How SDSS uses light to study the darkest objects in the Universe

Black holes are intriguing objects. A black hole is a phenomenon whose gravity is so strong that not even light, the fastest traveller in the Universe, can escape from its influence. Once thought mere oddities due to their extreme properties, today, black holes are found to be vital in the formation and lives of galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

But how do we know black holes exist if we can’t see them? Well, even if we can’t see a black hole directly we can observe their influence and indeed the energy and light emitted as gas, dust and stars fall into a black hole; that is, we can see black holes when they are actively “eating” material.  When the supermassive black hole, which can be up to a billion times more massive than our Sun, at the center of a galaxy starts to eat new material the resulting process is so bright it can be seen out to ~200 billion lightyears away.  Astronomers call the observational result of this process either an active galactic nuclei, or in the most extreme examples a “quasar”. So you might be surprised to find that an object that emits no light can cause the brightest known phenomenon in the Universe!

Quasar

An artist’s rendition of a quasar created by Coleman Krawczyk (ICG Portsmouth).  The image is drawn on a radial log scale with the central black hole 1 AU in size.

The light of quasars is not produced by the black hole itself, but instead it comes from the material, mostly gas, that is falling into the black hole.  Different types of light are produced by this material at different distances outward from the black hole.  Near the surface (or horizon) of the black hole (about the distance of the Earth’s orbit away for supermassive black holes in galaxies) this gas becomes extremely hot and produces X-rays. Stretching out from this to fill a region about the size of our Solar System, a disk of gas shaped like a frisbee is formed.  The inside of this disk is closer to the black hole than the outside, so it rotates faster causing friction within the disk.  This friction causes the gas to heat up and glow, producing light in the optical to ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

From the edge of the gas disk to a distance of about 3 light years (similar to the distance from the Sun to the next closest star), the temperature becomes low enough that particles of “interstellar dust”, made of carbon and silicon, form.  These dust clouds form what is know as the “dusty torus,” a donut shaped ring round the gas disk. Some of the light coming from the gas disk is absorbed by the dust and re-emitted at longer wavelength infrared light. At very large distances from the black hole, some quasars have radio jets coming out along the poles.  As the name suggests, this jets produce light at radio wavelengths cased by electrons being accelerated along a strong magnetic field.  When these jets are present they can be up to ~300 thousand lightyears (~3 times the diameter of our entire galaxy!) in size.

Not only can a black hole produce light, it can create light at all wavelengths from the radio up to the X-ray, and across an area stretching from the size of the Earth’s orbit out to distances larger than the Milky Way.  Therefore, growing black holes, and the regions around them are anything but “black.”

With discoveries from its earliest imaging campaigns, the SDSS extended the study of quasars back to the first billion years after the Big Bang, showing the rapid early growth of black holes and mapping the end stages of the epoch of reionization.

Stacked spectra of more than 46,000 quasars from the SDSS; each spectrum has been converted to a single horizontal line, and they are stacked one above the other with the closest quasars at the bottom and the most distant quasars at the top. Credit: X. Fan and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Stacked spectra of more than 46,000 quasars from the SDSS; each spectrum has been converted to a single horizontal line, and they are stacked one above the other with the closest quasars at the bottom and the most distant quasars at the top.
Credit: X. Fan and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

With full quasar samples hundreds of times larger than those that existed before, the SDSS has given us the most accurate descriptions of the growth of black holes over cosmic history.  SDSS spectra show that the properties of quasars have changed remarkably little from the early universe to the present day.

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Growth in the number of known quasars in the largest homogeneous (solid) and heterogeneous (dashed) quasar catalogs as a function of time. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey catalogues started being produced in 2000. Fig. 1 from Richards et al. (2009).

SDSS studies have probed the dark matter environments of quasars through clustering measurements, revealed populations of quasars whose central engines are hidden by obscuring dust, captured changes in quasar spectra that show clouds moving in the gravitational grip of the central black hole, and allowed a comprehensive census of the much fainter accreting black holes (active galactic nuclei, or AGN) in present-day galaxies.
This, our first post for the IYL2015 is a collaboration between Coleman Krawcyzk (ICG Portsmouth); Nic Ross (ROE) with help from Karen Masters (ICG Portsmouth).

This post is part of the SDSS Celebration of the International Year of Light 2015, in which we aim to post an article a month about how SDSS uses light in our mission to study the Universe. 

