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  • richardmitnick 3:48 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/Spitzer: “Galactic Wheel of Life Shines in Infrared” 


    No Writer Credit

    It might look like a spoked wheel or even a “Chakram” weapon wielded by warriors like “Xena,” from the fictional TV show, but this ringed galaxy is actually a vast place of stellar life. A newly released image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the galaxy NGC 1291. Though the galaxy is quite old, roughly 12 billion years, it is marked by an unusual ring where newborn stars are igniting.

    “The rest of the galaxy is done maturing,” said Kartik Sheth of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory of Charlottesville, Virginia. “But the outer ring is just now starting to light up with stars.”

    NGC 1291 is located about 33 million light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. It is what’s known as a barred galaxy, because its central region is dominated by a long bar of stars (in the new image, the bar is within the blue circle and looks like the letter “S”).

    The bar formed early in the history of the galaxy. It churns material around, forcing stars and gas from their original circular orbits into large, non-circular, radial orbits. This creates resonances — areas where gas is compressed and triggered to form new stars. Our own Milky Way galaxy has a bar, though not as prominent as the one in NGC 1291.

    Sheth and his colleagues are busy trying to better understand how bars of stars like these shape the destinies of galaxies. In a program called Spitzer Survey of Stellar Structure in Galaxies, or S4G, Sheth and his team of scientists are analyzing the structures of more than 3,000 galaxies in our local neighborhood. The farthest galaxy of the bunch lies about 120 million light-years away — practically a stone’s throw in comparison to the vastness of space.

    Local Group

    The astronomers are documenting structural features, including bars. They want to know how many of the local galaxies have bars, as well as the environmental conditions in a galaxy that might influence the formation and structure of bars.

    “Now, with Spitzer we can measure the precise shape and distribution of matter within the bar structures,” said Sheth. “The bars are a natural product of cosmic evolution, and they are part of the galaxies’ endoskeleton. Examining this endoskeleton for the fossilized clues to their past gives us a unique view of their evolution.”

    In the Spitzer image, shorter-wavelength infrared light has been assigned the color blue, and longer-wavelength light, red. The stars that appear blue in the central, bulge region of the galaxy are older; most of the gas, or star-making fuel, there was previously used up by earlier generations of stars. When galaxies are young and gas-rich, stellar bars drive gas toward the center, feeding star formation.


    Over time, as the fuel runs out, the central regions become quiescent and star-formation activity shifts to the outskirts of a galaxy. There, spiral density waves and resonances induced by the central bar help convert gas to stars. The outer ring, seen here in red, is one such resonance area, where gas has been trapped and ignited into star-forming frenzy.

    See the full article here.

    Another view of NGC 1291
    This composite image of NGC 1291 is processed primarily from data collected by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer in December 2003. The blue in this image is ultraviolet light captured by GALEX’s long wavelength detector, the green is ultraviolet light detected by its short wavelength detector, and the red in the image is visible light courtesy of data from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile

    NASA Galex telescope

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 3:20 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: Hubblecast #78 Part 1 

    NASA Hubble Telescope


    October 22, 2014

    Dr J answers questions about Hubble

    Last month we asked the public to send us their Hubble- and astronomy-related questions, and the response was incredible! In this episode Dr J answers a selection of the questions that were specifically about Hubble itself. These range from where Hubble is and how it avoids crashing into space debris, to what the future holds for Hubble, how its life will end, and what will take its place. Watch out for the next episode in which the more science-related questions will get their turn.

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    See the video here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From isgtw: “Laying the groundwork for data-driven science” 

    international science grid this week

    October 22, 2014
    Amber Harmon

    he ability to collect and analyze massive amounts of data is rapidly transforming science, industry, and everyday life — but many of the benefits of big data have yet to surface. Interoperability, tools, and hardware are still evolving to meet the needs of diverse scientific communities.

    Image courtesy

    One of the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) goals is to improve the nation’s capacity in data science by investing in the development of infrastructure, building multi-institutional partnerships to increase the number of data scientists, and augmenting the usefulness and ease of using data.

    As part of that effort, the NSF announced $31 million in new funding to support 17 innovative projects under the Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs) program. Now in its second year, the 2014 DIBBs awards support research in 22 states and touch on research topics in computer science, information technology, and nearly every field of science supported by the NSF.

    “Developed through extensive community input and vetting, NSF has an ambitious vision and strategy for advancing scientific discovery through data,” says Irene Qualters, division director for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure. “This vision requires a collaborative national data infrastructure that is aligned to research priorities and that is efficient, highly interoperable, and anticipates emerging data policies.”

    Of the 17 awards, two support early implementations of research projects that are more mature; the others support pilot demonstrations. Each is a partnership between researchers in computer science and other science domains.

    One of the two early implementation grants will support a research team led by Geoffrey Fox, a professor of computer science and informatics at Indiana University, US. Fox’s team plans to create middleware and analytics libraries that enable large-scale data science on high-performance computing systems. Fox and his team plan to test their platform with several different applications, including geospatial information systems (GIS), biomedicine, epidemiology, and remote sensing.

