Back to the Beginning: Probing the First Galaxies with Webb


January 15, 2021 10:00AM (EST) Release ID: 2021-04



Deep-sky survey seeks to answer some of astronomy’s most pressing questions

When our universe was very young, it was a dark place filled with a neutral and opaque gas. How that gas became transparent is something that scientists have been trying to understand for a long time. Many believe that change involved the first generation of extremely massive, luminous and hot stars to form after the big bang. Soon, through the power of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers may come closer to answering that question.

By peering deep into the universe, Webb will actually look back in time. A large, ambitious, deep-sky survey totaling nearly 800 hours of observing time will trace the formation and evolution of the first galaxies in what is possibly the cosmos’ busiest star-forming period. Other open questions this survey will address are how rapidly galaxies form and assemble, and how quickly and where they form their stars. Also, scientists know that supermassive black holes were already in place less than 1 billion years after the big bang. With Webb, they hope to detect the primeval seeds of these monsters.


A spectacular firestorm of star birth suddenly lit up the heavens and populated the first galaxies when the universe was less than five percent of its current age. This fiery flurry—possibly the cosmos’ busiest star-forming period—occurred just a few hundred million years after the big bang. Soon, through the power of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers will look back to that raucous, early period in a deep-sky survey to trace the formation and evolution of the first galaxies.

Called JADES—the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey—this large, ambitious survey totals nearly 800 hours of observing time. The survey takes advantage of Webb’s sensitivity to infrared light, which has longer wavelengths than visible light and is invisible to the human eye.

“Galaxies, we think, begin building up in the first billion years after the big bang, and sort of reach adolescence at 1 to 2 billion years. We’re trying to investigate those early periods,” explained JADES teammate Daniel Eisenstein, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University. “We must do this with an infrared-optimized telescope because the expansion of the universe causes light to increase in wavelength as it traverses the vast distance to reach us. So even though the stars are emitting light primarily in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths, that light is shifted quite relentlessly out into the infrared. Only Webb can get to the depth and sensitivity that’s needed to study these early galaxies.”

Joining Forces

The JADES survey is a collaboration of two Webb instrument teams granted Guaranteed Time Observations: the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) teams. The program combines the imaging of NIRCam and the spectroscopic capabilities of NIRSpec with Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which boasts both a camera and a spectrograph. Through the use of coordinated, parallel observations, the JADES team will get the best out of all three instruments.

Scientists will then combine Webb’s results with the deepest data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the ground-based Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array and Jansky Very Large Array radio telescopes to produce an unprecedented view of the universe’s very earliest galaxies. By studying galaxies across all these wavelengths, scientists will get a complete picture, allowing them to analyze the light of the galaxies’ stars, the dust and the interstellar medium, and the supermassive black holes that are thought to reside within these galaxies.

Studying Familiar Fields

The team chose two, previously well-studied fields from the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS) for their observations. GOODS united extremely deep observations from NASA’s Spitzer, Hubble, and Chandra, as well as ESA’s Herschel and XMM-Newton space telescopes, and from the most powerful ground-based facilities to survey the faintest light then detectable in the distant universe across the electromagnetic spectrum. The survey covered two large fields, GOODS-North and GOODS-South, which are located in the northern constellation Ursa Major and the southern constellation Fornax, respectively. GOODS-South also contains the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which is to this day the deepest, most sensitive image of the sky ever taken with Hubble. Now, looking at the same areas, Webb will go even deeper.

“We chose these fields because they have such a great wealth of supporting information. They’ve been studied at many other wavelengths, so they were the logical ones to do,” said Marcia Rieke, who co-leads the JADES Team with Pierre Ferruit of the European Space Agency (ESA). Rieke is also the principal investigator on Webb’s NIRCam instrument and a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona.

The team is also observing the two widely separated fields to study the differences between the number of galaxies at different distances in one field, as compared with the other.

Seeing the Formation of Galaxies, Stars and Black Holes

How rapidly galaxies form and assemble, and how quickly and where they form their stars are still open questions. Several ambitious goals of the JADES program include understanding the distribution of stellar mass in infant galaxies, as well as stellar luminosity, star-formation rates, and stellar age, size and composition. JADES will also analyze galaxies’ nuclear activity, determine galaxy structure, and map gas movement over a wide range of distances.

Another goal of the program is understanding the properties of the first generation of black holes. Scientists have measured a tight relationship between the mass of a galaxy’s central black hole and the mass of that galaxy’s bulge, but how that occurs is currently only the stuff of models and speculation. The JADES team hopes to illuminate the nature of this relationship.

Scientists know these supermassive black holes were already in place with billions of solar masses less than 1 billion years after the big bang, which is less than 10 percent of the universe’s current age. But how such enormous black holes came about so early in the universe is very difficult to understand.

“We hope to detect the primeval seeds of these monster black holes, the smaller black holes that formed soon after the big bang, and to understand what were their masses, how they were accreting mass, and where they were located,” explained JADES teammate Roberto Maiolino, a member of ESA’s NIRSpec Instrument Science Team and a professor of experimental astrophysics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. “For a long time, Webb will be the only facility to possibly detect and understand the processes that later on resulted in these monsters that were already created in the early universe.”

Seeking the First Stars

Another mystery involves the gas between the galaxies, which astronomers know today is highly ionized and transparent. But in the first million years, it was not ionized—it was neutral gas that was opaque. How the transition from neutral to ionized gas—from opaque to transparent—occurred is something that scientists have been trying to understand for a long time.

“This transition is a fundamental phase change in the nature of the universe,” said JADES teammate Andrew Bunker, another member of the ESA NIRSpec Instrument Science Team and a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “We want to understand what caused it. It could be that it’s the light from very early galaxies and the first burst of star formation.”

The JADES team hopes to discover this first population of extremely massive, luminous and hot stars to form after the big bang. “That’s kind of one of the Holy Grails, to find the so-called Population III stars that formed from the hydrogen and helium of the big bang,” explained Bunker. “People have been trying to do this for many decades and results have been inconclusive so far.”

Why Webb?

The extremely distant targets of the JADES team appear very small and faint, and their light is often completely shifted beyond optical wavelengths. For these reasons, these objects can only be observed with superlative infrared capability of a large, cold telescope. Webb was built specifically for this purpose; this was one of the major science cases driving its design.

Because of Webb’s sheer size, it will have spatial resolution in the infrared similar to what astronomers have enjoyed with Hubble. Webb will give them a much clearer view at long wavelengths than they have ever had before.

