News and Events

illustration of Dense, expanding gas of debris

Cosmic alchemy: Colliding neutron stars show us how the universe creates gold

October 24, 2017

For thousands of years, humans have searched for a way to turn matter into gold. Ancient alchemists considered this precious metal to be the highest form of matter. As human knowledge advanced, the mystical aspects of alchemy gave way to the sciences we know today. And yet, with all our advances in science and technology, the origin story of gold remained unknown. Until now.

Read Full Article: The Conversation, by Duncan Brown, Syracuse University and Edo Berger, Harvard University

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Discovery Image

Astronomers See Light Show Associated With Gravitational Waves

October 16, 2017

Marking the beginning of a new era in astrophysics, scientists have detected gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation, or light, from the same event for the first time. This historic discovery reveals the merger of two neutron stars, the dense cores of dead stars, and resolves the debate about how the heaviest elements such as platinum and gold were created in the Universe.

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Project Starshot, an initiative sponsored by the Breakthrough Foundation, is intended to be humanity's first interstellar voyage. Credit: breakthroughinitiatives.org

In Quest to Reach Alpha Centauri, Breakthrough Starshot Launches World’s Smallest Spacecraft

July 31, 2017

Press Release:

First Prototype ‘Sprites’ – Precursors to Eventual ‘StarChip’ Probes – Achieve Low Earth Orbit

San Francisco – July 26, 2017 – Breakthrough Starshot, a multi-faceted program to develop and launch practical interstellar space missions, successfully flew its first spacecraft – the smallest ever launched.

On June 23, a number of prototype “Sprites” – the world’s smallest fully functional space probes, built on a single circuit board – achieved Low Earth Orbit, piggybacking on OHB System AG’s ‘...

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Magnetar model

Astronomers Discover “Heavy Metal” Supernova Rocking Out

July 31, 2017

Cambridge, MA -

Many rock stars don’t like to play by the rules, and a cosmic one is no exception. A team of astronomers has discovered that an extraordinarily bright supernova occurred in a surprising location. This “heavy metal” supernova discovery challenges current ideas of how and where such super-charged supernovas occur.

Supernovas are some of the most energetic events in the Universe. When a massive star runs out of fuel, it can collapse onto itself and create a spectacular explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, dispersing vital elements into...

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The Case for Cosmic Modesty

July 21, 2017

Evolver social movement & the Hive to Thrive speaker series hosted Harvard University director of astronomy Avi Loeb for a wide ranging discussion. From the nature of scientific discovery to possible origins of FRBs (Fast Radio Bursts) emanating from the cosmic background radio noise. 
Produced by...

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8-legged micro animal

The Last Survivors on Earth

July 14, 2017

"The world's most indestructible species, the tardigrade, an eight-legged micro-animal, also known as the water bear, will survive until the Sun dies, according to a new Oxford University collaboration."

"The new study published in Scientific Reports, has shown that the tiny creatures, will survive the risk of extinction from all astrophysical catastrophes, and be around for at least 10 billion years – far longer than the human race."

CFA Press Release:...

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Artists Conception of Habitable Zone

More to Life Than the Habitable Zone

July 13, 2017
"Cambridge, MA - Two separate teams of scientists have identified major challenges for the development of life in what has recently become one of the most famous exoplanet systems, TRAPPIST-1. "

"The teams, both led by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., say the behavior of the star in the TRAPPIST-1 system makes it much less likely than generally thought, that planets there could support life."

Press Release: ...

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Centauri b artist conception

PNAS article on Proxima Centauri b

June 28, 2017

"An Earth-sized planet next door: that was the startling announcement last August. Astronomers had found an exoplanet orbiting the sun’s closest stellar neigh- bor, a cool red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri (1). Even better, the nearby world orbited within its parent star’s habitable zone, meaning liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface, which raised the prospects for its harboring life."

Read More:

  • All eyes on Proxima Centauri b: http://www.pnas.org/content/114/26/6646.full.pdf
  • Is there life around the nearest stars?: ...
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Hannah Jano-Condell

Hannah Jang-Condell (Astronomy PhD '04) granted tenure at the University of Wyoming

June 12, 2017

Hannah Jang-Condell, our alum who received her Ph.D. in 2004, has been given tenure at the University of Wyoming.  She is an Associate Professor in their Physics and Astronomy Department. She studies planet formation theory, protoplanetary disk models, extrasolar planets, computational astrophysics, astrobiology.  Congratulations, Hannah!

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Black hole cartoon image

Ravenous Supermassive Black Holes May Sterilize Nearby Planets

May 31, 2017

Press coverage of a new paper in Scientific American: A new study sheds light on how damaging black holes can be to the habitability of planets throughout the Milky Way and the universe.

Link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ravenous-supermassive-black-holes-may-sterilize-nearby-planets/

Astrobites: https://astrobites.org/2017/05/30/blown-away-by-black-holes-losing-planetary-atmospheres-to-quasar-radiation/

Image: This artist’s conception of a distant quasar shows how luminous they can be—an effect...

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Congratulations Astronomy 2017 PhDs

May 25, 2017

2017 students

Sarah Wellons, Andrew Vanderburg, Yuan-Sen Ting, Josh Suresh, Sukrit Ranjan, Philip Mocz, Meredith MacGregor, Kirit Karkare, Dawn Graninger (not shown Laura Schaefer)