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Recent News from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (Page 2 of 20)

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.

Video: Farrin Abbott/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

One Cool Camera

Work on the camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), bound for Cerro Pachon in Chile, recently reached a major milestone with the completion of the camera’s refrigeration system (a.k.a. its cryostat). Equipped with 3.2 gigapixels, the camera is the largest ever built for ground-based astronomy. NOAO is a founding partner of LSST and is developing tools and systems to support community research with LSST.


Ant2Ant2 labeled

A bright, artificial blob representing Antlia 2 (upper left) has been added to show its location on the far side of the Milky Way
(G. Torrealba/Academia Sinica, Taiwan; V. Belokurov/Cambridge, UK & CCA, New York, US; based on an image by S. Brunie/ESO)

Ghostly Backyard Giant Plays Hide-and-Seek

Astronomers have discovered a large, extremely diffuse galaxy companion to the Milky Way. As big as the Large Magellanic Cloud but 10,000 times fainter, the galaxy has eluded us until now because of its faint, “ghostly” appearance and its hiding place behind the disk of the Milky Way. The discovery was made with the Gaia satellite and archival data from DECam on the CTIO Blanco telescope. Astronomers want to know: is this galaxy an oddball?...or one of many “ghostly” companions yet to be found?

Long press or hover your mouse over the image above to view a labeled version.

Read more from University of Cambridge.

Image Credit: T. Lauer and NASA/JPL.

Pluto’s “Washboard Terrain”: Evidence of Ancient Glaciers

Pluto’s terrain shows a “washboard” pattern of fine ridges just north of its great frozen nitrogen sea, Sputnik Planitia. A recent study by the New Horizons team argues that the ridges are deposits of water ice left behind as an ancient frozen nitrogen glacier that once covered the area sublimed away. Water-ice is buoyant in nitrogen ice and is expected to collect in pits formed on the surface of the glacier as the nitrogen sublimes. NOAO Astronomer Tod Lauer is a coauthor on the study.

Read more from the Seti Institute.

Image Credit: Rongpu Zhou; Overlay: Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.

Cosmic Dance of Tiny Galaxies

Astronomers have discovered that the tiny Sextans dwarf galaxy, which is 100,000 times less massive than the Milky Way, is undergoing a merger with an even smaller companion galaxy. While large galaxies like the Milky Way are thought to form through mergers with smaller galaxies, the new result illustrates how even the smallest galaxies may form that way. The discovery was made with data from the 4-m Blanco Telescope at CTIO.


Image Credit: R. Hahn & Dark Energy Survey; Overlay: R. M. Candanosa & S. Sheppard, courtesy Carnegie Institution for Science.

Extreme Dwarf Planet Discovered in Search for Planet X

Discovered in part with DECam at CTIO, a new dwarf planet patrols the outer Solar System on a highly elongated orbit: it travels within 65 AU of the Sun at closest approach and as far away as 1000 AU. With its distant orbit, the small planet (300 kilometers in diameter) is sensitive to the dynamics at the edge of the Solar System — and the presence of more massive outer Solar System planets, such as the hypothetical Planet X.

Read more the Carnegie Science press release.

Image Credit: M. Urzúa Zuñiga/Gemini Observatory; Inset: NASA

Ultra-short Period Planet Found by TESS and Confirmed with CHIRON

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered a “hot Earth” in orbit around a star 45 light years away. The planet, which is only 30% larger than Earth, orbits very close to its star, with a period of just 11 hours. The discovery was confirmed using multiple facilities including the CHIRON spectrograph on the SMARTS 1.5m telescope at CTIO.

Read more in the paper posted on arXiv:

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

NSF’s Windows on the Universe Center for Astronomy Outreach at Kitt Peak

A new $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund the development of a new center for astronomy outreach at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Located in the iconic McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope Facility, the center will provide the public with a new way to experience the cutting-edge research carried out at Kitt Peak and NSF’s other astronomy facilities around the globe, including ground-based optical, radio, and gravitational wave facilities.

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Read more in NOAO Press Release 18-03.