    “Our innovative architecture integrates key features of open source cloud computing software with supercomputing technology,” Fox said. “And our outreach involves ‘data analytics as a service’ with training and curricula set up in a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC.”Among others, US institutions collaborating on the project include Arizona State University in Phoenix; Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

    Ken Koedinger, professor of human computer interaction and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, leads the other early implementation project. Koedinger’s team concentrates on developing infrastructure that will drive innovation in education.

    The team will develop a distributed data infrastructure, LearnSphere, that will make more educational data accessible to course developers, while also motivating more researchers and companies to share their data with the greater learning sciences community.

    “We’ve seen the power that data has to improve performance in many fields, from medicine to movie recommendations,” Koedinger says. “Educational data holds the same potential to guide the development of courses that enhance learning while also generating even more data to give us a deeper understanding of the learning process.”

    The DIBBs program is part of a coordinated strategy within NSF to advance data-driven cyberinfrastructure. It complements other major efforts like the DataOne project, the Research Data Alliance, and Wrangler, a groundbreaking data analysis and management system for the national open science community.

    See the full article here.

    iSGTW is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, iSGTW is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

    You can read iSGTW via our homepage, RSS, or email. For the complete iSGTW experience, sign up for an account or log in with OpenID and manage your email subscription from your account preferences. If you do not wish to access the website’s features, you can just subscribe to the weekly email.”

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  • richardmitnick 2:47 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From BNL: “Brookhaven Lab Launches Computational Science Initiative” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    October 22, 2014
    Karen McNulty Walsh, (631) 344-8350 or Peter Genzer, (631) 344-3174

    Leveraging computational science expertise and investments across the Laboratory to tackle “big data” challenges

    Building on its capabilities in computational science and data management, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory is embarking upon a major new Computational Science Initiative (CSI). This program will leverage computational science expertise and investments across multiple programs at the Laboratory—including the flagship facilities that attract thousands of scientific users each year—further establishing Brookhaven as a leader in tackling the “big data” challenges at the frontiers of scientific discovery. Key partners in this endeavor include nearby universities such as Columbia, Cornell, New York University, Stony Brook, and Yale, and IBM Research.

    Blue Gene/Q Supercomputer at Brookhaven National Laboratory

    “The CSI will bring together under one umbrella the expertise that drives [the success of Brookhaven's scientific programs] to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and make optimal use of existing technologies, while also leading the development of new tools and methods that will benefit science both within and beyond the Laboratory.”
    — Robert Tribble

    “Advances in computational science and management of large-scale scientific data developed at Brookhaven Lab have been a key factor in the success of the scientific programs at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), and in biological, atmospheric, and energy systems science, as well as our collaborative participation in international research endeavors, such as the ATLAS experiment at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider,” said Robert Tribble, Brookhaven Lab’s Deputy Director for Science and Technology, who is leading the development of the new initiative. “The CSI will bring together under one umbrella the expertise that drives this success to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and make optimal use of existing technologies, while also leading the development of new tools and methods that will benefit science both within and beyond the Laboratory.”

    BNL RHIC Campus
    RHIC at BNL

    BNL NSLS Interior
    NSLS at BNL

    A centerpiece of the initiative will be a new Center for Data-Driven Discovery (C3D) that will serve as a focal point for this activity. Within the Laboratory it will drive the integration of intellectual, programmatic, and data/computational infrastructure with the goals of accelerating and expanding discovery by developing critical mass in key disciplines, enabling nimble response to new opportunities for discovery or collaboration, and ultimately integrating the tools and capabilities across the entire Laboratory into a single scientific resource. Outside the Laboratory C3D will serve as a focal point for recruiting, collaboration, and communication.

    The people and capabilities of C3D are also integral to the success of Brookhaven’s key scientific facilities, including those named above, the new National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), and a possible future electron ion collider (EIC) at Brookhaven. Hundreds of scientists from Brookhaven and thousands of facility users from universities, industry, and other laboratories around the country and throughout the world will benefit from the capabilities developed by C3D personnel to make sense of the enormous volumes of data produced at these state-of-the-art research facilities.

    BNL NSLS II Photo
    BNL NSLS-II Interior
    NSLS II at BNL

    The CSI in conjunction with C3D will also host a series of workshops/conferences and training sessions in high-performance computing—including annual workshops on extreme-scale data and scientific knowledge discovery, extreme-scale networking, and extreme-scale workflow for integrated science. These workshops will explore topics at the frontier of data-centric, high-performance computing, such as the combination of efficient methodologies and innovative computer systems and concepts to manage and analyze scientific data generated at high volumes and rates.

    “The missions of C3D and the overall CSI are well aligned with the broad missions and goals of many agencies and industries, especially those of DOE’s Office of Science and its Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program,” said Robert Harrison, who holds a joint appointment as director of Brookhaven Lab’s Computational Science Center (CSC) and Stony Brook University’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science (IACS) and is leading the creation of C3D.