SDSS Celebrates the International Year of Light 2015

As astronomers, at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey everything we do is based on collecting light from cosmic objects. SDSS is therefore pleased that in 2015 we are celebrating the International Year of Light, and we especially would like to point out the Cosmic Light Theme, supported by the IAU.cosmiclight_color_whitebg

As a small contribution to this celebration, every month in 2015 SDSS will have a special post on here talking about the different ways we use light. Our first post, which will appear before the end of January will be about how we use light to study black holes, something which seems like a contradiction, but has taught us a lot!

This post will be updated to collect all the links as the year progresses:

  • January IYL2015 Post – How SDSS Uses Light to Study the Darkest Objects in the Universe (black holes).
  • February IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • March IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • April IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • May IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • June IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • July IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • August IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • September IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • October IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • November IYL2015 Post – TBC
  • December IYL2015 Post – TBC

APOGEE’s Infrared View of the Stellar Temperature Sequence

APOGEE surveyed 156,481 stars in its first three years. And of course APOGEE-2 is going to increase this sample size significantly. But to celebrate the successful end of APOGEE and the Data Releases 11 & 12 (also see here), we’d like to share with you a slice of the kind of data it collected.

Some background: The APOGEE/APOGEE-2 instrument collects near-infrared spectra of distant stars, and the survey is aimed at studying the history of the Milky Way Galaxy. How it does that is explained here. Along the way, it has taken spectra of each known spectral type: from hot O-type stars (with surface temperatures of about 30,000 degrees, or five times the surface of our own Sun) down to M-type stars (about 3,500 degrees, or roughly half the temperature of the Sun). Each of the spectral types (O, B, A, F, G, K, M) is defined based on how many and what kind of atomic or molecular species are seen in their spectrum. For instance, O-type stars have lots of singly-ionized atomic species visible in their spectra, whereas A-type stars have very strong hydrogen lines, and M-type stars have lots of neutral molecules, especially lines of TiO when you look in the visible portion of the spectrum.

These spectral types were defined using the visible portion of the spectrum. So when we look in the near-infrared, do they appear to be different? Here we go:

apogee_tempsequence_new2

The O-type star spectrum looks pretty bland — the strongest lines due to ionized Helium in the near-infrared H-band are at 15721 and 16922 Angstroms (the line at 15271 Angstroms is due to interstellar molecules, and is therefore not from the star). The B-type star shows pretty significant absorption lines due to the Brackett series of atomic Hydrogen (those transitions beginning at the n=4 excited state), and those plus a whole bunch of smaller wiggles from other atoms can clearly be seen in the A- and G-type spectra as well. Below that and things look a lot more complicated. If you have experience with data like these, you might be tempted to think that the spectra of the G-, K-, and M-type stars are “noisy”, meaning that they weren’t observed for long enough and therefore weren’t detected well. But that’s not the case: every single spike visible in these spectra is due to an atomic or molecular transition that originates in the photosphere of the star!

All told, these spectra allow us to study sixteen different atomic elements besides hydrogen. Which ones, you ask? Oh all right, I’ll tell you: C, N, O, Na, Mg, Al, Si, S, K, Ca, Ti, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, and Ni. As you can see, this is a truly beautiful, complex dataset. We’ll keep up-to-date science results at this page.

SDSS at #AAS225 – Tweets by SDSS-IV Spokesperson, Jennifer Johnson

This week the SDSS Collaboration has a large presence at the American Astronomical Society‘s 225th Meeting, being held in Seattle, Washington.

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All sorts of SDSS related stuff will be going on at this meeting, from dozens of talks and posters, to demos of SDSS online resources at the SDSS Booth in the Exhibit Hall and not to mention the final data release from SDSS-III. Our “Tweep of the Week” for this exciting week will be SDSS-IV Spokesperson, Jennifer Johnson.

Jennifer Johnson is an Asssociate Professor in the Astronomy Department of The Ohio State University. Her science interests are in stellar abundances, the origin of the elements, nucleocosmochronology and the formation of our own Galaxy and Local Group. She is the Science Team Chair of the APOGEE survey of SDSS-III, and the Spokesperson for SDSS-IV (as well as working on APOGEE-2).

