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Recent News from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (Page 2 of 21)

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.

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.