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  • richardmitnick 7:50 pm on September 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Astronomy: “New molecule found in space connotes life origins” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    September 29, 2014
    No Writer Credit
    Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

    Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide.

    Hunting from a distance of 27,000 light-years, astronomers have discovered an unusual carbon-based molecule — one with a branched structure — contained within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. The discovery suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.

    cyan
    Dust and molecules in the central region of our galaxy: The background image shows the dust emission in a combination of data obtained with the APEX telescope and the Planck space observatory at a wavelength around 860 micrometers. The organic molecule iso-propyl cyanide with a branched carbon backbone (i-C3H7CN, left) as well as its straight-chain isomer normal-propyl cyanide (n-C3H7CN, right) were both detected with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in the star-forming region Sgr B2, about 300 light years away from the galactic center Sgr A*.
    MPIfR/A. Weiß (background image); University of Cologne/M. Koerber (molecular models); MPIfR/A. Belloche (montage)

    Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), researchers studied the gaseous star-forming region Sagittarius B2.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Organic molecules usually found in these star-forming regions consist of a single “backbone” of carbon atoms arranged in a straight chain. But the carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide branches off, making it the first interstellar detection of such a molecule, said Rob Garrod from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

    This detection opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules that can be formed in interstellar space and that might ultimately find their way to the surfaces of planets, said Garrod. The branched carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide is a common feature in molecules that are needed for life — such as amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. This new discovery lends weight to the idea that biologically crucial molecules, like amino acids that are commonly found in meteorites, are produced early in the process of star formation — even before planets such as Earth are formed.

    Garrod, along with Arnaud Belloche and Karl Menten, both of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Holger Müller of the University of Cologne, sought to examine the chemical makeup of Sagittarius B2, a region close to the Milky Way’s galactic center and an area rich in complex interstellar organic molecules.

    With ALMA, the group conducted a full spectral survey looking for fingerprints of new interstellar molecules — with sensitivity and resolution 10 times greater than previous surveys.

    The purpose of the ALMA Observatory is to search for cosmic origins through an array of 66 sensitive radio antennas from the high elevation and dry air of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. The array of radio telescopes works together to form a gigantic “eye” peering into the cosmos.

    “Understanding the production of organic material at the early stages of star formation is critical to piecing together the gradual progression from simple molecules to potentially life-bearing chemistry,” said Belloche.

    About 50 individual features for isopropyl cyanide and 120 for normal-propyl cyanide — its straight-chain sister molecule — were identified in the ALMA spectrum of the Sagittarius B2 region. The two molecules — isopropyl cyanide and normal-propyl cyanide — are also the largest molecules yet detected in any star-forming region.

    See the full article here..

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  • richardmitnick 4:24 pm on September 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SPACE.com: “Newfound Molecule in Space Dust Offers Clues to Life’s Origins” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    September 25, 2014
    Megan Gannon

    The discovery of a strangely branched organic molecule in the depths of interstellar space has capped a decades-long search for the carbon-bearing stuff.

    life
    The organic molecule iso-propyl cyanide has a branched carbon backbone (i-C3H7CN, left), unlike its straight-chain isomer normal-propyl cyanide (n-C3H7CN, right). Both molecules were detected with ALMA in Sagittarius B2. Credit: MPIfR/A. Weiss, University of Cologne/M. Koerber, MPIfR/A. Belloche

    The molecule in question — iso-propyl cyanide (i-C3H7CN) — was spotted in Sagittarius B2, a huge star-making cloud of gas and dust near the center of the Milky Way, about 27,000 light-years from the sun. The discovery suggests that some of the key ingredients for life on Earth could have originated in interstellar space.

    A specific molecule emits light at a particular wavelength and in a telltale pattern, or spectrum, which scientists can detect using radio telescopes. For this study, astronomers used the enormous Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in the Chilean desert, which went online last year and combines the power of 66 radio antennas.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA Array

    Iso-propyl cyanide joins a long list of molecules detected in interstellar space. But what makes this discovery significant is the structure of iso-propyl cyanide. All other organic molecules that have been detected in space so far (including normal-propyl cyanide, the sister of i-C3H7CN) are made of a straight chain with a carbon backbone. Iso-propyl cyanide, however, has a “branched” structure. This same type of branched structure is a key characteristic of amino acids.

