HiPACC Computational Astronomy Press Room ArchiveLBNL

The Press Room Archive highlights computational astronomy work around the UC-HiPACC consortium; the wording of the short summaries on this page is based on wording in the individual releases or on the summaries on the press release page of the original source. Press releases below appear in reverse chronological order (most recent first); they can also be displayed by UC campus or DOE lab by clicking on the desired venue at the bottom of the left-hand column.

March 21, 2013 — Planck Mission Updates the Age of the Universe and What it Contains

Planck Mission Updates the Age of the Universe and
The Planck mission has yielded the most detailed map yet of the cosmic microwave background radiation, from which crucial cosmological parameters have been recalculated.
Crucial contributions to Planck’s analysis have also been made by Julian Borrill, the U.S. Planck Team’s computational systems architect, who led a Berkeley Lab group in creating the thousands of simulations run at NERSC upon which the accuracy of the analysis depended. Another related story is at

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March 14, 2013 — Building the Massive Simulation Sets Essential to Planck Results

Building the Massive Simulation Sets Essential to
From left, Reijo Keskitalo, Aaron Collier, Julian Borrill, and Ted Kisner of the Computational Cosmology Center with some of the many thousands of simulations for Planck Full Focal Plane 6.
Using NERSC supercomputers, scientists at Berkeley Lab’s Computational Cosmology Center generate thousands of simulations to analyze the flood of data from the the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Planck satellite mission, to make the most precise measurement yet of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the remnant radiation from the Big Bang.

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February 20, 2013 — Searching for the Solar System’s Chemical Recipe

Searching for the Solar System’s Chemical Recipe
The protosun evolved in a hot nebula of infalling gas and dust that formed an accretion disk (green) of surrounding matter. Visible and ultraviolet light poured from the sun, irradiating abundant clouds of carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other chemicals. Temperatures near the sun were hot enough to melt silicates and other minerals, forming the chondrules found in early meteoroids (dashed black circles). Beyond the “snowline” (dashed white curves), water, methane, and other compounds condensed to ice. Numerous chemical reactions contributed to the isotopic ratios seen in relics of the early solar system today.
The ratio of isotopes in elements like oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen in meteorites, interplanetary dust and gas, and the sun itself differ from isotope ratios on Earth. In a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, planetary researchers at UC San Dieto and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory describe how they used LBNL’s Advanced Light Source to study these “mass-independent” effects to explore their origins in the chemical processes of the early solar system.

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February 6, 2013 — The Last Big Bump Before a Supernova Explodes

The Last Big Bump Before a Supernova Explodes
The day the supernova exploded (a) it was surrounded by a shell of matter ejected a month earlier (purple) with a radius of 7,000,000,000 kilometers, moving 2,000 kilometers a second. An outer shell (orange) had been ejected earlier and was moving slower. By day 5 (b) the shock front (black circle) was moving 10,000 kilometers a second, and by day 20 (c) had engulfed the inner shell, exposing the debris of the exploded core. (Sketch adapted from Ofek et al, Palomar Transient Factory)
Astronomers have long suspected that the explosion of a Type II supernova is only the last in a series of smaller blasts that successively blow off much of the core’s enveloping matter. Despite many such suggestive clues, no causal proof had previously linked precursor “bumps” in brightness to an actual supernova.

On August 25, 2010, the autonomous machine-learning framework (developed by Josh Bloom of Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division and Peter Nugent of the Computational Research Division and their colleagues) was combing through recent data from the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) and came upon a Type IIn supernova, half a billion light years away in the constellation Hercules. Shortly thereafter, Eran Ofek of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science led a search of previous PTF scans of the stellar neighborhood and found its likely precursor, a massive variable star that only 40 days before it went supernova had shed a huge amount of mass.


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February 6, 2013 — A Massive Stellar Burst, Before the Supernova

An automated supernova hunt is shedding new light on the death sequence of massive stars—specifically, the kind that self-destruct in Type IIn supernova explosions. Digging through the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) data archive housed at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), astronomers have found the first causal evidence that these massive stars shed huge amounts of material in a “penultimate outburst” before final detonation as supernovae.

view full NERSC Press Release

October 2, 2012 — Panofsky Prize Honors Researchers' Underground Hunt for Dark Matter

Underground hunt for DM
Blas Cabrera, the Stanley G. Wojcicki Professor in the Stanford Physics Department, who has a term appointment at SLAC, is a recipient of the 2013 W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle... (Photo courtesy Stanford University)
by Glenn Roberts Jr.
The search for dark matter runs deep with physicists Blas Cabrera and Bernard Sadoulet, who have chased this mystery far underground and will be recognized for their work as joint recipients of the 2013 W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics. The prize is named for SLAC's founding director, Wolfgang "Pief" Panofsky, and awarded by the American Physical Society.

