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HiPACC Computational Astronomy Press Room. From: UCB

The Press Room 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.

October 21, 2014 — POLARBEAR seeks cosmic answers in microwave polarization

Cosmic background radiation doing the B-twist
The Huan Tran Telescope in the Atacama Desert of Chile. The POLARBEAR microwave bolometers are mounted on the telescope to study the polarization (twisting) of light from just 380,000 years after the Big Bang to determine when dark energy, the mysterious force accelerating the expansion of the universe, began to dominate and overwhelm gravity.
UCB 10/21/2014— An international team of physicists has measured a subtle characteristic in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation that will allow them to map the large-scale structure of the universe, determine the masses of neutrinos and perhaps uncover some of the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. In a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, the POLARBEAR consortium, led by UC Berkeley physicist Adrian Lee, describes the first successful isolation of a so-called “B-mode” in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation produced by gravitational lensing. Polarization is the orientation of the radiation’s electric field, which can be twisted into a “B-mode” pattern as the light passes through the gravitational fields of massive objects, such as clusters of galaxies.

View UCB Press Release

October 2, 2014 — Funding for big-data projects in ecology, astronomy & microscopy

Computers as surrogate astronomers
New microscopy tools: Wide field-of-view, high resolution image of dog cardiac tissue section taken by the Computational Imaging Lab.
UCB/BIDS 10/2/2014—Joshua Bloom wants to train computers to be surrogate astronomers so they can discover new celestial phenomena within the streaming torrent of data from telescopes. He is one of three professors at UC Berkeley will receive $1.5 million over the next five years from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation as part of the foundation’s Data-Driven Discovery Initiative. Bloom, a professor of astronomy and head of the campus’s Center for Time Domain Informatics, has pioneered the use of machine learning in astronomy. He and his students teach computers to sift and analyze data, ideally in real time, to pick out anomalies that may signal new and weird cosmic phenomena—from explosive events in space to unusual variable stars. Machine learning techniques he has applied to data from the Palomar Transient Factory have produced 65 papers so far. As a Moore Investigator in Data-Driven Discovery, Bloom will be able to collaborate with statisticians and computer scientists to explore machine learning more thoroughly, and find ways to expand into other fields, such as particle physics, where large amounts of data are typical.

View UCB Press Release

May 21, 2014 — Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets hearing on Hill

SETI get hearing on Capitol Hill
The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico
UCB 5/21/14 — UC Berkeley operates the longest-running search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) as well as the popular crowd-sourced computing project SETI@home. At the invitation of committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Dan Werthimer, who directs UC Berkeley’s new SETI Research Center, and astrobiologist Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., described current projects to find intelligent life on other planets and how NASA’s Kepler space observatory is contributing to this effort at a May 21 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. They also reviewed new projects, such as “eavesdropping SETI,” and the latest tools, including the Allen Telescope Array in northern California now operated by the SETI Institute. Werthimer’s searches have piggybacked on the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico, the world’s largest radio telescope. They now plan a broad effort dubbed the Panchromatic SETI Project, to observe the planets around all 30 stars within 13 light years of Earth in the northern hemisphere: the UC Berkeley collaborators will harness six different ground-based telescopes, including Arecibo, Green Bank and the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, to look for optical, infrared and radio signals simultaneously and for more extended periods of time.

View UCB Press Release

May 1, 2014 — Hubble astronomers check the prescription of a cosmic lens

Massive galaxy clusters as magnifying lenses
The heart of a vast cluster of galaxies called MACS J1720+35 is shown in this image, taken in visible and near-infrared light by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy cluster is so massive that its gravity distorts, brightens, and magnifies light from more-distant objects behind it, an effect called gravitational lensing. Credit: NASA and ESA
UCB 5/1/14 — Two teams of astronomers working independently have discovered three supernovae (exploding stars) far behind massive clusters of galaxies. Their light was amplified and brightened by the immense gravity of the foreground clusters in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Luckily, two and possibly all three of the supernovae appear to be Type Ia supernovae, prized by astronomers because they provide a consistent level of peak brightness that makes them reliable for making distance estimates. Because astronomers can estimate the intrinsic brightness of the Type Ia supernovae, they can independently measure the magnification of their images. The observed amplification and bending of light from sources behind the cluster plus theoretical models then allows them to develop maps that estimate the location and amount of dark matter in the cluster. Such maps “yield measurements of the cluster masses, allowing us to probe the cosmic competition between gravity and dark energy as matter in the universe gets pulled into galaxy clusters,” explained Supernova Cosmology Project leader Saul Perlmutter of the E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and UC Berkeley.