Webb’s ability to get simultaneous spectra of multiple objects at infrared wavelengths is another critical aspect of the JADES program. NIRSpec will be able to target more than 100 galaxies at one time, taking a spectrum of each.

Webb’s much larger collecting area, its ability to observe fainter galaxies, and its capacity to simultaneously study multiple objects in a way that scientists have not been able to do before make ambitious, large surveys such as JADES possible for the first time.

“We tend to talk about projects like this in the context of theories and models that we have right now,” said Rieke. “But I’m hoping that with Webb we’ll find something that we haven’t suspected at all—that there will be some new surprise—and that will be great fun!”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.


Galaxies Deep Fields Guaranteed Time Observation program


Ann Jenkins / Christine Pulliam
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
410-338-4488 / 410-338-4366 /

Related Links:

Video: Galaxies Through Time
Infographic: Cosmic Reionization
NASA’s Webb Portal





January 11, 2021 4:10PM (EST) Release ID: 2021-03 




In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope stared at a blank patch of the sky for 10 straight days. The resulting Deep Field image captured thousands of previously unseen, distant galaxies. Similar observations have followed since then, including the longest and deepest exposure, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Now, astronomers are looking ahead to the future, and the possibilities enabled by NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.

The Roman Space Telescope will be able to photograph an area of sky 100 times larger than Hubble with the same exquisite sharpness. As a result, a Roman Ultra Deep Field would collect millions of galaxies, including hundreds that date back to just a few hundred million years after the big bang. Such an observation would fuel new investigations into multiple science areas, from the structure and evolution of the universe to star formation over cosmic time.
Roman Ultra Deep Field

One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s most iconic images is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which unveiled myriad galaxies across the universe, stretching back to within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang. Hubble peered at a single patch of seemingly empty sky for hundreds of hours beginning in September 2003, and astronomers unveiled the galaxy tapestry in 2004, with more observations in subsequent years.

NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will be able to photograph an area of the sky at least 100 times larger than Hubble with the same crisp sharpness. Among the many observations that will be enabled by this wide view of the cosmos, astronomers are considering the possibility and scientific potential of a Roman Space Telescope “ultra-deep field.” Such an observation could reveal new insights into subjects ranging from star formation during the universe’s youth to the way galaxies cluster together in space.

Roman will enable new science in all areas of astrophysics, from the solar system to the edge of the observable universe. Much of Roman’s observing time will be dedicated to surveys over wide swaths of the sky. However, some observing time will also be available for the general astronomical community to request other projects. A Roman ultra deep field could greatly benefit the scientific community, say astronomers.

“As a community science concept, there could be exciting science returns from ultra-deep field observations by Roman. We would like to engage the astronomical community to think about ways in which they could take advantage of Roman’s capabilities,” said Anton Koekemoer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Koekemoer presented the Roman ultra-deep field idea at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, on behalf of a group of astronomers spanning more than 30 institutions.

As an example, a Roman ultra-deep field could be similar to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field – looking in a single direction for a few hundred hours to build up an extremely detailed image of very faint, distant objects. Yet while Hubble snagged thousands of galaxies this way, Roman would collect millions. As a result, it would enable new science and vastly improve our understanding of the universe.

Structure and History of the Universe

Perhaps most exciting is the possibility of studying the very early universe, which corresponds to the most distant galaxies. Those galaxies are also the rarest: for example, only a handful are seen in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

Thanks to Roman’s wide field of view and near-infrared data of similar quality to Hubble’s, it could discover many hundreds, or possibly thousands, of these youngest, most distant galaxies, interspersed among the millions of other galaxies. That would let astronomers measure how they group together in space as well as their ages and how their stars have formed.

“Roman would also yield powerful synergies with current and future telescopes on the ground and in space, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and others,” said Koekemoer.

Moving forward in cosmic time, Roman would pick up additional galaxies that existed about 800 million to 1 billion years after the big bang. At that time, galaxies were just beginning to group together into clusters under the influence of dark matter. While researchers have simulated this process of forming large-scale structures, a Roman ultra-deep field would provide real world examples to test those simulations.

Star Formation Over Cosmic Time

The early universe also experienced a firestorm of star formation. Stars were being born at rates hundreds of times faster than what we see today. In particular, astronomers are eager to study “cosmic dawn” and “cosmic noon,” which together cover a time 500 million to 3 billion years after the big bang when most star formation was happening, as well as when supermassive black holes were most active.

“Because Roman’s field of view is so large, it will be game changing. We would be able to sample not just one environment in a narrow field of view, but instead a variety of environments captured by Roman’s wide-eyed view. This will give us a better sense of where and when star formation was happening,” explained Sangeeta Malhotra of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Malhotra is a co-investigator on the Roman science investigation teams working on cosmic dawn, and has led programs that do deep spectroscopy with Hubble, to learn about distant, young galaxies.

Astronomers are eager to measure star formation rates in this distant epoch, which could influence a variety of factors such as the amount of heavy elements observed. Rates of star formation might depend on whether or not a galaxy lies within a large cluster. Roman will be capable of taking faint spectra that will show distinct “fingerprints” of these elements, and give accurate distances (called redshifts) of galaxies.

“Population experts might ask, what differences are there between people who live in big cities, versus those in suburbia, or rural areas? Similarly, as astronomers we can ask, do the most active star forming galaxies live in very clustered regions, or just at the edges of clusters, or do they live in isolation?” Malhotra said.

Big Data and Machine Learning

One of the greatest challenges of the Roman mission will be learning how to analyze the abundance of scientific information in the public datasets that it will produce. In a sense, Roman will create new opportunities not only in terms of sky coverage, but also in data mining.

A Roman ultra-deep field would contain information on millions of galaxies – far too many to be studied by researchers one at a time. Machine learning—a form of artificial intelligence—will be needed to process the massive database. While this is a challenge, it also offers an opportunity. “You could explore completely new questions that you couldn’t previously address,” stated Koekemoer.

“The discovery potential enabled by the huge datasets from the Roman mission could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe, beyond what we might currently envision,” Koekemoer added. “That could be Roman’s lasting legacy for the scientific community: not only in answering the science questions we think we can address, but also new questions that we have yet to think of.”


CONTACT:Christine Pulliam
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

RELATED LINKS:The Astro 2020 white paper by A. Koekemoer et al.
NASA’s Roman Portal


Roman Ultra Deep Field Roman Ultra Deep Field Annotated


Roman HUDF Zoom Out Roman HUDF Zoom Out Annotated

SETI Talks: Birth of the New Giant Telescopes

New giant telescopes will allow us to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity.

