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NOAO Home Page News Archive

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

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.

An astrophotographic portrait of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (lower left and upper right, respectively) above Las Campanas Observatory in Chile

Image credit: Ryan Trainor (Franklin and Marshall College)

Milky Way's Neighbors Pick Up the Pace

After slowly forming stars for the first few billion years of their lives, the Magellanic Clouds, near neighbors of our own Milky Way galaxy, have upped their game and are now forming new stars at a fast clip. This new insight into the “activity history” of the Clouds comes from the first detailed chemical maps made of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The project, carried out by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), was led by NOAO Astronomer David Nidever.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 19-03.

D. Maturana & NOAO/AURA/NSF; Overlay (top left): NASA/Penn State University/C. Reed; (top right): NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Unusual Supernova Opens a Rare Window on the Collapse of a Star

An unusual supernova studied by multiple telescopes, including the SOAR telescope and other telescopes at CTIO and KPNO, is thought to herald the birth of a new black hole or neutron star, caught at the exact moment of its creation.The event gives astronomers a rare glimpse into the physics at play during the creation of a black hole or neutron star.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 19-02.

Image Credit: J. Najita, M. Newhouse & NOAO/AURA/NSF

A Survey Machine and a Data Trove: Dark Energy Survey’s Rich Legacy

Over the past six years the Dark Energy Survey has collected a rich trove of data, mapping nearly a billion objects over one-fourth of the southern sky! Carried out at CTIO, the survey explores the nature of dark energy, the mysterious form of energy that is accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Although the survey is now ending, with the final images taken this month, both the camera built for the survey and the survey data itself will continue to yield new discoveries.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 19-01.

Image Credit: NASA, JHU/APL, and SWRI

New Horizons Explores Ultima Thule

The first detailed images of the most distant object ever explored reveal the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule to be a “contact binary” consisting of two connected spheres: “Ultima” the larger sphere and “Thule” the smaller. In making the discovery, New Horizons set a new bar for spacecraft navigation — never before has a spacecraft tracked down such a small body at such high speed so far away. NOAO Astronomer Tod Lauer played a critical role in the achievement.

Time lapse credit: R. Sparks & NOAO/AURA/NSF

Mayall Telescope Receives New “Top End”

In preparation for its new mission as the home of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), the Kitt Peak Mayall telescope recently received its new top end, a 10 ton steel-framed structure that includes the new corrector barrel—a stacked array of large delicate lenses that creates a wide field-of-view—and will eventually house the 5000 robot fiber-positioners that will be used to capture the light from millions of galaxies and quasars. DESI will create the largest 3-D map of the cosmos to date and probe the role of dark energy in the expansion history of the Universe.

Read more in the Berkeley Lab Press Release.

Illustration credit: R. M. Candanosa &Carnegie Institution for Science

“Far Out” Dwarf Planet Discovered

Astronomers have announced the discovery of the most distant body ever observed in our Solar System. Nicknamed “Farout” for its extremely distant location, the new dwarf planet 2018 VG18 is 120 times further from the Sun than Earth (i.e., at 120 AU). In comparison, the dwarf planet Eris is at 96 AU and Pluto is currently at 34 AU. The discovery was made by astronomers Scott Sheppard, David Tholen, and Chad Trujillo as part of a survey of the outer Solar System carried out in part with observing time made available through NOAO.

Read more in the Carnegie Science press release.