A UMass student looks through a telescope at the Orchard Hill observatory.

UMass and the Cosmos

Over the years, UMass Amherst has been a hotbed of cosmic breakthroughs, providing opportunities for NASA-affiliated researchers and stargazing students to explore our galaxy (and beyond) through hands-on research in top-notch facilities.

Far Out, UMass!

Did you know there are only 10,000 professional astronomers in the world? At UMass Amherst—home to one of only 10 astronomy programs in Massachusetts—our scientists have been a part of an astounding number of groundbreaking discoveries and collaborations. UMass students can work alongside these out-of-this-world researchers and contribute to findings that offer new insight into the universe and its origins. Outside of the classroom, students interested in the cosmos can access world-class facilities that allow them to explore their passion and meet others who share their interests.

Astronomers estimate 50,000 sources of near-infrared light are represented in this image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, I. Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology) and R. Bezanson (University of Pittsburgh). Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

In February 2023, astronomers revealed a deep-field image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, featuring never-before-seen details in a region of space known as Pandora’s Cluster, which was, in part, made possible by photometric work led by UMass Amherst. Learn more about UMass and Pandora's Cluster.

A composite image of magnetic fields around a galaxy known as NGC 4217.

NGC 4217 is the identification number for a galaxy roughly 67 million light-years from our own that’s making waves in the study of galactic-sized magnetic fields. An international research team that includes UMass Astronomy Professor Daniel Wang successfully mapped the magnetic fields in and around galaxy NGC 4217 and released the first composite images in 2021. Learn more about Professor Wang's research.

Deep Space

In 2022, astronomers unveiled the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole—the one at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. A global research team that included UMass astronomers produced the image using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes—including the Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano (LMT), which is operated jointly by UMass Amherst and the country of Mexico. Learn more about the Supermassive Black Hole.

Kevin Harrington

As an undergraduate student at UMass, Kevin Harrington '16 made a groundbreaking discovery: He created an algorithm that scouted for specks of luminosity among massive quantities of "all-sky" images. Harrington was the first undergraduate to travel to Mexico to utilize the LMT, where he confirmed the eight superbright spots he found in the images were previously undiscovered galaxies. Learn more about Harrington's discovery.

umass sunwheel

The UMass Sunwheel is at once an outdoor classroom, a solar calendar, and an observatory. Like its ancient predecessor Stonehenge, the Sunwheel's standing stones line up with the locations on the horizon of the rising and setting sun at the times of solstices and equinoxes. Learn more about the UMass Sunwheel.

A star trail photograph taken over the course of an hour and a half.

Working closely with the Department of Astronomy, the Astronomy Club serves to foster a love of astronomy in students of all disciplines. Weekly meetings consist of astronomy movie nights, talks about interesting astronomy phenomena and research developments, and trips up to Orchard Hill Observatory to learn about the stars and planets. Learn more about the UMass Astronomy Club.

Daniela Calzetti

Now used widely in observational astronomy, the discovery known as “Calzetti’s Law”—observed by UMass astronomer Daniela Calzetti and her colleagues in 1994—allows astronomers to estimate how much information they are missing due to dust obscuring probes of very distant galaxies, among other things. Today, Calzetti’s work is known worldwide. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2020 and has received many other prestigious honors. Visit the UMass research timeline to learn about Calzetti's work.

The Orchard Hill Observatory at dusk.

Get a Glimpse of the Stars

Located at the highest point on campus, the Orchard Hill Observatory was constructed in 1965 and updated some years later with a 16-inch Cassegrain reflector optical telescope. Used to teach observational astronomy, the Orchard Hill Observatory is open to the public every Thursday night and is frequented by members of the Astronomy Club. Learn More about the Orchard Hill Observatory