About this Event

The Arecibo Telescope may have tragically collapsed last year, but it doesn’t mean the end of the era of giants in astronomy. Giant ground-based telescopes currently being built will get their first light this decade. The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) are revolutionary telescopes that will transform humanity’s view and understanding of the universe. They will provide new observational opportunities in nearly every field of astronomy and astrophysics. These new instruments will observe in wavelengths ranging from the near-ultraviolet to the mid-infrared, allowing astronomers to address fundamental questions ranging from understanding star and planet formation to unraveling the history of galaxies and the development of large-scale structures in the universe.

We invited two astronomers whose careers are strongly related to two of these telescopes to discuss their potential and the status of these projects. Rebecca Bernstein is the Chief Scientist for GMT, a next-generation extremely large telescope with seven segmented mirrors that will be 25.4 meters in diameter, making its resolving power more than ten times that of the Hubble Space Telescope. Christophe Dumas is the Observatory Scientist and Head of Operations at the TMT. With its 30 m prime mirror diameter, TMT will be three times as wide, with nine times more area, than the largest currently existing visible-light telescope in the world. Both giant telescope that will allow us to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity.

These scientists will discuss the need for large telescopes in today’s modern astronomy, the challenge of building these telescopes and their enclosures, which are rotating buildings, twenty-two-stories tall, and the and instruments for them, which are the size of a European flat. This conversation will include a description of the international consortium’s role in providing political and financial support for the projects. They will also tell us what to expect from these giants and when they will be ready to open their eyes and observe the cosmos.

Christophe Dumas joined the TMT in July 2015 as TMT Observatory Scientist and Head of Operations. Previously, he was in charge of the science operations of the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope in the Atacama desert of Northern Chile. His scientific interest is in studying the physical/chemical characteristics of small primitive solar system bodies and how they can inform us about the formation of planetary systems at large. To this end, he mainly uses ground-based infrared spectrophotometry techniques in coordination with high-angular resolution/contrast adaptive optics instrumentation. Christophe earned a degree in engineering from Supelec in 1992 and a PhD in Astrophysics in 1997 from the University Denis Diderot in Paris.

Rebecca Bernstein combines observational astronomy with developing new instruments and techniques to study her objects of interest. Her research has included high resolution spectroscopy of stars and extragalactic star clusters to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies. She also studies the stellar components of galaxy clusters and is engaged in various projects related to dark matter and dark energy—the invisible matter and repulsive force that make up most of the universe. Bernstein has been involved in numerous other instrument projects. She is currently on the faculty of the Carnegie Observatories and the Chief Scientist for the GMT project, an international consortium where she provides technical and scientific leadership for the design and construction of the telescope.

UFOs: Hoping for the Proof

Aug 5, 2020

UFO Navy Blue Tint

By Seth Shostak

 Lee este artículo en español: OVNIs: esperando la prueba

Is it vindication at last? The New York Times has recently reported that a supposedly canceled Pentagon project to investigate strange aerial phenomena is still showing a pulse. The clandestine effort, originally known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, was said to have ended in 2012. But, apparently, it’s still doing its thing under the auspices of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

So, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? If the feds are still forking over tax dollars to delve into odd goings-on in the sky, it must be because they’ve got convincing evidence for extraterrestrial visitors. At least that’s the hope of the 100 million Americans who seem willing to swear on the Good Book that UFOs are, at least in some cases, alien craft.

But hang on a minute. Before you order that on-line course in Klingonese, consider what might really be going on here. When the Times first reported on this subject in 2017, it was talking about some puzzling videos taken by Navy fighter pilots over the Pacific. They showed unidentified objects ahead of the jets, objects that seemed to maneuver in bizarre ways. So perhaps the controversial program is simply an additional effort to finally nail down what these objects are. After all, the military has always wanted to know about anything that can fly, and for obvious reasons.

That’s the most straightforward explanation for why the Navy has continued the Pentagon program. It’s also what they’ve said.

But isn’t it possible that what’s really going on here is not an investigation into unknown aircraft or drones, but a distraction to keep us from a more disturbing truth – that UFOs aren’t enemy flying machines, but alien flying machines? Maybe the government doesn’t want to admit this, because they figure we’d all go nuts.

Mind you, it’s hardly clear why extraterrestrials would hie themselves many trillions of miles through the dangerous voids of space simply to pirouette above our heads and occasionally play cat-and-mouse with the Navy. But – full disclosure – we really don’t know what the aliens find interesting to do. Maybe they have their reasons.

This story has an additional fillip. It speaks of “retrieved materials” that are “not made on this Earth.” This claim seems both surprising and suspect. The pilots didn’t report picking up pieces of spacecraft or strange metal alloys (at least not publicly), so it’s unclear where these “materials” were found. In addition, unless an artifact is clearly highly complex – like a Reptilian cell phone – how can you know that it’s not from this planet? This is a case where seeing might be believing, but no one has let us see anything. Which is convenient, if less than fully convincing.

There’s an intriguing facet of this story that I think helps point to the truth. Not only do the extraterrestrials (if that’s what they are) spend time teasing our Top Guns, they also seem to hang out above our military bases. This is an aspect of their uninvited presence which, according to the Times article, has especially disturbed Senator Marco Rubio.

Well, if you’re a sci-fi fan, you’re well acquainted with the idea that hostile aliens need to pay attention to our armament. After all, it might be used to drive them off. And perhaps it’s what’s lured them to Earth in the first place. They’ve come as saviors from on high, keen to separate us from our own weapons of mass destruction. That would, at least, be a reasonable explanation for their apparent interest in our combat capabilities.

But truth be told, it’s totally unreasonable. If the aliens can actually come here – whatever their motivation – then they have technology that’s enormously beyond our own. Comparing their weaponry to ours would be like comparing the U.S. Air Force to an Australopithecus raiding party. Put another way, do you honestly think Captain Picard would ever spend time checking out piles of slingshots or pikes on some primitive planet because, after all, those are state-of-the-art weapons for the local residents?

If whatever it is that the Navy is investigating is real, it’s supposed interest in our military suggests Russian aircraft, Chinese drones, or something else terrestrial. It’s actually an argument against visitors from another star system.

Humans have always been tempted to ascribe strange phenomena to the workings of superhuman beings, much as the Greeks argued that lightning bolts were javelin tosses by Zeus. But science demands that any hypothesis be supported by detailed, repeatable, and impartial observations. Those are lacking here.