View UCB Press Release

March 25, 2014 — Lick’s Automated Planet Finder: First robotic telescope for planet hunters

Lick’s new robotic Automated Planet Finder
The Automated Planet Finder (APF) is the newest telescope at UC's Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)
UCB/UCSC 3/25/14 – Lick Observatory’s newest telescope, the Automated Planet Finder (APF), has been operating robotically night after night on Mt. Hamilton since January, searching nearby stars for Earth-sized planets. Every night the fully autonomous system checks the weather, decides which stars to observe, and moves the telescope from star to star throughout the night, collecting measurements that will reveal the presence of planets (UCSC astronomer Steve Vogt shows how the telescope works in this short video “How To Discover Habitable Planets” ). The APF is not only the first robotic planet-finding facility but also one of the most sensitive.

View UCB,UCSC Press Release

March 18, 2014 — Fierce solar magnetic storm barely missed Earth in 2012

Fierce solar storm barely missed Earth in 2012
Video in UCB press release shows a coronal mass ejection (CME) on the sun from July 22, 2012, at 10:00 p.m. EDT until 2 a.m. on July 23, as captured by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory-Ahead (STEREO A). Because the CME headed in STEREO A’s direction, it appears like a giant halo around the sun.
UCB 3/18/14 – Earth dodged a huge magnetic bullet from the sun on July 23, 2012. According to University of California, Berkeley, and Chinese researchers, a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections — the most intense eruptions on the sun — sent a pulse of magnetized plasma barreling into space and through Earth’s orbit. Had the eruption come nine days earlier, when the ignition spot on the solar surface was aimed at Earth, it would have hit the planet, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, disabling satellites and GPS, and disrupting our increasingly electronic lives, potentially wreaking damage of up to $2.6 trillion worldwide. Read full UCB press release

February 27, 2014 — Closest, brightest supernova in decades is also a little weird

Closest, brightest supernova in decades is weird
A color composite of SN 2014J, located in the “cigar galaxy” M82, 11.4 million light years away, made from KAIT images obtained through several different filters. The supernova is marked with an arrow. Other round objects are relatively nearby stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. (Image by W. Zheng and A. Filippenko, UC Berkeley)
UCB 2/27/14 – When supernova SN2014J was first noticed in January 2014 in the famous host galaxy M82, 11.4 million light years away in the Big Dipper, it was the closest and brightest supernova in decades. When UC Berkeley, astronomer Alex Filippenko’s research team looked for the supernova in data collected by the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT) at Lick Observatory near San Jose, Calif., they found the robotic telescope had actually taken a photo of it just 37 hours after it appeared. Filippenko’s team also uncovered a mystery: the exploding star unexpectedly brightened faster than expected for Type Ia supernovae, which are used as a standard yardstick to measure vast distances across the cosmos. Read full UCB Press Release

19 February 2014 — NuSTAR takes first peek into core of supernova

NuSTAR peeks into supernova core (2 of 2 stories)
Stars fuse hydrogen (H) and helium (He) into heavier elements to produce energy, but once the reactions reach iron (Fe), fusion stops and the star implodes, creating a compact object – a neutron star or black hole – and blowing off the star’s outer layers in a supernova explosion. The explosion seeds the galaxy with elements like carbon (C) and oxygen (O) essential to life. NASA image.
UCB 2/19/14 — Astronomers for the first time have peered into the heart of an exploding star in the final minutes of its existence. “This has been a holy grail observation for high energy astrophysics for decades,” said coauthor and NuSTAR investigator Steven Boggs, UC Berkeley professor and chair of physics. “For the first time we are able to image the radioactive emission in a supernova remnant, which lets us probe the fundamental physics of the nuclear explosion at the heart of the supernova like we have never been able to do before.” The information will help astronomers build three-dimensional computer models of exploding stars, and eventually understand some of the mysterious characteristics of supernovae, such as jets of material ejected by some.

