Archive for July 17, 2013

Earth’s Gold Came From Colliding Dead Stars

Artist's conception. Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.

Artist’s conception. Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.

We value gold for many reasons: its beauty, its usefulness as jewelry, and its rarity. Gold is rare on Earth in part because it’s also rare in the universe. Unlike elements like carbon or iron, it cannot be created within a star. Instead, it must be born in a more cataclysmic event – like one that occurred last month known as a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Observations of this GRB provide evidence that it resulted from the collision of two neutron stars – the dead cores of stars that previously exploded as supernovae. Moreover, a unique glow that persisted for days at the GRB location potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements – including gold.

“We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses – quite a lot of bling!” says lead author Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Full Story:

High Schoolers To Launch Scientific Balloons To Near Outer Space

Earth from an altitude of 20 miles (105,600 feet) as photographed by cameras onboard last year's Project SMART balloon.

Earth from an altitude of 20 miles (105,600 feet) as photographed by cameras onboard last year’s Project SMART balloon.

On Thursday, July 18, 2013, high school students and their University of New Hampshire Project SMART mentors will launch twin weather balloons that carry miniaturized scientific payloads designed to measure cosmic rays and environmental parameters such as air pressure and temperature. The flight will also serve as a test platform for a NASA-funded instrument built at the UNH Space Science Center to measure gamma rays.

The weather-dependent launch is slated for noon, give or take an hour, from the grounds of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish. Given favorable winds at high altitude, the instrument payloads will ride up to 100,000 feet – the edge of outer space – in unique, three-foot, dish-shaped, Styrofoam and cardboard re-entry vehicles built by the students and designed to float safely down to Earth without aid of a parachute.

Full Story:

Astronomy Technology Used For Early Detection Of AMD – The Developed Worlds Leading Cause Of Sight Loss

Engineers used to designing state of the art instruments for ground and space based telescopes are now applying their expertise to the development of a diagnostic test for the developed world’s most common form of sight loss in adults, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

AMD leads to the loss of the vision used when looking at something directly ahead, at another person for example, or when reading or watching television. In the UK alone, by 2020 the number of AMD sufferers is expected to rise to 750,000 and currently more than 1% of over 60s suffer from some sort of AMD. In the US, there are more than 10 million already living with AMD –more than all cancers combined and twice as many as those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Engineers at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) normally design and make instruments to detect faint light from distant stars and galaxies. They are also currently collaborating with scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences to develop a unique instrument, a ‘retinal densitometer’, which can pick up the earliest stages of AMD by measuring, in the minutest of detail, how the eye responds to light.

Full Story:

Close Encounter: Gas Cloud Swings Around Galactic Centre Black Hole

Recent observations from April this year of the galactic centre have revealed that parts of the in-falling gas cloud, which was detected in 2011, have already swung past the black hole at the heart of our Milky Way. Due to the tidal force of the gravity monster, the gas cloud has become further stretched, with its front moving now already 500 km/s faster than its tail. This confirms earlier predictions that its orbital motion brings it is close to the black hole, that it will not survive the encounter. With the new, detailed observations, the astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics can now also place new constraints the origins of the gas cloud, making it increasingly unlikely that it contains a faint star inside, from which the cloud might have formed.

Full Story: