SDSS Researcher Awarded for Outstanding Research

Prof. Shirley Ho, an assistant professor at the Department of Physics in Carnegie Mellon University and a member of both BOSS and eBOSS science teams has been awarded the 2014 Macronix Prize (or the Outstanding Young Researcher Award) of the International Organization of Chinese Physicists and Astronomers.

Prof. Shirley Ho, Carnegie Mellon University.

Prof. Shirley Ho, Carnegie Mellon University.

The OYRA (Macronix Prize) is given each year to one to two young, ethnic Chinese physicist/astronomer outside of Asia, in recognition of their outstanding achievements in physics/astronomy. The Award carries a cash prize of US $2,000 each and a certificate citing the awardee’s accomplishments in research.

The citation for Prof. Ho’s award explains:

“Much of the research accomplishment of Professor Ho has been on using SDSS-III data to measure cosmic distance scales and the growth of structure in the universe in order to get at the expansion history of the universe. She has been a leader in extracting signals of the Baryon Acoustic Oscillations, which are the tiny ripples in the density of galaxies that are an imprint left over from the quantum fluctuations in density soon after the Big Bang. She utilized these signals as a standard ruler to measure the distance scale of the universe in various epochs, and was able to achieve the most accurate measurements of cosmic distances yet with an accuracy of 1%. Her current research focuses on developing the understanding of dark energy via large-scale spectroscopy, investigating the initial conditions and contents of the universe large-scale photometry, and applying machine learning to studying non-linear cosmological problems.

Prof. Ho will collect her award at the next meeting of the American Physical Society (San Antonio, Texas, March 2-6th 2015) at which there will also be hosted a meeting of the US-China Young Physicsts Forum.

The SDSS Collaboration congratulates Shirley on both her excellent research and being recognised for it in this way.

The Future is Now: Karen Masters Wins UK Award

Dr. Karen Masters, senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation and Director of Public Education and Outreach for SDSS-IV, has won the Women of the Future Science award. The Women of the Future Awards acknowledge successful young women in Britain and are handed out in fields ranging from business to arts and culture to science and technology. Karen (as we like to call her) received the award for her work
on understanding how galaxies form and evolve over the history of the universe. Karen uses a diverse set of tools, including the contributions of large number of citizen scientists looking at SDSS images of galaxies at the Galaxy Zoo ( and the new data coming from the MaNGA survey of SDSS-IV ( Karen is also one of the BBC’s “100 Women of 2014”, invited to share her thoughts and experiences as part of the BBC’s pledge to represent women better in their news reporting.


Dr. Masters accepting the award from the Rt Hon John Bercow MP,  Speaker of the House of Commons.

Dr. Masters accepting her award from the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Trui Hebbelink from Shell. 

For more information, see and

Observing the Partial Solar Eclipse with an SDSS Plate

An SDSS plate was reused to wonderful effect this week, as a pinhole camera to project 640 simultaneous images of the recent partial solar eclipse on 23rd October 2014.

Sarah Ballard (@hubbahubble) and Woody Sullivan, from SDSS member institution, the University of Washington in Seattle came up with this unique idea to observe the solar eclipse.


Putting an SDSS plate to use as an eclipse viewer. Credit: Sarah Ballard and Woody Sullivan (Univ. of Washington).


640 images of the 23rd October 2014 partial solar eclipse. Credit: Woody Sullivan and Sarah Ballard (Univ. of Washington).

For more lovely or unusual eclipse photos, see this Solar Eclipse Roundup, by Sky and Telescope, who selected Sarah and Woody’s method as their “best use of old technology” for viewing the eclipse.

SDSS member Brice Ménard Awarded Prestigious Packard Fellowship

SDSS congratulates Dr. Brice Ménard (Johns Hopkins University) on receiving a David and Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowship.  This $850,000, five-year grant is awarded to “the nation’s most promising early-career scientists and engineers” — only 18 such awards were given this year.  Dr. Ménard specializes in applying advance statistical techniques to large data sets to explore the distribution of galaxies and matter in the Universe.  Much of his work has exploited the rich data of SDSS and we look forward to seeing the future ideas and science to come out of this award.

