Artists' rendition of two neutron stars merging.Washington, DC— On August 17, a team of four Carnegie astronomers, Maria Drout, Ben Shappee, Josh Simon, and Tony Piro, provided the first-ever glimpse of two neutron stars colliding, opening the door to a new era of astronomy where both gravitational waves and light can be used to study the same event.

Along with colleagues at UC Santa Cruz, the team used the Swope telescope at Las Campanas Observatory to discover the light produced by the merger, pinpointing the origin of a gravitational wave signal less than 11 hours after it was detected. They also obtained the earliest spectra of the collision, a unique data set that provides exciting new information about the physics of how neutron stars destroy each other as they merge. Data they took over the following weeks revealed a glowing, red transient that is likely powered by the radioactive decay of heavy elements synthesized in merger debris. This explains a many decades old problem of where many of the heaviest elements in the Universe (such as gold, platinum, and uranium) originate.

Their discovery, named Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (or SSS17a), is published in a quartet of Science papers.

Washington, DC — New work from a research team including the director of Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Leopoldo Infante, has tripled the sample size of known galaxies that can teach scientists about a key period in the universe’s history, when the lights came back on after the so-called dark ages. Their work, which was conducted using the Inamori Magellan Areal Camera and Spectrograph on Carnegie's Magellan telescope at Las Campanas, is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Friday, Nov. 17, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

This conference, jointly presented by The Huntington and Carnegie Observatories, marks the centennial of the completion of the 100-inch Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson, which saw first light in November 1917. The world's largest telescope of the era, the 100-inch heralded the dawn of modern astronomy. Historians, scientists, curators of science collections, and others will explore the influence of big telescopes, the significance of discoveries at Mount Wilson, the gendered nature of astronomy, and other related issues in the history of Southern California as an arena for the exploration of space.