This week, the National Science Board recommended proceeding to the final design stage for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a telescope with a 330-inch mirror to be located in Chile, which will survey over half of the sky. Penn State has been a member of the LSST project since 2005. "The data that LSST will gather during its ten years of operation will offer us an unprecedented view of the universe, and will allow us to investigate important questions ranging from charting unknown objects in our own solar system to the large-scale structure of the universe and the nature of dark energy and dark matter," said Lawrence Ramsey, a member of the LSST Board of Directors as well as a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and an Eberly College of Science Distinguished Senior Scholar at Penn State. Among the many scientific programs enabled by the telescope are the identification of "Near Earth Asteroids," bodies whose orbits indicate that they could collide with the Earth. More information and links to images and videos are online at http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/LSST7-2012.
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III (SDSS-III) recently released the largest digital color image of the sky ever made, and it is free to all. The image has been put together over the last decade from millions of 2.8-megapixel images, creating a color image of more than a trillion pixels. This terapixel image is so big and detailed that 500,000 high-definition TVs would be needed to view it at its full resolution.
Penn State is one of three Pennsylvania institutions, along with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, that have scientists involved in SDSS-III.
Niel Brandt, distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Brandt's election to the society is based on his leadership and numerous contributions to research involving deep extragalactic X-ray surveys and active-galaxy studies, which have advanced understanding of the physics and evolution of accreting supermassive black holes and other cosmic X-ray sources.
Astronomers have discovered what appear to be two of the earliest and most primitive supermassive black holes known. The discovery, based on observations with the NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and other space observatories, will be published in the March 18 edition of the scientific journal Nature. Black holes are beastly distortions of space and time. The most massive and active ones lurk at the cores of galaxies, and are usually surrounded by doughnut-shaped structures of dust and gas that feed and sustain the growing black holes. These hungry supermassive black holes are called quasars. "The main goal of this collaboration is to determine if these very first quasars -- which are very distant from Earth in space and time -- are feeding and growing in the same way as do quasars that are closer to Earth," said Niel Brandt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University.
Niel Brandt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, Vincent Crespi, professor of physics and of materials science and engineering, and Ayusman Sen, professor of chemistry, have been named distinguished professors at Penn State.
Tantalizing insights into the nature of the most distant object ever observed in the universe have been achieved by an international research team whose leaders include Derek Fox, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. The team used the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope to observe the distant object -- a gigantic stellar explosion known as a gamma ray burst (GRB). A scientific report of the team's findings has been submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The most ambitious attempt yet to trace the history of the universe has seen "first light." Two Penn State scientists, Professors of Astronomy Niel Brandt and Donald Schneider, are members of the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), a part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III), which has begun a quest to collect electromagnetic-radiation spectra for 1.4 million galaxies and 160,000 quasars by 2014. "These observations should provide quite accurate measurements of the expansion history of the universe, and thus should reveal the relative importance of ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy over a wide range of cosmic time," Brandt said.