Climate Change is Making the Atmosphere Worse for Astronomy

Modern astronomical telescopes are extraordinarly powerful. And we keep making them more powerful. With telescopes like the Extremely Large Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope seeing first light in the coming years, our astronomical observing power will be greater than ever.

But a new commentary says that climate change could limit the power of our astronomical observatories.

Continue reading “Climate Change is Making the Atmosphere Worse for Astronomy”

It Looks Like Firefighters Saved Mt. Wilson Observatory

Every year, the Pacific Northwest and California experience “wildfire season,” a period where heat and low humidity combine, leading to an increased risk of fires. This year has been particularly bad and in California alone, wildfires have destroyed over two million acres of land, forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and threatened many historic institutions and landmarks.

One of them is the Mount Wilson Observatory that sits atop Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains overlooking Pasadena (northeast of LA). This famous observatory is home to several telescopes that were, for a time, the largest of their kind in the world. And thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, it looks as though the Mt. Wilson Observatory is now safe amid a particularly bad wildfire season.

Continue reading “It Looks Like Firefighters Saved Mt. Wilson Observatory”

Vera Rubin’s Monster 3200-Megapixel Camera Takes its First Picture (in the Lab)

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory has taken another step towards first light, projected for some time in 2022. Its enormous 3200 megapixel camera just took its first picture during lab testing at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The camera is the largest ever built, and its unprecedented power is the driving force behind the Observatory’s ten year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

Continue reading “Vera Rubin’s Monster 3200-Megapixel Camera Takes its First Picture (in the Lab)”

Gamma Rays Detected Coming From the Crab Nebula

Most people with any interest in astronomy know about the Crab Nebula. It’s a supernova remnant in the constellation Taurus, and its image is all over the place. Google “Hubble images” and it’s right there with other crowd favorites, like the Pillars of Creation.

The Crab Nebula is one of the most-studied objects in astronomy. It’s the brightest source of gamma rays in the sky, and that fact is being used to establish the function of a new telescope called the Schwarschild-Couder Telescope.

Continue reading “Gamma Rays Detected Coming From the Crab Nebula”

WFIRST Will be Named After Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s First Chief Astronomer

In the mid-2020s, NASA’s next-generation Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will take to space. With unprecedented resolution and advanced instruments, it will build on the foundation established by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope – which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year! In anticipation of all it will accomplish, NASA decided that the WFIRST needs a proper name, one that honors its connection to Hubble.

This week, NASA announced that henceforth, the WFIRST mission will be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (or Roman Space Telescope for short) in honor of Dr. Nancy Grace Roman (who passed away in 2018). In addition to being NASA’s first Chief Astronomer, she was also a tireless educator and advocate for women in STEMs whose work paved the way for space telescopes – leading to her nickname “the mother of Hubble.”

Continue reading “WFIRST Will be Named After Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s First Chief Astronomer”

Japan Suspends its Funding for the 30-Meter Telescope

Japan has suspended its funding contribution to the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. An international consortium is behind the TMT, which was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is one of the most desirable observing locations on Earth. It’s already host to several observatories, including the Subaru Telescope and the Keck Observatory. The $1.4 billion TMT would be the most powerful telescope there.

Continue reading “Japan Suspends its Funding for the 30-Meter Telescope”

WFIRST Passes an Important Milestone, it’s Time to Begin Development and Testing

Soon, astronomers and astrophysicists will have more observing power than they know what to do with. Not only will the James Webb Space Telescope one day, sometime in the next couple years, we hope, if all goes well, and if the coronavirus doesn’t delay it again, launch and begin operations. But another powerful NASA space telescope called WFIRST has passed an important stage, and is one step closer to reality.

Continue reading “WFIRST Passes an Important Milestone, it’s Time to Begin Development and Testing”

China’s 500-Meter FAST Radio Telescope is Now Operational

The world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope is officially open for business according to Xinhua, China’s official state-run media. The FAST Radio Telescope saw fist light in 2016 but has been undergoing testing and commissioning since then. FAST stands for Five-hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope.

Continue reading “China’s 500-Meter FAST Radio Telescope is Now Operational”