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Optical and Infrared Astronomy

The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian Optical and Infrared Astronomy (OIR) division focuses on extragalactic and galactic astronomy emphasizing studies of the large-scale structure of the Universe, clusters of stars and of galaxies, and the formation and evolution of stars and planets by using data from satellite-, balloon-, and ground-based observatories; and development of spectroscopy and imaging techniques.

Optical and Infrared Astronomy

The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian Optical and Infrared Astronomy (OIR) division has two major charges. One is to operate and develop telescopes and associated instruments and the other is to do forefront research on a wide variety of galactic and extragalactic topics, often but not exclusively using those very telescopes.

OIR operates the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt Hopkins in Arizona, which is comprised of the MMT, a 6.5m telescope jointly operated with the University of Arizona, and three smaller telscopes, a 1.5m, a 1.3m and a 1.2m telescope, all using instruments built in the OIR division. Several robotic telescopes are also located nearby: the HAT project, Minerva, and Mearth, all being run by other groups under the umbrella of the OIR division. The Veritas gamma ray array is located at the base of Mt Hopkins, operated by a consortium of universities worldwide.

The OIR division also has provided the Magellan 6.5m Clay telescope with an f/5 secondary mirror and a wide field imager, further enhancing the abilities of that telescope for CfA astronomers.

Astronomers in the division were key players in the development of the NASA Spitzer telescope, providing one of the essential instruments, and have contributed to the design of several subsequent satellites. OIR scientists are also major contributors to the design of the Giant Magellan Telescope to be located on Las Campanas, and to two of the instruments under construction that will be used at first light, in 2029.

Key research programs of OIR scientists include the large scale structure of the universe, evolution of galaxies in clusters, the explosive activity in galaxy nuclei, the history of star formation in galaxies, the detailed structure of our own Milky Way galaxy and the nearest galaxy, Andromeda, and the study of explosive stars, both near and far.

A New Tool For Discovery

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will begin a new era of observation in astrophysics, and represents a huge leap forward in the technology used for astronomy. Equipped with instrumentation capable of detecting the spectral signature of atmospheric oxygen in distant exoplanets, the GMT may be humanity’s next best chance of discovering signs of life on other worlds.



SAO Telescope Data Center

The SAO Telescope Data Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, supports the above optical telescopes operated by the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian with the following services:

The Time Allocation Committee (TAC) manages proposals and allocation of CfA OIR telescope time.