Understanding NSF Research: Astronomy & Astrophysics
Image Captions and Credits
Two black holes collide in this simulation. Einstein predicted such collisions would generate such tremendous energy as to send a ripple through the fabric of space-time, called a gravitational wave. One hundred years after Einstein's prediction, the NSF-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of space-time—for the first time. Scientists determined that the first wave detected came from two black holes merging 1.3 billion light years away. Since then, LIGO has detected two more "chirps," both from black hole mergers.
Credit: Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project (http://www.black-holes.org)
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is located in the Chilean Andes atop the Chajnantor Plateau. At an altitude of 16,500 feet, ALMA is one of the highest astronomical observatories on Earth. ALMA's array of 66 high-precision antennas act as a single telescope. Its sensitivity and high resolution—10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope—are ideal for observing the "cool" universe, or the regions of gas and dust around stars. In this way, observations by ALMA and other radio telescopes complement those of optical telescopes.
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
The Gemini North telescope sits atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It is one of two identical telescopes that make up the Gemini Observatory. Its twin telescope, Gemini South, sits atop a mountain in the Chilean Andes. Together, the telescopes scan the entire sky over both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Their identical 8-meter mirrors are the only ones in the world coated with silver rather than aluminum, increasing their sensitivity to heat generated by objects in space. The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration between the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Credit: Gemini Observatory
The Gemini South telescope's instruments identified this object as two separate gas and dust clouds formed by different types of supernova explosions. DEM L316, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, extends over 140 light years, about 35 times the distance between the sun and its closest star. The image reveals the intricate tendrils of gas and dust located in the remnants of the stellar explosions that created the still-expanding cloud complex. The object was first recognized in the early 1970s as a supernova remnant, a type of object that is enriched with elements created in stellar explosions. The nebula was likely created a few tens of thousands of years ago by more than one type of supernova exploding in the region of the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Credit: : P. Michaud, S. Fisher, and R. Carrasco, Gemini Observatory; T. Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage
Illustrated here, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). When completed, the LSST will mark a new chapter in ground-based optical astronomy. Currently, NSF leads the public-private partnership building the telescope on Chile's Cerro Pachon. The telescope's powerful 3200-megapixel camera will sweep over an area of sky 40 times the size of the full moon each night, producing 800 panoramic images. Twice a week, it will map the entire visible sky, and LSST's powerful imaging tools will detect objects 10 million times fainter than those visible to the naked eye. The telescope aims to address some of the most pressing questions about the structure and evolution of the universe. Among other things, the images and data collected by LSST will create a better understanding of dark matter and dark energy, the formation and structure of the Milky Way galaxy, the more remote regions of our solar system, and help to identify hazardous asteroids.
Seen here, Gemini's unique 8-meter primary mirror observes the universe across a range of electromagnetic wavelengths, from the infrared to visible light. The mirrors are coated with silver to optimize infrared viewing and the state-of-the-art adaptive optics technology removes distortions caused by the Earth's atmosphere. Among other things, Gemini has become a key tool in the search for exoplanets—planets that orbit stars other than our own—and in the study of the violent cores of active galaxies.
A still frame taken from a time-lapse video shows off the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array's (ALMA) antennas. Located on the Chajnantor Plateau at an elevation of 5,000 meters, ALMA is the world's most powerful telescope for studying the universe at submillimeter and millimeter wavelengths. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two galaxies, glow brightly in the background above the antennas.
Credit: European Southern Observatory/C. Malin
The LIGO Livingston Observatory in Louisiana, seen here in an aerial view, is one of two wave-detection facilities that make up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO. The other LIGO detector is located 1,865 miles (3,002 kilometers) away in Hanford, Washington. Two detectors, separated by thousands of miles, are needed to validate the disturbances caused by gravitational waves and picked up by LIGO's detectors. This helps rule out that the detection was caused by local, external factors, such as an earthquake or thunderclap.
Credit: LIGO Scientific Collaboration
The sun sets on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. Astronomers at the Gemini South telescope can coordinate with their counterparts at the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii to view the entire sky above the Southern and Northern hemispheres. By viewing cosmic objects in infrared, astronomers can peer through the clouds of dust that often obscure stellar nurseries.
Credit: Gemini Observatory/Chris Carter
The South Pole Telescope seen here is a 10-meter telescope located in Antarctica that is helping to explore the mysteries of neutrinos and dark energy, the force responsible for accelerating the universe's expansion. In addition, this telescope is helping scientists study phenomena such as the formation and evolution of the early universe and the formation and evolution of solar systems like our own.
Credit: Daniel Luong-Van, National Science Foundation
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be able to image the entire visible sky a few times each week for more than 10 years, providing an unprecedented amount of information while transforming the emerging discipline of data-enabled science. Its 3-billion pixel digital camera will charge objects that change or move and trace billions of remote galaxies. LSST will probe the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, provide insight into short-lived transient events such as astronomical explosions or collisions, and create a more detailed map of the Milky Way and our own solar system.
Construction of the world's largest solar telescope, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), atop Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii is nearing completion. The telescope's state-of-the-art instrumentation, including a 4-meter primary mirror polished to a surface roughness of 2 nanometers (2 billionths of a meter), will give scientists an unprecedented view of the sun, and help answer long-standing fundamental questions in solar physics. Research conducted at DKIST will also help scientists better understand the fundamental physics behind solar eruptive events, leading to better models of solar activity and better forecasting of space weather.