Read full UCB press release

January 6, 2014 — Galaxy teems with sub-Neptune planets that are missing in our own solar system

Sub-Neptune planets are common in galaxy
More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth. Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. (Image: NASA Ames)
NASA Ames and UC Berkeley — UC Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy led a large team of Kepler space telescope scientists in analyzing high-precision Doppler data on newly discovered exoplanets, three-quarters of which are in a size range — larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune — that are common in our galaxy but mysteriously missing in our solar system.

View full NASA Ames press release

December 18, 2013 — Powerful ancient explosions explain new class of supernovas

Ancient explosions explain new class of supernovas
A small portion of one of the fields from the Supernova Legacy Survey showing SNLS-06D4eu and its host galaxy (arrow).
UC Berkeley — Astronomers Daniel Kasen of UC Berkeley and D. Andrew Howell of UC Santa Barbara, affiliated with the Supernova Legacy Survey (SNLS), have discovered two of the brightest and most distant supernovae ever recorded, 10 billion light-years away and a hundred times more luminous than a normal supernova. These newly discovered supernovae are especially puzzling because the mechanism that powers most of them — the collapse of a giant star to a black hole or normal neutron star — cannot explain their extreme luminosity.

Read full UC Berkeley press release

December 16, 2013 — Novel instrument probes close binary stars, may soon image exoplanets

Novel instrument probes close binary stars
Franck Marchis and colleague mount the FIRST instrument on the Shane 3-meter telescope at Lick Observatory.
UC Berkeley — A new instrument that combines two high-resolution telescope techniques — adaptive optics and interferometry — has for the first time imaged the individual stars in a nearby binary star system, demonstrating promise for eventually picking out planets that have been indistinguishable from the stars they orbit. The team, led by UC Berkeley assistant research astronomer Gaspard Duchêne, used a prototype instrument called the Fibered Imager foR Single Telescope (FIRST) that was mounted on the Shane 3-meter (120-inch) telescope at the University of California Lick Observatories on Mount Hamilton near San Jose.

View full UC Berkeley press release

December 13, 2013 — Daniel Kasen among four young professors awarded Presidential early-career awards

UCB Prof. awarded Presidential early-career award
UC Berkeley — Computational astrophysicist Daniel Kasen is one of four young UC Berkeley professors who were among 102 researchers named by President Obama as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Kasen and the others will receive their awards at a Washington, DC, ceremony in the coming year.

View full White House press release

December 12, 2013 — Big turnout for launch of big-data center

Big turnout for launch of big-data center
On hand to celebrate (left to right): Vice Chancellor for Research Graham Fleming, Moore Foundation’s Vicki Chandler, Chancellor Dirks and BIDS director Saul Perlmutter (Peg Skorpinski photo)
UC Berkeley — A newly announced Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS) is designed to help researchers across the disciplines harness data in order to spur discoveries and create knowledge. This center for data-related teaching and collaboration will be housed in Doe Library. In a world now awash in data but short on the skills and tools needed to tap and share its riches effectively, advances in data science could help scholars “find what’s available and contribute” in unprecedented ways, said Nobel laureate Saul Perlmutter, BIDS’s first director, at the inauguration ceremony.

View full UC Berkeley press release

November 4, 2013 — Astronomers answer key question: How common are habitable planets?

How common are habitable planets?
UCB and UH authors find that 22% of Sun-like stars harbor a planet between one and two times the size of Earth in the habitable zone of orbits where liquid water can form on the surface of a planet.
UCB November 4, 2013 - UC Berkeley and University of Hawaii astronomers analyzed four years of Kepler space telescope data in search of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars. They estimate that 22 percent of stars like the sun have planets about the size of Earth and a surface temperature conducive to life.

View full UCB press release.

