San Antonio --On a clear, cool night in the early 1960s, a father drove his young, pajama-clad daughter to one of the T-head piers on Corpus Christi Bay to marvel at an object in the sky. The girl who peered up at the sky was Sandy Wood, and this year marked her 20th anniversary as the voice of the nationally syndicated radio program "StarDate." Speaking in her distinctive warm and soothing tone over synthesized tinkling chimes, Ms. Wood provides a daily two-minute peek into the world of astronomy, expounding on topics as varied as newly discovered quasars and the best place to watch a meteor shower.
During the last decade, albeit quietly, there has begun a three-way race to build the next generation of optical telescopes. Three teams are competing to be the first to build a new ground-based observatory that will be much, much larger than any optical telescope built before. The competitors are: The Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope.
The world's largest optical telescopes today are 10 meters. This new generation will have an effective mirror of at least 25 meters across. That's a huge difference. Whichever group gets finished first will discover a lot of new territory in physics and astronomy.
The 4th Biennial Frank N. Bash Symposium, "New Horizons in Astronomy," will bring together cutting edge researchers in astronomy and astrophysics for a two day symposium convening Monday, October 10, on the University of Texas at Austin campus. The meeting is designed to advance visions for the future of astronomy. Speakers, representing a dozen of the world's leading institutions, will address a wide range of topics, from the most inscrutable: Dark Matter and Dark Energy; to the Early Universe: Inflation, First Light, Black Holes and Galaxy Evolution; to leading edge engineering: HETDEX and the GMT; to the search for life: Extrasolar Planets, Disk Formation, and Solar System Chemistry. The meeting is made possible by the generosity of The Department of Astronomy and McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors.
Austin, Texas based Independent Media Productions has won two awards for "Dark Energy: Speeding Up the Universe," an educational
video produced for the Texas Cosmology Center in collaboration with StarDate--a Videographer Award of Excellence and a Telly. The
video is part of a series produced to explain complex theories of cosmology to a broad audience, and features interviews with prominent
astronomers, images and animations. The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV
commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and web commercials, videos and films.
University Park, PA --A new state-of-the-art instrument--a precision spectrograph for finding planets in habitable zones around cool, nearby stars--is being developed at Penn State with support from a new $3.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
"This new Habitable Zone Planet Finder instrument will allow us to detect the existence of planets that are similar in mass to Earth and also are in orbits that allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces," said Suvrath Mahadevan, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a co-principal investigator of the project.
QCan you tell us about the opportunity to work on Terence Malick's film, Tree of Life?
A It was a bit serendipitous. I had written a popular article about the early universe in Sky and Telescope, and Terry Malick read it and then got in touch with me. I think at that point he was still in the preparatory stages of putting the movie together, and then we met, and from there this involvement developed further.
QIt sounds like you worked closely with Terence Malick. Were there other people from the film that you worked with, and did they provide particular artistic direction for your part in the film?
Consisting primarily of sand and broken dreams, the fictional desert planet of Tatooine appears in five of George Lucas' six "Star Wars" films. In a research article published in Science Magazine on Sept. 16, astronomers working with the Kepler spacecraft revealed that the $600 million space observatory, launched in 2009 to find Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, had detected a planet that, like Tatooine, orbits two suns.
Erik Brugamyer & BiQing For
Erik Brugamyer Wins Livingston Fellowship, BiQing For Wins John Stocker Postdoctoral Fellowship from Australia
31 August 2011
Astronomy Graduate Student Erik Brugamyer has won a prestigious William S. Livingston Graduate Continuing Fellowship from the University
of Texas at Austin Graduate School. The award recognizes a well-defined program of research, and major accomplishments since
entering Graduate School. Erik is looking at the chemical compositions of stars that host planets. Are they different from stars that don't?
BiQing For has won an inaugural John Stocker Postdoctoral Fellowship
through the Australian Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF). The fund supports scientific research using proceeds from
wireless LAN licensing agreements. BiQing's project is The interaction of the
Magellanic clouds with the Milky Way.
Undergraduate freshmen have been conducting independent research designed for publication through the University's
Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). One 'Astronomy Stream', supervised by Professor Don Winget and Research
Scientist Mike Montgomery, conducts research on White Dwarfs, objects at the spectacular end of stellar life. A myriad of
interesting physics can be explored with White Dwarfs, says Dr. Montgomery, such as the age of the Milky Way disk, and
how dense, stellar plasma crystallizes. The leading edge program is a departure from having science students repeat classical
experiments, and has proven to be an accelerant to more advanced levels of independent research. 25% percent of the College of
Natural Sciences freshman class now participates.
Astronomy participants have helped to discover the first planet orbiting a binary star.