    “Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are important ingredients of life on Earth,” the study’s lead author, Arnaud Belloche, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, told Space.com in an email. “We are interested in the origin of amino acids in general and their distribution in our galaxy.”

    alma
    The central region of the Milky Way can be seen above the antennas of the ALMA observatory in Chile.

    Scientists have previously found amino acids in meteorites that fell to Earth, and the composition of these chemicals suggested they had an interstellar origin. The researchers in this new study did not find amino acids, but their discovery adds an “additional piece of evidence that the amino acids found in meteorites could have been formed in the interstellar medium,” Belloche wrote.

    “The detection of a molecule with a branched carbon backbone in interstellar space, in a region where stars are being formed, is interesting because it shows that interstellar chemistry is indeed capable of producing molecules with such a complex, branched structure,” Belloche added.

    It was first suggested in the 1980s that branched molecules could form on the surface of dust grains in interstellar space. But this is the first time such compounds have been detected. What’s more, iso-propyl cyanide seemed to be plentiful — it was almost half as abundant of its more common sister variant in Sagittarius B2, the study found. This means that branched molecules could actually be quite ordinary in interstellar space, the researchers said.

    The research is detailed in the Sept. 26 edition of the journal Science.

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  • richardmitnick 2:33 pm on September 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “ALMA Extends Its Arms” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Wednesday, 24 September 2014

    Valeria Foncea
    Education and Public Outreach Officer
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 467 6258
    Cell: +56 9 75871963
    Email: vfoncea@alma.cl

    Richard Hook
    Public Information Officer, ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
    Observatory Tokyo, Japan
    Tel: +81 422 34 3630
    Email: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    Charles E. Blue
    Public Information Officer
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Tel: +1 434 296 0314
    Cell: +1 434.242.9559
    Email: cblue@nrao.edu

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has successfully tested an antenna in the most extended configuration of the array yet, producing the longest baseline ever achieved by ALMA. This advance became possible once the first of ALMA’s three extended arms was successfully powered up for the first time, and opens up the possibility of greatly extending ALMA’s capabilities. With longer baselines, the ability of a radio telescope to see fine detail increases, allowing astronomers to uncover much more information about objects observed in the Universe.

    alma extend
    This image by ESO, no image credit

    truck
    ALMA transporter moving a distant antenna Lore, one of ALMA’s two tailor-made antenna transporters, made its first journey along the Pampa la Bola arm and relocated an antenna to a distant pad. Engineers had to design vehicles rugged and durable enough to carry the antennas safely through the hostile desert environment. | ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), P. Carrillo Download image

    Lore, one of ALMA’s two tailor-made antenna transporters, made its first journey along the Pampa la Bola arm and for the first time relocated an antenna to a position seven kilometers away from its furthest neighbour. This marks a major new technical achievement in the Atacama Desert in Chile, at more than 5000 metres above sea level. This new baseline is more than four times longer than is currently available to the ALMA scientific community, and tests of even longer baselines are in progress.

    Catherine Vlahakis, Program Scientist for the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign says that: “successfully powering up an antenna for the first time over these long distances marks an important technical step towards increasing ALMA’s ability to see objects in the Universe in fine detail”.

    antenna
    A distant ALMA antenna This image shows an ALMA antenna on a distant pad in the Pampa la Bola branch, with Japanese ASTE and NANTEN2 telescopes in the background. | ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Sawada Download image

    Ed Fomalont, Lead Scientist for the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign, explains that “the combination of the signals from the antennas produces patterns called fringes. The fringes measured from the antenna seven kilometres away were as pure and strong as will be needed to obtain high quality images when additional antennas are moved to these long baselines.”

    Catherine Vlahakis, adds that “this is the first step in a process of moving several antennas out to these longer distances. Once the rest of the antennas are also in place we will be able to begin test observations of astronomical objects at higher angular resolution, and therefore in more exquisite detail, than ALMA has yet achieved.”

    Observations that will further test baselines as long as nearly 11 kilometers will continue over the next two months. If all goes as intended, this process will provide ALMA astronomers with the knowledge needed to offer long-baseline observations to the scientific community.

