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6-Hour Webcast With Live Very Large Telescope Observations For ESO’s 50th Anniversary

September 30, 2012 Leave a comment

On 5 October 2012, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) will broadcast A Day in the Life of ESO, a free, live event on the web, as part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations. There will be live observations from ESO’s flagship observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), on Cerro Paranal in Chile’s Atacama Desert, as well as fascinating talks from astronomers at ESO’s Headquarters in Germany. Members of the public are invited to ask questions in advance of the event, or during the stream, by Facebook, Twitter, and email. A timetable for the webcast is available below and online.

For the first time in ESO’s history, the VLT will be pointed towards an object in the sky selected by members of the public — the Thor’s Helmet Nebula (NGC 2359). This striking nebula was selected as part of the Choose What the VLT Observes competition. Brigitte Bailleul, from France, won the Tweet Your Way to the VLT! competition, and will travel to the Paranal Observatory in Chile to help make the observations. The live link to Paranal will show the observations and the telescopes on the mountaintop, in the stunning landscape of the Atacama Desert, letting viewers join Brigitte on her trip of a lifetime.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/announcements/ann12067/

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Lowell’s NSF-Funded Large Monolithic Imager Sees First Light On The Discovery Channel Telescope

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Galaxy NGC 891 as imaged by the Large Monolithic Imager (Lowell Observatory)

The Large Monolithic Imager (LMI), a camera built at Lowell Observatory and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), recently took a set of first-light images on Lowell’s 4.3-m Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT). At the heart of the LMI is the largest charge-coupled device (CCD) that can be built using current fabrication techniques and the first of its kind to be made by e2v. The 36-megapixel CCD’s active surface is 3.7 inches on a side. The LMI’s ability to provide much more accurate measurements of the faint light around galaxies separates it from cameras that use a mosaic of CCDs to produce images.

The attached first-light image is of NGC 891, an edge-on spiral galaxy about 30 million light-years away in the Andromeda constellation. The image was obtained by Lowell’s Phil Massey, Ted Dunham, and Mike Sweaton, and then turned into a beautiful color composite by Kathryn Neugent. The exposure consisted of 10×1 min (B), 5×1 min (V), and 6×1 min (R), all unguided.

Full Story: http://www.lowell.edu/news/2012/09/lowells-nsf-funded-large-monolithic-imager-sees-first-light-on-the-discovery-channel-telescope/

World’s Most Powerful Digital Camera Opens Eye, Records First Images In Hunt For Dark Energy

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The Dark Energy Camera features 62 charged-coupled devices (CCDs), which record a total of 570 megapixels per snapshot. Credit: Fermilab

Eight billion years ago, rays of light from distant galaxies began their long journey to Earth. That ancient starlight has now found its way to a mountaintop in Chile, where the newly-constructed Dark Energy Camera, the most powerful sky-mapping machine ever created, has captured and recorded it for the first time.

That light may hold within it the answer to one of the biggest mysteries in physics – why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

Scientists in the international Dark Energy Survey collaboration announced this week that the Dark Energy Camera, the product of eight years of planning and construction by scientists, engineers, and technicians on three continents, has achieved first light. The first pictures of the southern sky were taken by the 570-megapixel camera on Sept. 12.

Full Story: http://fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2012/DES-DECam-201209.html

Berkeley Lab Sensors Enable First Light For The Dark Energy Camera

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Early in the morning of September 12 the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), mounted on the Victor Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, recorded its first images of a southern sky spangled with galaxies. Galaxies up to eight billion light years away were captured on DECam’s focal plane, whose imager consists of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) invented and developed by engineers and physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Berkeley Lab CCDs are noted for their exceptionally high sensitivity to light (quantum efficiency), particularly in the red and infrared regions of the spectrum – a crucial advantage for astronomical CCDs searching for objects at extremely high redshifts. Combining the 570-million-pixel focal plane made of Berkeley Lab CCDs with the light-gathering power of the Blanco telescope’s 4-meter mirror, DECam has unique ability to reach wide and deep into the night sky.

Full Story: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2012/09/17/first-light-decam/

NOAO: One Degree Imager debuts At WIYN Telescope At Kitt Peak National Observatory

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The days when professional astronomers peered through telescopes are long gone. Today, the camera or other instrument that is attached to the telescope is as important as the telescope itself. Over the life of a telescope, new instruments are added that greatly enhance its capabilities. So the new camera known as the One Degree Imager, or ODI, that is being commissioned at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope on Kitt Peak is of great excitement to astronomers. When fully operational, the ODI camera will be able to image an area of the sky five times that of the full moon – far larger than any previous camera at the WIYN telescope. Sensitive to visible light, the camera will be able to resolve objects as small as 0.3 arc seconds – about the equivalent of seeing a baseball at a distance of 30 miles away.

ODI Principal Investigator Dr. Todd Boroson said of some of the first images, “It has been very exciting to examine the first ODI images. I see distant galaxies everywhere, but they don’t look like faint smudges. They have spiral arms and bright knots of star formation and distinct nuclei. It’s almost like looking at Hubble Space Telescope images.”

Full Story: http://www.noao.edu/news/2012/pr1203.php

Private Foundations Fund New Astronomy Tool


The W. M. Keck Observatory has been awarded two major grants to help build a $4 million laser system as the next leap forward in a technology which already enables ground-based telescopes to exceed the observational power of telescopes in space. The new laser, when installed on the current adaptive optics system on the Keck II telescope, will improve the performance of the system and advance future technology initiatives.

“Ever since Galileo, astronomers have been building bigger telescopes to collect more light to be able to observe more distant objects,” said Peter Wizinowich, who leads the adaptive optics developments at Keck Observatory. “In theory, the larger the telescope the more detail you can see. However, because of the blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere, a 10-inch or a 10-meter telescope see about the same amount of detail.”

There are two solutions to this problem, Wizinowich said: put a telescope in space or use adaptive optics technology to cancel out the distortions of the atmosphere. W. M. Keck Observatory helped pioneer the astronomical use of adaptive optics in the 1990’s, and now delivers images three to four times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Full Story: http://keckobservatory.org/news/1.5_million_for_next_generation_laser

Astronomers Spot Rare Arc From Hefty Galaxy Cluster

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Seeing is believing, except when you don’t believe what you see. Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found a puzzling arc of light behind an extremely massive cluster of galaxies residing 10 billion light-years away. The galactic grouping, discovered by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, was observed as it existed when the universe was roughly a quarter of its current age of 13.7 billion years.
The giant arc is the stretched shape of a more distant galaxy whose light is distorted by the monster cluster’s powerful gravity, an effect called gravitational lensing. The trouble is, the arc shouldn’t exist.
“When I first saw it, I kept staring at it, thinking it would go away,” said study leader Anthony Gonzalez of the University of Florida in Gainesville, whose team includes researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “According to a statistical analysis, arcs should be extremely rare at that distance. At that early epoch, the expectation is that there are not enough galaxies behind the cluster bright enough to be seen, even if they were ‘lensed,’ or distorted by the cluster. The other problem is that galaxy clusters become less massive the further back in time you go. So it’s more difficult to find a cluster with enough mass to be a good lens for gravitationally bending the light from a distant galaxy.”
Galaxy clusters are collections of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. They are the most massive structures in our universe. Astronomers frequently study galaxy clusters to look for faraway, magnified galaxies behind them that would otherwise be too dim to see with telescopes. Many such gravitationally lensed galaxies have been found behind galaxy clusters closer to Earth.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-187