From Penn State: “Huge New Astronomy Database Now Available to the Public”

Penn State Bloc

Pennsylvania State University

January 8, 2015
CONTACTS at Penn State:
Niel Brandt 1-814-865-3509
Suvrath Mahadevan 1-814-865-0261
Donald Schneider 1-814-863-9554
Penn State Public Information Officer: Barbara Kennedy 1-814-663-4682
SDSS Director: Daniel Eisenstein, Harvard University,, 1-617-495-7530
SDSS Spokesperson: Michael Woods-Vasey, University of Pittsburgh,, 1-412-624-2751
SDSS Press Officer: Jordan Raddick, SDSS-IV Public Information Officer, Johns Hopkins University,, 1-410-516-8889

Penn State University astronomers are among the scientists of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) who this week are releasing to the public a massive collection of new information about the universe. “This set of observations is one of the largest astronomical databases ever assembled,” remarked Donald Schneider, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State.

This animated flight through the universe was made by Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium and Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins. There are close to 400,000 galaxies in the animation, with images of the actual galaxies in these positions (or in some cases their near cousins in type) derived from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Data Release 7. Vast as this slice of the universe seems, its most distant reach is to redshift 0.1, corresponding to roughly 1.3 billion light years from Earth. SDSS Data Release 9 from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), led by Berkeley Lab scientists, includes spectroscopic data for well over half a million galaxies at redshifts up to 0.8 — roughly 7 billion light years distant — and over a hundred thousand quasars to redshift 3.0 and beyond.

A still photo from an animated flythrough of the universe using SDSS data. This image shows our Milky Way Galaxy. The galaxy shape is an artist’s conception, and each of the small white dots is one of the hundreds of thousands of stars as seen by the SDSS. Image credits: Dana Berry / SkyWorks Digital, Inc. and Jonathan Bird (Vanderbilt University)

Sloan Digital Sky Survey Telescope
The telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)

“The more than 70 Terabytes we collected during the third epoch of this survey, SDSS-III, contain information on nearly half-a-billion stars and galaxies, including three-dimensional cosmic structures that formed billions of years before the Sun began to shine,” Schneider said. “This data release will undoubtedly form the basis for many future scientific investigations.” Schneider is the SDSS-III survey coordinator and the project’s scientific publication coordinator.

“The most astonishing feature of the SDSS is the breadth of groundbreaking research it enables,” said SDSS-III Director Daniel Eisenstein of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “We’ve searched nearby stars for planets, probed the history of our Milky Way, and measured nine billion years of our universe’s accelerated expansion. Our data also provide the first direct probe of the expansion rate of the universe ten billion years ago.”

Niel Brandt, Penn State’s Verne M. Willaman Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, is the SDSS-III leader of a number of projects investigating the properties of quasars, which are supermassive black holes that are devouring enormous amounts of matter, releasing amazing amounts energy in the process. “SDSS-III consists of four independent surveys,” he said. “The fields range from searches for planets around nearby stars, to the chemical and dynamical evolution of our galaxy, to the large-scale structure of our universe.”

After a decade of design and construction, the SDSS team began mapping the cosmos in 1998, using the dedicated 2.5-meter Sloan Foundation Telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. Each phase of the project has used this telescope, which is equipped with a succession of powerful instruments, for a distinct set of astronomical surveys. SDSS-III started observations in July 2008 and completed its six-year, $45 million program in June 2014. The SDSS-III Collaboration includes 51 member institutions and one thousand scientists from around the world.

A still photo from an animated flythrough of the Universe using SDSS data. This image shows a small part of the large-scale structure of the Universe as seen by the SDSS – just a few of many millions of galaxies. The galaxies are shown in their proper positions from SDSS data. Image credit: Dana Berry / SkyWorks Digital, Inc.

“One of the many innovations of SDSS-III was the construction of a high-resolution, infrared instrument that could examine the compositions and motions of hundreds of stars simultaneously,” said Penn State Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Suvrath Muhadevan. “This aspect of SDSS-III produced detailed measurements of over 100,000 stars in the Milky Way and already is providing new insights into the formation and evolution of our galactic home.” Mahadevan has been involved in a number of the SDSS-III investigations of planetary and stellar systems.

“One of the most important decisions we made at the beginning of the SDSS was that we would release all of our data, so everyone could use it,” said Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins University, which developed the powerful online interfaces that most astronomers and many in the general public use to access the SDSS.

The Sloan Survey has begun its fourth phase, SDSS-IV, and is continuing on a new six-year mission to study cosmology, galaxies, and the Milky Way. Penn State is an institutional member of SDSS-IV. Funding for SDSS-III has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. The SDSS-III web site is .

See the full article here.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

Penn State Campus


We teach students that the real measure of success is what you do to improve the lives of others, and they learn to be hard-working leaders with a global perspective. We conduct research to improve lives. We add millions to the economy through projects in our state and beyond. We help communities by sharing our faculty expertise and research.

Penn State lives close by no matter where you are. Our campuses are located from one side of Pennsylvania to the other. Through Penn State World Campus, students can take courses and work toward degrees online from anywhere on the globe that has Internet service.

We support students in many ways, including advising and counseling services for school and life; diversity and inclusion services; social media sites; safety services; and emergency assistance.

Our network of more than a half-million alumni is accessible to students when they want advice and to learn about job networking and mentor opportunities as well as what to expect in the future. Through our alumni, Penn State lives all over the world.

The best part of Penn State is our people. Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends in communities near our campuses and across the globe are dedicated to education and fostering a diverse and inclusive environment.