While some researchers are scanning the heavens with powerful telescopes to detect dark matter or crashing particles together in an effort to create and study its exotic components, Sadoulet, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Cabrera, of Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have sought the same answers in deep shafts largely shielded from cosmic rays and other unwanted particle "noise."

Their continuing, decades-long Cryogenic Dark Matter Search has brought them to several underground sites in the hunt for direct evidence of theorized weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. If they are proven to exist, WIMPs could help define and explain dark matter, which is thought to make up about 25 percent of the energy density in the universe and is responsible for the formation of structure in the universe...

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September 24, 2012 — A Clock that Will Last Forever

Everlasting Clock
Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever or a device that opens new dimensions into quantum phenomena such as emergence and entanglement.
Berkeley Lab Researchers Propose a Way to Build the First Space-Time Crystal

Lynn Yarris (510) 486-5375 lcyarris@lbl.gov

Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever, even after the heat-death of the universe. This is the “wow” factor behind a device known as a “space-time crystal,” a four-dimensional crystal that has periodic structure in time as well as space. However, there are also practical and important scientific reasons for constructing a space-time crystal. With such a 4D crystal, scientists would have a new and more effective means by which to study how complex physical properties and behaviors emerge from the collective interactions of large numbers of individual particles, the so-called many-body problem of physics. A space-time crystal could also be used to study phenomena in the quantum world, such as entanglement, in which an action on one particle impacts another particle even if the two particles are separated by vast distances...

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September 17, 2012 — Berkeley Lab Sensors Enable First Light for the Dark Energy Camera

1st light for Dark Energy Camera
The Dark Energy Camera is mounted on the Victor Blanco 5-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo. Its focal plane consists of 62 large Berkeley Lab CCDs with exceptionally high sensitivity to the near infrared end of the spectrum. (Photos Roger Smith, NOAO, AURA, NSF; Blanco webcam; Fermilab; Roy Kaltschmidt, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
DECam, the most powerful sky survey instrument yet built, depends on Berkeley Lab’s red-sensitive astronomical CCDs

Paul Preuss 510-486-6249 paul_preuss@lbl.gov

Early in the morning of September 12 the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), mounted on the Victor Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, recorded its first images of a southern sky spangled with galaxies. Galaxies up to eight billion light years away were captured on DECam’s focal plane, whose imager consists of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) invented and developed by engineers and physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Berkeley Lab CCDs are noted for their exceptionally high sensitivity to light (quantum efficiency), particularly in the red and infrared regions of the spectrum – a crucial advantage for astronomical CCDs searching for objects at extremely high redshifts. Combining the 570-million-pixel focal plane made of Berkeley Lab CCDs with the light-gathering power of the Blanco telescope’s 4-meter mirror, DECam has unique ability to reach wide and deep into the night sky.

August 23, 2012 — Supernovae of the same brightness, cut from vastly different cosmic cloth

Rare Type 1a Supernova
The supernova PTF 11kx can be seen as the blue dot on the galaxy. The image was taken when the supernova was near maximum brightness by the Faulkes Telescope North. The system is located approximately 600 million light years away in the constellation Lynx. Image Credit: BJ Fulton (Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network)
"Berkeley Lab researchers make historic observation of rare Type 1a Supernova.

Exploding stars called Type 1a supernova are ideal for measuring cosmic distance because they are bright enough to spot across the Universe and have relatively the same luminosity everywhere. Although astronomers have many theories about the kinds of star systems involved in these explosions (or progenitor systems), no one has ever directly observed one—until now..."

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May 16, 2012 — Science Underground: Going to Great Depths

Science Underground: UCD
The tunnel on the left is the entrance to the cavern that will house the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR neutrino experiment and also provides access to the LUX experiment, which is searching for particles of dark matter. The tunnel to the right is a separate entrance to the cavern in which Ray Davis performed his famous neutrino experiment, now modified to house LUX. (Photo Matt Kapust)
Science Underground: Going to Great Depths
The Davis Campus of the Sanford Underground Research Facility -- the Halls of Ivy it’s not.

The word “campus” brings to mind neo-Gothic bell towers and green lawns, not tunnels and caverns almost a mile underground. But that’s what the Davis Campus at the Sanford Underground Research Facility looks like, 4,850 feet down in the Homestake Mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Although SURF has weathered a series of funding ups and downs worthy of the rise and fall of the elevator cages that once took miners, and now scientists, to work in the mine, last year the U.S. Department of Energy successfully assumed sponsorship of the Sanford Lab’s scientific program from the National Science Foundation. DOE will maintain the mine as a home for existing and proposed projects to investigate dark matter, the secrets of the elusive neutrino, and other research that can only be done deep down in the dark...

