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National Science Foundation
From the Ground Up - Eyes on the Sky
Grand Challenge Topics

First Stars and First Light:  Epoch of Reionization:  In its infancy, the Universe was suffused with a dense, obscuring fog of primordial gas.  As the first stars switched on, they began to reionize the cosmos, punching ever-larger holes in their murky surroundings.  Eventually, the effect of these young, massive stars enabled light to shine freely through space.  Peering ever deeper into these “dark ages” has been both a challenge and a quest for astronomers, with today’s best telescopes giving tantalizing clues as to the nature of these early stars and the assembly of the very first galaxies.

First Black Holes May Have Incubated in Giant, Starlike Cocoons

New Mathematical Model Aids Big-bang Supercomputer Research

High-precision Measurements Confirm Cosmologists' Standard View of Universe

Cosmic Eye Sheds Light on Early Galaxy Formation

Astronomy Teams Discover Ancestors of Milky Way-type Galaxies

Gamma-Ray Burst Smashes a Record

Most Primitive Super-massive Black Holes Discovered

Universe's Oldest Objects Emerge from the Background

Scientists See Light That May Be From First Stars in Universe

From Dust and Gas to Planets and Stars: From a collapsing cloud of dust and gas four-and-a-half billion years ago, the Earth and the rest of our solar system began to form. The exact processes that drive star and planet formation, however, are not well understood. Tracking the evolution of nascent stars and protoplanetary disks will give astronomers many of the missing pieces to this intriguing puzzle. Recent discoveries in infrared and radio astronomy are also helping to unravel this mystery.

Close-up Movie Shows Hidden Details in the Birth of Super-suns

Dirty Stars Make Good Solar System Hosts

VLBA Helps Build New Picture of Star-Forming Regions

The Universe as a Laboratory: Fundamental Physics: The universe is a great laboratory that challenges the frontiers of physics. The most advanced laboratories on Earth never will match the extreme conditions provided by black holes, pulsars or supernova explosions. The next generation of telescopes will allow us to tap these exotic laboratories to make major advances in understanding particle physics, general relativity, and other fundamental areas of science.

Astronomers Get New Tools for Gravitational-wave Detection

Radio-telescope Measurements Advance Frontier Physics

Cosmic Flasher Reveals All

VLA Probes Secrets of Mysterious Magnetar

Giant Magnetic Loop Sweeps Through Space Between Stellar Pair

Dark Energy: For decades, astronomers assumed that the expansion of the Universe was slowing. Scientists studying distant galaxies and supernovae were surprised to discover, however, that the Universe was actually expanding faster and faster. Astronomers have attributed this to an unknown force called "dark energy." By studying the most distant objects, astronomers hope to shine more light on this mysterious, repulsive force; how it affects matter; and what part it will play in the ultimate fate of the universe.

First Light for BOSS: A New Kind of Search for Dark Energy

Landmark Completion of South Pole Telescope

Cosmology's Best Standard Candles Get Even Better

Cosmologically Speaking, Diamonds May Actually Be Forever

Extrasolar Planets: The discovery of extrasolar planets or exoplanets, as they are called—that is, planets that orbit other stars--is no longer something new. Hundreds have been discovered and new ones are identified every day. The challenge today is learn more about them and their properties.

Most Earth-Like Planet Yet Found Outside the Solar System

Universally Speaking, Earthlings Share a Nice Neighborhood

NSF Announces 2009 Alan T. Waterman Award Recipient

A Planet in Progress?

Astronomers Find New Class of Planets Outside the Solar System

First Optical Photos of Exoplanet Captured

A Planetary Family Feud


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The Heliostat of the McMath Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak at sunset.
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The Crab Nebula (left), located in the constellation of Taurus, is the remnant of a supernova in 1054 AD, observed as a "guest star" by ancient Chinese astronomers. The Crab Nebula (M1) (right) is the remnant of the earliest known supernova explosion, recorded by Chinese astronomers in AD 1054. A novel technique, Homogeneous Mosaicing, developed by radio astronomers during NRAO's design of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, enabled this more accurate radio image.
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The secondary mirror of Gemini North. The mirror and related electronics weigh a total of ~750 pounds and are supported by 8 black vanes, referred to as "the spider."
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