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Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Featured in TORCH, December 1985.

The Harvard College Observatory located in Cambridge, Massachusetts where SAO's scientific headquarters in Washington, D.C., moved after fhe Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) and Harvard College Observatory established a relationship between the two observatories in 1955. By moving the SAO to the Harvard College Observatory, the Smithsonian would gain access to the network of solar research stations operated by Harvard. On July 1, 1973, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory merged with the Harvard College Observatory to become the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or CFA.

Satellite, Astrophysics, Granat, Commemorative

National Air and Space Museum
This is a desktop model of the Soviet Granat astrophysics satellite. The formal name of the spacecraft was the International Astrophysical Observatory, but it is known by the Russian word, Granat, which means pomegranate. Soviet, French, Danish and Bulgarian scientists participated in the design and construction of the observatory and its seven major instruments. The Soviet Union launched the satellite on 1 December 1989 on board a Proton launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. Granat's orbit was highly elliptical and it took for days for the satellite to orbit the Earth. The instruments conducted their observations when the space vehicle was furthest from the Earth. Granat's instruments were designed to observe energies between x-rays and gamma rays.

The spacecraft itself was a three-axis stabilized craft and built on the Venera-class base that the production company, NPO Lavochkin, had designed. The most famous spacecraft on this base was the Vega, which was the probe that the Soviets sent to the planet Venus and Comet Halley in 1986. Granat continued to operate for five years, outlasting the USSR. At that time, the craft had depleted the gas necessary to turn the craft and point it properly. It stopped transmitting all signals in 1998.

The director of NPO Lavochkin donated this model to the museum when the museum was negotiating for a loan of a full-scale engineering model of the Vega spacecraft during the early 1990s.

This is a desktop model of the Soviet Granat astrophysics satellite. The formal name of the spacecraft was the International Astrophysical Observatory, but it is known by the Russian word, Granat, which means pomegranate. Soviet, French, Danish and Bulgarian scientists participated in the design and construction of the observatory and its seven major instruments. The Soviet Union launched the satellite on 1 December 1989 on board a Proton launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. Granat's orbit was highly elliptical and it took for days for the satellite to orbit the Earth. The instruments conducted their observations when the space vehicle was furthest from the Earth. Granat's instruments were designed to observe energies between x-rays and gamma rays.

The spacecraft itself was a three-axis stabilized craft and built on the Venera-class base that the production company, NPO Lavochkin, had designed. The most famous spacecraft on this base was the Vega, which was the probe that the Soviets sent to the planet Venus and Comet Halley in 1986. Granat continued to operate for five years, outlasting the USSR. At that time, the craft had depleted the gas necessary to turn the craft and point it properly. It stopped transmitting all signals in 1998.

The director of NPO Lavochkin donated this model to the museum when the museum was negotiating for a loan of a full-scale engineering model of the Vega spacecraft during the early 1990s.

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Descriptions of the ongoing research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Sections include our solar system, stars planets and origins, galaxies, cosmology, laboratory astrophysics, and extreme astrophysics. Includes brief research descriptions and additional project links.

Lighthouse of the skies, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Smithsonian Insider

A short history of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The post Lighthouse of the skies, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Astrophysics Exhibit, Conference on the Future of the SI

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Astrophysics Exhibit at the Conference on the Future of the Smithsonian Institution on February 11, 1927, with Charles G. Abbot, (left) astrophysicist and fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian (1928-1944) and Loyal B. Aldrich, (right) Research Assistant, standing behind a table.

Explore Smithsonian: Courtney Dressing - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Graduate Student

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Are there other planets like Earth? Discover the research of Courtney Dressing, a PhD candidate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Discover how she became interested in science and her fascinating research to find exoplanets, or those planets that are Earth-like.

Events at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Schedule of public lectures, family nights, seminars, and other Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and related events. Weekly calendar is updated every Friday for the following week; other events are updated monthly.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Education Department

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Homepage of the Science Education Department of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which develops curricula and materials that reflect current scientific and educational philosophy.

Center for Astrophysics project gets first look through new ALMA telescope

Smithsonian Insider

Humanity's most complex ground-based astronomy observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), has officially opened for astronomers at its 16,500-foot high desert plateau in northern Chile.

The post Center for Astrophysics project gets first look through new ALMA telescope appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Prof. David Neufeld, "Molecular Astrophysics with the Spitzer Space Telescope"

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Prof. David Neufeld, John Hopkins University, "Alex Dalgarno Celebratory Symposium", held September 10-12, 2008 at The Institute for Theoretical, Atomic and Molecular and Optical Physics (ItamP), Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CFA), Cambridge, Massachusetts. © Harvard University and Prof. David Neufeld. The text and images on ITAMP's YouTube channel are intended for public access and educational use. This material is owned or held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. It is being provided solely for the purpose of teaching or individual research or enrichment. Any other use, including commercial reuse, mounting on other systems, or other forms of redistribution requires permission. ITAMP is supported through grants by the National Science Foundation Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s).

Explore Smithsonian: Courtney Dressing - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Graduate Student

Smithsonian Science Education Center
Are there other planets like Earth? Discover the research of Courtney Dressing, a PhD candidate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Discover how she became interested in science and her fascinating research to find exoplanets, or those planets that are Earth-like. ---- If you enjoyed our Explore Smithsonian videos, share them with a friend, colleague, or a teacher in your life. And be sure to connect with us online! Our Website: http://s.si.edu/1RtrHsO STEMVisions Blog: http://s.si.edu/1de3GIH Facebook: http://s.si.edu/1Hc9Rt0 Twitter: http://s.si.edu/1GmsSVR Pinterest: http://s.si.edu/IJtdLq Google+: http://s.si.edu/1SGMzzj

Justin Kasper — Solar Astrophysicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Smithsonian Magazine

Justin Kasper is an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and a lecturer in the astronomy department at Harvard University. He designs sensors for spacecraft that explore extreme environments, from the surface of the Sun to the outer edges of the solar system. He is interested in understanding the forces that lead to solar flares and the solar wind, a stream of particles heated to millions of degrees in the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona. He leads the SWEAP Investigation, an international team of scientists and engineers building sensors that will collect samples of the Sun for the NASA Solar Probe Plus spacecraft, which is to make history in 2018 when it becomes the first human-made object to plunge into the solar corona.

Justin Kasper was a featured speaker at Smithsonian magazine’s “The Future is Here” conference on June 1. See a video of his talk below:

Watch this video in the original article

Free, online course in physics offered by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Smithsonian Insider

"Physics for the 21st Century," a free, on-line course developed at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics about current research in physics is now available.

The post Free, online course in physics offered by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

The Cosmos Sings in This Fusion of Astrophysics and Music

Smithsonian Magazine

During the decades that the Hubble Space Telescope has orbited the Earth, it has produced some of the most sublime images of the cosmos that humanity has ever seen. Inspired by many of the iconic images produced by the Hubble throughout its career, composer Paola Prestini collaborated with astrophysicist Mario Livio to create The Hubble Cantata.

The live event will weave together orchestral music, choirs, film and virtual reality technology. The story, Prestini tells Smithsonian.com, looks to connect abstract scientific concepts and the all-too human story of struggling through hardship and loss.

An image from "The Hubble Cantata." (Courtesy of Paola Prestini)

“I’ve always been fascinated by science,” says Prestini. “I tend to work in really long process settings where I can also learn from somebody who is a specialist and someone who is radically different from my own field of experience.”

Livio, who spent years studying data gathered by the space telescope, helped give Prestini a sense of the complex astrophysics underlying the Hubble imagery, making sure the lyrics sung by the chorus were accurate in their descriptions of formulas and phenomena.

At first, Prestini gave the chorus the task of describing scientific processes, but quickly realized that it was too dense for the audience to understand solely through lyrics. Instead, she decided to make Livio part of the show by using spoken-word recordings of him describing the complicated physics behind the cosmic phenomena at play.

“When you sing things, you understand it less,” Prestini says. “If I had my main baritone singing about dark matter and barionic matter, you would not understand it, you would not take it away in the way that I want people to.”

An image of a nebula used in "The Hubble Cantata." (Courtesy of Paola Prestini)

Livio also inspired one of the central characters in the operetta: a man who is struggling to understand the death of his wife by comparing her to the life cycle of a star. (The story itself is fictionalized; Livio’s wife is still alive.)