The Office of Naval Intelligence will supposedly make regular reports on at least some of their findings. That sort of disclosure sounds as if it would be good news for those who, like Fox Mulder, “want to believe.” But in fact, it might actually work the other way. Disclosure could rob the believers of their best piece of evidence – which is to say, a dearth of good evidence.

VO News: Grant, Awards, VATT, Outreach and More!

Fall is upon us, and we have a lot of updates for you! This newsletter is filled with news about Vatican Observatory outreach efforts, and decisions we have had to make in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In This Issue:

  • John Templeton Foundation Grant
  • 2021 VO Calendars Available
  • September Full Moon Zoom Meetup
  • Reopening the VATT – Fr. Paul Gabor
  • FAW Postponed (and renamed)
  • Summer School 2021 Postponed
  • VOF Ambassador Program
  • Astronomy at the Beach Online
  • International Observe the Moon Night
  • Popular Posts on the Sacred Space Astronomy Site
  • Featured Faith and Science Site Article
  • Latest Publications

John Templeton Foundation Grant

In August the Vatican Observatory Foundation began a year-long project to upgrade our online presence. We hope to make more of our resources available to more visitors, more effectively. This project is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which also supported the initial development of our websites. We described the project to the Templeton Foundation this way:

“Since its founding in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, the Vatican Observatory has had scores of astronomers and other researchers on its staff, produced hundreds of scientific publications, worked on every continent, and continued to collaborate with leading scientists. Yet the most significant work of the Vatican Observatory is in the dialogue between Faith and Science. What can Science help us to understand about our Faith, even about our God? What can Faith help us to understand about Science? And how can this dialogue and mutual search for understanding take place in terms common to both? “The Vatican Observatory Foundation (VOF) was established in 1986 to help the Observatory continue its scholarly research and to reach out to the public with its message of Faith and Science in dialogue. With the support of the John Templeton Foundation, the VOF has taken steps to build an extensive online platform of resources. There is an archive, Faith and Science, and an active online journal, Sacred Space Astronomy, with articles posted daily on astronomy, including education and engagement activities, the societal impact of astronomy, and especially the many connections between faith and astronomy.  “The online platforms of the VOF have developed rapidly and experienced growing pains. It is a challenge to keep up with a changing visitorship who are increasingly mobile and savvy about interactive engagement. Platforms need to be analyzed and new strategies developed to put these to the most effective use. This project involves first studying who the visitors are, what draws them, and why they come to the VOF online. Then comes the restructuring of the existing platforms for more effective and wider interactions. In the end the goal is to fulfill the mission the Vatican Observatory received 130 years ago, by generating more awareness of the important scientific work being done by the Vatican Observatory and dispelling misconceptions regarding the co-existence of Faith and Science.”
So keep an eye out for changes in the next year! Spread the word about the Vatican Observatory! And if you have any feedback on our online presence, contact us at the VOF Business Email.

The Templeton Foundation awards the annual Templeton Prize – honoring “individuals whoseexemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” The Vatican Observatory’s adjunct scholar Fr. Michael Heller won this prestigious award in 2008.
Friends of the Vatican Observatory Foundation have been invited to attend this year’s online award ceremony for Dr. Francis Collins of the NIH!

Click here for directions on how to register and attend!

The Official 2021 Calendar of the Vatican Observatory is now Available!

Enroll in the Guild and get your 2021 Calendar

The Vatican Observatory calendars have been a tradition since the year 2000!
Each month, the Calendar features a beautiful photograph of the heavens by some of the leading astrophotographers from around the world.
For 21 years, the Vatican Observatory Guild has helped to support and promote our work through the distribution of the Official Calendar of the Vatican Observatory. Each contribution of $25 or more entitles a Member of the Guild to receive or give a copy of the 2021 Calendar.

2020 Vatican Observatory Calendar Online

Did you know that the VO 2020 Calendar has an online version that can be viewed at our main website? Along with the same photos as the printed calendar, the online version has detailed information and links to all the daily items mentioned in the calendars.

View the VO 2020 Calendar Online

September Full Moon Zoom Meetup

Join us for our next scheduled Full Moon Meetup!

Tue. Sept. 1st @ 10:00 AM Tucson time (1:00 PM EDT).

A new tradition of ours where Sacred Space Astronomy members have the opportunity to meet with Vatican Observatory staff during online sessions – held when the Moon is Full in Tucson. These meetups have been a lot of fun and very informative!

Our fourth meetup will feature Fr. Rich Boyle SJ who will talk about his work at the VATT – from characterizing whole clusters of stars, to discovering Kuiper belt Objects. And he’ll tell us the secret of how he puts together the schedule every semester for who gets to use the telescope, and when.

Reopening the VATT

In the first observing semester of 2020 (February – July) we lost a significant amount of time. First, all activity on the mountaintop was suspended due to COVID-19 from March 20 – May 27. We opened again with Fr. Richard Boyle as the VATT operator and observer (May 28 – June 9). On June 12 we started this year’s VATT-PEPSI-TESS campaign. Unfortunately, wild-fire smoke and ash, mainly coming from the Bighorn Fire (120,000 acres), made us keep the dome closed, costing us eight more nights. On July 13, we entered the summer shutdown, which is a common practice in southern Arizona primarily due to the lightning risk during the monsoon season. It is also a time dedicated to various projects, especially those incompatible with science operations.

Safety of our personnel and of visiting scholars is paramount. Under normal circumstances, safety on Mt Graham, which is a remote site, calls for a sufficient presence of trained personnel capable of dealing with emergencies, including medical evacuations. On the other hand, the pandemic dictates limiting our numbers on site in order to minimize contact. Our COVID-19 protocols for Mt Graham are a compromise between these two opposing considerations. In practice this means that only one person can be staying at the VATT at any given time, provided that there is sufficient presence of qualified personnel in the other buildings at the summit.

The protocols introduced in May are still in force, imposing severe restrictions on our on-site activity. We are carrying out only those projects which can be safely conducted by a single person with limited assistance. Here are two examples. Chris Johnson installed new optical fibers, mainly connecting the instrument room and the dome. Michael Franz reviewed various equipment and supplies stored at the facility, identifying items to be recycled or surplussed. The photograph is a “still life” of these items in the VATT’s loading dock. Gary Grey provided assistance while observing health precautions.
Richard Boyle has assembled the fall schedule bearing in mind the limited number of observers approved for solo runs. The first observing run of the new semester will start, weather permitting, in early September.
-Fr. Paul Gabor

FAW 2021 Postponed (and to be renamed)

The beginning of September is when we would normally start soliciting applications to our Faith and Astronomy Workshop for Catholic pastors and educators, but (as we are sick of hearing) nothing is normal this year. For two reasons, we have decided to postpone the workshop until January 2022 (with applications open in September 2021).