August 23, 2013 — A brighter method for measuring the surface gravity of distant stars

A brighter method for measuring the surface gravit
Simulations of granulation patterns on the surface of the Sun, sub-giant and giant stars.
Gibor Basri, UC Berkeley professor of astronomy, has co-authored a study that reveals a clever new way of analyzing the flickering light from distant stars to determine the strength of gravity on their surfaces. A star’s surface gravity is one of the key properties that astronomers use to calculate a star’s physical properties and assess its evolutionary state. The new technique, developed by a Vanderbilt University-led team of astronomers, provides an easier, faster way to assess a star’s mass, size and other physical properties. There are three traditional methods for estimating a star’s surface gravity: photometric, spectroscopic and asteroseismic. The new flicker method is simpler than the older methods and more accurate than all but one of them. Plus it is remarkably simple – requiring only five lines of computer code to make the basic measurement – substantially reducing the cost and effort required to calculate the surface gravities of thousands of stars.

view full Vanderbilt Press Release

August 20, 2013 — New theory points to ‘zombie vortices’ as key step in star formation

New theory points to ‘zombie vortices’ as key
Illustration of a protoplanetary disk based upon observations from the Keck II telescope.
UC Berkeley scientists have proposed a new model that elucidates a key step in star formation. They point to “zombie vortices” as a destabilizing force needed to help protostars accumulate the mass needed to grow into stars. A new theory by fluid dynamics experts at the University of California, Berkeley, shows how “zombie vortices” help lead to the birth of a new star. A team led by computational physicist Philip Marcus shows how variations in gas density lead to instability, which then generates the whirlpool-like vortices needed for stars to form.

view full UCB Press Release

July 29, 2013 — Quest to test Einstein’s speed limit

Quest to test Einstein’s speed limit
Dysprosium, a rare-earth element used in hard disk coatings, has an unusual electronic structure ideally suited to experiments like this.
Special relativity states that the speed of light is the same in all frames of reference and that nothing can exceed that limit. UC Berkeley physicists decided to test whether electrons abide by that limit, using a novel experimental system—the unusual electron orbitals of dysprosium.

view full UCB Press Release

July 8, 2013 — Saul Perlmutter: 'Science is about figuring out your mistakes'

Saul Perlmutter: 'Science is about figuring out yo
Saul Perlmutter in his office at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
The man who discovered that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate reveals why he isn't afraid to fail. Writer Zoë Corbyn profiles Berkeley physicist and Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter in the July 6, 2013, issue of the UK’s The Guardian as part of a series on ‘rational heroes.’

view full The Guardian Press Release

April 16, 2013 — UCB chosen to build NASA’s next weather satellite

UCB choses to build NASA's next weather satellite
The ICON satellite will orbit Earth at a 27 degree angle to the equator, pointing its MIGHTI imager and far and extreme ultraviolet sensors at ionospheric storms as on-board instruments measure the flow of charged-particles (guided by the arched magnetic field shown with blue lines) at the position of the satellite.
NASA has awarded the University of California, Berkeley, up to $200 million to build a satellite called the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) to determine how Earth’s weather affects weather at the edge of space, in hopes of improving forecasts of extreme “space weather” that can disrupt global positioning satellites (GPS) and radio communications.

view full UCB Press Release

March 27, 2013 — Professor Enlists Android Phones in Search for Black Holes

Professor Enlists Android Phones in Search for Bla
Berkeley computer scientist David Anderson, one of the brains behind the SETI@Home project, an effort to find extraterrestrial life using the world’s personal computers.
Two decades ago, David Anderson, a UC Berkeley computer scientist, developed the open source software platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), which let a world of volunteers donate the unused processing power of their desktop PCs to various scientific projects. By the late 1990s, BOINC was running on more than a million machines, crunching data for SETI@Home, Einstein@Home,, and other projects. Today, Anderson and his team have been building BOINC software that runs on both smartphones and tablets, now that these mobile devices have CPUs and graphics processors powerful enough to feed Berkeley’s massively distributed system.

view full Wired Press Release featuring UCB

March 5, 2013 — Evidence that comets could have seeded life on Earth

Evidence that comets could have seeded life on Ear
Comets like Halley’s can be a breeding ground for complex molecules such as dipeptides. Comets colliding with Earth could have delivered these molecules and seeded the growth of more complex proteins and sugars necessary for life.
UC Berkeley and University of Hawaii scientists have shown that complex molecules can form on icy rocks in space, suggesting that comets may have seeded early Earth with the building blocks of life. In results published in the March 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, the team zapped icy snowballs of carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons, producing complex molecules, such as dipeptides, that are capable of catalyzing the formation of more complex structures.

