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From the College of Natural Sciences
Probing the Secrets of Dead Stars and Planetary Remnants

Probing the Secrets of Dead Stars and Planetary Remnants

The dark silhouette of the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope is backed by a colorful sunrise. Credit: Ethan Tweedie Photography

In the course of research for his Ph.D., Zach Vanderbosch spent nearly 300 nights studying the heavens from telescopes at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory. Later this month, he will receive his doctorate for his research into the dead stars known as white dwarfs, and the orbiting disks of debris made up of these stars' former planets.

Astronomers Discover Strangely Massive Black Hole in Milky Way Satellite Galaxy

Astronomers Discover Strangely Massive Black Hole in Milky Way Satellite Galaxy

McDonald Observatory astronomers have found that Leo I (inset), a tiny satellite galaxy of the Milky Way (main image), has a black hole nearly as massive as the Milky Way's. Leo I is 30 times smaller than the Milky Way. The result could signal changes in astronomers' understanding of galaxy evolution. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC; SDSS (inset)

Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory have discovered an unusually massive black hole at the heart of one of the Milky Way's dwarf satellite galaxies, called Leo I. Almost as massive as the black hole in our own galaxy, the finding could redefine our understanding of how all galaxies — the building blocks of the universe — evolve. The work is published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

National Academy Ranks Giant Magellan Telescope Among Top Astronomy Priorities

National Academy Ranks Giant Magellan Telescope Among Top Astronomy Priorities

A new report out from the National Academy of Sciences, the highly anticipated decadal survey called Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s, or "Astro2020," has presented recommendations for making federal investments critical to achieving advances in US astronomy over the next decade.

Weizmann Institute of Science Joins Giant Magellan Telescope Project

Weizmann Institute of Science Joins Giant Magellan Telescope Project

Giant Magellan Telescope primary mirror segment with people in silhouette. Credit: Damien Jemison, Giant Magellan Telescope - GMTO Corporation.

The University of Texas at Austin and other co-founders of the Giant Magellan Telescope project welcomed the Weizmann Institute of Science into their international consortium on September 14.

Astronomy Educator Receives Dads’ Association Centennial Teaching Fellowship

Astronomy Educator Receives Dads’ Association Centennial Teaching Fellowship

Keely Finkelstein of the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin has been chosen to hold an endowed Dads' Association Centennial Teaching Fellowship for 2021-2022. The fellowships recognize faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching and made significant contributions to undergraduate education at UT Austin.

Graduating Senior Finds Passions in Exoplanets and Outreach

Graduating Senior Finds Passions in Exoplanets and Outreach

When Zoe de Beurs arrived at UT Austin, she wasn't sure of what she wanted to do. Now, at the end of her fifth year, she's graduating from the Dean's Scholars honors program as a physics, astronomy and math triple major with an African and African Diaspora Studies minor.

Astronomers Disprove Planet Orbiting Nearby Barnard’s Star

Astronomers Disprove Planet Orbiting Nearby Barnard’s Star

Astronomers are announcing today that they have disproved a 2018-announced planet orbiting Barnard's Star, the second-closest star to our Sun. The findings, based on observations with the Habitable Zone Planet Finder (HPF) instrument on the 10-meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory, have been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

You Can Help Decode the Universe!

You Can Help Decode the Universe!

Would you like to help astronomers understand more about the universe? McDonald Observatory astronomers are trying to learn more about dark energy — the mysterious force causing the universe to expand faster and faster over time. And now there is a fun and easy way anyone can help with their research, using a smartphone or computer.

Exoplanet is Gobbling Up Gas and Dust as it Continues to Build Mass

Exoplanet is Gobbling Up Gas and Dust as it Continues to Build Mass

This illustration of the newly forming exoplanet PDS 70b shows how material may be falling onto the giant world as it builds up mass. Researchers got a unique look at radiation from extremely hot gas falling onto the planet with Hubble Space Telescope, allowing them to directly measure the planet’s mass growth rate for the first time. Credit: Y. Zhou/UT Austin/NASA, ESA, STScI and J. Olmsted
The Hubble Space Telescope has allowed astronomers from The University of Texas at Austin to get a rare look at a young, Jupiter-sized planet that is growing by feeding off material surrounding a young star 370 light-years from Earth.
Texas Astronomers Lead Major Projects in James Webb Space Telescope’s First Year

Texas Astronomers Lead Major Projects in James Webb Space Telescope’s First Year

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin are set to lead some of the largest programs in the first year of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), including the largest project overall. Set to launch this Halloween, the telescope will become operational by mid-2022. Altogether, UT astronomers received about 500 hours of telescope time in JWST's first year.

McDonald Observatory Honors Local Businesses, Organizations for Night-Sky-Friendly Lighting

McDonald Observatory Honors Local Businesses, Organizations for Night-Sky-Friendly Lighting

FORT DAVIS, Texas — Just in time for International Dark Skies Week (April 5-12), McDonald Observatory is announcing a new program to honor West Texas businesses and organizations for Night Skies Friendly Lighting practices. These practices keep light on the ground and out of the sky, helping to preserve the exceptional night skies for which far West Texas is famous.

Two Postdocs Receive Fellowships to Study Extrasolar Planets

Two Postdocs Receive Fellowships to Study Extrasolar Planets

Two UT Austin postdoctoral scientists, Brianna Lacy and Yifan Zhou, have received the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship from the Heising-Simons Foundation, which will provide them with support for research focused on planets that orbit a star outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. Zhou is supervised by Brendan Bowler, an assistant professor of astronomy, and Lacy will be supervised by Caroline Morley, also an assistant professor of astronomy.

Engineering Marvel: Sixth Mirror Cast for Giant Magellan Telescope

Engineering Marvel: Sixth Mirror Cast for Giant Magellan Telescope

Artist’s concept of the Giant Magellan Telescope in its enclosure at Las Campanas Observatory in the Chilean Andes. (Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corp.)

The University of Texas at Austin and other partners of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) announce the fabrication of the sixth of seven of the world's largest monolithic mirrors. These mirrors will allow astronomers to see farther into the universe with more detail than any other optical telescope before. The sixth 8.4-meter (27.5 feet) mirror — about two stories high when standing on edge — is being fabricated at The University of Arizona's Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab and will take nearly four years to complete.

Four Natural Sciences Faculty Receive Sloan Research Fellowships

Four Natural Sciences Faculty Receive Sloan Research Fellowships

​​Four faculty members from the University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences have received 2021 Sloan Research Fellowships, which honor outstanding early-career scientists in eight fields.

Anita Cochran Named Fellow of American Astronomical Society

Anita Cochran Named Fellow of American Astronomical Society

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America, has honored Anita Cochran, assistant director of McDonald Observatory and senior research scientist, for extraordinary achievement and service by naming her an AAS Fellow for 2021.