    The CSI at Brookhaven will specifically address the challenge of developing new tools and techniques to deliver on the promise of exascale science—the ability to compute at a rate of 1018 floating point operations per second (exaFLOPS), to handle the copious amount of data created by computational models and simulations, and to employ exascale computation to interpret and analyze exascale data anticipated from experiments in the near future.

    “Without these tools, scientific results would remain hidden in the data generated by these simulations,” said Brookhaven computational scientist Michael McGuigan, who will be working on data visualization and simulation at C3D. “These tools will enable researchers to extract knowledge and share key findings.”

    Through the initiative, Brookhaven will establish partnerships with leading universities, including Columbia, Cornell, Stony Brook, and Yale to tackle “big data” challenges.

    “Many of these institutions are already focusing on data science as a key enabler to discovery,” Harrison said. “For example, Columbia University has formed the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering with just that mission in mind.”

    Computational scientists at Brookhaven will also seek to establish partnerships with industry. “As an example, partnerships with IBM have been successful in the past with co-design of the QCDOC and BlueGene computer architectures,” McGuigan said. “We anticipate more success with data-centric computer designs in the future.”

    An area that may be of particular interest to industrial partners is how to interface big-data experimental problems (such as those that will be explored at NSLS-II, or in the fields of high-energy and nuclear physics) with high-performance computing using advanced network technologies. “The reality of ‘computing system on a chip’ technology opens the door to customizing high-performance network interface cards and application program interfaces (APIs) in amazing ways,” said Dantong Yu, a group leader and data scientist in the CSC.

    “In addition, the development of asynchronous data access and transports based on remote direct memory access (RDMA) techniques and improvements in quality of service for network traffic could significantly lower the energy footprint for data processing while enhancing processing performance. Projects in this area would be highly amenable to industrial collaboration and lead to an expansion of our contributions beyond system and application development and designing programming algorithms into the new arena of exascale technology development,” Yu said.

    “The overarching goal of this initiative will be to bring under one umbrella all the major data-centric activities of the Lab to greatly facilitate the sharing of ideas, leverage knowledge across disciplines, and attract the best data scientists to Brookhaven to help us advance data-centric, high-performance computing to support scientific discovery,” Tribble said. “This initiative will also greatly increase the visibility of the data science already being done at Brookhaven Lab and at its partner institutions.”

    See the full article here.

    BNL Campus

    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world.Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

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  • richardmitnick 2:20 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From LLNL: “NASA taps Livermore photon scientists for heat-shield research” 

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

    Breanna Bishop, LLNL, (925) 423-9802,

    Researchers in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s NIF & Photon Science Directorate are working with NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, California on the development of technology to simulate re-entry effects on the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft, NASA’s next crewed spaceship. Orion is designed to carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to deep-space destinations such as an asteroid and, eventually, Mars.

    NASA Orion Spacecraft

    The Orion heat shield will have to withstand re-entry temperatures that are too severe for existing reusable thermal protection systems, such as those used on the space shuttles. NASA’s development and characterization of a more robust shield requires that radiant heating capability be added to the Arc Jet Complex at NASA Ames, which develops thermal protection materials and systems in support of the Orion Program Office at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

    NASA Ames currently owns two 50 kilowatt (kW) commercial fiber laser systems and needs to augment the optical power into the Arc Jet chamber by another 100 to 200 kW. The team at Ames recently approached LLNL to explore an option of using commercially available radiance-conditioned laser diode arrays for this task, similar to the diodes used in the Laboratory’s Diode-Pumped Alkali Laser (DPAL) and E-23/HAPLS laser projects. Their aim is to assess whether such systems can better meet the technical objectives for survival testing. If successful, such diode arrays would offer a dramatically lower-cost solution.

    Technicians install a protective shell onto the Orion crew module for its first test flight this December. Credit: Dimitri Gerondidaki/NASA

    To perform these tests, LLNL is collaborating with Ames on diode array characterizations using an existing diode system developed for LLNL’s laser programs. These tests will allow NASA Ames to assess whether their optical output can meet in-chamber target illumination requirements, and thus inform their choice for a future system.

    While the space shuttles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, Orion will be re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 miles per hour on its first flight test in December. The faster a spacecraft travels through the atmosphere, the more heat it generates. The hottest the space shuttle tiles got was about 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit; the Orion back shell could get as hot as 4,000 degrees. For more about Orion, see the NASA video.

    See the full article here.