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

The SDSS Spokesperson has two main roles. She is the main person in charge of making sure the SDSS collaboration is running smoothly and fairly. As part of this, the Spokesperson Chairs the SDSS Collaboration Council (which has a representative from each institutional member of SDSS). This group are the first point of approval for requests for Architect Status (ie. people who have contributed so much to SDSS development they can request to be on any publication) and External Collaborator requests (non-SDSS members working on specific projects), as well as for drafting our publication and other collaboration policies. They also organise the annual SDSS Collaboration Meetings (the next one to be held in Madrid, 20-23rd July 2015).

The SDSS Spokesperson is also responsible for representing SDSS to the press and the public. As such she is responsible for working with the SDSS Communications Director (Jordan Raddick) to draft the text of press releases and maintain the SDSS website, as well as with the SDSS Director of EPO (Karen Masters) on our collective public engagement and outreach efforts.

Added: here’s a storify of Tweets by Jennifer during her week.

Job Listing: Observe for the Sloan Digital Sky Surveys

SDSS would like to find a new Chief Telescope Technician to oversee SDSS observing operations at the Sloan 2.5m Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, New Mexico.

The eBOSS Collaboration on a recent visit to the Sloan Telescope at Apache Point Observatory (usually the weather is much better).

The eBOSS Collaboration on a recent visit to the Sloan Telescope at Apache Point Observatory (usually the weather is much better).

This position is advertised via New Mexico State University.  We reproduce the Job Duties and Responsibilities here:

Responsible for the maintenance and operations of  SDSS telescope facilities and plate plugging operations. Develops and maintains operating procedures and maintenance schedules. Plans and coordinates maintenance work. Supervise, direct, and evaluate work of assigned staff. Design, generate contracts for fabrication, and conduct installation and testing of various electro-, opto- mechanical systems for complex telescope systems, including interfaces and scientific instruments. Perform preventive and corrective maintenance to systems, as necessary, and ensure safety and integrity. Monitor trends and correct anomalies. Perform troubleshooting and problem analysis. Specify procedures, schedule, spare lists for maintenance and repair of telescope systems. Report activities and progress related to telescope systems engineering to Site Operations Manager. Specify, procure, maintain specialized mechanical, electronics, and optical test and maintenance equipment. Develop an annual plan and budget for telescope systems engineering activities and projects.

For full job details, and information on how to apply please visit here. Deadline 13th Feb 2014.

Joint BOSS+eBOSS Collaboration in Cloudcroft, NM

Apache Point Observatory_Cloudcroft_20141203

SDSS collaboration members gathered around the telescope at an unfortunately beautiful sunset.

The SDSS-III BOSS and SDSS-IV eBOSS are in the middle of a 4-day meeting to discuss the continuing great science coming out of BOSS, looking at the first data from eBOSS, and planning for the bright future of SDSS-IV.  The location is Cloudcroft, New Mexico, which is only 17 miles from the Apache Point Observatory, home of The Sloan Foundation 2.5-meter Telescope, which has been the main telescope for SDSS for the past decade-and-a-half.  This proximity allows for collaboration members to visit the telescope and meet the hardworking mountain staff who keep it all running smoothly.

Cloudcroft has been a central landing point for all of the years of the SDSS survey, and in recognition of this, honorary membership was granted to a certain permanent member of the staff at The Lodge Resort at Cloudcroft:

SDSS_BOSS_eBOSS_Attendee

A 2 Billion Light Year Pie to Wish you Happy Thanksgiving

Here’s a pie (diagram) to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

orangepie

The SDSS’s map of the Universe shown as a pie diagram. Each dot is a galaxy; the colour indicates the local density (with red revealing the most dense places). This represents a slice through the Universe, with the Earth in the centre and galaxies further from the Earth plotted further from the centre (the distance is labelled here as redshift). The angle around the pie is marked by the sky co-ordinates (Right Ascension).

This pie diagram is one of the most famous images from the original phase of SDSS, which mapped the distances to 1 million galaxies out to a distance of about 2 billion light years (z=0.15, or 615 Mpc in comoving radius).

The map shows a slice through the Universe with the Earth at the centre, and each of the 1 million galaxies in the SDSS Main Galaxy Sample as a point. The points are colour coded by local density to hi-light the cosmic web  (with red points in the highest densities).

