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Currents is a sparkplug for communication between NOAO and our community. It provides updates and solicits community input on NOAO observing opportunities and NOAO programs and policies on a more rapid timescale than is possible with the quarterly NOAO Newsletter.

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Veil Nebula NGC 2467

February 12, 2018

New Chapter Begins for Kitt Peak Telescope

The moon illuminates the recently silvered dome of the Mayall 4m Telescope in this long exposure image taken on 6 February, 2018 during one of the last nights of observation for the the Mayall z-Band Legacy Survey (MzLS). Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF.

Its 45-year-long assignment as an “all-purpose research tool” completed, the Mayall now embarks on a new mission: creating the largest 3D map of the cosmos. The map will help chart out the role of dark energy in the expansion history of the Universe. Over the next 15 months, the telescope will prepare for the installation of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, a massively parallel optical spectrometer capable of measuring the spectra of 5000 astronomical objects simultaneously

Read more in NOAO Press Release 18-02.

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January 10, 2018

New Stellar Streams Confirm ‘Melting Pot’ History of the Galaxy

While most stars in the Milky Way were likely born here, many appear to have originated in other galaxies and migrated to our shores. Tell-tale evidence comes from streams of stars created when small galaxies interact with the Milky Way. Eleven new stellar streams, discovered in data from the Dark Energy Survey, currently in progress at the CTIO Blanco telescope, provide new evidence for this picture. The public release of the survey data continues the trend toward “Big Data” in astronomy.

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Read more in NOAO Press Release 18-01.

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December 6, 2017

Gargantua in the Mist: A Precocious Black Hole Behemoth at the Edge of Cosmic Dawn

The new super-massive black hole J1342+0928 (yellow star), which resides in a mostly neutral universe at the edge of cosmic dawn, is more distant than any other found to date (yellow dots). Image Credit: Jinyi Yang, University of Arizona; Reidar Hahn, Fermilab; M. Newhouse NOAO/AURA/NSF

Peering back in time, to an era when the Universe was only 5% of its current age, astronomers have spotted the most distant supermassive black hole discovered to date. The young black hole, which is rapidly feeding and growing, is already as massive as present-day black holes that reside at the centers of galaxies. The discovery, published in Nature, was made with data from the DECam Legacy Survey (DECaLS) that is being carried out with the CTIO Blanco telescope.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 17-07.

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November 15, 2017

A Familiar-Looking Messenger from Another Solar System

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest stars visible with the naked eye. Credit: R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

The visit of the interstellar interloper U1, recently spotted streaking through the Solar System, gives the people of Earth their first chance to study up close an object from another planetary system. Observations with the WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak reveal that despite its foreign origins, U1 appears similar to asteroids in our Solar System. The result supports the long-held view that our Solar System once ejected its own flotilla of messengers like U1 out into interstellar space.

Read more in NOAO Press Release 17-06.

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October 16, 2017

That Gold on Your Finger May Be Dust from a Neutron Star

Discovery of the optical counterpart to GW170817 (left) and the same area two weeks later (right). Credit: The Dark Energy Camera GW-EM Collaboration and the DES Collaboration / PI: Berger.

Telescopes pinpoint optical glow of a binary neutron star merger detected in gravitational waves

The precious elements in our Earth-bound bling are thought to have been forged in ancient fiery cataclysms, when pairs of neutron stars spiraled together and merged into black holes. Telescopes at CTIO recently pinpointed and studied the light from such a merger. The first optical counterpart to a gravitational wave detection, the discovery confirms that merging neutron star binaries are indeed major cosmic production sites of rare heavy elements.

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Read more in the NOAO Press Release: Cosmic Forge of Rare Heavy Elements Discovered.

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Last updated or reviewed February 21, 2011.