Archive for May 19, 2014

Radiation From Early Universe Found Key To Answer Major Questions In Physics

Astrophysicists at UC San Diego have measured the minute gravitational distortions in polarized radiation from the early universe and discovered that these ancient microwaves can provide an important cosmological test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. These measurements have the potential to narrow down the estimates for the mass of ghostly subatomic particles known as neutrinos.

The radiation could even provide physicists with clues to another outstanding problem about our universe: how the invisible “dark matter” and “dark energy,” which has been undetectable through modern telescopes, may be distributed throughout the universe.

The scientists are publishing details of their achievement in the June issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, the most prestigious journal in physics, which highlighted their paper as an “editor’s suggestion” because of its importance and significance to the discipline.

The UC San Diego scientists measured variations in the polarization of microwaves emanating from the Cosmic Microwave Background—or CMB—of the early universe. Like polarized light (which vibrates in one direction and is produced by the scattering of visible light off the surface of the ocean, for example), the polarized “B-mode” microwaves the scientists discovered were produced when CMB radiation from the early universe scattered off electrons 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when the cosmos cooled enough to allow protons and electrons to combine into atoms.

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A Turbulent Birth for Stars In Merging Galaxies

Using state of the art computer simulations, a team of French astrophysicists have for the first time explained a long standing mystery: why surges of star formation (so called ‘starbursts’) take place when galaxies collide. The scientists, led by Florent Renaud of the AIM institute near Paris in France, publish their results in a letter to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Stars form when the gas inside galaxies becomes dense enough to collapse, usually under the effect of gravitation. When galaxies merge however, this increases the random motions of their gas generating whirls of turbulence which should hinder the collapse of the gas. Intuitively this turbulence should then slow down or even shut down the formation of stars, but in reality astronomers observe the opposite.

The new simulations were made using two of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe. The team modelled a galaxy like our own Milky Way and the two colliding Antennae galaxies.

For the Milky Way type galaxy, the astrophysicists used 12 million hours of time on the supercomputer Curie, running over a period of 12 months to simulate conditions across 300,000 light years. For the Antennae type system, the scientists used the supercomputer SuperMUC to cover 600,000 light years. This time they needed 8 million hours of computational time over a period of 8 months. With these enormous computing resources the team were able to model the systems in great detail, investigating details that were only a fraction of a light year across.

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