Archive

Archive for July, 2013

NASA’s Spitzer Observes Gas Emission From Comet ISON


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/UCF

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/UCF

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have observed what most likely are strong carbon dioxide emissions from Comet ISON ahead of its anticipated pass through the inner solar system later this year.

Images captured June 13 with Spitzer’s Infrared Array Camera indicate carbon dioxide is slowly and steadily “fizzing” away from the so-called “soda-pop comet,” along with dust, in a tail about 186,400 miles (300,000 kilometers) long.

“We estimate ISON is emitting about 2.2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of what is most likely carbon dioxide gas and about 120 million pounds (54.4 million kilograms) of dust every day,” said Carey Lisse, leader of NASA’s Comet ISON Observation Campaign and a senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “Previous observations made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission and Deep Impact spacecraft gave us only upper limits for any gas emission from ISON. Thanks to Spitzer, we now know for sure the comet’s distant activity has been powered by gas.”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-231

Team Led By University Of Leicester Sets New Record For Cosmic X-Ray Sightings


Scientists led by the University of Leicester have set a new record for cosmic X-ray sources ever sighted – creating an unprecedented cosmic X-ray catalogue that will provide a valuable resource allowing astronomers to explore the extreme Universe.

The XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre, led by a team from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, used the University’s ‘ALICE’ supercomputer to help them produce a new X-ray catalogue, dubbed “3XMM”.

This new catalogue contains over half a million X-ray source detections, representing a 50% increase over previous catalogues and is the largest catalogue of X-ray sources ever produced. This vast inventory is also home to some of the rarest and most extreme phenomena in the Universe, such as tidal disruption events – when a black hole swallows another star, producing prodigious outbursts of X-ray emission.

Full Story: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2013/july/team-led-by-university-of-leicester-sets-new-record-for-cosmic-x-ray-sightings

Pawsey Powerhouse Supercomputer Crunches Pre-SKA Data Torrent


High-performance computing specialists from Perth’s International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) today became the first users of one of Australia’s leading supercomputing facilities – the Pawsey Centre – ahead of its official opening later this year.

The recent launch of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) – a radio telescope based in Western Australia’s Mid West – marked the start of an impressive flow of astronomical data that will be stored in the iVEC-managed Pawsey Centre in Kensington for later use by researchers around the world.

“We now have more than 400 megabytes per second of MWA data streaming along the National Broadband Network from the desert 800km away,” said Professor Andreas Wicenec, from The University of Western Australia node of ICRAR.

“To store the Big Data the MWA produces, you’d need almost three 1TB hard drives every two hours,” said Prof Wicenec. “The technical challenge isn’t just in saving the observations but how you then distribute them to astronomers from the MWA team in far-flung places so they can start using it.”

Full Story: http://www.icrar.org/news/news_items/pawsey-powerhouse-supercomputer-crunches-pre-ska-big-data

UK Researchers Make New Discovery About Neutrinos, Bringing Us One Step Closer To Perhaps Solving One Of The Biggest Mysteries In Fundamental Physics


International research including the UK and Japan has confirmed that subatomic particles called neutrinos have a new form of identity-shifting property. Announced today (19 July 2013) these results could one day help scientists explain why the universe contains matter but very little antimatter.

Dr Alfons Weber, Professor of Physics at STFC and the University of Oxford is one of many scientists in the UK working on T2K – he designed the electronics for the experiment. He explains: “The UK particle physics community was one of the driving forces behind this experiment. We not only provided part of the detector that characterises the beam, but also designed the target that produces the neutrinos in the first place. The long years of hard work have now come to fruition.

“Our findings now open the possibility to study this process for neutrinos and their antimatter partners, the anti-neutrinos. A difference in the rate of electron or anti-electron neutrino being produced may lead us to understand why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe. The neutrino may be the very reason we are here.”

Full Story: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/2802.aspx

Two Suns Are Probably Better Than One, Or Not?


An International Collaboration of FACom researchers and Astronomers of the University of Texas (El Paso) and New Mexico State University, have discovered a physical mechanism that could make binary stars more hospitable to habitable planets than single stars. The discovery could imply a modification in the estimations of the number of planets potentially harboring life in the Galaxy and in the future selection of targets for the search of life elsewhere.

Habitability is the term astronomers use for referring to the general condition a planet must fulfill in order to be suitable for life. It has been customary to think that habitability is determined mainly by the amount of light a planet receives from its host star. If the planet receives too much light it is too hot and water will be boiling in its atmosphere (if it has one!). On the other hand, if the planet is too far and light from the star shines weakly, the surface is too cold and water becomes frozen. In the middle between these extremes lies the so called “radiative habitable zone” also nicknamed the “Goldilocks Zone”.

But planets in the Goldilocks Zone need to meet other conditions to be considered actually habitable. One of the most important is having a dense and wet atmosphere where heat could be trapped and water could condensate at the surface. But preseving an atmosphere is a real challenge for a young planet.

Full Story: http://urania.udea.edu.co/sitios/facom/press.php?

Snow Falling around Infant Solar System: Icy Region Gives Planet And Comet Formation A Boost


ALMA image of CO snow line. Credit: Karin Oberg, Harvard/University of Virginia

ALMA image of CO snow line. Credit: Karin Oberg, Harvard/University of Virginia

The sight of a snowfall can thrill children, but the first-ever snow line seen around a distant star gives astronomers an even greater thrill because of what it reveals about the formation of planets and our Solar System’s history.

Astronomers using the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have taken the first-ever image of a snow line in an infant solar system. This frosty landmark is thought to play an essential role in the formation and chemical make-up of planets around a young star.

On Earth, snow lines typically form at high elevations where falling temperatures turn atmospheric moisture to snow. In much the same way, snow lines are thought to form around young stars in the distant, colder reaches of the disks from which solar systems form. Depending on the distance from the star, however, other more exotic molecules can freeze and turn to snow.

“ALMA has given us the first real picture of a snow line around a young star, which is extremely exciting because of what it tells us about the very early period in the history of our own Solar System,” said Chunhua “Charlie” Qi, a researcher with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who led the international research team with Karin Oberg, a researcher with Harvard University and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Full Story:  http://www.nrao.edu/pr/2013/snowline/
Also: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1333/

SOFIA Has Gone South: Airborne Observatory Investigates The Southern Sky From New Zealand


For the first time SOFIA, the “Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy”, has been deployed to the southern hemisphere. Based at the airport of Christchurch, New Zealand for three weeks, SOFIA has started to study celestial objects that are uniquely observable on southern flight routes. On the morning of July 18 New Zealand time, SOFIA landed after the first of its planned 9 science flights that included studies of the Magellanic Clouds, neighbours to the Milky Way galaxy, and of the circumnuclear disk orbiting the black hole in the center of our Galaxy. The GREAT instrument used in these flights has been developed by a consortium of German research institutes led by Rolf Güsten (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy).

Full Story: http://www3.mpifr-bonn.mpg.de/public/pr/pr-sofia-jul2013-en.html
Also: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2013/july/nasas-sofia-investigates-the-southern-sky-from-new-zealand/#.UegEzz44XB4