March 4th 2021
An international team of astronomers has discovered a hot super-Earth around the Gliese 486 star, only 26 light-years away from our Sun. This exoplanet, detected by the CARMENES instrument at the Calar Alto observatory 3.5 meter telescope, might be the Rosetta Stone for the study of the atmospheres of rocky planets.
During the last quarter of century, astronomers have discovered an ample variety of exoplanets made of rock, ice or gas. The commissioning of new astronomical instruments, like the CARMENES spectrograph at Calar Alto Observatory (Almeria, Spain), specialized in planet hunting, has allowed us to detect several thousands of new worlds out of the Solar System. Among all of them, only a handful are similar to our Earth, like the Teegarden b exoplanet found at Calar Alto.
December 31st 2020
An international team has studied the rates of star formation in galaxies from the CALIFA survey and has found subtle differences between galaxies influenced by neighbors, and those unperturbed. Gravitational interaction between galaxies could enhance the star formation in the inner regions of perturbed ones.
Galaxies are huge assemblies of billions of stars as well as tons of dust and gas. Stars were and are born from this gas, when it collapses by gravitation into “big balls of plasma”, so hot that nuclear reactions of fusion start in their cores. Then, stars live for millions to billions of years in a pretty stable state, converting hydrogen into helium -- and more complex atoms -- while releasing their heat and light, like our Sun does. Stars eventually die, in more or less violent explosions, rejecting their “recycled” material (richer in complex chemical elements) back to their host galaxy. New generations of stars can then be formed from this richer gas and dust.
July 21st 2020
Three ambitious legacy surveys and next generation instrumentation projects define the Calar Alto Observatory science and technology horizon for the coming decade.
The Institute of Astrophysics in Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) co-leads the two designs pre-selected for the future instrument on the 3.5-m telescope.
CARMENES will be upgraded to extend its search for potentially habitable planets.
The Science Advisory Committee of the Calar Alto Observatory, composed of internationally recognized experts in various areas of astrophysics, has selected legacy projects and proposals for next generation instrumentation that define the scientific and technological lines of the observatory in the years to come.
December 28th 2020
On the 2020 winter solstice, Jupiter passed Saturn in a great conjunction in dusk. This apparent (line-of-sight only) encounter, easily visible to the naked eye as a bright “double star” in the evening sky, was caught with the smallest of the four main telescopes in Calar Alto: the 1-meter class Schmidt telescope.
This historical telescope (Großer Hamburger Schmidtspiegel) represents the culmination of the know-how of Bernhard Schmidt, a German optician who proposed, in 1930, a brand new and revolutionary concept for a wide-field but nearly perfect quality optics telescope. Despite the construction of a “great Schmidt”, of about one meter in diameter, was planned to start in 1937 inside the famous Carl Zeiss factory in Jena, World War II delayed its final commissioning to 1951.
Initially installed at Hamburg university observatory, near the village of Bergedorf, this site soon appeared to be hardly usable for serious astronomical research, due to the poor weather and growing light pollution in the Hamburg countryside. In the late 1970s, astronomers from Hamburg and MPIA Heidelberg thus decided to move the precious optical tube to Calar Alto; in 1980, the great Schmidt was commissioned again with a new, English made mount adapted to the lower Andalusian latitude of its new observatory.
April 14th 2020
The Carlos III health institute, from the Spanish Research and Innovation Ministry, provides half a million euros to create a prototype allowing a quick analysis without touching surfaces contaminated by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, by combining image acquisition systems in the whole optical and terahertz (submillimetric) ranges and analyzing them with artificial intelligence.
Researchers participating in the project are from the higher technical school of engineering at Seville university, Virgen del Rocio university hospital, Seville biomedical institute, Andalusian network for the design and translation of advanced therapies, TEDAX (EOD) from the national police force, joint research center from the EU commission and technological corporation of Andalusia, and Calar Alto Observatory as well.
December 14th 2020
CARMENES is an instrument designed to find small planets around cool dwarf stars, but it could also detect large satellites that is, moons, of exoplanets. Some of these exomoons may harbor seas of liquid water, favorable places for the development of life.
In Avatar’s universe, Pandora is the fifth moon of Polyphemus, a fictional giant planet around the nearby star Alpha Centauri A; in the Alien saga, Ellen Ripley fought xenomorphs in an infested colony on Acheron, one of the moons of Calpamos, another made-up planet around the real star zeta2 Reticuli; a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away the Rebel Alliance defeated the Galactic Empire in space battles in orbit of Yavin IV first and, finally, Endor, which were also habitable moons. But do habitable extrasolar moons, or exomoons, exist in reality? And how are they related to Calar Alto?
March 30th 2020
To cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest observatory on the European mainland has taken protective and restrictive actions for its staff and visitors, adapting its working model in a responsible way. The Calar Alto team is working mostly remotely to be ready to resume its usual operations once the current preventive measures will not be needed anymore.
The Calar Alto observatory has been adapting its working conditions to the circumstances of the pandemic hitting the country (and in some cases, anticipating the actions), while insuring the health and safety of its people as well as the integrity of its systems.