The black parts of the pie are where SDSS did not map galaxies, either because our Milky Way is blocking the view from Earth, or because those parts of the Universe are not visible from our telescope in New Mexico.

Even while the Universe is expanding, all the matter in it clumps due to gravity and the structures we see in this map are the result of that. The details of the growth of these structures over time depends on both the expansion history of the Universe and the total amount of matter in it. So by accurately mapping the locations of galaxies in this map, scientists in SDSS have been able to measure both of these things making an important contribution to our knowledge of how the Universe works.

Visit our website for more on the science results from SDSS.

SDSS in the News (Aug-Nov 2014)

Back in mid August I set up a Google alert search on “sloan digital sky surveys”. Here is a summary of 3 months of mentions of SDSS in online news:

August 21st: Discovery of one of the oldest stars in the Universe, SDSS J0018-0939, illustrated with SDSS image of the star:
Space Fellowship.com, IBTimes, KRWG.org

Oldeststar

An optical image of the star SDSS J0018-0939, obtained by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This is a low-mass star with a mass about half that of the Sun; the distance to this star is about 1000 light years; its location in the sky is close to the constellation Cetus. (Credit: SDSS/NAOJ)

 

 

Sept 10th, 21st: A report on looking for patterns in the properties of quasars using SDSS spectra:
Arstechnica.com, ScienceCodex.com.

Sept 25th: Discovery of ‘hyper-compact star clusters’ helped by SDSS data: SpartanDaily

Oct 3rd: “Artificial Intelligence Opens a New Window to the Universe”, Huffington Post.

“Robotic telescopes constantly collect astronomical data and generate enormous astronomical databases. For instance, Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has imaged over 400 million galaxies since it saw first light in 2000. ”

So obviously this mentions SDSS, but implies it’s a robotic telescope!  Our team of observers, plate pluggers, and drillers, and the hundreds of other people who work hard to keep SDSS observing might object to this….

D120330_07_PlugCrewAfter100kFibers.500

In March 2012, BOSS observed 103,000 spectra, each of which was routed through a fiber-optic cable that was plugged by hand. The industrious APO plugging crew is pictured here showing the deleterious effects of having placed more than 2,000 fibers/finger in a month. But don’t worry, they recovered have continued to plug every fibre optic by hand during the day at APO – they might even be doing it as you read this! (Image Credit: Dan Long, APO).

Amazing that our observing process is so smooth that to outsiders it appears to be like a robot! Stay tuned for a newly planned “The SDSS Telescope is not Robotic” article. :)

Oct 8th:
Opinion: “Why More Inventions Don’t Win Nobel Prizes, and Why That’s a Good Thing”, National Geographic.

Cites SDSS as one of the reasons it was right that the invention of the CCD got the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics because of the realms of discovery it opened up:

“The world could get along well without camera cell phones. What’s exciting about CCDs, whose inventors won the 2009 physics prize, is their use in the Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.”

Oct 10th: “New Study of Spiral Arms”, Phys.org

Authors use a sample of 50 non-barred and two armed spiral galaxies selected from SDSS and measure spiral arm pitch angles, finding most are only approximately log spiral, typically having decreasing pitch angle as radius increased. Link to paper.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.24.55

NGC 3338, a non-barred two armed spiral in the study. Credit: SDSS.

 

 

Oct 17th: “A 3D Map of true Adolescent Universe”, SpatialNews, RDMag, Nature World News.
Discussion of plans for new redshift surveys mentions SDSS as “The first big 3D map of the universe”:

Oct 22nd: “Chandra Data Archive Comes to Life”, RedOrbit

Report on release of images from the Chandra archive, which us SDSS images (among many others) to make nice multi wavelength images, like the below one of NGC 4736.

