, who’s the program coordinator and public outreach for the observatory. “The views are spectacular. Even the drive is nice. “It’s really a very educational place to spend a few hours.” Sierra Vista Herald story.

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July 22, 2008

Pierre Martin Named Director of the WIYN Observatory |  Astronomer Pierre Martin, director of science operations at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), has been selected as the new director of the WIYN Observatory, which operates 3.5-meter and 0.9-meter telescopes on Kitt Peak.

Starting September 22, Martin succeeds George Jacoby, who will return to the scientific staff of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), which shares office space with WIYN in Tucson, Arizona. NOAO is the “N” in the WIYN partnership, which includes the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University and Yale University. WIYN Press Release

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July 1, 2008

Astronomy Picture of the Day  |  Pickering's Triangle from Kitt Peak

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June 25, 2008

Star chart showing position of Regulus in the sky

Regulus: Just when you think you know a star |  The Slacker Astronomy blog reports on an interesting new discovery about the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo by a team lead by Doug Gies of Georgia State University, using data from the Coude Feed telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Slacker Astronomy blog post

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June 24, 2008

18-year-old Rush-Henrietta High School Senior LeighAnn Larkin warms up for her first dance during a dress rehearsal for the Vision Dance Studio's recital at Webster Thomas High School.

Henrietta grad has two loves: Dance and astronomy |  Peering through the lens of a high-powered telescope on an Arizona mountaintop this January, LeighAnn Larkin knew she wanted to be an astronomer. Larkin, who will graduate from Rush-Henrietta Senior High School this Friday, was using the telescope to photograph a binary pulsar system for her independent study in astronomy. She took astronomy the year before as an elective and enjoyed it so much, she decided to pursue it further on her own. Larkin, 18, spent her few days at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) staying up all night, sleeping when she could in a little dorm on the mountaintop, and changing liquid nitrogen—used to cool the camera—in the telescope four times a day. She was able to observe at KPNO with her teacher, Jeff Paradis, through the Teacher Observing Program available to teachers who have successfully completed the RBSE program at KPNO. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article

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June 11, 2008

Kitt Peak Observatory |  Of all the interesting places we visited and all the surprises that Tucson offered, our visit to the Kitt Peak Observatory topped it all.

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June 3, 2008

Palnetary Nebula SuWt 2

White Dwarf Lost in Planetary Nebula |  Call it the case of the missing dwarf. A team of stellar astronomers is engaged in an interstellar CSI (crime scene investigation). They have two suspects, traces of assault and battery, but no corpse. The southern planetary nebula SuWt 2 is the scene of the crime, some 6,500 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Centaurus. SuWt 2 consists of a bright, nearly edge-on glowing ring of gas. Faint lobes extend perpendicularly to the ring, giving the faintest parts of the nebula an hourglass shape. These glowing ejecta are suspected to have been energized by a star that has now burned out and collapsed to a white dwarf. But the white dwarf is nowhere to be found. This color image was taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory 1.5-meter telescope in Chile. STScI Press Release

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W28: A Mixed Bag of Supernova Remnant |  When some stars die, they explode as supernovas and their debris fields (aka, “supernova remnants”) expand into the surrounding environments. There are several different types, or categories, of supernova remnants. One of these is known as a mixed-morphology supernova remnant. This type gets its name because it shares several characteristics from other types of supernova remnants. More specifically, particles that have been superheated are seen in X-rays in the center of the remnant. This inner region is enclosed by shell structure detected in radio emission. This composite Image includes optical data from Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Chandra Image Release

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May 30, 2008

Chandra X-ray photograph of Cassiopeia A

Famous Supernovae Still Echo Across the Milky Way |  Former NOAO scientific staff member Armin Rest, led a team of astronomers to observe light from a supernova that exploded hundreds of years ago. To find the echoes, Rest and his colleagues first narrowed the search area to regions with the most dust using infrared sky maps. Then they repeatedly photographed large areas of sky in their target regions using the National Science Foundation's 4-meter-diameter telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Center for Astrophysics Press Release

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May 13, 2008

Microsoft’s Telescope for Everyone  |  For people who have gazed up at the night sky in wonder and wished they had someone there to identify what they were looking at, Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is coming to the rescue. The service, which opened to the public on May 13, lets people explore the cosmos through any computer with an Internet connection. It combines about 12 terabytes of data, including 50 surveys and 1,000 high-resolution studies, with links to astronomy research on sites around the Web. It blends the data with regularly updated photos captured by high-powered telescopes on and off the Earth, including the Hubble Space Telescope, circling the planet 353 miles up, and the Cerro Tololo Observatory, 312 miles north of Santiago, Chile, in the foothills of the Andes. Put it all together, and the WWT knits together a spellbinding panorama of the night sky.

This initial release of WWT includes an image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, using data from the Magellanic Clouds Emission Line Survey (MCELS) taken at CTIO by Chris Smith and Sean Points.

Business Week article | Microsoft Press Release

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May 12, 2008

Image of the Virgo cluster, from a mosaic of images from the new camera. The total field of view here is 3.2 degrees on a side.

