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NOAO News & Reports


August 9, 2015

Chilean Astronomical Site Becomes World’s First International Dark Sky Sanctuary

View of the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary by day Image Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF

Honolulu, Hawai’i (9 August 2015) – A sanctuary is a place that invites deep contemplation in a safe and stable environment. Few places in the world provide a better opportunity to enjoy and contemplate the starry heavens than Andean mountains of northern Chile. But even in this astronomy mecca lights can intrude to ruin the view, and thoughtful protection is needed as the nearby towns and cities grow in size.

Today, at the International Astronomical Union meeting, the International Dark-Sky Association announced that the site of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) Observatory in the Elqui Valley of northern Chile will be recognized and designated as the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world. The site will be known as the “Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary” after the famed Chilean poet.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-05.


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July 27, 2015

Hiding in Plain Sight: Undergraduates Discover the Densest Galaxies Known

Two ultra-dense galaxies (insets) have been discovered orbiting larger host galaxies. The compact systems are thought to be the remnants of once normal galaxies that were swallowed by the host, a process that removed the fluffy outer parts of the systems, leaving the dense centers behind. Image credit: A. Romanowsky (SJSU), Subaru, Hubble Legacy Archive

Using imaging data from a variety of telescopes as well as spectroscopy from the Goodman Spectrograph on the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope (SOAR), two undergraduates at San José State University have discovered two galaxies that are the densest known. Similar to ordinary globular star clusters but a hundred to a thousand times brighter, the new systems have properties intermediate in size and luminosity between galaxies and star clusters.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-04.


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July 9, 2015

NGC 2346 - A Cosmic Butterfly’s Delicate Wings

NOAO scientists, using the Gemini Observatory 8-meter telescope in Chile, have obtained the highest resolution image ever obtained for the planetary nebula NGC 2346. The new observations of this bipolar planetary nebula resolve details comparable in size to our own solar system. The team detected previously unresolved knots and filaments of molecular hydrogen gas - details that no other telescope on the ground or in space, not even the Hubble Space Telescope, has been able to resolve.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-03.


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February 9, 2015

NASA Solicits Proposals for a World-class Precision Doppler Spectrometer at Kitt Peak National Observatory

Very high velocity precision is needed to measure the mass of low mass planets through the subtle motion, the “wobble”, that a planet induces in its host star. The extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer (EPDS) destined for Kitt Peak will measure stellar motions with a precision of 0.1 - 0.5 m/s (or 0.2 - 1 mph), velocities comparable to the running speed of a desert tortoise or gila monster. With such high precision, the spectrometer will be able to detect and characterize Jupiter- and Neptune-sized gas giant planets as well as super-Earth and Earth-sized rocky planets.

Kitt Peak National Observatory is the future home of a state-of-the-art instrument that will be used to detect and characterize other worlds. The new instrument, an extreme precision radial velocity spectrometer, will measure the subtle motion of stars produced by their orbiting planets. The spectrometer, funded by NASA, will be deployed on an existing telescope at Kitt Peak, the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), which is funded by NSF, is a partner in the telescope and operates Kitt Peak.

NOAO Press Release 15-02


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January 5, 2015

Smashing Results About Our Nearby Galactic Neighbors

The green circles in the image above show some of the DECam pointings of the SMASH survey, indicating the area where Magellanic Cloud stars have been found. Image Credit: K. Olsen (NOAO/AURA/NSF), SMASH team, Roger Smith, & McClure-Griffiths.

An early result from the Survey of the Magellanic Stellar History (SMASH), carried out by an international team of astronomers using telescopes that include the Blanco 4-meter at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile, suggests the the Magellanic Clouds are much bigger than astronomers calculated, and also have non-uniform structure at their outer edge, hinting at a rich and complex field of debris left over from their formation and interaction. Results were presented at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-01


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