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The LBTI Leaps Forward

The LBTI Leaps Forward

Professor Phil Hinz, the P.I. of the LBTI instrument, has reported progress on a variety of fronts (complete with some amazing scientific pictures). His words follow:

First, in late April the LBTI project was reviewed by an independent panel, convened by NASA, for readiness to proceed to nulling operations. The panel has given LBTI a "pass" with only minor items to address. As part of the review the LBTI team demonstrated the ability to detect dust around nearby stars with typical uncertainties of 12 times the zodiacal dust in our own solar system. In fact, LBTI has a positive detection on an example star where the level is ~90 +/-8 zodies. The performance is approximately 12 times more sensitive than the Keck Interferometric Nuller.

Again, in late April, the LBTI team released results of LBTI imaging interferometry of Io. This shows the capabilities of LBT with ELT-like resolution. As part of this we resolved the volcano Loki, on Io, detecting it as a ring of lava emission. You can read more about it HERE.

This release follows on two previous science results from this spring: one from a couple weeks ago for the planetary system around HR 8799, where the LBTI team constrains the presence of inner planets (and showcase a very impressive image of the system), and one from earlier this spring where they constrained the spatial location of the inner dust disk around η Crv, using early nulling results with LBTI.

Adam Block's Astrophotography Lecture at the Center for Creative Photography

On April 23, as part of the amazing astrophotography exhibit at the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography, Steward's Adam Block gave one of the guest talks. Here is the podcast for your viewing pleasure.

LBT's Multi-Institution LEECH Survey Pays Dividends

LBT's Multi-Institution LEECH Survey Pays Dividends

Taking advantage of the unprecedented sensitivity of the Large Binocular Telescope in southeastern Arizona, an international team of astronomers has obtained the first results from the LEECH exoplanet imaging survey. The findings reveal new insights into the architecture and dynamics of HR8799, a "scaled-up" version of our solar system 130 light-years from Earth.

LEECH is led by Andrew Skemer, a Hubble Fellow at the UA/Steward, and uses the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, which was built at the University of Arizona by Professor Philip Hinz.  By directly imaging extrasolar planets, LEECH will be able to characterize the atmospheres of gas-giant planets to determine their compositions, cloud structures and weather patterns.  LEECH will also discover new planetary systems by being able to see planets that are closer to their host stars than previous surveys. LEECH will also search for new planetary systems around 200 stars by being able to see planets that are closer to their host stars than previous surveys could.

The press release can be found HERE and the AZ Star article can be found HERE

UA Awarded a NASA "Nexus for Exoplanet System Science" (NExSS) Five-year Study

A multi-insitutional and multi-disciplinary team of astronomers, planetary scientists, chemists, and materials scientists has been selected by NASA for a 5-year-long 5.7 million dollar award to study how earth-like planets form and how they accrete the ingredients required for life. The team is led by Steward and LPL assistant professor Daniel Apai and will be part of NASA bold new program Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS). The UA-led team represents a large-scale and highly interdisciplinary effort and includes researchers from the National Optical Astronomical Observatory, the University of Chicago, Arizona State University, and the Planetary Science Institute. The group will combine astronomical observations and laboratory measurements with a new generation of planet formation simulation to model the origins of potentially life-bearing planets to help interpret exoplanet observations and to giude the development of NASA missions aiming to find life in planets around nearby stars.

The press release can be found HERE. You can find the Arizona Daily Star article HERE.

Happy 25 Years in Space, Hubble Space Telescope

Happy 25 Years in Space, Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched from Cape Canaveral on April 24, 1990. It was carried to orbit with STS-31, Discovery Space Shuttle. A UA instrument, NICMOS, with UA's Rodger Thompson as P.I.,was inserted into HST during Servicing Mission 2, in early 1997. The success of Hubble led the way to the upcoming 2018 launch of JWST, another mission with a major UA presence (and HERE and  HERE, too). The 25th anniversary is noted in this UANews press release and in this photo gallery in the Arizona Daily Star. The NASA press and image release can be found HERE. A NY Times photo set is found HERE, with an article HERE. Finally, an Apr 24 AzStar article is HERE. and to keep it going, here's a Sky&Telescope article that's a bit different from the rest.

Earth-Sized Telescope Expands to the South Pole to See Black Holes in Detail

Earth-Sized Telescope Expands to the South Pole to See Black Holes in Detail

TUCSON, Arizona – Astronomers building an Earth-size virtual telescope capable of photographing the event horizon of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way have extended their instrument to the bottom of the Earth — the South Pole — thanks to recent efforts by a team led by Dan Marrone of the University of Arizona.

[The four paragraphs quoted here are from a UA Press release written by Daniel Stolte. The link to the complete story can be found below.]

Marrone, an assistant professor in the UA's Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, and several colleagues flew to the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in December to bring the South Pole Telescope, or SPT, into the largest virtual telescope ever built — the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT. By combining telescopes across the Earth, the EHT will take the first detailed pictures of black holes.

The EHT is an array of radio telescopes connected using a technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI. Larger telescopes can make sharper observations, and interferometry allows multiple telescopes to act like a single telescope as large as the separation — or "baseline" — between them.

"Now that we’ve done VLBI with the SPT, the Event Horizon Telescope really does span the whole Earth, from the Submillimeter Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona, to California, Hawaii, Chile, Mexico, Spain and the South Pole," Marrone said. "The baselines to SPT give us two to three times more resolution than our past arrays, which is absolutely crucial to the goals of the EHT. To verify the existence of an event horizon, the 'edge' of a black hole, and more generally to test Einstein's theory of general relativity, we need a very detailed picture of a black hole. With the full EHT, we should be able to do this."

This story and images are online at


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