    LLNL Campus

    Operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security
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  • richardmitnick 1:30 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESO: “Two Families of Comets Found Around Nearby Star” 

    European Southern Observatory

    22 October 2014

    Alain Lecavelier des Etangs
    Institut d’astrophysique de Paris (IAP)/CNRS/UPMC
    Tel: +33-1-44-32-80-77
    Cell: +33 6 21 75 12 03

    Flavien Kiefer
    Institut d’astrophysique de Paris (IAP)/CNRS/UPMC and School of Physics and Astronomy, Tel Aviv University
    France / Israel
    Tel: +972-502-838-163

    Richard Hook
    ESO education and Public Outreach Department
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591

    The HARPS instrument at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has been used to make the most complete census of comets around another star ever created. A French team of astronomers has studied nearly 500 individual comets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris and has discovered that they belong to two distinct families of exocomets: old exocomets that have made multiple passages near the star, and younger exocomets that probably came from the recent breakup of one or more larger objects. The new results will appear in the journal Nature on 23 October 2014.

    ESO HARPS at La Silla

    ESO LaSilla Long View
    La Silla


    Beta Pictoris is a young star located about 63 light-years from the Sun. It is only about 20 million years old and is surrounded by a huge disc of material — a very active young planetary system where gas and dust are produced by the evaporation of comets and the collisions of asteroids.

    Flavien Kiefer (IAP/CNRS/UPMC), lead author of the new study sets the scene: “Beta Pictoris is a very exciting target! The detailed observations of its exocomets give us clues to help understand what processes occur in this kind of young planetary system.”

    For almost 30 years astronomers have seen subtle changes in the light from Beta Pictoris that were thought to be caused by the passage of comets in front of the star itself. Comets are small bodies of a few kilometres in size, but they are rich in ices, which evaporate when they approach their star, producing gigantic tails of gas and dust that can absorb some of the light passing through them. The dim light from the exocomets is swamped by the light of the brilliant star so they cannot be imaged directly from Earth.

    To study the Beta Pictoris exocomets, the team analysed more than 1000 observations obtained between 2003 and 2011 with the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO 3.6 metre telescope with HARPS

    The researchers selected a sample of 493 different exocomets. Some exocomets were observed several times and for a few hours. Careful analysis provided measurements of the speed and the size of the gas clouds. Some of the orbital properties of each of these exocomets, such as the shape and the orientation of the orbit and the distance to the star, could also be deduced.

    This analysis of several hundreds of exocomets in a single exo-planetary system is unique. It revealed the presence of two distinct families of exocomets: one family of old exocomets whose orbits are controlled by a massive planet [1], and another family, probably arising from the recent breakdown of one or a few bigger objects. Different families of comets also exist in the Solar System.

    The exocomets of the first family have a variety of orbits and show a rather weak activity with low production rates of gas and dust. This suggests that these comets have exhausted their supplies of ices during their multiple passages close to Beta Pictoris [2].

    The exocomets of the second family are much more active and are also on nearly identical orbits [3]. This suggests that the members of the second family all arise from the same origin: probably the breakdown of a larger object whose fragments are on an orbit grazing the star Beta Pictoris.

    Flavien Kiefer concludes: “For the first time a statistical study has determined the physics and orbits for a large number of exocomets. This work provides a remarkable look at the mechanisms that were at work in the Solar System just after its formation 4.5 billion years ago.”

    [1] A giant planet, Beta Pictoris b, has also been discovered in orbit at about a billion kilometres from the star and studied using high resolution images obtained with adaptive optics.

    [2] Moreover, the orbits of these comets (eccentricity and orientation) are exactly as predicted for comets trapped in orbital resonance with a massive planet. The properties of the comets of the first family show that this planet in resonance must be at about 700 million kilometres from the star — close to where the planet Beta Pictoris b was discovered.

    [3] This makes them similar to the comets of the Kreutz family in the Solar System, or the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which impacted Jupiter in July 1994.
    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled Two families of exocomets in the Beta Pictoris system which will be published in the journal Nature on 23 October 2014.

    The team is composed of F. Kiefer (Institut d’astrophysique de Paris [IAP], CNRS, Université Pierre & Marie Curie-Paris 6, Paris, France), A. Lecavelier des Etangs (IAP), J. Boissier (Institut de radioastronomie millimétrique, Saint Martin d’Hères, France), A. Vidal-Madjar (IAP), H. Beust (Institut de planétologie et d’astrophysique de Grenoble [IPAG], CNRS, Université Joseph Fourier-Grenoble 1, Grenoble, France), A.-M. Lagrange (IPAG), G. Hébrard (IAP) and R. Ferlet (IAP).

    See the full article here.

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    ESO, European Southern Observatory, builds and operates a suite of the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes.

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  • richardmitnick 1:26 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Goddard: “NASA-led Study Sees Titan Glowing at Dusk and Dawn” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    October 22, 2014
    Nancy Neal-Jones 301-286-0039
    Elizabeth Zubritsky 301-614-5438
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    New maps of Saturn’s moon Titan reveal large patches of trace gases shining brightly near the north and south poles. These regions are curiously shifted off the poles, to the east or west, so that dawn is breaking over the southern region while dusk is falling over the northern one.

    High in the atmosphere of Titan, large patches of two trace gases glow near the north pole, on the dusk side of the moon, and near the south pole, on the dawn side. Brighter colors indicate stronger signals from the two gases, HNC (left) and HC3N (right); red hues indicate less pronounced signals.
    Image Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

    The pair of patches was spotted by a NASA-led international team of researchers investigating the chemical make-up of Titan’s atmosphere.