NGC 4736 (also known as Messier 94) is a spiral galaxy that is unusual because it has two ring structures. This galaxy is classified as containing a “low ionization nuclear emission region,” or LINER, in its center, which produces radiation from specific elements such as oxygen and nitrogen. Chandra observations (gold) of NGC 4736, seen in this composite image with infrared data from Spitzer (red) and optical data from Hubble and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (blue), suggest that the X-ray emission comes from a recent burst of star formation. Part of the evidence comes from the large number of point sources near the center of the galaxy, showing that strong star formation has occurred. In other galaxies, evidence points to supermassive black holes being responsible for LINER properties. Chandra’s result on NGC 4736 shows LINERs may represent more than one physical phenomenon. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Universita di Bologna/S.Pellegrini et al, IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: SDSS & NASA/STScI)

NGC 4736 (also known as Messier 94) is a spiral galaxy that is unusual because it has two ring structures. This galaxy is classified as containing a “low ionization nuclear emission region,” or LINER, in its center, which produces radiation from specific elements such as oxygen and nitrogen. Chandra observations (gold) of NGC 4736, seen in this composite image with infrared data from Spitzer (red) and optical data from Hubble and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (blue), suggest that the X-ray emission comes from a recent burst of star formation. Part of the evidence comes from the large number of point sources near the center of the galaxy, showing that strong star formation has occurred. In other galaxies, evidence points to supermassive black holes being responsible for LINER properties. Chandra’s result on NGC 4736 shows LINERs may represent more than one physical phenomenon. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Universita di Bologna/S.Pellegrini et al, IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: SDSS & NASA/STScI)

 

Oct 27th: “Nothing Can Escape Black Holes – this Lucky Star Did”, TechTimes
Study which revealed a star loosing a portion of its mass to a black hole used some SDSS data.

Oct 31st: “Universe May Face a Darker Future”, PhysOrg, TechTimes, Digital Journal.

Cosmologists use galaxies observed by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to study the nature of dark energy and find support for a scenario in which dark matter decays into dark energy.

Nov 4th: “The Rise of Astrostatistics”, Symmetry Magazine.

“I believe the large surveys shocked astronomers with how much data there is,” Hilbe says. “The Sloan Digital Sky Survey [one of the first automated and digitized comprehensive astronomical sky surveys] told them they needed statistics.”

Notice another mention of SDSS applying the process is automated, which we addressed above (thanks again to our wonderful observing team). Apparently this idea is fairly ubiquitous in the media….

astrostatistics_header_Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Kimberly Boustead

Neat illustration of astrostatistic: Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Kimberly Boustead for Symmetry Magazine article.

 

 

Nov 6th:  “Never has so much data been collected so fast” Edmonton Journal.
Article about big data in astronomy begins:

“When the Sloan Digital Sky Survey began in 2000, its telescope in New Mexico collected more data in its first few weeks than had been amassed in the entire history of astronomy.”

Nov 7th: “Exploring the Murky Centers of Dust Shrouded Galaxies”, PhysOrg, Science World Report.

Articles use an SDSS image to illustrate the LMT pointing at galaxy 5MUSES-229, one of the dusty galaxies in the study which was used to study the relative contributions of AGN and star formation in the heating of dust.

usandmexican

The LMT pointed at 5MUSES-229, a galaxy approximately one billion light years distant from the Milky Way. With the LMT, astronomers are able to observe the carbon monoxide emission from this galaxy. Credit: James Lowenthal, the background image showing the galaxy is from SDSS.

 

Nov 14th: “How Young, Massive, Compact Galaxies Evolve into Their Red, Dead Elders”, Science World Report.

Report on study using a sample of poststarburst galaxies identified in SDSS and followed up with HST and Chandra.

 


 

 

To set up your own alert, visit news.google.com, search on “sloan digital sky survey” and click “Create alert” which can be found at the bottom on the page.

 

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SDSS Researcher Awarded for Outstanding Research

Prof. Shirley Ho, an assistant professor at the Department of Physics in Carnegie Mellon University and a member of both BOSS and eBOSS science teams has been awarded the 2014 Macronix Prize (or the Outstanding Young Researcher Award) of the International Organization of Chinese Physicists and Astronomers.

Prof. Shirley Ho, Carnegie Mellon University.

Prof. Shirley Ho, Carnegie Mellon University.

The OYRA (Macronix Prize) is given each year to one to two young, ethnic Chinese physicist/astronomer outside of Asia, in recognition of their outstanding achievements in physics/astronomy. The Award carries a cash prize of US $2,000 each and a certificate citing the awardee’s accomplishments in research.

