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Recent News from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (Page 2 of 19)

Background Image Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF; Overlay Credit: John Livingston

44 Planets Beyond the Solar System

Speckle imaging observations made at the WIYN telescope on Kitt Peak have been used, in combination with data from other facilities, to confirm the existence of 44 exoplanets. Four of the planets have orbital periods shorter than a day. Sixteen have sizes within twice that of the Earth. The graphic illustrates the planetary sizes and surface temperatures and compares their orbital radii to that of Mercury. The discoveries were made by a team that includes NOAO astronomer Mark Everett. The observations were acquired under the NN-EXPLORE program, a joint program of the NSF and NASA for the discovery and characterization of extrasolar planets.

Read more in the Science Daily article

Animation Credit: Gemini Observatory, artwork by Lynette Cook

A Blast from the Past
200 Year Old “Message in a Bottle” from a Star that Survived

Light echoes — starlight reflected toward us by interstellar dust clouds — are the next best thing to time travel. Light echoes from the “Great Eruption” in the mid-1800’s of eta Carinae reveal critical details about a centuries-old event: material ejected from the star at extremely high velocity. The blast released as much energy as a typical supernova explosion, although in this case the star survived! Observations made with the CTIO Blanco and Gemini South telescopes led to the discovery.

Read more in the press release from Gemini Observatory. See also this press release from the Space Telescope Science Institute.


Credit: Carnegie Science

Twelve More Jovian Moons — One’s an Oddball

Observations made with DECam on the CTIO Blanco Telescope have led to the discovery of 12 additional moons of Jupiter, including its smallest known moon, Valetudo, less than one kilometer in diameter. Jupiter is now known to have 79 moons, a staggeringly large number compared to Earth’s single moon. In addition to its small size, Valetudo is also unusual because it orbits out of the plane of the other moons.

Click the image to view a video of these newly discovered moons’ orbits.

Read more in the Carnegie Science press release.


Image Credit: Pat Jelinsky/LBNL

First DESI Spectrograph Delivered to Kitt Peak Telescope

Light from a flashlight is dispersed into a spectrum by one of the spectrographs that will be integrated into the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) at the 4-m Mayall telescope. Designed to acquire spectra of 5000 astronomical objects simultaneously, DESI will be equipped with ten three-armed spectrographs. DESI will explore the mysterious physics of dark energy, which is believed to accelerate the expansion of the Universe.


Image Credit: NASA, ESA and Patrick Kelly/University of Minnesota

A Star Seen Halfway Across the Universe

Nine billion light years away, the blue supergiant Icarus is the most distant star ever seen. In 2016 it briefly flared to 2000 times its original brightness as its light was magnified fortuitously by the gravity of a passing star in a foreground galaxy. The result, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, was carried out by an international team of astronomers that includes NOAO astronomer Tom Matheson.

Read more in the UCLA Press Release.

Artist rendition of asteroid formation

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Few Common Ancestors for Solar System Asteroids

The millions of asteroids in the Solar System are thought to be the shattered remains of colliding planetesimals, the large rocky bodies that were the building blocks of the planets. New results suggest that most, if not all, of the known asteroids originate from only a few “common ancestors”, i.e., a small number of very large planetesimals. The study, published in Nature Astronomy, was carried out by a team that includes NOAO astronomer Dan Li.

Credit: M. Newhouse & NOAO/AURA/NSF and DESI/LBL

“Lift-off” at Kitt Peak 4-m Mayall Telescope

The original 45-year-old top end of the Mayall telescope was recently removed and a new top ring placed in the dome. The ring will support new optics for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), a state-of-the-art spectrometer that can measure the spectra of 5000 astronomical objects simultaneously. DESI will explore the mysterious physics of dark energy, which is believed to accelerate the expansion of the Universe.

Image Credit: K. Olsen & NOAO/AURA/NSF

Open Sky, Open Data

A new generation of sky surveys offers new frontiers for exploration and discovery, and NOAO’s Data Lab is ready to assist! Version 2.0 of the Data Lab’s Science Platform, released this month, features new datasets, including the 30 billion measurements in the NOAO Source Catalog. The above movie shows the developing exposure map of data in the NOAO archive and illustrates the build up of a crowd-sourced survey of the sky.

Read more about Data Lab 2.0. Or try it out at datalab.noao.edu — it’s your universe to explore!


Image credit: D. Sprayberry & NOAO/AURA/NSF

Kitt Peak 4-m Mayall Receives New Top End Ring

The Mayall telescope’s new top end ring was recently installed using a 450 ton crane with a 250 foot boom. The top ring will support new optics for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), a state-of-the-art spectrometer that can measure the spectra of 5000 astronomical objects simultaneously. By surveying 30 million galaxies and quasars, DESI will explore the mysterious physics of dark energy, which is believed to accelerate the expansion of the Universe.

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

WIYN-win for Kitt Peak
NSF & NASA team up to explore exoplanets

Which stars harbor what kind of planets? The NEID spectrograph, destined for Kitt Peak, will soon study planets discovered by the NASA missions Kepler and TESS. Designed for extreme radial velocity precision and funded by NASA, NEID will arrive at the WIYN telescope later this year. TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, was launched in April and will become fully operational this month.

Read more in this article from the Planetary Society