The first reason, the uncertainty of travel this year, is obvious. But the second reason is that, as we describe below, the biennial Vatican Observatory Summer Schools have also been postponed a year. We need to run these two programs during alternating years; otherwise we’d be trying to organize them both at the same time!

And since we’re postponing the workshop, this looks like a good moment to come up with a better name: one that describes what the workshop is actually trying to accomplish. The old name implied that we were focusing on faith in the context of astronomy, but actually what the workshop does is immerse teachers and pastors into the world of astronomy… astronomy in the context of faith, you might say.

After some discussion, we came up with “Astronomy for Catholic Educators” which has the added benefit of a nice acronym, ACE. But then Justin pointed out that it’s not just educators but parish priests and other faith ministers who are invited. So our second try was “Astronomy for Catholics in Ministry and Education” with the acronym ACME.

At this point, Bob Trembly broke out laughing… “All I can think of is the coyote and roadrunner!” 

At that point, I mentioned to Bob that I see coyotes in our neighborhood all the time during my morning walks; and Justin chimed in with noting that he sees roadrunners during his daily runs. This is, after all, the setting for those famous cartoons.

So, which name do you prefer? ACE or ACME? Let us know!

Summer School 2021 Postponed

Earlier this year, we reported that the biennial Vatican Observatory Summer School scheduled to occur this summer had to be postponed until the summer of 2021. 

Fortunately, Italy is in much better shape now with regard to the spread of the coronavirus, and so we are confident that having this school in 2021 should be possible. Of course we continue to “monitor the situation.” (We got a bit of criticism back in February when we decided early on to postpone the school, but sadly our caution then was proved to be well founded.)

All the students who were admitted to the 2020 school have been invited to join us in 2021 instead, where we will spend four weeks in Castel Gandolfo exploring the topic of the “Centres of Galaxies: Theory Meets Observations.” (The international team of instructors is headed by Prof. Witold Maciejewski of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, so he gets to choose the UK spelling!)

This school is the first one to be supported entirely by the Vatican Observatory Foundation!

Your donations are essential to make it happen. It costs us about $3,000 per student to bring them to Rome, house and feed them, and provide the academic support to run the summer school. We’re happy to say that we had already reached nearly half our budgeted needs before the school was suspended, but now we need to ask again for your support so that we can be ready to make the hotel and plane reservations in early 2021. 

How do you to donate? Go to the VOF’s “One-Time Donation” page and indicate “VOSS 2021” in the “comments” box.

Image Credit: NRAO, Cal Tech, Walter Jaffe/Leiden Observatory, Holland Ford/JHU/STScI, and NASA

Former Vatican Observatory Summer School Attendee Awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for Outstanding Public Outreach

An alumnus of the 1993 Vatican Observatory Summer Schools, Dr. Ray Jayawardhana, has recently been awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for outstanding public outreach from the American Astronomical Society, Division for Planetary Science (DPS)!

His citation reads:

The DPS awards the 2020 Carl Sagan Medal to Dr. Ray Jayawardhana (Cornell University) for outstanding contributions to the dissemination of planetary science research to the general public. Ray (aka RayJay) has published four popular books to widespread acclaim, one of which was the basis for an hourlong CBC TV documentary. His most recent book, Child of the Universe, is aimed at kids and builds on the legacy of Carl Sagan by revealing our deep and enduring links with the cosmos. Over three decades, Ray has written frequently for many prestigious and widely read publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Science. While reaching out to the general public, Ray has remained a highly published and cited scientist and has been honored repeatedly for his research accomplishments.

Ray, a native of Sri Lanka, taught at York University in Canada for many years before recently taking on the position of Dean of Arts and Sciences at Cornell.

Photo Credit: Cornell University File Photo
Ray’s fellow students at the 1993 Vatican Observatory Summer School included Vatican Observatory director emeritus Fr. José Funes SJ, our current director Br. Guy, and also Dr. Heino Falcke, who made the news last year as one of the principle scientists on the famous microwave Black Hole image. This Sacred Space Astronomy article talks about Dr. Falcke’s work… and mentions another familiar name!

VOF Ambassador Program

Even as the Covid-19 virus has eliminated for the moment any opportunities for public gatherings, the day will come (we hope soon!) when once again representatives of the Vatican Observatory will be able to answer invitations to come and speak before schools and parish audiences. In preparation for that time, VOF board members Pamela Snyder and Jim Renn have moved forward in developing the new positions of Vatican Observatory Foundation: Ambassadors.

Modeled on the successful volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program, these ambassadors will be enthusiastic supporters of our work who will be trained to “proclaim the heavens” to schools and parishes in their community. Potential ambassadors go through a rigorous screening process; they must complete the safety training required for anyone working with minors, and their work must be approved by their local diocese. The Ambassador program provides special resources including access to the Vatican astronomers and sample talks that can be used to develop a well-informed outreach to their local communities.

So far there are seven approved ambassadors, counting Pamela and Jim. Two of them, Fr. Juan Pablo Marrufo del Toro SJ and Deacon Joe Stickney, are also ambassador consultants. The other three are Fr. Tim Martinez, Mr. Joel Hopko, and Mr. Liam Finn. The dioceses represented so far are Phoenix, Tucson, and Santa Fe. 

At the moment the program is still an experiment; once we have experience seeing what needs to be developed, we will be putting out a call for more ambassadors. If you are interested, stay tuned! 

Astronomy at the Beach – Sept. 25 & 26 – Online!

Michigan’s largest FREE astronomy event will transition to an online format this year… and this year it features several speakers well-known to followers of the Vatican Observatory Foundation!

The public is invited to see live talks from real astronomers, cool science demonstrations and live telescope views. This is a fun and educational STEM experience for all ages!

Real Astronomers:

●    David Levy “Poetry of the Night: How the Night Sky Enriches Literature Through the Ages” – Co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter, and regular contributor to the Foundation’s Sacred Space Astronomy site!

●    Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ and Dan Davis, co-authors of the book “Turn Left at Orion.” 

●    Dolores Hill – “OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Mission is a GO for TAG: Final Update Before Sample Collection” – “Meteorite Specialist at University of Arizona, and speaker at the 2020 Vatican Observatory Foundation seminar!