    See the full article here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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  • richardmitnick 6:20 pm on September 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “ALMA Studies Infant Sun-like Solar System to Try and Catch the Wind” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Monday, 22 September 2014

    Contacts

    Dr. Colette Salyk
    National Optical Astronomy Observatory
    950 N Cherry Ave, Tucson AZ 85719 USA
    E-mail: csalyk@noao.edu

    Valeria Foncea
    Education and Public Outreach Officer
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 467 6258
    Cell: +56 9 75871963
    Email: vfoncea@alma.cl

    Charles E. Blue
    Public Information Officer
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Tel: +1 434 296 0314
    Cell: +1 434.242.9559
    Email: cblue@nrao.edu

    Richard Hook
    Public Information Officer, ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
    Observatory Tokyo, Japan
    Tel: +81 422 34 3630
    Email: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have studied a special kind of young star, a T Tauri star, to understand why some have disks that glow weirdly in infrared light while others shine in a more predictable fashion. The answer, researchers speculate, may be due to differences in the wind around these stars.

    tt

    T Tauri stars are the infant versions of stars like our Sun. They are relatively normal, medium size-stars that are surrounded by the raw materials to build both rocky and gaseous planets. Though nearly invisible in optical light, these disks shine in both infrared and millimeter-wavelength light.

    “The material in the disk of a T Tauri star usually, but not always, emits infrared radiation with a predictable energy distribution,” said Colette Salyk, an astronomer with the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) and lead author on a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, “some T Tauri stars, however, like to act up by emitting infrared radiation in unexpected ways.”

    To account for the different infrared signature around such similar stars, astronomers propose that winds may be emanating from within some T Tauri stars’ protoplanetary disks. These winds could have important implications for planet formation, potentially robbing the disk of some of the gas required for the formation of giant Jupiter-like planets, or stirring up the disk and causing the building blocks of planets to change location entirely. These winds have been predicted by astronomers, but have never been clearly detected.

    Using ALMA, Salyk and her colleagues looked for evidence of a possible wind in AS 205 N, a T Tauri star located 407 light-years away at the edge of a star-forming region in the constellation Ophiuchus, the Snake Bearer. This star seemed to exhibit the characteristically uneven infrared signature that had intrigued astronomers.

    With ALMA’s exceptional resolution and sensitivity, the researchers were able to study the distribution of carbon monoxide around the star. Carbon monoxide is an excellent tracer for the molecular gas that makes up stars and their planet-forming disks. These studies confirmed that there was indeed gas leaving the disk surface, as would be expected if a wind were present. The properties of the wind, however, did not exactly match expectations.

    This different between observations and expectations could be due to the fact that AS 205 N is actually part of a multiple star system – with a companion dubbed AS 205 S, that is itself a binary star.

    This multiple star arrangement may suggest that the gas is leaving the disk surface because it’s being pulled away by the binary companion star rather than ejected by a wind.

    “We are hoping these new ALMA observations help us better understand winds, but they have also left us with a new mystery,” said Salyk, “Are we seeing winds, or interactions with the companion star?”

    The study’s authors are not pessimistic, however. They plan to continue their research with more ALMA observations, targeting other unusual T Tauri stars, with and without companions, to see whether they show these same features.

    T Tauri stars are named after their prototype star, discovered in 1852 – the third star in the constellation Taurus whose brightness was found to vary erratically. At one point, some 4.5 billion years ago, our Sun was a T Tauri star.

    This work is published in the Astrophysical Journal: other authors include Klaus Pontoppidan, Space Telescope Science Institute; Stuartt Corder, Joint ALMA Observatory; Diego Muñoz, Center for Space Research, Department of Astronomy, Cornell University; and Ke Zhang and Geoffrey Blake, Division of Geological & Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology.

