Archive for April, 2013

Universality Of Circular Polarization In Star- And Planet-Forming Regions: Implications For The Origin Of Homochirality Of Life

A research team with Jungmi KWON (GUAS/NAOJ) has performed deep imaging linear and circular polarimetry of the ‘Cat’s Paw Nebula’ (NGC 6334) located in the constellation Scorpius, successfully detecting high degrees of circular polarization (CP) of as much as 22% in NGC 6334. The detected CP degree is the highest ever observed.

In addition, the team has presented the first systematic survey of a combination of linear and circular polarimetry in nine star- and planet-forming regions. As the results of statistical analysis of observations of various star-forming regions, CPs were detected in nine star- and planet-forming regions. Putting it differently, it can be said that CP is a universal feature of star- and planet-forming regions. The team’s findings enable us to obtain information about magnetic fields of circumstellar structures around protostars, which is difficult to obtain using existing methods.

There is a hypothesis that large CP causes homochirality of amino acids and that left-handed amino acids come from outer space. The team’s findings imply an extraterrestrial origin of homochirality of life, from the universality of CP detected in star- and planet-forming regions.

This research is part of an ongoing survey project of wide-field near-infrared (JHKs) imaging polarimetry for star-forming regions (PI: Motohide TAMURA, University of Tokyo/NAOJ). Doctoral student Jungmi KWON, who is contributing to the project, led this research with nine international researchers from Japan and the United Kingdom. The team’s findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letter on March 1, 2013.

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‘Standard Candle’ Supernova Extraordinarily Magnified By Gravitational Lensing

A team of researchers at the Kavli IPMU led by Robert Quimby has identified what may prove to be the first ever Type Ia supernova (SNIa) magnified by a strong gravitational lens. In this work, the ‘standard candle’ property of Type Ia supernovae is used to directly measure the magnification due to gravitational lensing. This provides the first glimpse of the science that will soon come out of dark matter and dark energy studies derived from deep, wide-field imaging surveys.

The supernova, named PS1-10afx, was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System 1 (Pan-STARRS1). PS1-10afx exploded over 9 billion years ago, which places it far further than typical Pan-STARRS1 discoveries. Based on this distance and its relatively bright appearance, the Pan-STARRS1 team concluded that PS1-10afx was intrinsically very luminous. The inferred luminosity, about 100 billion times greater than our Sun, is comparable to members of a new, rare variety of superluminous supernovae (SLSNe), but that is where the similarities end.

SLSNe typically have blue colors, and their brightness changes relatively slowly with time. PS1-10afx on the other hand was rather red even after correcting for its redshift, and its brightness changed as fast as normal supernovae. There is no known physical model that can explain how a supernova could simultaneously be so luminous, so red, and so fast.

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NASA Probe Gets Close-Up Views Of Large Hurricane On Saturn

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn’s north pole.

In high-resolution pictures and video, scientists see the hurricane’s eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph(150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon.

“We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.”

Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to these clouds high in Saturn’s atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained.

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Detection Of Two New Exoplanets With Kepler, SOPHIE And HARPS-N

An international team of astronomers, including Alexandre Santerne of the EXOEarths team, identified and characterized two new exoplanets, thanks to combined observations from the Kepler space telescope, plus SOPHIE and HARPS-N spectrographs.

These planets, named KOI-200 b and KOI-889 b are among the first detected with the new high-accuracy spectrograph HARPS-N, the northern hemisphere counterpart of the most prolific exoplanet hunter, HARPS (ESO). CAUP researcher Alexandre Santerne commented: “The SOPHIE spectrograph was already playing an important role in the characterization of Kepler planets by unveiling the true nature of the candidates and measuring the mass of giant planets. With the new HARPS-N spectrograph, with an even better accuracy, we expect to characterize much smaller exoplanets, hopefully down to the size of the Earth.”

The new planets have about the size of Jupiter, but eccentric orbits with periods of less than 10 days. These new results help to further understand the evolution of orbits of these planets located very close to their star, known as “hot Jupiters”

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NASA Probe Observes Meteors Colliding With Saturn’s Rings

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cornell

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cornell

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided the first direct evidence of small meteoroids breaking into streams of rubble and crashing into Saturn’s rings.

These observations make Saturn’s rings the only location besides Earth, the moon and Jupiter where scientists and amateur astronomers have been able to observe impacts as they occur. Studying the impact rate of meteoroids from outside the Saturnian system helps scientists understand how different planet systems in our solar system formed.

The solar system is full of small, speeding objects. These objects frequently pummel planetary bodies. The meteoroids at Saturn are estimated to range from about one-half inch to several yards (1 centimeter to several meters) in size. It took scientists years to distinguish tracks left by nine meteoroids in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

Results from Cassini have already shown Saturn’s rings act as very effective detectors of many kinds of surrounding phenomena, including the interior structure of the planet and the orbits of its moons. For example, a subtle but extensive corrugation that ripples 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) across the innermost rings tells of a very large meteoroid impact in 1983.

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Einstein’s Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet

Artist’s impression. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Artist’s impression. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before.

Once again, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, published in 1915, comes out on top.

At some point, however, scientists expect Einstein’s model to be invalid under extreme conditions. General Relativity, for example, is incompatible with quantum theory. Physicists hope to find an alternate description of gravity that would eliminate that incompatibility.

A newly-discovered pulsar — a spinning neutron star with twice the mass of the Sun — and its white-dwarf companion, orbiting each other once every two and a half hours, has put gravitational theories to the most extreme test yet. Observations of the system, dubbed PSR J0348+0432, produced results consistent with the predictions of General Relativity.

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How To Target An Asteroid

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Like many of his colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., Shyam Bhaskaran is working a lot with asteroids these days. And also like many of his colleagues, the deep space navigator devotes a great deal of time to crafting, and contemplating, computer-generated 3-D models of these intriguing nomads of the solar system.
But while many of his coworkers are calculating asteroids’ past, present and future locations in the cosmos, zapping them with the world’s most massive radar dishes, or considering how to rendezvous and perhaps even gently nudge an asteroid into lunar orbit, Bhaskaran thinks about how to collide with one.

“If you want to see below the surface of an asteroid, there’s no better way than smacking it hard,” said Bhaskaran. “But it’s not that easy. Hitting an asteroid with a spacecraft traveling at hypervelocity is like shooting an arrow at a target on a speeding race car.

“Most of the hypervelocity impact scenarios that I simulate have spacecraft/asteroid closure rates of around eight miles a second, 30,000 miles per hour [about 48,000 kilometers per hour],” said Bhaskaran.

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