Departments News

  • Astronomers Capture First Image of a Black Hole

    April 10, 2019

    The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of a black hole. Today, in coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers reveal that they have succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. This breakthrough was announced today in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87 [1], a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun [2]. The EHT links telescopes around the globe to form an Earth-sized virtual telescope with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution [3]. The EHT is the result of years of international collaboration, and offers scientists a new way to study the most extreme objects in the Universe predicted by Einstein’s general relativity during the centennial year of the historic experiment that first confirmed the theory [4]. "We have taken the first picture of a black hole," said EHT project director Sheperd S. Doeleman of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. "This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers." Black holes are extraordinary cosmic objects with enormous masses but extremely compact sizes. The presence of these objects affects their environment in extreme ways, warping spacetime and super-heating any surrounding material. Continue reading... 

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  • 2019 Class of 51 Pegasi b Fellows Announced

    March 27, 2019

    The Heising-Simons Foundation is pleased to announce the 2019 recipients of the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship in planetary astronomy. Recipients are recognized for their outstanding research achievements, their creativity, and their great promise in tackling risky and novel ideas. Winners include Cheng Li, who is currently a NASA postdoctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This fall, he will join the UC Berkeley astronomy department to conduct his postdoctoral studies. Cheng will use information recently collected from the Juno mission to challenge and refine theories about the atmospheres of giant planets. His work will include profiling exotic cloud-forming materials on distant worlds to better understand their formation, distribution, and dissipation. He will be mentored by Professor Imke de Pater.

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  • UC Berkeley researchers discover farthest star ever observed, 9 billion light years away

    March 25, 2019

    The most distant star ever observed — at a distance of about nine billion light years — was captured using the Hubble Space Telescope by a group of researchers, including members of the UC Berkeley department of astronomy. The star, named MACS J1149 Lensed Star 1, or LS1, was observed in April 2016 when researchers were examining images of a distant supernova, according to campus astronomy professor Alex Filippenko.

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  • Exiled planet linked to stellar flyby 3 million years ago

    February 28, 2019

    Some of the peculiar aspects of our solar system — an enveloping cloud of comets, dwarf planets in weird orbits and, if it truly exists, a possible Planet Nine far from the sun — have been linked to the close approach of another star in our system’s infancy that flung things helter-skelter. But are stellar flybys really capable of knocking planets, comets and asteroids askew, reshaping entire planetary systems? UC Berkeley and Stanford University astronomers think they have now found a smoking gun.

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  • Neptune’s newest, tiniest moon likely piece of bigger one

    February 27, 2019

    In the journal Nature on Wednesday, California astronomers shine a light on the 21-mile-diameter moon Hippocamp, named after the mythological sea horse. The SETI Institute's Mark Showalter discovered Neptune's 14th moon in 2013, using Hubble Space Telescope images. Showalter and his research team theorize Hippocamp was formed from debris created billions of years ago when a comet slammed into Proteus, the largest of Neptune's inner moons. The two moons orbit just 7,500 miles apart and were likely even closer in the past before Proteus migrated outward.

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  • Assistant Professor Courtney Dressing is Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

    February 20, 2019

    Seven assistant professors from the fields of astronomy, biology, computer science, economics and statistics have been named 2019 Sloan Research Fellows. This year’s UC Berkeley recipients are Courtney Dressing, Shirshendu Ganguly, Moritz Hardt, Sergey Levine, Priya Moorjani, Philipp Strack and Gabriel Zucman.

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  • HIGH-ENERGY ASTROPHYSICS DIVISION ANNOUNCES 2019 AWARD WINNERS

    February 12, 2019

    The High-Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) of the American Astronomical Society has selected the winners for its top prizes for the upcoming year. The 2019 Rossi Prize has been awarded to Brian Metzger of Columbia University and Daniel Kasen of the University of California at Berkeley for their theoretical predictions of electromagnetic emission from radioactive nuclei produced in neutron star mergers. These predictions were confirmed by observations of the 2017 neutron star merger gravitational wave event, providing the first compelling evidence for the astrophysical site of rapid neutron capture nucleosynthesis. Jennifer Barnes of Columbia University has been awarded the 2019 HEAD Dissertation prize for her dissertation entitled "Radiation Transport Modeling of Kilonovae and Broad-Lined Ic Supernovae." This work also involves gravitational waves. It established the radiative signatures of mergers between two neutron stars or a neutron star and black hole, as well as the radiative signatures of jet-driven supernovae produced by collapsing massive stars. The prize includes a certificate and a $1,000 award.

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  • Young astronomer honored for research on smallest galaxies in the universe

    January 8, 2019

    Daniel Weisz, an assistant professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley, was honored at this week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society for his early-career research on relatively nearby “dwarf” galaxies using the Hubble Space Telescope. He received the 2019 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize “for his transformational work on the star-formation histories of dwarf galaxies in the Local Group, our galactic neighborhood.” Weisz came to UC Berkeley in the summer of 2016 and focuses on stars, dark matter and galaxies near Earth, in particular the Local Group of galaxies that includes some 100 mostly small galaxies surrounding the two heavies, our own Milky Way and Andromeda.

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  • Tracking down a star that disappeared 65 million years ago

    November 21, 2018

    Astronomers may finally have tracked down the type of star that explodes with a distinctive but unusual signature: They show no evidence of hydrogen and helium, by far the most abundant elements in the universe. Such explosions have been labeled Type Ic supernovae, and make up some 20 percent of all stars that explode when their cores collapse. Most, however, have been observed at such large distances that astronomers could not pinpoint what was there before the explosion blew it to smithereens. But a team that included UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko got lucky.

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  • What magnetic fields can tell us about life on other planets

    November 21, 2018

    Every school kid knows that Earth has a magnetic field – it’s what makes compasses align north-south and lets us navigate the oceans. It also protects the atmosphere, and thus life, from the sun’s powerful wind. But what about other Earth-like planets in the galaxy? Do they also have magnetic fields to protect emerging life? A new analysis looks at one type of exoplanet – super-Earths up to five times the size of our own planet – and concludes that they probably do have a magnetic field, but one generated in a totally novel way: by the planets’ magma oceans.

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