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NOAO News & Reports

November 23, 2015

Oodles of Faint Dwarf Galaxies in Fornax
Shed Light on a Cosmological Mystery

Left: Image of the inner 3 square degrees of the NGFS survey footprint compared with the size of the Moon. Low surface brightness dwarf galaxies are marked by red circles. Gray circles indicate previously known dwarf galaxies. The dwarf galaxies, which vastly outnumber the bright galaxies, may be the “missing satellites” predicted by cosmological simulations.

Right: Image of the Blanco 4-m telescope on CTIO. Credit: T. Abbott and NOAO/AURA/NSF

An astonishing number of faint low surface brightness dwarf galaxies recently discovered in the Fornax cluster of galaxies may help to solve the long-standing cosmological mystery of “The Missing Satellites”. The discovery, made by an international team of astronomers led by Roberto Muñoz and Thomas Puzia of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, was carried out using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the 4-m Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). CTIO is operated by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-09.

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November 11, 2015

Some of the images from the book Coloring the Universe. Clockwise from top left: The Rosette Nebula, the book cover featuring an image of the Elephant Trunk Nebula, the Moon, the Horsehead Nebula, with Pickering’s Triangle in the background.

A new book will give readers a behind-the-scenes look at how spectacular images of space are made by the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes. Featuring over three hundred large-format pictures, Coloring the Universe is an insider’s guide at what happens at the professional observatories (including NOAO) when we release color images of space. The book focuses on how the images are made, why they look the way they do, and what scientists learn from them.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-08.

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October 12, 2015

A Sharp-Eyed Future for Historic Kitt Peak Telescope

The 2.1 meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, where Robo-AO will be installed. Image Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

Inset: Robo-AO mounted on the Palomar Observatory 1.5m telescope. The adaptive optics and camera systems are in the box mounted on the back end of the telescope. The large box on top of the telescope is the support electronics rack, and the UV laser guide star system is mounted on the bottom of the telescope. Image credit: C. Baranec

A team led by the California Institute of Technology has been selected to transform the venerable 2.1 meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory into the first dedicated adaptive optics (AO) observatory for astronomy. This system, named Robo-AO KP, will allow astronomers to study, at high angular resolution, large numbers of astronomical objects, spanning science from planetary to stellar, and exoplanetary to extragalactic.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-07.

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September 21, 2015

Dark Energy Spectrometer for Kitt Peak Receives Funding Green Light

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) will be mounted on the 4-meter Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. It will measure the redshifts of 30 million galaxies and quasars in order to study how dark energy and gravity shape the structure of the universe. Image Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), destined for the 4-m Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak, will chart out the role of dark energy in the expansion history of the universe. The US Department of Energy has announced its approval of Critical Decision 2 for the DESI project, authorizing its scientific scope, schedule, and funding profile. To carry out its mission, DESI will measure the redshifts of more than 30 million galaxies and quasars and create a map of the universe out to a distance of 10 billion light years.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 15-06

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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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