Cool Science Demonstrations:

· “Scale Model of the Solar System” – Mike Bruno of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club

· “Rocket Launch Photography” – John McGill of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club

· “Live Sky: Astronomy Trivia” – Jeff Stark of the Flint Longway Planetarium

· “Teaching Astronomy to Children” – a panel of teachers who teach astronomy

· “Star-Hopping with the Free Stellarium Program” – Adrian Bradley of Ann Arbor Lowbrows Club

· “Tour of the Solar System with the SpaceEngine Program” – Bob Trembley of the Warren Astronomical Society & Vatican Observatory Foundation!

· “Building and Launching Rockets in Kerbal Space Program” – Bob Trembley

· “Amazing Astronomy and Fantastic Physics” – Michigan Science Center

· And much more!

Live Telescope Views:

· See prominences on the surface of the Sun

· Zooming in on lunar craters and mountains

· Jupiter with its many cloud layers, Saturn’s amazing rings and Mars’ white polar cap

· Star clusters, nebulae, and far-away galaxies

The members of GLAAC have numerous suggestions for pre-recorded videos and online resources that they think you should know about. Many of these will make great STEM resources for teachers and students.

Visit the Astronomy at the Beach 2020 website

The Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs is comprised of 8 southeastern Michigan astronomy clubs who are passionate volunteers – GLAAC has hosted the Astronomy at the Beach event for 24 years! We look forward to a time when we can host this event in-person again, and get your eyes to the skies!

Visit NASA’s Observe the Moon Night site
Sept. 26th
International Observe the Moon Night is a time to come together with fellow Moon enthusiasts and curious people worldwide. Everyone on Earth is invited to learn about lunar science and exploration, take part in celestial observations, and honor cultural and personal connections to the Moon. Note that we encourage you to interpret “observe” broadly.

Popular Posts on Sacred Space Astronomy

Talking to Your Dog… or to E.T.
Chris Graney

Extraterrestrials! They are an idea from science whose impact on popular culture has been huge. Think of those big movie franchises that involve beings from other worlds: Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek, and more.

Extraterrestrials have not always been popular. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher from before Christ, reasoned that Earth is the only world that exists. No other worlds. No extraterrestrials… [Read More]
Sleepless in Wisconsin: My Comet Neowise Images
Fr. James Kurzynski

Fr. James shares several of his ceautiful astrophotos of comet NEOWISE, and discusses star-tracking with his telescope. [Read More]

Featured Faith and Science Archive Article

Vatican II – Joseph Ratzinger on The Christian and the Technological World
An excerpt from the 1966 Theological Highlights of Vatican II, by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI):

The objectivity of science is much more in line with the idea of creation than a false divinization of the world which science and faith equally reject…. The scientific view of the world, which presupposes both the world’s non-divinity and its logical and comprehensible structure, is profoundly in accord with the view of the world as created (and thus non-divine): the world as produced by the Logos, God’s Spirit-filled Word. Thus, like the Logos, the world is rationally and spiritually structured. One might even say that only such a basic attitude makes natural science possible in its full scope.”
Read the Full Article on the VOF’s Faith and Science Site

Latest Publications

R. Boyle and R. Janusz: V. Straižys et al., “Open Cluster IC 1369 and Its Vicinity: Multicolor Photometry and Gaia DR2 Astrometry”. The Astronomical Journal, 159, 95

C. J. Corbally: S. J. Murphy et al., “The Discovery of lambda Bootis Stars – The Southern Survey II.” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Boone Rappaport, et al., “Neuroplasticity as a Foundation for Human Enhancements in Space.” Acta Astronautica 175, 438

P. Gabor: A. Gibbs et al, “EDEN: Sensitivity Analysis and Transiting Planet Detection Limits for Nearby Late Red Dwarfs.” The Astronomical Journal, 159

G. Gionti: “The Beginning of the Universe and the Question of God.” La Civiltà Cattolica, 3 March.

R. J. Macke: P. P. Povinec et al., “Radionuclides in Chassigny and Nakhla meteorites of Mars origin: Implications for their pre-atmospheric sizes and cosmic-ray exposure ages” Planetary and Space Science, 186;; G. J. Flynn et. al.,“Hypervelocity cratering and disruption of the Northwest Africa 4502 carbonaceous chondrite meteorite: Implications for crater production, catastrophic disruption, momentum transfer and dust production on asteroids” Planetary and Space Science, 187,; A. M. Ruzicka et al., “Shock compaction heating and collisional processes in the production of type 3 ordinary chondrites: Lessons from the (nearly) unique L3 chondrite melt breccia Northwest Africa 8709.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science, in press.

R. J. Macke and G. J. Consolmagno.: C. P. Opeil. et al., “The surprising thermal properties of CM carbonaceous chondrites.” Meteoritics and Planetary Science, in press.

A. Omizzolo: R. Rampasso et al, “Morphology and surface photometry of a sample of isolated early-type galaxies from deep imaging” Astronomy and Astrophysics, in press.

Adjunct Scholars:

Francl, M.: “The invisible college”, Nature Chemistry, 12, 582-583; “A chemist’s cup of tea”, Nature Chemistry, 12, 319-320.

J. G. Funes: M. Lares, et al. “Monte Carlo estimation of the probability of causal contacts between communicating civilizations.” International Journal of Astrobiology.

M. Heller: in L. Pysiak et al., “Functorial Differential Spaces and Infinitesimal Structure of Space-Time”, Reports on Mathematical Physics, 85 (3) 443-454.

D. Minniti: M. G. Navarro et al., “VVV Survey Microlensing: Candidate Events with Sources in the Far-Disk”, The Astrophysical Journal, in press; H. Ernandes, et al., “Cobalt and Copper abundances in 56 Galactic bulge red giants”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2007.00397E)  J. F. C. Santos et al., “The VISCACHA survey – II. Structure of star clusters in the Magellanic Clouds periphery”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press (arXiv:2008.04399S)  J. H. Minniti et al., ”Using Classical Cepheids to study the far side of the Milky Way’s disk. I. Spectroscopic classification and the metallicity gradient”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2007.03122)  M. Lombart et al., “VLT/SPHERE survey for exoplanets around young, early-type stars including systems with multi-belt architectures”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2005.08850)  V. D. Ivanov et al., “Qualitative classification of extraterrestrial civilizations”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press (arXiv:2005.13221)

G. Tanzella-Nitti: “Unità del sapere e transdisciplinarità. Per una lettura della ‘Veritatis gaudium’ ”, L’ Osservatore Romano 11 marzo.