    “This is an unexpected and potentially groundbreaking discovery,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the study. “These kinds of east-to-west variations have never been seen before in Titan’s atmospheric gases. Explaining their origin presents us with a fascinating new problem.”

    The mapping comes from observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a network of high-precision antennas in Chile. At the wavelengths used by these antennas, the gas-rich areas in Titan’s atmosphere glowed brightly. And because of ALMA’s sensitivity, the researchers were able to obtain spatial maps of chemicals in Titan’s atmosphere from a “snapshot” observation that lasted less than three minutes.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA Array

    Titan’s atmosphere has long been of interest because it acts as a chemical factory, using energy from the sun and Saturn’s magnetic field to produce a wide range of organic, or carbon-based, molecules. Studying this complex chemistry may provide insights into the properties of Earth’s very early atmosphere, which may have shared many chemical characteristics with present-day Titan.

    In this study, the researchers focused on two organic molecules, hydrogen isocyanide (HNC) and cyanoacetylene (HC3N), that are formed in Titan’s atmosphere. At lower altitudes, the two molecules appear concentrated above Titan’s north and south poles. These findings are consistent with observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has found a cloud cap and high concentrations of some gases over whichever pole is experiencing winter on Titan.

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft

    The surprise came when the researchers compared the gas concentrations at different levels in the atmosphere. At the highest altitudes, the gas pockets appeared to be shifted away from the poles. These off-pole locations are unexpected because the fast-moving winds in Titan’s middle atmosphere move in an east–west direction, forming zones similar to Jupiter’s bands, though much less pronounced. Within each zone, the atmospheric gases should, for the most part, be thoroughly mixed.

    The researchers do not have an obvious explanation for these findings yet.

    “It seems incredible that chemical mechanisms could be operating on rapid enough timescales to cause enhanced ‘pocket’’ in the observed molecules,” said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper, published online today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We would expect the molecules to be quickly mixed around the globe by Titan’s winds.”

    At the moment, the scientists are considering a number of potential explanations, including thermal effects, previously unknown patterns of atmospheric circulation, or the influence of Saturn’s powerful magnetic field, which extends far enough to engulf Titan.

    Further observations are expected to improve the understanding of the atmosphere and ongoing processes on Titan and other objects throughout the solar system.

    NASA’s Astrobiology Program supported this work through a grant to the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Additional funding came from NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy programs. ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory, in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada and the National Science Council of Taiwan, and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

    See the full article here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


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  • richardmitnick 1:08 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From FNAL: “From the Office of Campus Strategy and Readiness – Building the future of Fermilab” 

    Fermilab is an enduring source of strength for the US contribution to scientific research world wide.

    Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014
    Randy Ortgiesen, head of OCSR, wrote this column.

    As Fermilab and the Department of Energy continue to aggressively “make ready the laboratory” for implementing P5’s recommendations, I can’t help reflecting on all that has recently been accomplished to support the lab’s future — both less visible projects and the big stuff. As we continue to build on these accomplishments, it’s worth noting their breadth and how much headway we’ve made.

    The development of the Muon Campus is proceeding at a healthy clip. Notable in its progress is the completion of the MC-1 Building and the cryogenic systems that support the Muon g-2 experiment. The soon-to-launch beamline enclosure construction project and soon-to-follow Mu2e building is also significant. And none of this could operate without the ongoing, complex accelerator work that will provide beam to these experiments.

    Repurposing of the former CDF building for future heavy-assembly production space and offices is well under way, with more visible exterior improvements to begin soon.

    The new remote operations center, ROC West, is open for business. Several experiments already operate from its new location adjacent to the Wilson Hall atrium.

    The Wilson Street entrance security improvements, including a new guardhouse, are also welcome additions to improved site aesthetics and security operations. Plans for a more modern and improved Pine Street entrance are beginning as well.

    The fully funded Science Laboratory Infrastructure project to replace the Master Substation and critical portions of the industrial cooling water system will mitigate the lab’s largest infrastructure vulnerability for current and future lab operations. Construction is scheduled to start in summer 2015.

    The short-baseline neutrino program is expected to start utility and site preparation very soon, with the start of the detector building construction following shortly thereafter. This is an important and significant part of the near-term future of the lab.

    The start of a demolition program for excess older and inefficient facilities is very close. The program will begin with a portion of the trailers at both the CDF and DZero trailer complexes.

    Space reconfiguration in Wilson Hall to house the new Neutrino Division and LBNF project offices is in the final planning stage and will also be starting soon.

    The atrium improvements, with the reception desk, new lighting and more modern furniture create a more welcoming atmosphere.

