The Department of Astronomy is one of the leading centers for astronomical research in the world. Traditional areas of excellence include infrared astronomy, theoretical astrophysics, radio and radar astronomy and planetary science. The department places strong emphasis on the participation of students in ongoing research projects. It strives to foster an interdisciplinary approach to solving astronomical problems and maintains strong ties with other departments. Many undergraduate and graduate alumni of Cornell astronomy have become leaders in the field.
Since the early days of space exploration, Cornell astronomers have played major roles in NASA missions to explore the solar system and distant universe.
This commitment to solar system exploration continues today, with Cornell astronomers leading the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission and playing integral roles in missions such as the Cassini probe that has recently studied Saturn, its moons and environs. The Spacecraft Planetary Imaging Facility (SPIF)in the Space Sciences Building is a library of planetary imaging data obtained by NASA planetary missions. Cornell planetary scientists are intimately involve in planning the next generation of spacecraft missions to explore the solar system.
The Infrared Spectrometer (IRS), a major instrument on the Spitzer Space Telescope, one of NASA's four Great Observatories, was developed by a group at Cornell. In addition. Cornell operates the world's largest single dish radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Observing time is also available to Cornell faculty, students and research staff at the five-meter optical telescope on Mt. Palomar in California. The Space Sciences Building is a major library, housing data obtained by NASA planetary missions and providing image processing facilities for planetary research. Astromony faculty are involved in developing the next generation of radio and submillimeter telescopes that are expected to become cornerstones of the future of astronomy, as well as in state-of-the-art instrumentation designed to find planets around other stars in the Milky Way.
Theoretical astrophysicists at Cornell have traditionally studied a wide variety of phenomena in the universe, ranging from neutron stars, which are only 20 km across, to the entire universe.
Ongoing projects include numerical simulations of black-hole collisions and of the gas flow around and radiation from highly magnetic neutron stars, as well as numerical and analytic studies related to the nature of the dark energy that pervades the universe.
Observers and theorists alike make extensive use of the most up-to-date and powerful computational tools. In addition to in-house theoretical simulations and data analysis, Cornell astronomers are active in community-wide computational projects such as the national Virtual Observatory and Einstein@Home.