view full UCB Press Release

January 8, 2013 — Earth-size planets common in galaxy

Earth-size planets common in galaxy
The fraction of Sun-like stars having planets of different sizes, orbiting within 1/4 of the Earth-Sun distance (0.25 AU) of the host star. The graph shows that planets as small as Earth (far left) are relatively common compared to planets 8.0x the size of Earth (similar to Jupiter). The gray indicates the planets discovered in this study, and the orange represents the correction applied to account for planets the TERRA software would miss statistically, typically about 20%.
A thorough re-analysis of the first three years of data from NASA’s Kepler mission by a team of astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a new software program called TERRA (Transiting Exoearth Robust Reduction Algorithm) identified 129 Earth-like planets ranging in size from nearly six times the diameter of Earth to the diameter of Mars. Thirty-seven of these planets were not identified in previous Kepler reports.

view full UCB Press Release

December 5, 2012 — Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Gives a Big Boost to BigBOSS

Moore Foundation grant to boost search for dark en
The BigBOSS proposal adds a new widefield, prime-focus corrector to the Mayall 4-meter telescope. A focal array with 5,000 optical fibers, individually positioned by robotic actuators, delivers light to a set of 10 three-arm spectrometers. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Background photo Mark Duggan)
By Paul Preuss

A $2.1 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to the University of California at Berkeley, through the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics (BCCP), will fund the development of revolutionary technologies for BigBOSS, a project now in the proposal stage designed to study dark energy with unprecedented precision. BigBOSS is based at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

“BigBOSS is the next big thing in cosmology,” says Uroš Seljak, Director of the BCCP, who is a professor of physics and astronomy at UC Berkeley and a member of Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division. “It would map millions and millions of galaxies, allowing us to measure dark energy to high precision – and would yield other important scientific results as well, including determining neutrino mass and the number of neutrino families.”

view full Press Release

October 17, 2012 — Keck observations reveal complex face of Uranus

Keck observations reveal complex face of Uranus
The two faces of Uranus as seen through the adaptive optics on the near-infrared camera of the Keck II telescope in Hawaii. The white features are high altitude clouds like Earth’s cumulous clouds, while the bright blue-green features are thinner high-altitude clouds akin to cirrus clouds. Reddish tints indicate deeper cloud layers. In each image, the north pole is at the right and is highlighted by small convective spots highly reminiscent of features seen on Saturn’s pole.
By Robert Sanders

The planet Uranus, known since Voyager’s 1986 flyby as a bland, featureless blue-green orb, is beginning to show its face.

By using a new technique with the telescopes of the Keck Observatory, astronomers have created the most richly detailed, highest-resolution images ever taken of the giant ice planet in the near infrared, revealing an incredible array of atmospheric detail and more complex weather.

The planet, in fact, looks like many of the solar system’s other large planets — the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, and the ice giant Neptune — said Imke de Pater, professor and chair of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the team members. The planet has bands of circulating clouds, massive swirling hurricanes and an unusual swarm of convective features at its north pole.

view full UCB Press Release

October 5, 2012 — Grants help scientists explore boundary between science & science fiction

Between Sci & SciFi
Lasers in use by telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. If aliens elsewhere in the galaxy use lasers for astronomy or communications, we may be able to detect them from Earth. Courtesy of Keck Observatory.
Berkeley - Two University of California, Berkeley, scientists have received research grants to explore areas of science that bleed into science fiction.

Astronomer Geoff Marcy, who kicked off the search for extrasolar planets 20 years ago, plans to rummage through data from the Kepler space telescope in search of evidence for civilizations advanced enough to have built massive orbiting “solar” power stations.

Theoretical physicist Raphael Bousso will look for ways of detecting universes other than our own, and try to understand what these alternate universes, or multiverses, will look like.

Marcy and Bousso are among 20 innovative researchers who will share more than $4 million in New Frontiers in Astronomy & Cosmology International Grants that were announced Thursday, Oct. 4, by the University of Chicago. The grants were made possible through funding from the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation as a way to encourage scientists and students worldwide to explore fundamental, big questions in astronomy and cosmology that engage groundbreaking ideas on the nature of the universe...

view full UCB 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...

view full SLAC Press Release

September 4, 2012 — Explosion of galaxy formation lit up early universe

Explosions of galaxy formation
The South Pole Telescope recorded temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, the light left over from the Big Bang, to study the period of cosmological evolution when the first stars and galaxies formed early in the history of the universe. The image, only a third of which was used for the current analysis, shows variations in millionths of a degree Kelvin. (South Pole Telescope Collaboration)
By Robert Sanders

BERKELEY - New data from the South Pole Telescope indicates that the birth of the first massive galaxies that lit up the early universe was an explosive event, happening faster and ending sooner than suspected.