"When you expect a lot of students, that's when you get a lot back," says Dr. Montgomery. A second 'Astronomy Stream', "Cosmic Dawn,"
employs one of the world's largest supercomputers, to create cosmological simulations of the early universe. The research, supervised
by Professor Paul Shapiro, recreates the formation of the first galaxies, in filamentary structures spanning unimaginable distance.
We have all experienced gravity, but even to the brightest minds in science, it remains largely a mystery. Gary J. Hill, an
astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, is trying to change that.
"We don't know why there's gravity," said Hill, one of the lead astronomers on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy
Experiment, or HETDEX, which could turn gravity's time-honored laws on their head.
"We have a pretty good theory of it.
It may be that our observations could have a bearing on finally formulating why gravity exists."
Hill has teamed with Karl Gebhardt, an astronomy professor at UT, on the $36 million project, which has prevailed
despite the threat of natural disasters, potential lack of financing and all the kinks that can throw off a long-term project.
The experiment's goal is to analyze our understanding of how the universe is expanding -- with ramifications on gravity,
the Big Bang theory and the fate of the universe.
A week after the Texas wildfires cut power to the McDonald Observatory, the worst appears to be over, according to
Anita Cochran, the associate director of the observatory. Observations have resumed and the astronomy center is scheduled
to open to the public tomorrow (April 20), after surviving a close call with menacing wildfires. At the observatory, located in
West Texas, wildfire weather conditions have been among the worst in the state's history. Dry grass and dry air, along with hot
temperatures and howling winds, are fueling the sprawling wildfires that have scorched a million acres across the state,
according to the Texas Forest Service. Things were heating up at McDonald this weekend, so the Texas Forest Service ran
controlled burns on Sunday to get rid of all the fuel on the nearby mountains. "They were pretty scary looking, but were
actually a good thing," Cochran told OurAmazingPlanet. "The observatory looks to be pretty safe right now."
Supermassive black holes, with masses of millions to billions of times that of our own Sun, are found lurking at the centers of most nearby large
galaxies. The public is invited to the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum Monday, April 11, at
8 PM, for a lecture by Assistant Professor Jenny Greene, titled "Black Holes-Tiny But Powerful."
Dr. Greene will discuss our search for the smallest supermassive black holes, and what they teach about the first black holes in the early
Universe. The public lecture is hosted by the American Astronomical Society's (AAS) 42nd Annual Meeting of the
Division on Dynamical Astronomy, convening in Austin the week of April 10-14.
Prof. Lars Bildsten, Tinsley Visiting Professor from The University of California, Santa Barbara, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics &
Department of Physics, will present the public lecture Exploding Stars!,
Thursday, March 24 at 7:00 PM, in RLM 4.102.
Prof. Bildsten will discuss new modes of supernovae, recently discovered because we have new capabilities to scan the sky. Stars explode in the Universe
once every second. We can now see 10 per day, or one hundredth of one percent. This has introduced new varieties of exploding stars and ways
of looking at them. The public is encouraged to attend.
The fifteenth award of the Antoinette de Vaucouleurs Memorial Lectureship and Medal honors the distinguished American
astronomer and astrophysicist Dr Robert P. Kraft for a lifetime of achievement in astronomy. Dr. Kraft is responsible for much of
what we know about the metal-poor populations of the Milky Way, both globular clusters and halo field stars, and has been a major
figure in establishing observational constraints on the chemical evolution of galaxies. He is currently Professor Emeritus of
Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Astronomer Emeritus at the University of California
It's been more than eight decades since Paris, Texas banker William J. McDonald left most of his estate to the unsuspecting
University of Texas at Austin. McDonald wanted his money used to establish an astronomical observatory. The surprised
university had no astronomy department or faculty at the time. After settling a legal struggle with McDonald's disgruntled
family heirs, the university forged a unique partnership with an established astronomical power to the north -- the University of
Chicago. The two universities built McDonald Observatory and never looked back. Decades later, the observatory became the sole
property of the University of Texas. Since the late 1960s, through the observatory and its newly formed astronomy faculty in
Austin, the university has developed one of the top 10 astronomy programs in the country. It is also one of the largest.
Prof. Dan Jaffe will present the public lecture Exploring Newly Discovered Worlds with the Giant Magellan Telescope,
Saturday, February 12, at 1:00 PM, in the Avaya Auditorium
ACE(S) 2.302 [map].
Prof. Jaffe will discuss humankind's landmark discovery in recent years of hundreds of extrasolar planetary systems, and the new generation of ground-based telescopes
that will allow us to better understand them. Prof. Jaffe's research includes development of state-of-the-art instrumentation for
infrared and submillimeter spectroscopy. He recently served as Chair of the
Giant Magellan Telescope Science Advisory Committee. The Great Lectures in
Astronomy public series is sponsored by the The University of Texas at Austin
McDonald Observatory and Department of Astronomy Board of Visitors.