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Quasars: Mileposts Marking The Universe’s Expansion

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Scientists can’t travel deep space the way Columbus sailed and charted the New World or Lewis and Clark mapped the west. But, researchers at Case Western Reserve University and two partnering institutions have found a possible way to map the spread and structure of the universe, guided by the light of quasars.

The technique, combined with the expected discovery of millions more far-away quasars over the next decade, could yield an unprecedented look back to a time shortly after the Big Bang, when the universe was a fraction the size it is today.

Researchers found the key while analyzing the visible light from a small group of quasars. Patterns of light variation over time were consistent from one quasar to another when corrected for the quasar’s redshift. This redshift occurs because an expanding universe carries the quasars away from us, thus making the light from them appear redder (hence the term), and also making the time variations appear to occur more slowly.

Full Story: http://blog.case.edu/think/2012/09/18/quasars_mileposts_marking_the_universeas_expansion

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NASA Hosts Sept. 19 Teleconference About Mars Curiosity Rover Progress

September 18, 2012 1 comment

NASA will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) on Wednesday, Sept. 19, to provide a status update on the Curiosity rover’s mission to Mars’ Gale Crater.

Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, is 43 days into a two-year mission to investigate whether conditions may have been favorable for microbial life.

Full Story and Links: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/sep/HQ_M12-185_Curiosity_Sept-19_Update_Teleconference.html

Researchers Brew Up Organics On Ice

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Would you like icy organics with that? Maybe not in your coffee, but researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are creating concoctions of organics, or carbon-bearing molecules, on ice in the lab, then zapping them with lasers. Their goal: to better understand how life arose on Earth.

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research team provides the first direct look at the organic chemistry that takes place on icy particles in the frigid reaches of our solar system, and in the even chillier places between stars. Scientists think that the basic ingredients of life, including water and organics, began their journey to Earth on these lonesome ice particles. The ice and organics would have found their way into comets and asteroids, which then fell to Earth, delivering “prebiotic” ingredients that could have jump-started life.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-293

World’s Most Powerful Digital Camera Opens Eye, Records First Images In Hunt For Dark Energy

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The Dark Energy Camera features 62 charged-coupled devices (CCDs), which record a total of 570 megapixels per snapshot. Credit: Fermilab

Eight billion years ago, rays of light from distant galaxies began their long journey to Earth. That ancient starlight has now found its way to a mountaintop in Chile, where the newly-constructed Dark Energy Camera, the most powerful sky-mapping machine ever created, has captured and recorded it for the first time.

That light may hold within it the answer to one of the biggest mysteries in physics – why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

Scientists in the international Dark Energy Survey collaboration announced this week that the Dark Energy Camera, the product of eight years of planning and construction by scientists, engineers, and technicians on three continents, has achieved first light. The first pictures of the southern sky were taken by the 570-megapixel camera on Sept. 12.

Full Story: http://fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2012/DES-DECam-201209.html

Berkeley Lab Sensors Enable First Light For The Dark Energy Camera

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Early in the morning of September 12 the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), mounted on the Victor Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, recorded its first images of a southern sky spangled with galaxies. Galaxies up to eight billion light years away were captured on DECam’s focal plane, whose imager consists of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) invented and developed by engineers and physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Berkeley Lab CCDs are noted for their exceptionally high sensitivity to light (quantum efficiency), particularly in the red and infrared regions of the spectrum – a crucial advantage for astronomical CCDs searching for objects at extremely high redshifts. Combining the 570-million-pixel focal plane made of Berkeley Lab CCDs with the light-gathering power of the Blanco telescope’s 4-meter mirror, DECam has unique ability to reach wide and deep into the night sky.

Full Story: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2012/09/17/first-light-decam/

Characterizing The Surface Composition Of Mercury

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The MESSENGER spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011, has been revealing new information about the surface chemistry and geological history of the innermost planet in the solar system. Weider et al. recently analyzed 205 measurements of the surface composition from MESSENGER’s X-ray spectrometer, focusing on the large expanse of smooth volcanic plains at high northern latitudes and surrounding areas that are higher in crater density and therefore older than the northern plains.

In general, the measurements show that Mercury’s surface composition is very different from that of other planets in the solar system. It is dominated by minerals high in magnesium and enriched in sulfur.

Full Story: http://www.agu.org/news/press/jhighlight_archives/2012/2012-09-17.shtml#one