A New Day is Dawning For Astronomers

by David Harris - Graduate Student

While the astronomy group grows ever larger, opportunities within astronomy seem to grow faster still. Announced over just the last few weeks, the department has added three new faculty members. New astronomy-minded post-docs, grad students, and undergrads will be joining us shortly.


Meanwhile, opportunities for research abound. The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) will soon be finishing its second year of observations and is on track to meet its goal of spectroscopically measuring the redshift of 1.5 million galaxies across 10,000 square degrees of sky by the spring of 2014. The Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), which, like BOSS, is part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, saw first light this spring. APOGEE will use high resolution infrared spectroscopy to study 100,000 red giant stars across the galaxy, providing important information on the chemical and dynamical history of our galaxy. Coming up soon, BigBOSS will expand on our current project, BOSS, and will develop the world’s most powerful astronomical survey spectrograph. The collaboration will be able to, in effect, create a map of both nearby and distant galaxies, unprecedented in its scope.

Opportunities for outreach to the community, a very important part of our role in the department, have been frequent. At Yuri’s Night, celebrating Yuri Gagarin’s history making first orbit, many in and out of the department came together to watch a video about the momentous occasion. On May 7th, 2011 we celebrated Astronomy Day. A special star party was organized by the University and the Salt Lake Astronomical Society at Stansbury Park. The Clark Planetarium showed many of its movies for just a dollar. The planetarium lobby, meanwhile, was filled with tables, allowing professional and amateur astronomers and engineers to present their expertise to the community. I was able to speak to over one hundred people there! What a great opportunity to share our work with our community.

More recently, the department hired Tabitha Buehler, who is now leading many of our outreach programs. She came in just in time, too. The recent solar eclipse was an excellent opportunity to invite the community to our South Physics Observatory and teach them about Astronomy for this rare and beautiful eclipse. And just a few days later a literal once in a lifetime Venus transit occurred, giving us another opportunity for community outreach.

It certainly is a good time to be an astronomer at the University of Utah!

Free Star Parties

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The University of Utah’s Department of Physics & Astronomy hosts free public Star Parties every clear Wednesday night on the roof of the South Physics Building at the University of Utah.
Boy/Girl Scout tours available upon request.
More information:
801-58-SPACE (801-587-7223)