The citation for Prof. Ho’s award explains:

“Much of the research accomplishment of Professor Ho has been on using SDSS-III data to measure cosmic distance scales and the growth of structure in the universe in order to get at the expansion history of the universe. She has been a leader in extracting signals of the Baryon Acoustic Oscillations, which are the tiny ripples in the density of galaxies that are an imprint left over from the quantum fluctuations in density soon after the Big Bang. She utilized these signals as a standard ruler to measure the distance scale of the universe in various epochs, and was able to achieve the most accurate measurements of cosmic distances yet with an accuracy of 1%. Her current research focuses on developing the understanding of dark energy via large-scale spectroscopy, investigating the initial conditions and contents of the universe large-scale photometry, and applying machine learning to studying non-linear cosmological problems.

Prof. Ho will collect her award at the next meeting of the American Physical Society (San Antonio, Texas, March 2-6th 2015) at which there will also be hosted a meeting of the US-China Young Physicsts Forum.

The SDSS Collaboration congratulates Shirley on both her excellent research and being recognised for it in this way.

The Future is Now: Karen Masters Wins UK Award

Dr. Karen Masters, senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation and Director of Public Education and Outreach for SDSS-IV, has won the Women of the Future Science award. The Women of the Future Awards acknowledge successful young women in Britain and are handed out in fields ranging from business to arts and culture to science and technology. Karen (as we like to call her) received the award for her work
on understanding how galaxies form and evolve over the history of the universe. Karen uses a diverse set of tools, including the contributions of large number of citizen scientists looking at SDSS images of galaxies at the Galaxy Zoo (www.galaxyzoo.org) and the new data coming from the MaNGA survey of SDSS-IV (http://www.sdss.org/sdss-surveys/manga/). Karen is also one of the BBC’s “100 Women of 2014″, invited to share her thoughts and experiences as part of the BBC’s pledge to represent women better in their news reporting.

 

Dr. Masters accepting the award from the Rt Hon John Bercow MP,  Speaker of the House of Commons.

Dr. Masters accepting her award from the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Trui Hebbelink from Shell. 

For more information, see http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/2527-dr-karen-masters-wins-women-of-the-future-award and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-29758792

Observing the Partial Solar Eclipse with an SDSS Plate

An SDSS plate was reused to wonderful effect this week, as a pinhole camera to project 640 simultaneous images of the recent partial solar eclipse on 23rd October 2014.

Sarah Ballard (@hubbahubble) and Woody Sullivan, from SDSS member institution, the University of Washington in Seattle came up with this unique idea to observe the solar eclipse.

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Putting an SDSS plate to use as an eclipse viewer. Credit: Sarah Ballard and Woody Sullivan (Univ. of Washington).

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640 images of the 23rd October 2014 partial solar eclipse. Credit: Woody Sullivan and Sarah Ballard (Univ. of Washington).

For more lovely or unusual eclipse photos, see this Solar Eclipse Roundup, by Sky and Telescope, who selected Sarah and Woody’s method as their “best use of old technology” for viewing the eclipse.

SDSS member Brice Ménard Awarded Prestigious Packard Fellowship

SDSS congratulates Dr. Brice Ménard (Johns Hopkins University) on receiving a David and Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowship.  This $850,000, five-year grant is awarded to “the nation’s most promising early-career scientists and engineers” — only 18 such awards were given this year.  Dr. Ménard specializes in applying advance statistical techniques to large data sets to explore the distribution of galaxies and matter in the Universe.  Much of his work has exploited the rich data of SDSS and we look forward to seeing the future ideas and science to come out of this award.

For more details see the JHU press release at

http://hub.jhu.edu/2014/10/15/brice-menard-packard-fellowship

 

 

 

SDSS hits the Big time

SDSS has made it big! How big? The Big 12! To explain a little more, especially for those who are not American college football fans, the Big 12 is a group of universities* that form a league in American college football. During broadcasts of college football games, which are very popular, there are a couple of advertisements that highlight the universities’ educational and research prowess. Usually these involve good-looking students with colorful liquids in test tubes or surrounding a professor in a lab coat at a computer terminal. But that’s not good enough for TCU, home to SDSS members Kat Barger and SDSS-IV Survey Coordinator Peter Frinchaboy. Their contribution to the Big 12 ad, on a broadcast seen by over 2 million people, features a shot of the Sloan Foundation telescope opening up for a night’s observing. TCU also has its own ad for these games, which focuses entirely on its involvement in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, including more beautiful shots of the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico and a “starring” role for Peter. Take a look at http://www.big12makingadifference.com/university/tcu

* 10 universities are part of the Big 12. Don’t ask.