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From the College of Natural Sciences
HETDEX Project On Track to Probe Dark Energy

HETDEX Project On Track to Probe Dark Energy

Three years into its quest to reveal the nature of dark energy, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX) is on track to complete the largest map of the cosmos ever. The team will create a three-dimensional map of 2.5 million galaxies that will help astronomers understand how and why the expansion of the universe is speeding up ov...
Texas Astronomers Revive Idea for ‘Ultimately Large Telescope’ on the Moon

Texas Astronomers Revive Idea for ‘Ultimately Large Telescope’ on the Moon

A group of astronomers from The University of Texas at Austin has found that a telescope idea shelved by NASA a decade ago can solve a problem that no other telescope can: It would be able to study the first stars in the universe. The team, led by NASA Hubble Fellow Anna Schauer, will publish their results in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Black Hole Swan Songs

Black Hole Swan Songs

Simulation of light emitted by a pair of supermassive black holes spiraling inward, viewed from above the plane of the disk. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

When scientists first detected gravitational waves, from the violent collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years in the past, the ripples in space-time made a distinctive chirp, followed by a signal like a ringing bell. (The signals actually had to be converted into frequencies we can hear.) Since that first detection in 2015, every black hole collision has sounded pretty much the same. But according to a new study based on computer simulations, black holes actually sing a more elaborate swan song.

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Major NSF Grant Accelerates Development for the Giant Magellan Telescope

Major NSF Grant Accelerates Development for the Giant Magellan Telescope

The GMTO Corporation has received a $17.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to accelerate the prototyping and testing of some of the most powerful optical and infrared technologies ever engineered. These crucial advancements for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), of which The University of Texas at Austin is a founding partner, will allow astronomers to see farther into space with more detail than any other optical telescope before.

Planet Hugging a White Dwarf May Be a Survivor of Star’s Death Throes

Planet Hugging a White Dwarf May Be a Survivor of Star’s Death Throes

In this illustration, WD 1856 b, a potential Jupiter-size planet, orbits its dim white dwarf star every day and a half. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

An international team of astronomers has used NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope to discover what may be the first intact planet found closely orbiting a white dwarf, the dense leftover of a sun-like star only 40% larger than Earth. The work, led by Andrew Vanderburg of The University of Texas at Austin, included follow-up observations with the 10-meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the university's McDonald Observatory.

McDonald Observatory Will Reopen to the Public Aug. 28

McDonald Observatory Will Reopen to the Public Aug. 28

Aerial view of McDonald Observatory. Photo credit: Damond Benningfield.

The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory is planning to reopen to the public, in a limited fashion, on Friday, Aug. 28. Beginning with a star party that night, the observatory's Frank N. Bash Visitors Center will begin holding public programs again.

A Young Sub-Neptune-sized Planet Sheds Light onto How Planets Form and Evolve

A Young Sub-Neptune-sized Planet Sheds Light onto How Planets Form and Evolve

New detailed observations from the Habitable Zone Planet Finder on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, as well as NSF’s NOIRLab facilities, reveal a young exoplanet, orbiting a young star in the Hyades cluster, that is unusually dense for its size and age. Slightly smaller than Neptune, K2-25b orbits an M-dwarf star — the most common type of star in the galaxy — every 3.5 days. Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. Pollard

A team of astronomers including McDonald Observatory's Bill Cochran have made a detailed study of a young planet slightly smaller than Neptune with the Habitable-zone Planet Finder at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory. They characterized the planet's mass, radius, and the tilt of its orbit. This work provides insight into how such planets form and evolve, and has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

The Universe Doesn’t Stop for the Pandemic

The Universe Doesn’t Stop for the Pandemic

Hobby-Eberly Telescope stands a silent sentinel at McDonald Observatory.

Under one of the darkest skies in the world, in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, a telescope operator at the McDonald Observatory walks alone under the bright stars toward the massive Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Sitting inside the dome and communicating over the internet with their counterparts back in Austin, astronomers punch coordinates into the control panel and guide the huge telescope as it probes distant galaxies and black holes.

Studying Radioactive Aluminum in Solar Systems Unlocks Formation Secrets

Studying Radioactive Aluminum in Solar Systems Unlocks Formation Secrets

This artist's concept illustrates a solar system that is a much younger version of our own. Dusty disks, like the one shown here circling the star, are thought to be the breeding grounds of planets, including rocky ones like Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An international team of astronomers including Stella Offner of The University of Texas at Austin has proposed a new method for the formation of aluminum-26 in star systems that are forming planets. Because its radioactive decay is thought to provide a heat source for the building blocks of planets, called planetesimals, it's important for astronomers to know where aluminum-26 comes from. Their research is published in the current issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Young Giant Planet Offers Clues to Formation of Exotic Worlds

Young Giant Planet Offers Clues to Formation of Exotic Worlds

This artist's rendition shows a type of gas giant planet known as a hot Jupiter that orbits very close to its star. Finding more of these youthful planets could help astronomers understand how they formed and if they migrate from cooler climes during their lifetimes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Jupiter-size planets orbiting close to their stars have upended ideas about how giant planets form. Finding young members of this planet class could help answer key questions. For most of human history our understanding of how planets form and evolve was based on the eight (or nine) planets in our solar system. But over the last 25 years, the discovery of more than 4,000 exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, changed all that.

Texas Astronomer Uses His 25-year-old Hubble Data to Confirm Planet Proxima Centauri c

Texas Astronomer Uses His 25-year-old Hubble Data to Confirm Planet Proxima Centauri c

Fritz Benedict used data he collected from the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm the existence of Proxima c, the second known planet orbiting the star closest to our sun. Photo credit: NASA.

Fritz Benedict has used data he took over two decades ago with Hubble Space Telescope to confirm the existence of another planet around the Sun's nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, and to pin down the planet's orbit and mass. Benedict, an emeritus Senior Research Scientist with McDonald Observatory at The University of Texas at Austin, will present his findings today in a scientific session and then in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

University Welcomes New Center for Planetary Habitability

University Welcomes New Center for Planetary Habitability

Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

​Scientists from across The University of Texas at Austin are joining forces in the hunt for life on other planets. Astronomers, geoscientists, chemists, biologists and aerospace engineers have pooled resources to form the UT Center for Planetary Systems Habitability, a cross-campus, interdisciplinary research unit.

Graduate Students Win Top Dissertation, Master’s Thesis Awards

Graduate Students Win Top Dissertation, Master’s Thesis Awards

Two College of Natural Sciences graduate students have earned awards from the University of Texas at Austin's Graduate School as part of the annual professional and student awards, including the top campus honor a doctoral student can receive for research.

Texas-Led Team Finds Earth-Sized, Habitable Zone Planet Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data

Texas-Led Team Finds Earth-Sized, Habitable Zone Planet Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data

A team of transatlantic scientists led by The University of Texas at Austin's Andrew Vanderburg has used reanalyzed data from NASA's Kepler space telescope to discover an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star's habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water.

Postdoc Receives Fellowship to Study Extrasolar Planets

Postdoc Receives Fellowship to Study Extrasolar Planets

Ben Tofflemire, a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a 51 Pegasi b Fellowship.

Ben Tofflemire, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a 51 Pegasi b Fellowship from the Heising-Simons Foundation.