Department News

  • Milky Way’s central black hole puts Einstein’s theories to the test

    July 31, 2019

    University of California astronomers have tested Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity in the crucible of the monstrous black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy and found it rock solid. For now.

  • Jupiter-like exoplanets found in sweet spot in most planetary systems

    June 12, 2019

    As planets form in the swirling gas and dust around young stars, there seems to be a sweet spot where most of the large, Jupiter-like gas giants congregate, centered around the orbit where Jupiter sits today in our own solar system. The location of this sweet spot is between 3 and 10 times the distance Earth sits from our sun (3-10 astronomical units, or AU). Jupiter is 5.2 AU from our sun. That’s just one of the conclusions of an unprecedented analysis of 300 stars captured by the Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI, a sensitive infrared detector mounted on the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile.

  • Where do new stars form in galaxies?

    May 24, 2019

    Spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way are studded with cold clouds of hydrogen gas and dust, like chocolate chips in a loaded Toll House cookie. Astronomers have long focused on these so-called molecular clouds, suspecting that they are hotspots for star formation. But are they?

  • Uros Seljak is one of Eight Berkeley faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences

    April 30, 2019

    In recognition of their outstanding achievements in original research, eight UC Berkeley faculty have been elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most distinguished scientific organizations in the country. The newly elected researchers include a neuroscientist, two physicists, two cellular biologists, a computer scientist, a chemist and an economist, and bring the total number of living UC Berkeley faculty who are members of the academy to 135.

  • Astronomy Names Recipients for 2018-2019 Outstanding GSI Awards

    April 22, 2019

    The Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor (OGSI) Award honors UC Berkeley GSIs each year for their outstanding work in the teaching of undergraduates. These OGSI recipients are nominated from within their teaching department.  Criteria includes the following: overall effectiveness as an instructor capacity to promote critical thinking skills in presenting course material utilization of pedagogically effective approaches, for example, collaborative learning, problem-based learning, or community-based learning skills in developing course materials that promote learning, for example, course syllabi, website, essay or exam questions, paper topics command of the subject area ability to motivate students engagement in departmental and campuswide activities that enhance teaching and learning This year's Outstanding GSI recipients are: Philipp Kempski, Casey Lam,  and Nathan Sandford

  • Professor Eugene Chiang Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Recipient of 2019 Noyce Prize

    April 18, 2019

    Nine UC Berkeley faculty have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a prestigious nonpartisan research center that convenes scholars and leaders in academic, business and government sectors, drawing expertise across disciplines, to address the most complex challenges of our time.

  • 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... 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.