Visit The VOF’s Websites

Our Main Site has information about the Foundation: our mission, board, president’s message, VOF news, and more!
Our Faith and Science Archive has hundreds of articles, videos, and audio files on the topic of Faith and Science, for the use of Catholic educators and Catholics seeking education – produced by members of the Vatican Observatory with the support of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
Our Sacred Space Astronomy Site has several authors writing about a wide range of faith and science related topics.

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NASA’s Webb Telescope Will Explore the Cores of Merging Galaxies

September 23, 2020 10:00AM (EDT) Release ID: 2020-49

NGC 3256



Researchers will study four nearby merging galaxies in unprecedented detail.

Merging galaxies often appear lit up like a fireworks display. The meeting of their gas flows accelerates star formation and feeds their central black holes. However, much of this activity, particularly where they are interacting, is shrouded by dust. Webb’s significantly more sensitive, sharper observations in infrared light will be able to see through the dust, leading to high-resolution data that will reveal far more about what’s happening at the cores of these galaxies.
NGC 3256

When galaxies collide, it’s as if all the players in a symphony have begun a furious crescendo: As their stars and gas fall toward the center, star formation escalates. At the same time, the galaxies’ black holes engorge themselves and light up, releasing energy and material into the surrounding gas. These “overtures,” which continue for hundreds of millions of years, are brightest where the centers of galaxies – called nuclei – merge, and those areas are also filled with dust. Until now, high-resolution infrared observations from space that can pierce through the dust weren’t possible. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s observations will return both infrared imagery and spectra that will allow researchers to add incredible detail to our understanding of the precise mechanics at work.

A research team led by Lee Armus of the California Institute of Technology/IPAC in Pasadena and Aaron Evans of the University of Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville will study the centers of a class of interacting galaxies known as merging luminous infrared galaxies. “Webb’s instruments will provide huge leaps in our abilities to resolve what is happening in these galaxies,” explained Armus. “The images and spectra will not only be 50 to 100 times more sensitive than previous infrared data, but also significantly sharper.”

These merging galaxies are often gas-rich spiral galaxies, which means they are still forming stars before colliding. As they approach one another and conduct a delicate “dance,” gas in the galaxies loses angular momentum and funnels toward the center. This triggers additional star formation at an accelerated rate, up to hundreds of solar masses per year compared to one or two per year observed in normal star-forming galaxies like our own. While stars are forming, they heat the surrounding dust, generating enormous amounts of energy in infrared light.

Webb’s high-resolution, infrared instruments will allow researchers to resolve the central star-forming regions for the first time. “We are aiming to observe areas as small as 150 to 300 light-years across,” said Evans. “For context, these galaxies span hundreds of millions of light-years across. Webb will strip away all the dust and see the activity that’s at their cores.”

Pulling Back the “Dusty” Curtain

Each of the team’s targets is part of a much larger, multi-decade program known as GOALS, the Great Observatories All-sky LIRG Survey. The research team has studied more than 200 merging luminous infrared galaxies across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio and ultraviolet light to visible and X-ray light, building robust data sets for each.

The researchers carefully selected four targets – each made up of two galaxies – to produce a far more complete view of the activity that’s occurring in these merging galaxies by adding high-resolution infrared data. They have a range of characteristics, though all are marked by intense star formation or an actively feeding supermassive black hole:

  • Two nuclei are at the center of NGC 3256, but one is largely hidden by dark bands of dust, making infrared observations essential to fully understand where stars are forming and where black holes may lie – as well as how they influence one another. Strong galactic winds emerge from both nuclei, but their properties are largely unknown.
  • NGC 7469 has a starburst ring, and a central bright active galactic nucleus with a jet. Webb’s observations will help the researchers determine how the central, active nucleus is influencing star formation in the center of the galaxy.
  • Dust also shrouds one of the pair of galaxies making up VV 114. Though it is known that widespread star formation is occurring throughout both interacting galaxies, one shines brightly in the infrared and the other in ultraviolet light. Webb will give us the clearest view yet of this fascinating and complex merging pair.
  • II Zw 096 is unique among GOALS sources since the source of its immense infrared power comes from a very compact region not associated with the nuclei of either of the merging galaxies. This object is producing stars nearly 100 times faster than the Milky Way, but in a region less than one ten-thousandth the area. Webb will follow up on observations of these galaxies by NASA’s retired Spitzer Space Telescope, allowing researchers to penetrate the dust and search for a buried, rapidly growing supermassive black hole.

To uncover the processes that cause these conditions, it’s essential to pinpoint where and how fast stars are forming, and measure how much gas the central black holes are accreting with Webb’s infrared observations. “All of these objects, including stars and black holes, are competing for resources,” Armus explained. “Black holes need gas to grow, and as they grow they become energetic and drive outflows. In turn, those outflows affect how stars form by heating and pushing away the gas. With Webb, we will have the ability to understand what the interplay is between all of these processes.”

In addition to images, Webb will gather spectra from the centers of these four merging galaxies. “The images will tell us where things are, but spectra provide the really rich information: They tell you what is there and how it may be moving,” said co-investigator Vivian U of the University of California, Irvine.

To understand what’s happening at the centers of these merging galaxies, the team needs both imagery and highly detailed spectral maps of the active regions around the nuclei – far better than spectra that deliver an average of the entire area observed. Webb’s Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) can do exactly this, which will allow researchers to measure not only what is there, but also the physical conditions within the star-forming regions at the nucleus for the first time.

“Dust lanes are beautiful until you try to find out what’s happening behind them,” U continued. “In near- and mid-infrared, we will start seeing through the dust. And by observing what’s happening at small scales for the first time, we will learn how gas and dust are affecting star formation and the interstellar medium in these environments.”

Far-reaching Research Implications

Although theoretical models of merging galaxies demonstrate how stars form, they currently do not precisely account for how supermassive black holes and lots of hot young stars impact their surrounding environments, or how gas moves within galaxy mergers. The Webb data should give researchers a clear look at the centers of merging galaxies and inform a new generation of models that will describe how galaxies interact and merge.

As part of this study, the team will update and deliver software, first written for Spitzer Space Telescope data, to fit the Webb spectra and generate maps of the galaxies in different emission lines and colors. The team will also use this software to map the dynamics of the gas around the nuclei and study how outflows shape their evolution.

In addition to benefiting scientists who research these or similar objects, this program will also demonstrate Webb’s capabilities in a wide range of scientific applications, helping other scientists effectively and efficiently use the observatory to meet their own science goals and provide a detailed look at nearby galaxies that may resemble young systems in the early universe.