New Camera Sees "First Light" on Burrell Schmidt Telescope |  Using new instrumentation, Case Western Reserve University astronomers can now view the night sky wider and deeper than before. While the vast reaches of intergalactic space may appear dark and empty, a new camera installed on the university's Burrell Schmidt telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, AZ will bring into clear view the faint sea of orphan stars strewn throughout the nearby Virgo cluster of galaxies. Case Western Reserve University Press Release

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May 5, 2008

Galaxies far more prolific in hinterlands of universe  |  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… A report from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson has revealed a hitherto largely unseen stage in galactic evolution. The galaxies observed have quickly expanding black holes at their center and are producing stars more quickly than occurs in present-day galaxies. This discovery will help scientists better understand the evolution of galaxies, including our own. Arizona Daily Star article

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May 1, 2008

Running from the sun  |  Kitt Peak Observatory, Arizona. The stars glimmer in and out of view as a patch of unseen cloud rolls gently overhead. Bundled thickly against the desert wind, we shake our heads at each other in disappointment. Though our run is long—eight nights in total—it takes months, even years to get access to a large telescope like the Mayall, and if you’re foiled by the weather, well, you’re plum out of luck. But the cloud is so completely oblivious to the havoc its innocent meanderings are wreaking on the lofty pursuit of science that it’s impossible to stay angry at it for long. Secretly, I even relish the possibility of getting to bed before the sun rises, though I would never admit it to the others. Let the theoretical astrophysicists sleep; we observers don’t need that kind of pampering.

Read the rest of this first person report at the Daily Princetonian.

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April 28, 2008

Astronomy Picture of the Day  |  Star Forming Region NGC 3582

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April 23, 2008

Senior Program Coordinator Robert T. Wilson views Saturn through a telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory on April 7.

Observatory nears 50th year and remains a vital presence |  Kitt Peak National Observatory is turning 50. And while it no longer boasts the world's second-largest telescope and has been passed over as the site for a new generation of ever-larger telescopes, it still bristles with more than two dozen telescopes and plays an important role in the exploration of the universe. Arizona Daily Star News Story

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April 22, 2008

World map of the 2008 GLOBE at Night results

GLOBE at Night 2008 Results a Solid Step Toward IYA 2009 |  The international star-hunting activity known as GLOBE at Night inspired 6,838 measurements of night-sky brightness by citizen scientists around the world, including 660 digital measurements using handheld sky-quality meters.

The third edition of GLOBE at Night was held from February 25-March 8, with assistance from the educational outreach networks of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) to help spread the campaign to amateur astronomers and science centers.

The 2008 campaign received measurements from 62 countries, surpassing last year’s total of 60 countries. Just over 4,800 of the measurements came from the United States (with 48 states and the District of Columbia reporting at least one measurement). Observers in Hungary submitted the most measurements (380) from outside the U.S., followed by Romania, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, and Spain, all with over 100 observations; Canada was next largest, with 95 measurements reported. NOAO Press Release 08-05

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April 10, 2008

Omega Centauri Looks Radiant in Infrared |  Millions of clustered stars glisten like an iridescent opal in a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Called Omega Centauri, this sparkling orb of stars is like a miniature galaxy. It is the biggest and brightest of the more than 150 similar objects, called globular clusters, that orbit around the outside of our Milky Way galaxy. Stargazers at southern latitudes can spot the stellar gem with the naked eye in the constellation Centaurus.

In the new picture of Omega Centauri, the red- and yellow-colored dots represent the stars revealed by Spitzer. These are the more evolved, larger, dustier stars, called red giants. The stars colored blue are less evolved, like our own sun, and were captured by both Spitzer's infrared eyes and in visible light by the National Science Foundation's Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Some of the red spots in the picture are distant galaxies beyond our own. Spitzer Press Release

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April 8, 2008

Spitzer Spots Ancient Cosmic Urban Sprawl |  The universe's first "galactic cities" did not sprout up randomly across space. On the contrary, a new statistical analysis of observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope confirms that these ancient galactic metropolises may have developed much like sprawling cities joining together into a larger urban whole. Across the cosmos, galaxies rarely stand alone. Instead, they are grouped into large, densely populated communities containing thousands of galactic residents, called galaxy clusters.

"Previously, we only knew of a handful of galaxy clusters that existed when our universe was in its first few billion years. Now, thanks to Spitzer's superb sensitivity, we've identified over a hundred," says Dr. Mark Brodwin, of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, in Tucson, Ariz. Spitzer Image Release

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March 31, 2008

Nearby star should harbor detectable, Earth-like planets |  A rocky planet similar to Earth may be orbiting one of our nearest stellar neighbors and could be detected using existing techniques, according to a new study led by astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The closest stars to our Sun are in the three-star system called Alpha Centauri, a popular destination for interstellar travel in works of science fiction. UCSC graduate student Javiera Guedes used computer simulations of planet formation to show that terrestrial planets are likely to have formed around the star Alpha Centauri B and to be orbiting in the "habitable zone" where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. The researchers then showed that such planets could be observed using a dedicated telescope.

