This weekend, as millions of people gaze up at the stars and wait for Perseid meteors to streak across the sky, one would hardly think that these awe-inspiring “shooting stars” are also a source of atmospheric pollution.
However, meteors, like those from this month’s Perseid meteor shower, burn up high in the Earth’s atmosphere leaving behind gases. “It’s a form of natural pollution,” says Gemini Observatory’s Chad Trujillo who heads up the facility’s state-of-the-art Adaptive Optics (AO) program.
“One of the gases left behind by meteors is sodium, which collects in a layer about 60 miles (90 kilometers) above the Earth,” says Trujillo (see animation). “The reason astronomers are so fond of this particular pollution layer is because we can make it glow by using a sodium laser to excite this sodium and produce temporary, artificial stars wherever we like. Believe it or not,” jokes Trujillo, “there aren’t enough stars in the sky for astronomers!”
Full Story: http://www.gemini.edu/node/12050
Gemini Observatory’s latest tool for astronomers, a second-generation infrared instrument called FLAMINGOS-2, has “traveled a long road” to begin science observations for the Gemini scientific community. Recent images taken by FLAMINGOS-2 during its last commissioning phase dramatically illustrate that the instrument was worth the wait for astronomers around the world who are anxious to begin using it.
“It’s already one of our most requested instruments at the Gemini telescopes,” remarks Nancy Levenson, Gemini’s Deputy Director and Head of Science. “We see a long and productive life ahead for FLAMINGOS-2 once astronomers really start using it later this year.”
Full Story and Images: http://www.gemini.edu/node/12047
ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, was officially inaugurated today (3/13/2013) in a ceremony that brought together representatives from the international astronomical community. Today’s event marked the formal beginning of ALMA’s decades-long journey of discovery.
Able to observe the Universe by detecting light that is invisible to the human eye, ALMA will show us never-before-seen details about the birth of stars, infant galaxies in the early Universe, and planets coalescing around distant suns. It also will discover and measure the distribution of molecules — many essential for life — that form in the space between the stars.
ALMA is a single instrument composed of 66 high-precision antennas that function as one telescope. Constructed over a period of 10 years in the high desert of the Chilean Andes at a total cost of $1.3 billion (US), ALMA is an international partnership, combining the scientific, technical, and financial resources of North America, Europe, and East Asia.
The telescope already has provided unprecedented views of the cosmos with only a portion of its full array. With the last of the antennas now undergoing final testing, astronomers will have access to the most sensitive and highest-resolution instrument operating at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, the transition between infrared light and radio waves.
A new image released today reveals how Gemini Observatory’s most advanced adaptive optics (AO) system will help astronomers study the universe with an unprecedented level of clarity and detail by removing distortions due to the Earth’s atmosphere. The photo, featuring an area on the outskirts of the famous Orion Nebula, illustrates the instrument’s significant advancements over previous-generation AO systems.
“The combination of a constellation of five laser guide stars with multiple deformable mirrors allows us to expand significantly on what has previously been possible using adaptive optics in astronomy,” said Benoit Neichel, who currently leads this adaptive optics program for Gemini. “For years our team has focused on developing this system, and to see this magnificent image, just hinting at its scientific potential, made our nights on the mountain – while most folks were celebrating the New Year’s holiday – the best celebration ever!”
The new system, called GeMS, is installed on the Gemini South telescope in Chile and is the first of its kind to use laser guide stars and a technology called Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics (MCAO) to image the sky.
Full Story and Photos: http://www.gemini.edu/node/11925
One of the most powerful calculating machines known to the civilian world has been installed and tested in a remote, high-altitude site in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile, marking one of the major remaining milestones toward completion of the most elaborate ground-based telescope in history, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).
The ALMA correlator’s 134 million processors will continually combine and compare faint celestial “signals” received by as many as 50 dish-shaped antennas in the main ALMA array, enabling the antennas to work together as a single, enormous astronomical telescope. The correlator can additionally accommodate up to 14 of the 16 antennas in the Atacama Compact Array (ACA), a separate part of ALMA provided by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), for a total of 64 antennas. In radio telescope arrays, sensitivity and image quality increase with the number of antennas.
Slooh will take visitors on a scary journey through the cosmos as we explore celestial objects that have been historically associated with spooky tales or outright fear. The live program will begin on Monday, 29 October 2012, at 4 p.m. PDT / 7 p.m. EDT / 23:00 UTC with real time views from Slooh’s Canary Islands observatory. The event is free to the public on Slooh.com and viewers can watch live on their PC or iOS/Android mobile device.
The Hunter’s Moon will be up that night — a perfect prelude to Halloween, since the Moon plays a rich role in Halloween lore. But, unknown to most of the public, other prominent celestial objects are even more deeply associated with “the darker side” of the night. Slooh will also observe and discuss the “Seven Sisters” or Pleiades star cluster, whose date of midnight culmination was the very origin of the original Black Sabbath, which evolved into All Hallows Eve and ultimately Halloween. Why was this beautiful blue cluster so associated with death and evil?
Slooh will examine these stories and more as we view the Hunter’s Moon live. Slooh’s Fright Night will be hosted by Slooh President Patrick Paolucci, who will be joined by Slooh Outreach Coordinator Paul Cox and Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman.
Live Program: http://events.slooh.com/
After nearly eight years of design, fabrication and development, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) installed three 1-meter telescopes at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) and achieved first light on all three in a span of less than 30 hours last week.
LCOGT is a private, nonprofit science institute engaged in time domain astrophysics. The LCOGT Science team, led by Science Director Tim Brown, has published extensively on exoplanets, supernovae, and minor planet research. The organization owns and operates the two 2-meter Faulkes Telescopes, and is in the midst of deploying a large global network of 1-meter telescopes.
“The 1-meter telescope network adds a critical astronomical resource,” says Brown. “Because the network will span both hemispheres, and because one or more LCOGT nodes will always be in the dark, astronomers can observe from anywhere on earth at nearly any time. Also, these telescopes — robotic, responsive, and numerous — will allow massive but carefully-directed observing campaigns that could never be done before.”