    And I started the article by mentioning planning for the “big stuff.” The big stuff, as you may know, includes the lab’s highest-priority project in developing a new central campus. This project is called the Center for Integrated Engineering Research, to be located just west of Wilson Hall. It will consolidate engineering resources from across the site to most efficiently plan for, construct and operate the P5 science projects. The highest-priority Technical Campus project, called the Industrial Center Building Addition, is urgently needed to expand production capacity for the equipment required for future science projects. And lastly the Scientific Hostel, or guest house, for which plans are also under way, will complete the Central Campus theme to “eat-sleep-work to drive discovery.”

    See the full article here.

    Fermilab Campus

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics.

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  • richardmitnick 7:12 pm on October 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , POLARBEAR Experiment   

    From Daily Galaxy: “Astrophysicists Using Big Bang’s Primordial Light to Probe Largest Structures in the Universe” 

    Daily Galaxy
    The Daily Galaxy

    October 21, 2014
    The Daily Galaxy via University of California – Berkeley

    An international team of physicists has measured a subtle characteristic in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation that will allow them to map the large-scale structure of the universe, determine the masses of neutrinos and perhaps uncover some of the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. The POLARBEAR team is measuring the polarization of light that dates from an era 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when the early universe was a high-energy laboratory, a lot hotter and denser than now, with an energy density a trillion times higher than what they are producing at the CERN collider.

    Cosmic Background Radiation Planck
    CMB per Planck

    The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva is trying to simulate that early era by slamming together beams of protons to create a hot dense soup from which researchers hope new particles will emerge, such as the newly discovered Higgs boson. But observing the early universe, as the POLARBEAR group does may also yield evidence that new physics and new particles exist at ultra-high energies.

    The team uses these primordial photon’s light to probe large-scale gravitational structures in the universe, such as clusters or walls of galaxies that have grown from what initially were tiny fluctuations in the density of the universe. These structures bend the trajectories of microwave background photons through gravitational lensing, distorting its polarization and converting E-modes into B-modes. POLARBEAR images the lensing-generated B-modes to shed light on the intervening universe.

    In a paper published this week in the Astrophysical Journal, the POLARBEAR consortium, led by University of California, Berkeley, physicist Adrian Lee, describes the first successful isolation of a “B-mode” produced by gravitational lensing in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

    Polarization is the orientation of the microwave’s electric field, which can be twisted into a “B-mode” pattern as the light passes through the gravitational fields of massive objects, such as clusters of galaxies.


    “We made the first demonstration that you can isolate a pure gravitational lensing B-mode on the sky,” said Lee, POLARBEAR principal investigator, UC Berkeley professor of physics and faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “Also, we have shown you can measure the basic signal that will enable very sensitive searches for neutrino mass and the evolution of dark energy.”

    The POLARBEAR team, which uses microwave detectors mounted on the Huan Tran Telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert, consists of more than 70 researchers from around the world. They submitted their new paper to the journal one week before the surprising March 17 announcement by a rival group, the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment, that they had found the holy grail of microwave background research. That team reported finding the signature of cosmic inflation – a rapid ballooning of the universe when it was a fraction of a fraction of a second old – in the polarization pattern of the microwave background radiation.

    Huan Tran Telescope
    Huan Tran Telescope (Kavli IPMU)

    BICEP 2
    BICEP2 with South Pole Telescope

    Subsequent observations, such as those announced last month by the Planck satellite, have since thrown cold water on the BICEP2 results, suggesting that they did not detect what they claimed to detect.

    While POLARBEAR may eventually confirm or refute the BICEP2 results, so far it has focused on interpreting the polarization pattern of the microwave background to map the distribution of matter back in time to the universe’s inflationary period, 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

    POLARBEAR’s approach, which is different from that used by BICEP2, may allow the group to determine when dark energy, the mysterious force accelerating the expansion of the universe, began to dominate and overwhelm gravity, which throughout most of cosmic history slowed the expansion.

    BICEP2 and POLARBEAR both were designed to measure the pattern of B-mode polarization, that is, the angle of polarization at each point in an area of sky. BICEP2, based at the South Pole, can only measure variation over large angular scales, which is where theorists predicted they would find the signature of gravitational waves created during the universe’s infancy. Gravitational waves could only have been created by a brief and very rapid expansion, or inflation, of the universe 10-34 seconds after the Big Bang.

    In contrast, POLARBEAR was designed to measure the polarization at both large and small angular scales. Since first taking data in 2012, the team focused on small angular scales, and their new paper shows that they can measure B-mode polarization and use it to reconstruct the total mass lying along the line of sight of each photon.

    The polarization of the microwave background records minute density differences from that early era. After the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, the universe was so hot and dense that light bounced endlessly from one particle to another, scattering from and ionizing any atoms that formed. Only when the universe was 380,000 years old was it sufficiently cool to allow an electron and a proton to form a stable hydrogen atom without being immediately broken apart. Suddenly, all the light particles – called photons – were set free.

    “The photons go from bouncing around like balls in a pinball machine to flying straight and basically allowing us to take a picture of the universe from only 380,000 years after the Big Bang,” Lee said. “The universe was a lot simpler then: mainly hydrogen plasma and dark matter.”