Coauthor Debra Fischer of San Francisco State University is leading an observational program to intensively monitor Alpha Centauri using the 1.5-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The researchers hope to detect real planets similar to the ones that emerged in the computer simulations. UCSC Press Release

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March 25, 2008

David Silva

AURA Selects David Silva as New Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory |  The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) has selected Dr. David Silva as the new director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), based in Tucson, Arizona.

Silva brings a wide variety of experience to this appointment as NOAO director, from his current duties as Observatory Scientist for the Thirty Meter Telescope project in Pasadena, CA, to past responsibilities for data management and user support at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Germany. During a prior tenure at NOAO from 1991 to 1996, Silva served as project manager during the commissioning of the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope on Kitt Peak, and as a staff astronomer in the U.S. office of the Gemini Observatory. NOAO Press Release 08-04

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March 13, 2008

graph demonstrating the presence of water and organic molecules in a protoplanetary disk

Astronomers Find Organics and Water Where New Planets May Grow |  John Carr of the Naval Research Laboratory and Joan Najita of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory developed a new technique to measure and analyze the chemical composition of the gases within protoplanetary disks using the infrared spectrograph on the Spitzer Space Telescope. They discovered large amounts of simple organic gases and water vapor in a possible planet-forming region around the infant star AA Tauri, which they report in the March 14 issue of Science magazine. Spitzer Press Release

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March 5, 2008

Spiral Galaxy IC 342

Dark-Skies Coverage in Arizona Republic |  The Arizona Republic daily newspaper in Phoenix has published several editorials and opinion pieces on the value of dark skies to the state’s economy, its public health environment, and its scientific enterprises, including comments and images from NOAO and Kitt Peak. Here’s a few links:

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February 18, 2008

The Orion constellation as seen over the Mayal 4-meter Telescope on Kitt Peak

GLOBE at Night 2008 Builds Wider Networks as Big Step Toward IYA 2009 |  The international star-counting activity known as GLOBE at Night returns for its third edition from February 25-March 8, 2008, with assistance from the educational outreach networks of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) to help spread the campaign more widely to amateur astronomers and science centers. NOAO Press Release 08-03

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January 16, 2008

 The headquarters of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at 950 North Cherry Avenue in Tucson Arizona as it appeared in 2004

AASTA Report Focuses on Economic Impact of Astronomy, Space Sciences and Planetary Sciences Research in Arizona—Recommends Agenda to Remain World Class and Advance Opportunities for Growth |  The Arizona Arts, Sciences and Technology Academy (AASTA) announces the publication of a new economic impact report outlining the importance that Astronomy, Space Sciences and Planetary Sciences (APSS) research plays in Arizona. The report was presented to the Commerce and Economic Development Commission at the Arizona Department of Commerce today.

Key Findings

  • APSS Research in Arizona in 2006 returned a total dollar economic impact of $252.8 million. This includes $138.6 million in earnings and $12 million in tax revenues.
  • During FY 2006 Arizona’s observatories and related APSS research institutions spent a total of $135.4 million on operations, including wages . An additional $28.8 million was spent on capital investment and construction. For FY 2006, total expenditures for these APSS organizations amounted to $164.2 million. Of that, $69.3 million was spent in Arizona.
  • The total investment in capital facilities and land among Arizona’s APSS institutions in FY 2006 equaled $1.119 billion, with an additional $635.7 million reported in planned capital expansion.
  • APSS organizations and institutions employed 1,830 people in FY 2006 with a total payroll of $83.9 million.
  • APSS organizations in Arizona attracted 200,805 visitors in FY 2006, 22% of which were from out-of-state. Out-of-state visitors spent $61.4 million in FY 2006 generating an overall economic impact of $25.7 million. APSS institutions across the state also generated $119 million in revenues for state and local governments in FY 2006.

Read the full report and related materials at the AASTA site.

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January 9, 2008

An artist's concept of the accretion disk around the binary star system WZ Sge

Dark Matter Discovered in Accretion Disks—Suggests Major Revisions to Concepts of Disk Structure and Luminosity |  Observations of the interacting binary star using telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that the disks of hot gas that accumulate around a wide variety of astronomical objects—from degenerate stars in energetic binary systems to supermassive black holes at the hearts of active galaxies—are likely to be much larger than previously believed. NOAO Press Release 08-02

Image Credit: P. Marenfeld and NOAO/AURA/NSF

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Astronomy Picture of the Day  |  Hidden Galaxy IC 342 from Kitt Peak

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January 8, 2008

Veil Nebula - Pickering's Triange

Double-Wide Image of Pickering’s Triangle Shows Vast Beauty of the Cygnus Loop |  A new wide-field image of Pickering’s Triangle taken with the National Science Foundation’s Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory is being released today in Austin, Texas, at the 211th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. NOAO Press Release 08-01

Image Credit: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF

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