This research is being conducted as part of a Webb Director’s Discretionary-Early Release Science (DD-ERS) program. This program provides time to selected projects early in the telescope’s mission, allowing researchers to quickly learn how best to use Webb’s capabilities, while also yielding robust science.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Contact:Claire Blome / Christine Pulliam
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
667-218-6426 / 410-338-4366 /

Related Links:

NASA’s Webb Portal


NGC 3256NGC 7469II Zw 096


Galaxies Through Time

The NASA James Webb Space Telescope, developed in partnership with ESA and CSA, is operated by AURA’s Space Telescope Science Institute.

Space Telescope Science Institute home page

NGC 3256

Release Date:

September 23, 2020 10:00AM (EDT)

NGC 3256

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Medium 2000 X 2000 PNG 6.37 MB

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Full Res 3640 X 3640 TIFF 28.6 MB

About This Image

Although the two galaxies in NGC 3256 appear merged when viewed in visible light, a second, bright nucleus is found hiding among the tangle of dust lanes in the central region. By using a range of telescopes on the ground and in space, the GOALS (Great Observatories All-sky LIRG Survey) research team has been analyzing galaxies like NGC 3256 from X-ray through radio wavelengths. NGC 3256 has a buried active nucleus, large-scale shocks from two powerful outflows, and a huge number of compact, bright star clusters.

Upcoming research with the James Webb Space Telescope will help researchers learn more about the outflows, which will allow them to better model the hot and cold gas, and determine what implications that has for how and where stars form in rapidly evolving galaxies.

Credits:NASAESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

Fast Facts

About The Object
Object NameNGC 3256, VV 065, AM 1025-433
Object DescriptionInteracting Galaxies
R.A. Position10h 27m 51.57s
Dec. Position-43° 54′ 13.39″
Distance100 million light-years (50 million parsecs)
About The Data
Data DescriptionThe HST observations include those from the Program 10592 (A. Evans).
Exposure DatesNovember 5, 2001, Exposure Time: 35 minutes
FiltersF435W, F814W
About The Image
Color InfoThese images are a composite of separate exposures acquired by the ACS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. Several filters were used to sample narrow wavelength ranges. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic (grayscale) image associated with an individual filter. In this case, the assigned colors are: Blue: F435W Red: F814W

The NASA James Webb Space Telescope, developed in partnership with ESA and CSA, is operated by AURA’s Space Telescope Science Institute.

Space Telescope Science Institute home page

NGC 7469

Release Date:

September 23, 2020 10:00AM (EDT)

NGC 7469

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Full Res 3861 X 3861 PNG 27.5 MB

Full Res 3861 X 3861 TIFF 36.3 MB

About This Image

Since the galaxies that make up NGC 7469 are both almost face-on when viewed from Earth, it’s easier to identify the areas where a black hole may exist. A powerful accreting supermassive black hole, surrounded by a ring of young stars, lives at the heart of the galaxy in the upper right. High-resolution infrared imagery from the James Webb Space Telescope is required to determine if the stars form differently around a central supermassive black hole compared to star formation farther out in the galaxy’s arms. Webb will also help researchers trace the gas outflows, which will help pinpoint where and how the interstellar medium is affected, which subsequently drives or quenches star formation.

Credits:NASAESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

Fast Facts

About The Object
Object NameNGC 7469, QSO J2303+0852, Arp 298, Mrk 1514, IC 5283, KPG 575A
Object DescriptionInteracting Galaxies
R.A. Position23h 3m 16.92s
Dec. Position08° 53′ 6.39″
Distance200 million light-years (50 million parsecs)
About The Data
Data DescriptionThe HST observations include those from the Program 10592 (A. Evans).
Exposure DatesJune 11, 2002, Exposure Time: 33 minutes
FiltersF435W, F814W
About The Image
Color InfoThese images are a composite of separate exposures acquired by the ACS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. Several filters were used to sample narrow wavelength ranges. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic (grayscale) image associated with an individual filter. In this case, the assigned colors are: Blue: F435W Red: F814W

The NASA James Webb Space Telescope, developed in partnership with ESA and CSA, is operated by AURA’s Space Telescope Science Institute.

Space Telescope Science Institute home page

II Zw 096

Release Date:

September 23, 2020 10:00AM (EDT)

II Zw 096

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About This Image

These merging galaxies, known as II Zw 096, are the site of a spectacular burst of star formation that is hinted at in the red speckles near the middle of the image. This dust-shrouded area conceals a brilliant burst of star formation that becomes more apparent at longer wavelengths of infrared light.

The image above combines near-infrared, visible, and far-ultraviolet observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. Researchers using infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope estimated the starburst, which lives in a small red region at the center of this image, is cranking out stars at the breakneck pace of around 100 solar masses per year. The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will allow researchers to penetrate the dust and search for a buried, rapidly growing supermassive black hole.

Credits:NASA, JPL-Caltech, STScI, and H. Inami (Hiroshima University)

Fast Facts

About The Object
Object NameII Zw 096
Object DescriptionInteracting Galaxies
R.A. Position20h 57m 24.3s
Dec. Position17° 7′ 40.3″
Distance525 million lightyears
About The Data
Data DescriptionThe HST observations include those from the Program 10592 (A. Evans).
InstrumentACS/WFC and ACS/SBC
Exposure DatesApril 15, 2006 and May 01, 2008
FiltersF140LP, F435W, F814W
About The Image
Color InfoThese images are a composite of separate exposures acquired by the ACS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. Several filters were used to sample narrow wavelength ranges. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic (grayscale) image associated with an individual filter. In this case, the assigned colors are: Blue: F140LP Green: F435W Red: F814W

The NASA James Webb Space Telescope, developed in partnership with ESA and CSA, is operated by AURA’s Space Telescope Science Institute.

Space Telescope Science Institute home page

Appointment of Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Appointment of Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

The Holy Father appointed Prof. John David Barrow, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge (Great Britain) as Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Prof. John David Barrow

Prof. John David Barrow was born in London on 29 November 1952. He studied with Dennis Sciama at the University of Oxford. His research concerns the shape and levels of irregularity and topology of the universe, particle physics and cosmology, the origins of light elements, the possible origin and end of the universe, the general solutions of Einstein’s equations and high order gravitational theories, the nature of the fundamental constants of physics and the introduction of new ways of using astronomy to investigate their invariance in time. He is best known for his book F. J. Tipler, The Anthropic Principle (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle). In addition to being Professor of Mathematical Sciences in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, he is Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, a program to improve the appreciation of mathematical sciences and their applications. He received numerous awards, including the Templeton Prize in 2006, and the Royal Society’s Faraday Prize in 2008.

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