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Las Cumbres Observatory Gains First Light For Entire 1-Meter Node At CTIO

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

After nearly eight years of design, fabrication and development, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) installed three 1-meter telescopes at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) and achieved first light on all three in a span of less than 30 hours last week.

LCOGT is a private, nonprofit science institute engaged in time domain astrophysics. The LCOGT Science team, led by Science Director Tim Brown, has published extensively on exoplanets, supernovae, and minor planet research. The organization owns and operates the two 2-meter Faulkes Telescopes, and is in the midst of deploying a large global network of 1-meter telescopes.

“The 1-meter telescope network adds a critical astronomical resource,” says Brown. “Because the network will span both hemispheres, and because one or more LCOGT nodes will always be in the dark, astronomers can observe from anywhere on earth at nearly any time. Also, these telescopes — robotic, responsive, and numerous — will allow massive but carefully-directed observing campaigns that could never be done before.”

Full Story: http://lcogt.net/press/las-cumbres-observatory-gains-first-light-entire-1-meter-node-ctio

SwRI To Build Miniature Solar Observatory For Manned Suborbital Flight

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has received funding from NASA to build a miniature, portable solar observatory for developing and testing innovative instrumentation in suborbital flight.

The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP) will fly on new, commercial manned suborbital craft, such as XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft, to enable spaceborne science and instrument development at a fraction of the cost of unmanned sounding rockets.

SSIPP is a self-contained unit that is bolted in place of a passenger seat on the Lynx. In flight, it optically locks onto the Sun, providing steering feedback to the pilot and delivering a clean, stabilized view of the Sun to a small instrument mounted on an optical workbench inside the unit.

“The biggest challenge for new space instrumentation is the high cost barrier for entry into service,” said SSIPP team leader Dr. Craig DeForest, a staff scientist in the Planetary Science Directorate of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “Until now, making a new instrument has meant building and testing a complete, custom, self-contained observatory each time.”

Full Story: http://www.swri.org/9what/releases/2012/ssipp.htm

Milky Way’s Black Hole Getting Ready For Snack

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Get ready for a fascinating eating experience in the center of our galaxy.
The event involves a black hole that may devour much of an approaching cloud of dust and gas known as G2. A supercomputer simulation prepared by two Lab physicists and a former postdoc suggests that some of G2 will survive, although its surviving mass will be torn apart, leaving it with a different shape and questionable fate.

The findings are the work of computational physicist Peter Anninos and astrophysicist Stephen Murray, both of AX division within the Weapons and Complex Integration Directorate (WCI), along with their former postdoc Chris Fragile, now an associate professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and his student, Julia Wilson.

Previous simulations of the upcoming event had been done in two-dimensions, but the Cosmos++ code includes 3D capability, as well as a unique “moving mesh” enhancement, allowing the simulation to more-efficiently follow the cloud’s progression toward the black hole.

Full Story: https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2012/Oct/NR-12-10-07.html

Split-Personality Elliptical Galaxy Holds A Hidden Spiral

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO

Most big galaxies fit into one of two camps: pinwheel-shaped spiral galaxies and blobby elliptical galaxies. Spirals like the Milky Way are hip and happening places, with plenty of gas and dust to birth new stars. Ellipticals are like cosmic retirement villages, full of aging residents in the form of red giant stars. Now, astronomers have discovered that one well-known elliptical has a split personality. Centaurus A is hiding a gassy spiral in its center.

“No other elliptical galaxy is known to have spiral arms,” said lead author Daniel Espada (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan & Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). “Centaurus A may be an old galaxy, but it’s still very young at heart.”

Centaurus A isn’t your typical elliptical to begin with. Its most striking feature is a dark dust lane across its middle – a sign that it swallowed a spiral galaxy about 300 million years ago.

Full Story: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2012/pr201229.html

Astronomers Study Two Million Light Year ‘Extragalactic Afterburner’

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The jet known as ‘PKS 0637-752’ as seen by the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) in New South Wales, Australia. Image Credit: Dr Leith Godfrey, ICRAR and Dr Jim Lovell, UTas.

Blasting over two million lights years from the centre of a distant galaxy is a supersonic jet of material that looks strikingly similar to the afterburner flow of a fighter jet, except in this case the jet engine is a supermassive black hole and the jet material is moving at nearly the speed of light.

Research published over the weekend in the Astrophysical Journal Letters shows the galaxy-scale jet to have bright and dark regions, similar to the phenomenon in an afterburner exhaust called ‘shock diamonds.’

“One intriguing possibility is that the pattern we see in this cosmic jet is produced in the same way as the pattern in the exhaust from fighter jet engines,” said Dr Leith Godfrey, from the Curtin University node of The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

Full Story: http://www.icrar.org/news/news_items/media-releases/astronomers-study-two-million-light-year-extragalactic-afterburner