To that point, the piece ends by taking the audience through the lifecycle of a star, wrapping up the performance’s themes in an immersive, virtual reality experience.

“Streamlining that information to what an audience member will capture is an art form in itself,” Prestini says.

“The Hubble Cantata” will make its full-length debut at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on August 6 in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. The Hubble Space Telescope, the venerable orbital observatory at the heart of the live event, just celebrated its 26th year in orbit, and NASA recently announced that the Hubble’s lifespan has been renewed for at least another five years.

Astrophysical Observatory

Smithsonian Institution Archives
Also known as SA-756 and SIA2012-6502

See also Record Unit 7005, Box 189, Folder 10 and Record Unit 95, Box 30A, Folder 20.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory located in the South Yard behind the south facade of the Smithsonian Institution Building. The Astrophysical Observatory is enclosed by a wooden fence. The Annex, also called the South Shed, is behind the Observatory. The Laboratory of Natural History, the old Agriculture Building, and the Washington Monument are visible in the background.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to own and operate ALMA Vertex Prototype Antenna

Smithsonian Insider

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has been selected by the National Science Foundation as the recipient of a 12-meter (39-foot) radio antenna designed for submillimeter-wavelength astronomy. The ALMA Vertex Prototype Antenna was one of three antennas built as prototypes for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, a 66-dish radio observatory currently being constructed in Chile.

The post Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to own and operate ALMA Vertex Prototype Antenna appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the South Yard

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Buildings in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, include a building located on the southeast section built for use by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, established on March 1, 1890. The United States Department of Agriculture Building is in the background.

Center for Astrophysics will play major role in mission to “touch� the Sun

Smithsonian Insider

When NASA’s Solar Probe Plus launches before the end of the decade, it will carry a suite of cutting-edge scientific instruments. Only one–the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation (SWEAP)–will directly sample the Sun’s outer atmosphere.

The post Center for Astrophysics will play major role in mission to “touch” the Sun appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Fifty Years Ago, a Grad Student’s Discovery Changed the Course of Astrophysics

Smithsonian Magazine

The dipole array telescope—a mass of wires and poles stretched across an area the size of 57 tennis courts—took Cambridge University students more than two years to build. But after the telescope was finished in July 1967, it took only a few weeks for graduate student Jocelyn Bell Burnell to detect something that would upend the field of astronomy.

The giant net-like telescope produced enough data to fill 700 feet of paper each week. By analyzing this, Bell Burnell noticed a faint, repetitive signal that she called “scruff”—a regular string of pulses, spaced apart by 1.33 seconds. With help from her supervisor Antony Hewish, Bell Burnell was able to capture the signal again later that fall and winter.

The signal looked like nothing any astronomer had ever seen before. Yet before long, Bell Burnell discovered more little beacons out there, just like the first but pulsing at different speeds in different parts of the sky.  

After eliminating obvious explanations like radio interference from Earth, the scientists gave the signal the fanciful nickname LGM-1, for “little green men” (it later became CP 1919 for “Cambridge pulsar”). Although they didn’t seriously think it might be extraterrestrials, the question remained: what else in the universe could emit such a steady, regular blip?

Fortunately, the field of astronomy was collectively ready to dive into the mystery. When the discovery appeared in the prestigious Nature journal on February 24, 1968, other astronomers soon came up with an answer: Bell Burnell had discovered pulsars, a previously unimagined form of neutron star that spun rapidly and emitted beams of x-ray or gamma radiation.

“Pulsars were completely unanticipated, so it was remarkable for a discovery of something that we hadn’t ever thought about in theory-driven terms,” says Josh Grindlay, a Harvard University astrophysicist who was a doctoral student at Harvard while excitement swirled around the discovery. “The discovery of pulsars stands out as telling us that the world of compact objects was very real.” In the past 50 years, researchers have estimated there are tens of millions of pulsars in our galaxy alone.