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April 18, 2012 — Where Do the Highest-Energy Cosmic Rays Come From? Probably Not from Gamma-Ray Bursts

Cosmic Rays w/ IceCube
IceCube’s 5,160 digital optical modules are suspended from 86 strings reaching a mile and a half below the surface at the South Pole. Each sphere contains a photomultiplier tube and electronics to capture the faint flashes of muons speeding through the ice, their direction and energy – and thus that of the neutrinos that created them – tracked by multiple detections. At lower left is the processed signal of an energetic muon moving upward through the array, created by a neutrino that traveled all the way through the Earth.
The IceCube Collaboration, in which Berkeley Lab is a crucial contributor, has taken the first steps toward clearing up a cosmic mystery – and made the mystery more intriguing

The IceCube neutrino telescope encompasses a cubic kilometer of clear Antarctic ice under the South Pole, a volume seeded with an array of 5,160 sensitive digital optical modules (DOMs) that precisely track the direction and energy of speeding muons, massive cousins of the electron that are created when neutrinos collide with atoms in the ice. The IceCube Collaboration recently announced the results of an exhaustive search for high-energy neutrinos that would likely be produced if the violent extragalactic explosions known as gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.

“According to a leading model, we would have expected to see 8.4 events corresponding to GRB production of neutrinos in the IceCube data used for this search,” says Spencer Klein of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), who is a long-time member of the IceCube Collaboration. “We didn’t see any, which indicates that GRBs are not the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.”

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March 30, 2012 — Clocking an Accelerating Universe: First Results from BOSS

BOSS: Precisest Measurements
BOSS measures the three-dimensional clustering of galaxies at various redshifts, revealing their precise distance, the age of the universe at that redshift, and how fast the universe has expanded. The measurement uses a "standard ruler" based on the regular variations of the temperature of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which reveal variations in the density of matter in the early universe that gave rise to the later clustering of galaxies and large-scale structure of the universe today. (Click on image for best resolution. Credit: Eric Huff, the SDSS-III team, and the South Pole Telescope team. Graphic by Zosia Rostomian)
Berkeley Lab scientists are the leaders of BOSS, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. They and their colleagues in the third Sloan Digital Sky Survey have announced the most precise measurements ever made of the era when dark energy turned on.

Some six billion light years distant, almost halfway from now back to the big bang, the universe was undergoing an elemental change. Held back until then by the mutual gravitational attraction of all the matter it contained, the universe had been expanding ever more slowly. Then, as matter spread out and its density decreased, dark energy took over and expansion began to accelerate.

Today BOSS, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, the largest component of the third Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III), announced the most accurate measurement yet of the distance scale of the universe during the era when dark energy turned on.

“We’ve made precision measurements of the large-scale structure of the universe five to seven billion years ago – the best measure yet of the size of anything outside the Milky Way,” says David Schlegel of the Physics Division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), BOSS’s principal investigator. “We’re pushing out to the distances when dark energy turned on, where we can start to do experiments to find out what’s causing accelerating expansion.”...

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March 8, 2012 — New discovery is key to understanding neutrino transformations

Neutrino Transformations
The inside of a cylindrical antineutrino detector before being filled with clear liquid scintillator, which reveals antineutrino interactions by the very faint flashes of light they emit. Sensitive photomultiplier tubes line the detector walls, ready to amplify and record the telltale flashes. (Roy Kaltschmidt photo, LBNL)

BERKELEY - A new discovery provides a crucial key to understanding how neutrinos – ghostly particles with multiple personalities – change identity and may help shed light on why matter exists in the universe.

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January 11, 2012 — Calculating What’s in the Universe from the Biggest Color 3-D Map

Modeling the Cosmos
This image shows over a million luminous galaxies at redshifts indicating times when the universe was between seven and eleven billion years old, from which the sample in the current studies was selected. (By David Kirkby of the University of California at Irvine and the SDSS collaboration.)
Berkeley Lab scientists and their Sloan Digital Sky Survey colleagues use galactic brightness to build a precision model of the cosmos

Since 2000, the three Sloan Digital Sky Surveys (SDSS I, II, III) have surveyed well over a quarter of the night sky and produced the biggest color map of the universe in three dimensions ever. Now scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and their SDSS colleagues, working with DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) based at Berkeley Lab, have used this visual information for the most accurate calculation yet of how matter clumps together – from a time when the universe was only half its present age until now...


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December 14, 2011 — Closest Type Ia Supernova in Decades Solves a Cosmic Mystery

Type 1A solves Cosmic Mystery
Before and after images of supernova PTF 11kly as it appeared in the nearby M101 galaxy. (Images: Peter Nugent)
Early close-ups of a Type Ia supernova allow Berkeley Lab scientists and their colleagues to picture its progenitor and infer how it exploded.

Type Ia supernovae (SN Ia’s) are the extraordinarily bright and remarkably similar “standard candles” astronomers use to measure cosmic growth, a technique that in 1998 led to the discovery of dark energy – and 13 years later to a Nobel Prize, “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.” The light from thousands of SN Ia’s has been studied, but until now their physics – how they detonate and what the star systems that produce them actually look like before they explode – has been educated guesswork.
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