Extremely bright, active galaxies formed and fully illuminated the universe by the time it was 750 million years old, or about 13 billion years ago, according to Oliver Zahn, a postdoctoral fellow at the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics (BCCP) at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the data analysis.

The data provide new constraints on the universe’s first era of galaxy formation, called the Epoch of Reionization. Most astronomers think that early stars came to life in massive gas clouds, generating the first galaxies. The energetic light pumped out by these stars is thought to have ionized the hydrogen gas in and around the galaxies, creating “ionization bubbles” millions of light years across that left a lasting, telltale signature in the cosmic background radiation (CMB). This relic light from the early universe is visible today everywhere in the sky and was first mapped by UC Berkeley physicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot, founder of the BCCP.

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..."

view full LBL press Release

July 24, 2012 — Theoretical astrophysicist receives $500,000+, no strings attached

$500K+ no strings attached
Eliot Quataert, professor of astronomy and physics, has been named a Simons Investigator, one of the first class of 21 announced July 24.
"Berkeley - University of California, Berkeley, theoretical astrophysicist Eliot Quataert received an email out of the blue a few weeks ago offering him $100,000 a year for five to 10 years to pursue whatever research he wants.

After checking whether the email was a spoof, he accepted.

Offers from the Simons Foundation went out to 21 mathematicians, theoretical physicists and theoretical computer scientists across the country, and the first group of Simons Investigators was announced today (Tuesday, July 24) in a paid ad in The New York Times. The Simons Foundation is a private foundation dedicated to advancing the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences.

“I have to say that, in my 11 years at Berkeley, this was probably the single most surprising email I have received,” said Quataert, a professor in the departments of astronomy and physics and director of UC Berkeley’s Theoretical Astrophysics Center. “No complaints! What is particularly nice about this grant, from my perspective, is that the Simons Foundation is very flexible in how we can use the funds, which is wonderful because it gives me the opportunity and resources to really explore new research problems, which I like to do.”

As with the MacArthur Foundation “genius awards,” the recipients were unaware they were being considered for the award, and the money comes with no strings attached..."

view full UCB Press Release

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.”

view full LBNL Press Release

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.

view UCB Press Release
view LBNL Press Release

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...

View LBNL UCB Press Release

Jan. 3, 2012 — A Stellar Discovery

It takes more than luck to find a supernova. Here’s a look behind the scenes.

On August 24, astrophysicist Peter Nugent was playing a little catch-up. Nugent, an adjunct professor at Berkeley and group leader of the Computational Cosmology Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, settled in to look at data collected overnight by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF). This fully automated survey based at Caltech searches for transients, a catch-all term for as yet unidentified astronomical objects that suddenly appear, change, and fade away.

view UCB Press Release

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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December 14, 2011 — Disaster looms for gas cloud falling into Milky Way's central black hole

The normally quiet neighborhood around the massive black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy is being invaded by a gas cloud that is destined in just a few years to be ripped, shredded and largely eaten.

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Dec. 13, 2011 — Saul Perlmutter receives Nobel Prize in Stockholm

University of California, Berkeley, and Berkeley Lab physicist Saul Perlmutter was feted in Stockholm, Sweden, last week before receiving his Nobel Prize medal on Saturday, Dec. 10, during a ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall.

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December 5, 2011 — Record massive black holes discovered lurking in monster galaxies

University of California, Berkeley, astronomers have discovered the largest black holes to date ‑- two monsters with masses equivalent to 10 billion suns that are threatening to consume anything, even light, within a region five times the size of our solar system.

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November 2, 2011 — Perlmutter, Filippenko in NOVA special

Newly minted Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter and astronomer Alex Filippenko are among the scientists interviewed in the premier episode of a four-part NOVA series, The Fabric of the Cosmos, which airs tonight on PBS stations around the country. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the one-hour episode can be viewed on KQED-TV at 9 p.m.

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