Letter from the Director: March 2017

By: John Mulchaey, Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director


APOGEE plug plates at duPont telescope. Photo by Francesco di Mille
APOGEE plug plates at the du Pont telescope. Photo by Francesco di Mille.
Below: Edwin Hubble and James Jeans at the 100-inch Hooker telescope, circa 1922, courtesy Carnegie Observatories Photographic Collection at the Huntington Library. DuPont telescope, photo by Charlie Hull. 
Dear Friends of Carnegie Observatories,
Welcome to our first newsletter of 2017.  As many of you know, 2017 is a special year for The Observatories as we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Mt. Wilson 100-inch Hooker telescope. Edwin Hubble and James Jeans at the Hooker TelescopeWhenever I give talks about the Observatories' history I often claim that the Hooker telescope is the most-important telescope ever built. I believe the case for this statement is very strong. It was with this telescope that Carnegie astronomer Edwin Hubble demonstrated the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way for the first time and provided the first evidence for the expansion of the universe. In many ways, these two results are the most crucial in astronomy since the time of Galileo, as they changed our understanding of the universe in fundamental ways. While Hubble's work was truly revolutionary, many other astronomers used the 100-inch telescope for other important work. We will be celebrating this work throughout the year along with our friends from the Mt. Wilson Institute. We look forward to having you all join us for these celebrations.
DuPont Telescope photo by Charlie HullThis year also marks a big anniversary for another one of Carnegie's important telescopes: The Irénée du Pont Telescope. Located at our Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, this 100-inch telescope was made possible by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Crawford H. Greenewalt. This telescope has been responsible for many great discoveries in the southern sky, but perhaps the most important was the discovery of a circumnuclear disk around the nearby star Beta Pictoris in 1984 by Smith and Terrile. Such disks are the sites of planet formation and the du Pont telescope allowed the first direct image of such a system around another star. The du Pont telescope also holds a special place in my career as it was this telescope that I did most of my best research on as a Carnegie postdoctoral fellow in the 1990's. While the du Pont is now 40 years old, much of its best work still lies ahead. This is thanks to the brand new APOGEE-2S spectrograph that was recently installed on the telescope. Combined with its sister spectrograph in the northern hemisphere, this new instrument will allow the most detailed study to date of the stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.  While it may not be possible to teach an old dog new tricks, the du Pont demonstrates that you can make an old telescope more powerful by providing it with new instrumentation. You can learn more about the APOGEE-2S spectrograph in the Observations from LCO report in this issue of the newsletter.
Spring also brings the return of our popular Astronomy Lecture Series at The Huntington, now in its 15th season. This year our four Carnegie speakers will cover a wide range of topics from planets around nearby stars to distant galaxies. The free tickets to the series were all reserved in record time - demonstrating once again the popularity of astronomy with the general public. If you did not get tickets or are unable to attend in person, there will be live streaming of the lectures. Our main website and social media will have the livestream link posted shortly before each lecture. 
As always, thanks for your interest in Carnegie Observatories and best wishes for a great spring.
Dr. John Mulchaey
Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director
Carnegie Observatories
Burger and Jessie
Meet Burger & Jessie. The Director has been unsuccessful in teaching them to stay off the couch!