    See the full article here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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  • richardmitnick 9:59 pm on September 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “Violent Origins of Pancake Galaxies Probed by ALMA” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Wednesday, 17 September 2014

    Contacts

    Junko Ueda
    JSPS postdoctoral fellow/NAOJ
    Tel: +88 422 34 3117
    Email: junko.ueda@nao.ac.jp

    Lars Lindberg Christensen
    Head of ESO ePOD
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6761
    Cell: +49 173 3872 621
    Email: lars@eso.org

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    NAOJ Chile Observatory EPO officer
    Tel: +88 422 34 3630
    Email: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    New observations explain why Milky Way-like galaxies are so common in the Universe

    For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using ALMA and a host of other radio telescopes have found direct evidence that merging galaxies can instead form disc galaxies, and that this outcome is in fact quite common. This surprising result could explain why there are so many spiral galaxies like the Milky Way in the Universe.

    bunch
    Distribution of gas in merging galaxies observed by radio telescopes. Contours indicate the radio intensity emitted from CO gas. The colour shows the motion of gas. The red color indicates gas is moving away from us while the blue colour is coming closer to us. The gradation from red to blue means that gas is rotating in a disc-like manner around the centre of the galaxy. | Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/SMA/CARMA/IRAM/J. Ueda et al

    disc
    Example of disc galaxy, The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253)
    Atlas Image [or Atlas Image mosaic] courtesy of 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/http://www.nsf.gov/

    An international research group led by Junko Ueda, a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral fellow, has made surprising observations that most galaxy collisions in the nearby Universe — within 40–600 million light-years from Earth — result in so-called disc galaxies. Disc galaxies — including spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and lenticular galaxies — are defined by pancake-shaped regions of dust and gas, and are distinct from the category of elliptical galaxies.

    It has, for some time, been widely accepted that merging disc galaxies would eventually form an elliptically shaped galaxy. During these violent interactions the galaxies do not only gain mass as they merge or cannibalise each-other, but they are also changing their shape throughout cosmic time, and therefore changing type along the way.

    Computer simulations from the 1970s predicted that mergers between two comparable disc galaxies would result in an elliptical galaxy. The simulations predict that most galaxies today are elliptical, clashing with observations that over 70% of galaxies are in fact disc galaxies. However, more recent simulations have suggested that collisions could also form disc galaxies.

    To identify the final shapes of galaxies after mergers observationally, the group studied the distribution of gas in 37 galaxies that are in their final stages of merging. The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) and several other radio telescopes were used to observe emission from carbon monoxide (CO), an indicator of molecular gas.

    The team’s research is the largest study of molecular gas in galaxies to date and provides unique insight into how the Milky Way might have formed. Their study revealed that almost all of the mergers show pancake-shaped areas of molecular gas, and hence are disc galaxies in the making. Ueda explains: “For the first time there is observational evidence for merging galaxies that could result in disc galaxies. This is a large and unexpected step towards understanding the mystery of the birth of disc galaxies.”

    Nonetheless, there is a lot more to discover. Ueda added: “We have to start focusing on the formation of stars in these gas discs. Furthermore, we need to look farther out in the more distant Universe. We know that the majority of galaxies in the more distant Universe also have discs. We however do not yet know whether galaxy mergers are also responsible for these, or whether they are formed by cold gas gradually falling into the galaxy. Maybe we have found a general mechanism that applies throughout the history of the Universe.”

    The team is composed of Junko Ueda (JSPS postdoctoral fellow/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan [NAOJ]), Daisuke Iono (NAOJ/The Graduate University for Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI]), Min S. Yun (The University of Massachusetts), Alison F. Crocker (The University of Toledo), Desika Narayanan (Haverford College), Shinya Komugi (Kogakuin University/ NAOJ), Daniel Espada (NAOJ/SOKENDAI/Joint ALMA Observatory), Bunyo Hatsukade (NAOJ), Hiroyuki Kaneko (University of Tsukuba), Yoichi Tamura (The University of Tokyo), David J. Wilner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Ryohei Kawabe (NAOJ/ SOKENDAI/The University of Tokyo) and Hsi-An Pan (Hokkaido University/SOKENDAI/NAOJ)

    The data were obtained by ALMA, the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy: a millimeter array consisting of 23 parabola antennas in California, the Submillimeter Array a submillimeter array consisting of eight parabola antennas in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Plateau de Bure Interferometer, the NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45m radio telescope, USA’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory 12m telescope, USA’s Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory 14m telescope, IRAM’s 30m telescope, and the Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope as a supplement.

    carma
    CARMA Array

    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO
    SAO Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea

    IRAM Interferometer Submillimeter Array of Radio Telescopes
    IRAM Interferometer

    naoj
    NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45m radio telescope

    aro
    ARO KP12M Radio Telescope

    IRAM 30m Radio telescope
    IRAM 30m Radio Telescope

    ESO
    Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope

    See the full article, with notes, here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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  • richardmitnick 6:53 pm on September 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “ALMA Achieves New High Frequency Observing Capabilities: Shows Planet Uranus in New Light” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Wednesday, 10 September 2014
    Valeria Foncea
    Education and Public Outreach Officer
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 467 6258
    Cell: +56 9 75871963
    Email: vfoncea@alma.cl

    Charles E. Blue
    Public Information Officer
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Tel: +1 434 296 0314
    Cell: +1 434.242.9559
    Email: cblue@nrao.edu

    Richard Hook
    Public Information Officer, ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
    Observatory Tokyo, Japan
    Tel: +81 422 34 3630
    Email: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has reached a major milestone by extending its vision fully into the realm of the submillimeter, the wavelengths of cosmic light that hold intriguing information about the cold, dark, and distant Universe.

    Uranus
    ALMA high frecuencies image of Uranus

    This achievement opens an entirely new window on the Universe for ALMA and goes beyond its existing capabilities with the Band 9 receivers. It also is a critical step in the telescope’s commissioning process, which brings its full capabilities to bear and makes them available to the international astronomical community.

    As a demonstration of its new capabilities, the commissioning team released a new image of planet Uranus as it appears in submillimeter wavelength light. The image ― obtained with ALMA’s highest frequency, Band 10 receivers ― reveals the icy glow from the planet’s atmosphere, which is a frigid -224 degrees Celsius (making Uranus the coldest planet in the Solar System). ALMA’s now broader range of capabilities will enable astronomers and planetary scientists to study and monitor changes in the atmosphere of Uranus and other distant objects in our Solar System in ways that were previously not possible.

    cold
    The cold atmosphere of Uranus imaged with the ALMA band 10 receivers | Neil Phillips (ESO/JAO) and Ed Fomalont (NRAO)

    JAO astronomer Satoko Takahashi of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan who lead this effort said: “Before astronomers could take advantage of the highest frequencies, we first had to take the telescope through its paces and establish observing strategies that yield the best, most accurate results. That’s why commissioning is so critical to our success”.

    ALMA observes the cosmos by using a series of precisely tuned receivers that are installed on each of the array’s 66 antennas. Each receiver type is sensitive to a particular “band”, or range of wavelengths, of the electromagnetic spectrum. The highest frequency Band 10 receivers have already been installed and tested on a majority of the ALMA antennas and the remainder will be installed and integrated over the next several months.

    band 10
    ALMA band 10 receiver cartridge | NAOJ

    To take full advantage of ALMA’s new high-frequency capabilities, the commissioning team is in the process of refining two new observing techniques. The first, “band to band transfer,” enables ALMA to observe at high frequencies in less than optimal weather conditions by first observing an object at longer wavelengths, and then using that data to calibrate, or “tune,” the telescope for a particular observation. “This technique will greatly expand the amount of time ALMA can effectively study the Universe at higher frequencies”, added Violette Impellizzeri, JAO astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

    Another technique involves first observing at very broadband wavelengths and then tuning-in to more narrowband, shorter wavelengths. This technique will soon be routine operating procedure, even though it is unique to ALMA at these wavelengths. Combined, these two techniques open up many more hours of observations at shorter wavelengths than would otherwise be possible

    Teams from around the world are still on their way to ALMA to further verify these techniques and provide the optimal observing strategy for observing with ALMA at high frequencies.

    More Information

    The international commissioning team for the High Frequency Observing Campaign was led by Satoko Takasashi of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, ALMA’s representative East Asia and Anthony Remijan of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the ALMA Program Scientist for Extension and Optimization of Capabilities. Other members include Catherine Vlahakis, Neil Philips, Denis Barkats, Bill Dent (JAO/ESO), Ed Fomalont, Brian Mason, Jennifer Donovan Meyer (NRAO); Violette Impellizzeri, Paulo Cortes, Christian Lopez (JAO/NRAO); Christine Wilson (NRAO/McMaster University); Seiji Kameno, Tsyuoshi Sawada (JAO/NAOJ); Tim Van Kempen, Luke Maud & Remo Tilanus (Leiden); Robert Lucas (Grenoble); Richard Hills (Cambridge); James Chibueze, Akihiko Hirota (JAO/NAOJ).

