NOAO < NOAO Home Page News Archive

NOAO Home Page News Archive

Recent News from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (Page 1 of 20)

Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (STScI/JHU), and Palomar Digitized Sky Survey

Mystery of the Universe’s Expansion: the Plot Thickens

New results from the Hubble Space Telescope confirm that the Universe today is expanding faster than expected, based on how the Universe appeared 13 billion years ago. Possible explanations for the discrepancy include a surprise appearance of dark energy in the young Universe (“early dark energy”) or that the Universe contains a new subatomic particle that travels close to the speed of light (“dark radiation”). The development relies on an earlier study of Cepheid variable stars carried out with the SMARTS 1.5m telescope at CTIO.

Read more in the Texas A&M press release and the Space Telescope Science Institute press release.

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Two New Planets Discovered Using Artificial Intelligence

Using an artificial intelligence algorithm to sift through massive amounts of data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, a team of astronomers, led by an undergraduate at UT Austin, has discovered two new exoplanets. The planets are “super-Earths” — planets about twice the size of Earth—that orbit very close to their stars. With orbital periods of 13 days and 2.5 days, each day on these planets is a scorcher! NOAO astronomer Mark Everett is a member of the discovery team.

Read more in the McDonald Observatory press release.

Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Seeing the ‘Unseeable’: Astronomers Capture First Image of a Black Hole

Observations made with the Event Horizon Telescope, a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes, have captured the first picture of a supermassive black hole. The black hole appears as a bright ring as it gravitationally bends the light around it into a bright ring that surrounds the black hole's dark shadow. The black hole in this portrait resides at the center of the galaxy M87, which lies at the heart of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, 55 million light years from Earth. NOAO Astronomer Tod Lauer is a member of the EHT research team, and works closely with the University of Arizona EHT group led by professors Dimitrios Psaltis and Feryal Ozel.

Read more in the Event Horizon Telescope press release.

Credit: DESI Collaboration

Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument’s Lenses See First Light

On April 1, the Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak emerged from hibernation—its dome reopened to the night sky, and starlight poured through the six large lenses of its powerful new research tool: the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI). Early next year, DESI will begin the greatest cosmic cartography experiment attempted to date, surveying 40 million galaxies and quasars out to a distance of 10 billion light years, and 10 million stars in our Galaxy. DESI's commissioning camera captured this image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, a.k.a. M51.

Read more in the press release from LBNL.

Credit: Anja von der Linden / Stony Brook University; Inset: SMASH survey

Cosmic Fireworks in the Clouds
Volunteer Detectives Sought for Magellanic Clouds Cluster Search

Caught in a cosmic dance, our nearest neighbor galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, are cartwheeling and circling each other as they fall toward our galaxy, the Milky Way. The gravitational interaction between the Clouds sparks cosmic fireworks—bursts of star formation as new clusters of stars flame on. How many and what kind of star clusters have been born this way over the history of the Clouds? A new project, the Local Group Cluster Search, invites citizen scientists to help find out!

Read more in NOAO Press Release 19-05.

KGUN9 News Story: Help wanted: NOAO looking for citizen scientist volunteers to look for star clusters; View the Video Segment.


Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

5000 Robots Merge to Map the Universe in 3D

How do you create the largest 3D map of the Universe? You need to study 10s of millions of galaxies! To accomplish that Herculean task, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), which is being installed on the Kitt Peak Mayall telescope, will use an array of robot fiber-positioners that will automatically swivel into position to capture the spectra of 5000 galaxies at a time. This video describes how scientists working at Berkeley Lab are assembling the array of robots and their related electronics.

Visualization: AVL/NCSA/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A Virtual Tour of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

Currently under construction at Cerro Pachon in Chile, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is at the vanguard of the next generation of wide-field surveys of the sky. Capable of imaging a huge swath of sky at one go — 40 times the angular size of the full moon — LSST will survey the entire night sky every two weeks. This visualization, featured in the documentary Seeing the Beginning of Time, gives us a virtual peek inside the LSST enclosure.

Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger

Citizen Scientists Invited to Join Quest for New Worlds

“Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” re-launches this week, with a call to volunteer citizen scientists to join the search for cold worlds near the Sun—both planets lurking in the outer reaches of the Solar System as well as nearby brown dwarfs. The re-launch coincides with the publication of the project’s latest discovery: a record-setting white dwarf star whose mysterious dusty rings challenge our understanding of the long-term evolution of planetary systems. NOAO astronomer Aaron Meisner is a co-founder of Backyard Worlds and a science team member.

Read more in the NOAO Press Release 19-04.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/NOAO

Animation of Ultima Thule moving through star field

The Truly Odd Shape of Ultima Thule

New Horizon’s departing view of Ultima Thule, caught as the spacecraft raced away at 31,000 mph, shows that the Kuiper Belt Object’s shape is actually quite odd. Rather than the “snowman” shape initially reported, it more closely resembles a giant pancake (Ultima) stuck to a dented walnut (Thule). The revelation came from “tracing out" the unlit side of Ultima Thule as it blocked the view to background stars (see animation). NOAO Astronomer Tod Lauer played a critical role in the investigation.

Read more in the New Horizons press release.

Left: WIYN Image; Right: HST Image; Credit: D. Jewitt

Shape-Shifting Asteroid with a Comet-like Tail

Active asteroids blur the distinction between asteroids and comets. Like other asteroids, they orbit the Sun in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. But they can also “shape shift," unfurling spectacular comet-like tails, then packing them away again. Observations of P/2017 S5 made with the WIYN telescope identify it as a water-bearing active asteroid and a step toward understanding the origin of water on Earth. The study was carried out by a team led by D. Jewitt (UCLA) that includes NOAO astronomers Jayadev Rajagopal, Susan Ridgway, and Wilson Liu.

Read more at the WIYN website.