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Archive for December 18, 2013

ESA’s Billion Star Surveyor: UCL’s Contribution

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

On Thursday 19 December at 09:12 GMT, a satellite designed to unlock the secrets of the birth and evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy will be launched by the European Space Agency.

UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory has played a major part in the satellite – named Gaia – for 12 years, developing the instrument that will measure the speed, temperature, size and age of over a billion stars in our galaxy.

Gaia’s mission is to slowly scan the sky, rotating every six hours, and survey the whole sky some hundred times in its six year mission. It has two extraordinarily stable telescopes, each focussing on the same huge array of 106 electronic detectors, the biggest ever either launched into orbit or on any Earth-based telescope.

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Was Einstein right? Scientists To Image Event Horizon Of Black Hole

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded 14 Million Euros to a team of European astrophysicists to construct the first accurate image of a black hole. The team will test the predictions of current theories of gravity, including Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, The funding is provided in the form of a Synergy Grant, the largest and most competitive type of grant of the ERC.

The team led by three principal investigators, Heino Falcke, Radboud University Nijmegen, Michael Kramer, Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, and Luciano Rezzolla, Goethe University in Frankfurt, hopes to measure the shadow cast by the event horizon of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, find new radiopulsars near this black hole, and combine these measurements with advanced computer simulations of the behaviour of light and matter around black holes as predicted by theories of gravity. They will combine several telescopes around the globe to peer into the heart of our own Galaxy, which hosts a mysterious radio source, called Sagittarius A* and which is considered to be the central supermassive black hole.

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U-M Space Weather Model Picked To Improve US Warning System

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

A University of Michigan space weather model beat out four other contenders for a spot in the national Space Weather Prediction Center’s forecasting toolbox.

It is the first time that computer models based on a firm understanding of physics have overtaken simpler, statistics-based models to predict magnetic disturbances due to space weather. The new model can also give information about where the effects of a geomagnetic storm will be weaker or stronger around Earth.

Space weather forecasts are important for protecting satellites, predicting when GPS signals become unreliable, and in the worst case, preventing far-reaching and long-term electrical power outages.

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The Gaia Mission App, Ready Before The Launch

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Gaia, a satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), is launched tomorrow, 19 December. It will take a census of a billion stars to create the most complete 3D map of the Milky Way ever done. Launch is planned to occur at 10.12 a.m. (local time in mainland Spain) from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana). Scientists and engineers from the University of Barcelona (UB) have remarkably collaborated in the mission.

A group of researchers from UB, the Barcelona Team, has developed the Gaia Mission App, which allows discovering scientific and technical details of the mission and keeps users updated on satellite’s operations from 19 December. App is available in English, Spanish and Catalan.

Gaia is considered ESA’s cornerstone mission not only for its ability to revolution future astrophysics —thanks to the unprecedented accuracy of its astrometric observations—, but also for the technological challenge it means. In addition, the project constitutes the maximum exponent of a technology that places Europe in a leading position in the field of astrometry.

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Powerful Ancient Explosions Explain New Class Of Supernovae

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

From the Supernova Legacy Survey

From the Supernova Legacy Survey

Astronomers affiliated with the Supernova Legacy Survey (SNLS) have discovered two of the brightest and most distant supernovae ever recorded, 10 billion light-years away and a hundred times more luminous than a normal supernova. Their findings appear in the Dec. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

These newly discovered supernovae are especially puzzling because the mechanism that powers most of them — the collapse of a giant star to a black hole or normal neutron star — cannot explain their extreme luminosity. Discovered in 2006 and 2007, the supernovae were so unusual that astronomers initially could not figure out what they were or even determine their distances from Earth.

“At first, we had no idea what these things were, even whether they were supernovae or whether they were in our galaxy or a distant one,” said lead author D. Andrew Howell, a staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) and adjunct faculty at UC Santa Barbara. “I showed the observations at a conference, and everyone was baffled. Nobody guessed they were distant supernovae because it would have made the energies mind-bogglingly large. We thought it was impossible.”

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Hubble Watches Super Star Create Holiday Light Show

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collab

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collab

This festive NASA Hubble Space Telescope image resembles a holiday wreath made of sparkling lights. The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the center of the image, is swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The super star is ten times more massive than our sun and 200 times larger.

RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid variable stars. Its average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than our sun’s luminosity.

The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a “light echo.” Even though light travels through space fast enough to span the gap between Earth and the moon in a little over a second, the nebula is so large that reflected light can actually be photographed traversing the nebula.

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Find Black Holes While You’re On The Bus

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

‘Radio Galaxy Zoo’, launching today, is a new ‘citizen science’ project that lets anyone become a cosmic explorer.

By matching galaxy images with radio images from CSIRO’s Australia Telescope, you can work out if a galaxy has a supermassive black hole.

“It takes about a minute to learn what to do,” said CSIRO’s Dr Julie Banfield, an Australian coordinator of the international project. “Then to actually work with the images takes only a few seconds each — perhaps a couple of minutes for the really tough ones. You just need match up a couple of pictures and look for what you think is the galaxy at their centre.”

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