Astronomers discovered a planetary system orbiting a star only 54 light-years away with the Automated Planet Finder (APF) at Lick Observatory and ground-based telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona. The team discovered the planets by detecting a wobble of the star HD 7924, a result of the gravitational pull of the planets orbiting around it. All three planets orbit the star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the sun, completing their orbits in just 5, 15, and 24 days. Learn More
Lick Observatory's newest telescope, the Automated Planet Finder (APF), began operating robotically night after night on Mt. Hamilton in January 2014, searching nearby stars for Earth-sized planets. Every night the fully autonomous system checks the weather, decides which stars to observe, and moves the telescope from star to star throughout the night, collecting measurements that will reveal the presence of planets. Its technical performance has been outstanding, making it not only the first robotic planet-finding facility but also one of the most sensitive. Learn More
Lick developed the first laser guide-star for adaptive optics. Adaptive optics (AO) removes the blurring by the Earth's atmosphere from astronomical images and permits ground-based telescopes to see as sharply as though in space. Features being tested in the current Shane AO system at Lick will be adopted by giant telescopes elsewhere to permit them to see 10 times sharper than Hubble Space Telescope at a fraction of the cost.
UC astronomers Geoff Marcy and Steve Vogt perfected the precision radial-velocity technique for finding extra-solar planets around other stars using the Shane telescope. With data from Lick and Keck observatories, they found hundreds of extra-solar planets, leading to the discovery that our Galaxy is teeming with extra-solar systems.
Starting in the late-1980s, detailed measurements of the properties of exploding stars (supernovae) by UC astronomer Alex Filippenko were crucial to the development of methods to calibrate them. This contributed substantially to the 1998 discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe, probably driven by mysterious "dark energy." Subsequent studies of supernovae, many of which were found at Lick with the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope, led to greater confidence in the acceleration, and this discovery was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Lick then developed the first digital detector, which revolutionized astronomy by replacing photographic plates.
Lick achieved the first laser bounce off the Moon in 1969, measuring the distance precisely for the first time.
Lick astronomer George Herbig identified stars in the process of being born and pioneered their study.
Robert Trumpler discovered the existence of dust grains in interstellar space between the stars, which we later know is the stuff from which rocky planets form.
The Lick eclipse expedition to Autralia in 1922 was the first scientific measurement to convincingly verify Einstein's theory of General Relativity.
Astronomical photography was perfected on Lick's Crossley telescope, which, starting in the early 1900s, was the first to reveal the innumerable galaxies in the cosmos far beyond our Milky Way.
The Great Refractor was the world's largest refracting telescope when it was completed in 1888. It predated electricity, and its 14-ton rising floor was a miracle of ingenuity that relied only on water and wind-power.