Bell Burnell in 1967, the year she observed what astrophysicists would soon identify as the first known pulsars. (Wikimedia Commons)

By compact objects, Grindlay means those exotic celestial objects that include black holes and neutron stars. Neutron stars were proposed in 1934 by physicists Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky, but were thought to be too dark and minute for scientists to identify in reality. These incredibly small, dense stars were thought to be the outcome of the supernova process—when an enormous star explodes and the remaining matter collapses in on itself.

Baade and Zwicky were right. As astrophysicists discovered, pulsars were a small subset of neutron stars—and, since they were visible, proved the existence of other neutron stars. Made of tightly packed neutrons, pulsars can have a diameter of only about 13 miles, yet contain twice the mass of the sun. To put that in perspective, a portion of neutron star the size of a sugar cube would weigh the same amount as Mount Everest. The only object in the universe with a higher density than neutron stars and pulsars is a black hole.

What makes pulsars different from other neutron stars is the fact that they spin, like tops, some so rapidly they approach the speed of light. This spinning motion, combined with the magnetic fields they create, results in a beam shooting out of them on either side—not so much like the constant glow of our Sun, but more like the rotating spotlight of a lighthouse. It was this flicker that allowed astrophysicists to observe and detect pulsars in the first place, and infer the existence of neutron stars, which remain invisible.

“At the time this was happening, we didn’t know that there was stuff between the stars, let alone that it was turbulent,” Bell Burnell told the New Yorker in 2017, reflecting back on her historic observation. “That is one of the things that has come out of the discovery of pulsars—more knowledge about the space between stars.”

In addition to proving the existence of neutron stars, pulsars also honed our understanding of particle physics and provided more evidence for Einstein’s theory of relativity. “Because they’re so dense, they impact space time,” says San Diego State University physicist Fridolin Weber. “If you have good data on pulsars, then Einstein’s theory can be tested against competing theories.”

As for practical applications, pulsars are nearly as precise as atomic clocks, which measure time more accurately than anything else through the regular movements of energized atoms. If we were ever to send astronauts deep into space, pulsars could function as navigational points, Weber says. In fact, when NASA launched the Voyager probes in the 1970s, the spacecraft included a map of our Sun’s location in the galaxy based on 14 pulsars (though some scientists have critiqued the map because we’ve learned there are many more pulsars in the galaxy than previously believed).

More recently, scientists have become optimistic about using pulsars to detect gravitational waves, by monitoring them for minute abnormalities. These ripples in space-time, which vindicated Einstein and helped scientists understand how super massive and dense objects impact space, earned their discoverers the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics—just as Antony Hewish had won the Physics Prize in 1974. (Bell Burnell was not awarded the prize, perhaps because of her status as a grad student, as she claims, or for being a woman, as others have suggested.) Now, scientists plan to use pulsars to find gravitational waves that even LIGO can’t detect.

Yet plenty of questions remain when it comes to the behavior of pulsars and their place in the galaxy. “We still don’t completely understand the exact electrodynamics of what produces the radio pulses,” Grindlay says. If scientists could observe a pulsar in a binary system with a black hole—the two objects interacting with each other—that would provide even more insight into the nature of physics and the universe. Thanks to new telescopes like the Square Kilometer Array in South Africa and the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China, physicists are likely to have much more data to work with soon.

“We have lots of models about super dense matter and objects [like pulsars], but to know what really goes on and how to describe them in detail, we need high quality data,” Weber says. “This is the first time we’re about to have these data. The future is really exciting.” 

Plan of the Astrophysical Observatory

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Cross-section plan entitled "Longitudinal-Section Plan of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory."

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, South Yard

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
View of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the South Yard with the Smithsonian Institution Building in the background.

Astrophysical Observatory in South Yard

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory located in the South Yard behind the south facade of the Smithsonian Institution Building. The Astrophysical Observatory is enclosed by a wooden fence. The Annex, also called the South Shed, is behind the Observatory. The Laboratory of Natural History, the old Agriculture Building, and the Washington Monument are visible in the background.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Employees

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Group photograph of Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory employees, including Florence Meier Chase, fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1928-1944) Charles Greeley Abbot (second from the left), M. Agnes Neill, Earl S. Johnston, Robert Weintraub, Anne Lucka, William Hoover, Edward D. McAlister, and unidentified others. While these individuals are named, it is not clear as to where they are standing in the photograph.
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