    These photons, which, today, have cooled to a mere 3 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero, still retain information about their last interaction with matter. Specifically, the flow of matter due to density fluctuations where the photon last scattered gave that photon a certain polarization (called E-mode polarization).

    “Think of it like this: the photons are bouncing off the electrons, and there is basically a last kiss, they touch the last electron and then they go for 14 billion years until they get to telescopes on the ground,” Lee said. “That last kiss is polarizing.”

    While E-mode polarization contains some information, B-mode polarization contains more, because photons carry this only if matter around the last point of scattering was unevenly or asymmetrically distributed. Specifically, the gravitational waves created during inflation squeezed space and imparted a B-mode polarization that BICEP2 may have detected. POLARBEAR, on the other hand, has detected B-modes that are produced by distortion of the E-modes by gravitational lensing.

    While many scientists suspected that the gravitational-wave B-mode polarization might be too faint to detect easily, the BICEP2 team, led by astronomers at Harvard University’s Center for Astrophysics, reported a large signal that fit predictions of gravitational waves. Current doubt about this result centers on whether or not they took into account the emission of dust from the galaxy that would alter the polarization pattern.

    In addition, BICEP2’s ability to measure inflation at smaller angular scales is contaminated by the gravitational lensing B-mode signal.

    “POLARBEAR’s strong suit is that it also has high angular resolution where we can image this lensing and subtract it out of the inflationary signal to clean it up,” Lee said.

    Two other papers describing related results from POLARBEAR were accepted in the spring by Physical Review Letters.

    One of those papers is about correlating E-mode polarization with B-mode polarization, which “is the most sensitive channel to cosmology; that’s how you can measure neutrino masses, how you might look for early behavior of dark energy,” Lee said.

    The [basically blue] image [above] shows the scale of a large quasar group” (LQG), the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe that runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe. Even traveling at the speed of light, it would take 4 billion years to cross. This is significant not just because of its size but also because it challenges the Cosmological Principle, which has been widely accepted since [Albert] Einstein, the assumption that the universe, when viewed at a sufficiently large scale, looks the same no matter where you are observing it from.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:24 pm on October 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Brain Studies,   

    From Princeton: “Immune proteins moonlight to regulate brain-cell connections” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    October 21, 2014
    Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications

    When it comes to the brain, “more is better” seems like an obvious assumption. But in the case of synapses, which are the connections between brain cells, too many or too few can both disrupt brain function.

    Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) recently found that an immune-system protein called MHCI, or major histocompatibility complex class I, moonlights in the nervous system to help regulate the number of synapses, which transmit chemical and electrical signals between neurons. The researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience that in the brain MHCI could play an unexpected role in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, type II diabetes and autism.

    MHCI proteins are known for their role in the immune system where they present protein fragments from pathogens and cancerous cells to T cells, which are white blood cells with a central role in the body’s response to infection. This presentation allows T cells to recognize and kill infected and cancerous cells.

    In the brain, however, the researchers found that MHCI immune molecules are one of the only known factors that limit the density of synapses, ensuring that synapses form in the appropriate numbers necessary to support healthy brain function. MHCI limits synapse density by inhibiting insulin receptors, which regulate the body’s sugar metabolism and, in the brain, promote synapse formation.

    Tangled web

    Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California-San Diego recently found that an immune-system protein called MHCI, or major histocompatibility complex class I, moonlights in the nervous system to help regulate the number of synapses, which transmit chemical and electrical signals between neurons. Pictured is a mouse hippocampal neuron studded with thousands of synaptic connections (yellow). The number and location of synapses — not too many or too few — is critical to healthy brain function. The researchers found that MHCI proteins, known for their role in the immune system, also are one of the only known factors that ensure synapse density is not too high. The protein does so by inhibiting insulin receptors, which promote synapse formation. (Image courtesy of Lisa Boulanger, Department of Molecular Biology)

    Senior author Lisa Boulanger, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI), said that MHCI’s role in ensuring appropriate insulin signaling and synapse density raises the possibility that changes in the protein’s activity could contribute to conditions such Alzheimer’s disease, type II diabetes and autism. These conditions have all been associated with a complex combination of disrupted insulin-signaling pathways, changes in synapse density, and inflammation, which activates immune-system molecules such as MHCI.

    Patients with type II diabetes develop “insulin resistance” in which insulin receptors become incapable of responding to insulin, the reason for which is unknown, Boulanger said. Similarly, patients with Alzheimer’s disease develop insulin resistance in the brain that is so pronounced some have dubbed the disease “type III diabetes,” Boulanger said.

    “Our results suggest that changes in MHCI immune proteins could contribute to disorders of insulin resistance,” Boulanger said. “For example, chronic inflammation is associated with type II diabetes, but the reason for this link has remained a mystery. Our results suggest that inflammation-induced changes in MHCI could have consequences for insulin signaling in neurons and maybe elsewhere.”