    See the full article here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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  • richardmitnick 3:42 pm on August 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESO: “New ALMA Equipment Designed in Chile” 


    European Southern Observatory

    25 August 2014
    Richard Hook
    ESO, Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    ALMA Array
    ALMA Array

    New equipment for transporting one of the most sensitive components of the ALMA array — the antenna Front Ends (cryogenic refrigerators) — has been delivered to ALMA by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the North American associate of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. This new vehicle, which will save lots of time and increase safety during manoeuvers, was completely designed and built in Chile. It is the first shipment of one of four vehicles for handling the Front Ends that hold the set of detectors inside ALMA´s antennas, and is part of the technological exchange policy with the host country.

    set3

    The Front End Handling Vehicle (FEHV) — a robust elevator-crane car — is the result of a three year design and manufacturing collaboration between NRAO and a team of Chilean professionals from the Prolaser and Maestranza Walper companies, located in the city of Valdivia in the south of Chile. The main tourist attractions of this region inspired the names of each of these four vehicles, being the first one called after a river: Calle-Calle.

    The FEHV will help to shorten the time needed to set up and remove the receivers from the antennas. “This replacement job takes place every five days. Over the 30 year lifetime projected for the observatory using this vehicle will save a huge amount of resources, considering that this specific task takes 2000 person hours a year, approximately”, proudly stated Rodrigo Brito, team leader supervising the official shipment of the manufacturing contribution from the North American partner of ALMA.

    Each cryostat, together with the receivers comprising each Front End, costs about one million dollars, weighs around 750 kilogrammes and must be lifted up almost two metres to be positioned precisely in the confined space inside the antennas cubicles. The FEHV has a built-in platform to lift its load in a safe way, move it and rotate it for perfect alignment during the setup. It weighs 709 kilogrammes and is 2.20 metres long, 1.05 metres wide and 1.50 metres tall.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:26 pm on August 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “ALMA Progress” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    20 August 2014
    Al Wootten

    The ALMA antenna array has moved to configuration C34-6 – 3mm beam 0.6 arcsec, baselines 41-1090m – with the acceptance of key distant antenna stations; earlier observations in configuration C34-5, which includes baselines of 20-900m, were obtained. Observations requiring C34-7 will be made after the next austral summer. Beginning in September, several antennas will be moved to more distant stations to enable tests on baselines of 10km. Early Science will be suspended as key capabilities are readied for the ALMA Cycle 3 Call for Proposals, which will occur in austral autumn 2015.

    Recent weather at Chajnantor has been very good, as is usual for the austral winter. From 1-7 August the precipitable water vapor remained below 1mm, and the resulting excellent high frequency transparency benefitted the high frequency campaign. Multiple objectives were met, including the imaging of Uranus with 29 array elements at ALMA Band 10 (350 microns, 810 GHz) by the Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) Extension and Optimization of Capabilities (EOC) team. The EOC team also demonstrated the transfer of phase information from lower frequencies, where calibrators are brighter and more densely distributed, to higher frequencies and solved problems with total power observations. Simultaneous sub-arraying within the main 12m array was demonstrated for the first time, a key goal for achieving simultaneous EOC and Early Science operations. On Tuesday, 29 July, the ALMA Phasing Project team, with support from EOC, the ALMA Department of Engineering, and the ALMA Department of Computing integrated the new hydrogen maser into the ALMA system.

    maser
    Hydrogen maser. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    This is an important milestone toward incorporating ALMA as a Very Long Baseline Interferometry array element. Tests have shown the maser performance is excellent, and it has replaced the rubidium clock as the ALMA time standard.

    ALMA Cycle 2 Early Science began on 3 June, and eight one-week blocks have been completed. Current JAO operations allocate a week every two weeks to extending observational capabilities; three such one-week sessions were complete as of publication.

    Nine ALMA Cycle 2 datasets has been delivered to North American (NA) PIs. During July, one new Cycle 2 Director’s Discretionary Time (DDT) project was received and reviewed. Carryover Cycle 1 projects continue to be observed with a priority below that of highest-ranked Cycle 2 projects; two-thirds of the highest-ranked NA Cycle 1 Projects have seen deliveries of some data. Data have been delivered for 2 DDT projects and ten partially observed filler projects. All Cycle 0 data have been delivered. A total of 109 of the 116 Cycle 0 projects are available in the ALMA Science Archive; only a few projects are still in their proprietary period. Ninety-one scientific papers based on these Cycle 0 projects have been published to date.