For more details see the JHU press release at




SDSS hits the Big time

SDSS has made it big! How big? The Big 12! To explain a little more, especially for those who are not American college football fans, the Big 12 is a group of universities* that form a league in American college football. During broadcasts of college football games, which are very popular, there are a couple of advertisements that highlight the universities’ educational and research prowess. Usually these involve good-looking students with colorful liquids in test tubes or surrounding a professor in a lab coat at a computer terminal. But that’s not good enough for TCU, home to SDSS members Kat Barger and SDSS-IV Survey Coordinator Peter Frinchaboy. Their contribution to the Big 12 ad, on a broadcast seen by over 2 million people, features a shot of the Sloan Foundation telescope opening up for a night’s observing. TCU also has its own ad for these games, which focuses entirely on its involvement in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, including more beautiful shots of the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico and a “starring” role for Peter. Take a look at

* 10 universities are part of the Big 12. Don’t ask.

SDSS Collaboration Meetings in Park City, Utah, USA

Over 150 scientists from institutions in 13 countries in Europe, Asia, North America and South America recently traveled to Park City, Utah for the SDSS Collaboration meetings. First SDSS-IV got underway. The start of SDSS-IV observations on July 1, 2014 meant that this meeting was much less anticipatory and much more participatory than the SDSS-IV meeting last year. For the second half of the week, the SDSS-III collaboration, data all taken, was focused on the interesting science results coming out of this very successful 6-year survey. The overlap between the membership of the SDSS-IV and SDSS-III collaborations is quite large, so expect to see many of the faces in the photo from the SDSS-III half of the meeting in the future as well! Our enthusiastic thanks to the University of Utah for playing host to such a fabulous set of meetings.

SDSS-III collaboration meeting picture from the wonderful setting of Park City, Utah

SDSS-III collaboration meeting picture from the wonderful setting of Park City, Utah


Sloan Research Fellowships Open for Nominations

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is now accepting nominations for Sloan Research Fellowships in eight fields: chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. These two-year, $50,000 fellowships are awarded annually to 126 early-career faculty in recognition of their distinguished performance and exceptional potential as researchers. Candidates must be nominated by a department head or other senior researcher. For more information, please visit this site:

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Expands Its Reach

With the start of SDSS-IV this July, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is entering a new and exciting phase of exploring the Universe. We’ve imaged 1/3 of the sky and taken over 3 million spectra, but we haven’t explored beyond the centers of nearby galaxies, haven’t mapped the Universe between 3 and 7 billion years after the Big Bang, and haven’t studied the part of the Milky Way that is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Well, that all changes starting now! We have a press release today featuring the science of SDSS-IV and including a fantastic video by John Parejko illustrating how SDSS takes all that data (hint: it starts with a lot of work in the daytime and continues with a lot of work in the nighttime).


Revamp of

As part of the transition from SDSS-III to SDSS-IV we have just launched a revamped version of the website.

The site is redesigned to represent the entire SDSS, from the beginning through today. We hope that it provides a good balance between presenting our amazing results so far and our exciting future.

The original SDSS website is still available at, and the SDSS-III website is still available at

Congratulations to the web team on the successful transition of the sites.

Passing the Baton – SDSS-III to SDSS-IV

Tonight marks the official start of the fourth phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Surveys (SDSS-IV), and the end of SDSS-III.  


SDSS-III ran from 2008-2014 and made a major upgrade of the SDSS spectrographs. SDSS-III contained four interweaved surveys: BOSS focussed on mapping the clustering of galaxies and intergalactic gas in the distant universe;  SEGUE-2 and APOGEE surveyed the dynamics and chemical evolution of the Milky Way; and MARVELS observed the population of extra-solar giant planets. Over the full survey, SDSS-III took more than 2 million spectra, all of which will be released in a final SDSS-III Data Release (DR12 for the SDSS) in January 2015. 


SDSS-IV will run from 2014-2020, comprising three surveys, eBOSS, APOGEE-2 and MaNGA. eBOSS will work to extend precision cosmological measurements to a critical early phase of cosmic history; APOGEE-2 will expand the survey of the Galaxy across both the northern and southern hemispheres, and MaNGA will for the first time using the Sloan spectrographs to make spatially resolved maps of individual galaxies. 

We’d like to take this chance to congratulate the SDSS-III collaboration on a successful set of surveys, and wish SDSS-IV all the best for the future.

The 2014 Shaw Prize in Astronomy Recognizes Key Measurements of Cosmic Structure by 2dF and SDSS

The 2014 Shaw Prize in Astronomy has been awarded to Daniel Eisenstein, John Peacock, and Shaun Cole “for their contributions to the measurements of features in the large-scale structure of galaxies used to constrain the cosmological model including baryon acoustic oscillations and redshift-space distortions.” For more details on the Shaw Prize see

Daniel Eisenstein, the director of SDSS-III, remarks that “although this is a tremendously gratifying personal recognition, it is also a wonderful recognition of the SDSS/BOSS and 2dFGRS collaborations that have created these exquisite surveys and pushed forward the science of large-scale structure. It is a great honor for our field and our teams!”

Shaun Cole and John Peacock were key members of the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey (2dFGRS) which together with the work of Daniel Eisenstein and his SDSS collaborators made the first detections of the baryon acoustic oscillation pattern in the distribution of galaxies in the Universe. Baryon acoustic oscillations are an imprint from fluctuations of matter and light in the early Universe. By measuring the apparent size of this pattern at different cosmic eras, astronomers are studying the nature and amount of dark matter and dark energy that govern our expanding Universe.

SDSS congratulates all of the winners of this year’s Shaw Prize in Astronomy!

SDSS-III Director Elected to National Academy of Sciences

It is a great pleasure to share the news that the Director of SDSS-III, and long time member of SDSS, Daniel Eisenstein (Harvard University) has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences!


Daniel Eisenstein

The SDSS is delighted, and feel this is a well a deserved recognition testament to Daniel’s scientific accomplishments and leadership.  

Daniel wants to emphasize that he feels this recognition is also a recognition of the impressive scientific scope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, in all its iterations, which has been the context for key aspects of Daniel’s scientific and leadership accomplishments.  

So congratulations to the SDSS-III Director and also to all those who have helped make all phases and surveys of the SDSS a success over the past decades.

The other three NAS electees this year in astronomy are Fiona Harrison, Steve Schectman, and Joseph Silk.

Please join us in congratulating all four astronomers on this honor and accomplishment!

BOSS Completes its Main Survey of Distant Galaxies and Quasars!

The SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) has completed its main survey of galaxies and quasars. With 1.35 million luminous red galaxies and 230,000 quasars across 10,200 square degrees of the sky, BOSS has exceeded the number of objects and sky area goals from the original SDSS-III proposal.

Reaching this milestone involved the hard work and efforts of many people. In particular, the mountain and observing staff at Apache Point Observatory have been worked hard and efficiently to observe 2,300 plates with the new BOSS spectrograph in 4.5 years of dark time.


The coverage map of the completed BOSS main survey in equatorial coordinates with (RA, Dec)=(90,0) in the center of the image. Completed areas are shown in light blue and yellow. The red area is a 10,500 deg^2 region from which observations were selected. The project goal was to observe the 10,000 deg^2 footprint above declination -3 deg. A 200 deg^2 region was added between declinations of -3 deg to -7 deg to provide overlap with the Dark Energy Survey.

For the remaining 3 months of SDSS-III, the BOSS spectrograph continues to observe new interesting classes of objects as part of a set of ancillary proposals that were internally competed within the SDSS-III collaboration.

All of SDSS-I, SDSS-II, and SDSS-III/SEGUE observed 1.84 million survey-quality spectra with the original SDSS spectrograph during the timeframe 1999-2009. SDSS-III DR12 will be released publicly in 2014 December and the final BOSS data in DR12 is expected to exceed 2.7 million survey-quality spectra, including calibration targets, stars, repeated observations, and ancillary programs.

The Most Precise Measurement Yet of the Expanding Universe

More exciting news from the SDSS! A worldwide team of SDSS astronomers has completed the most precise measurement of the expanding universe ever. The result was announced just hours ago at the meeting of the American Physical Society in Savannah, Georgia.

Click on the illustration below to go to the SDSS press release describing this exciting news!


Yellow lines showing light paths pass through circles of increasing size. Each              circle shows in purple the structure of galaxies in the universe at some point in the past.

An illustration of how astronomers used quasar light to trace the expansion of the universe.