    This image of a neuron from a mouse hippocampus shows insulin receptors (green) and the protein calbindin (red). In this area of the brain, calbindin is present in dentate granule cells, which form synapses on MHCI-expressing cells. The extensive overlap (yellow) suggests that this neuron, which expresses insulin receptors, is a dentate granule cell neuron. (Image courtesy of Lisa Boulanger, Department of Molecular Biology)

    MHCI levels also are “dramatically altered” in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, Boulanger said. Normal memory depends on appropriate levels of MHCI. Boulanger was senior author on a 2013 paper in the journal Learning and Memory that found that mice bred to produce less functional MHCI proteins exhibited striking changes in the function of the hippocampus, a part of the brain where some memories are formed, and had severe memory impairments.

    “MHCI levels are altered in the Alzheimer’s brain, and altering MHCI levels in mice disrupts memory, reduces synapse number and causes neuronal insulin resistance, all of which are core features of Alzheimer’s disease,” Boulanger said.

    Links between MHCI and autism also are emerging, Boulanger said. People with autism have more synapses than usual in specific brain regions. In addition, several autism-associated genes regulate synapse number, often via a signaling protein known as mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). In their study, Boulanger and her co-authors found that mice with reduced levels of MHCI had increased insulin-receptor signaling via the mTOR pathway, and, consequently, more synapses. When elevated mTOR signaling was reduced in MHCI-deficient mice, normal synapse density was restored.

    Thus, Boulanger said, MHCI and autism-associated genes appear to converge on the mTOR-synapse regulation pathway. This is intriguing given that inflammation during pregnancy, which alters MHCI levels in the fetal brain, may slightly increase the risk of autism in genetically predisposed individuals, she said.

    “Up-regulating MHCI is essential for the maternal immune response, but changing MHCI activity in the fetal brain when synaptic connections are being formed could potentially affect synapse density,” Boulanger said.

    Ben Barres, a professor of neurobiology, developmental biology and neurology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said that while it is known that both insulin-receptor signaling increases synapse density, and MHCI signaling decreases it, the researchers are the first to show that MHCI actually affects insulin receptors to control synapse density.

    “The idea that there could be a direct interaction between these two signaling systems comes as a great surprise,” said Barres, who was not involved in the research. “This discovery not only will lead to new insight into how brain circuitry develops but to new insight into declining brain function that occurs with aging.”

    This section of adult mouse cerebellum shows insulin receptors (green) and calbindin (red), which in this case is present in the cerebellar neurons known as Purkinje cells. Insulin receptors are highly expressed in fibers that form synapses onto Purkinje cells, which express MHCI. Thus both in the cerebellum and hippocampus (previous image), insulin receptors are highly expressed in cells that form synapses onto MHCI-expressing neurons, which suggests MHCI and insulin receptors could interact, either directly or indirectly, in the living brain. (Image courtesy of Lisa Boulanger, Department of Molecular Biology)

    Particularly, the research suggests a possible functional connection between type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Barres said.

    “Type II diabetes has recently emerged as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease but it has not been clear what the connection is to the synapse loss experienced with Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “Given that type II diabetes is accompanied by decreased insulin responsiveness, it may be that the MHCI signaling becomes able to overcome normal insulin signaling and contribute to synapse decline in this disease.”

    Research during the past 15 years has shown that MHCI lives a prolific double-life in the brain, Boulanger said. The brain is “immune privileged,” meaning the immune system doesn’t respond as rapidly or effectively to perceived threats in the brain. Dozens of studies have shown, however, that MHCI is not only present throughout the healthy brain, but is essential for normal brain development and function, Boulanger said. A 2013 paper from her lab published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience showed that MHCI is even present in the fetal-mouse brain, at a stage when the immune system is not yet mature.

    “Many people thought that immune molecules like MHCI must be missing from the brain,” Boulanger said. “It turns out that MHCI immune proteins do operate in the brain — they just do something completely different. The dual roles of these proteins in the immune system and nervous system may allow them to mediate both harmful and beneficial interactions between the two systems.”

    The paper, MHC Class I Limits Hippocampal Synapse Density by Inhibiting Neuronal Insulin Receptor Signaling, was published Aug. 27 in the Journal of Neuroscience. Boulanger worked with Carolyn Tyler, a postdoctoral research fellow in PNI; Julianna Poole, who received her master’s degree in molecular biology from Princeton in 2014; Princeton senior Joseph Park; and Lawrence Fourgeaud and Tracy Dixon-Salazar, both at UCSD. The work was supported by the Whitehall Foundation; the Sloan Foundation; Cure Autism Now; the Princeton Neuroscience Institute Innovation Fund; the Silvio Varon Chair in Neuroregeneration at UCSD; Autism Speaks; and the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here.

    About Princeton: Overview

    Princeton University is a vibrant community of scholarship and learning that stands in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. Princeton is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.

    As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. At the same time, Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitment to undergraduate teaching.

    Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students. The University’s generous financial aid program ensures that talented students from all economic backgrounds can afford a Princeton education.

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