    See the full article here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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  • richardmitnick 10:45 pm on August 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “South Korea Sign Agreement on ALMA “ 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Tuesday, 19 August 2014
    Valeria Foncea
    Education and Public Outreach Officer
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 467 6258
    Cell: +56 9 75871963
    Email: vfoncea@alma.cl

    On August 17, 2014, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) and Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) signed an agreement concerning the operations and development of ALMA. With this agreement, Korea officially joined in the East Asia ALMA consortium whose current members are Japan and Taiwan.

    people
    The picture shows the attendees of the signing ceremony (from left): Chul-Sung Choi (Director of Space Science Division, KASI), Jongsoo Kim (Director of Radio Astronomy Division, KASI), Youngdeuk Park (Vice President of KASI), Katsuhiko Sato (President of NINS), Inwoo Han (President of KASI), Masahiko Hayashi (Director General of NAOJ), Hideyuki Kobayashi (Deputy Director of NAOJ), Satoru Iguchi (East Asia ALMA Project Manager, NAOJ) Credit: Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI)

    Japan and Korea have promoted active collaboration in the field of astronomy. In 2001, the two countries made a successful VLBI observation for the first time by linking the 45-m radio telescope of the Nobeyama Radio Observatory (NRO) of the National Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the 14-m radio telescope of the Taeduk Radio Astronomy Observatory of Korea. The following year, NAOJ and KASI officially signed an agreement to further strengthen the collaboration. And a decade later, in March 2012, NAOJ and KASI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning the collaboration of ALMA.

    This agreement enables Korea’s participation into the ALMA project as well as their contribution to the operations of ALMA and development of new instruments. It is expected that this agreement will enhance the cooperation of two countries in astronomy and greatly promote the diversity and innovativeness of East Asian astronomical researches.

    See the full article here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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  • richardmitnick 3:24 pm on August 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NRAO: “ALMA Pinpoints Pluto to Help Guide NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft” 

    NRAO Icon
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory

    NRAO Banner

    August 5, 2014
    Charles Blue, NRAO Public Information Officer
    (434) 296-0314; cblue@nrao.edu

    Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) are making high-precision measurements of Pluto’s location and orbit around the Sun to help NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft accurately home in on its target when it nears Pluto and its five known moons in July 2015.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons

    Though observed for decades with ever-larger optical telescopes on Earth and in space, astronomers are still working out Pluto’s exact position and path around our Solar System. This lingering uncertainty is due to Pluto’s extreme distance from the Sun (approximately 40 times farther out than the Earth) and the fact that we have been studying it for only about one-third of its orbit. Pluto was discovered in 1930 and takes 248 years to complete one revolution around the Sun.

    “With these limited observational data, our knowledge of Pluto’s position could be wrong by several thousand kilometers, which compromises our ability to calculate efficient targeting maneuvers for the New Horizons spacecraft,” said New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

    The New Horizons team made use of the ALMA positioning data, together with newly analyzed visible light measurements stretching back to Pluto’s discovery, to determine how to perform the first such scheduled course correction for targeting, known as a Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM), in July. This maneuver helped ensure that New Horizons uses the minimum fuel to reach Pluto, saving as much as possible for a potential extended mission to explore Kuiper Belt objects after the Pluto system flyby is complete.

    kuiper
    Kuiper Belt

    To prepare for this first TCM, astronomers needed to pinpoint Pluto’s position using the most distant and most stable reference points possible. Finding such a reference point to accurately calculate trajectories of such small objects at such vast distances is incredibly challenging. Normally, stars at great distances are used by optical telescopes for astrometry (the positioning of things on the sky) since they change position only slightly over many years. For New Horizons, however, even more precise measurements were necessary to ensure its encounter with Pluto would be as on-target as possible.

    The most distant and most apparently stable objects in the Universe are quasars, galaxies more than 10 billion light-years away. Though quasars appear very dim to optical telescopes, they are incredibly bright at radio wavelengths, particularly the millimeter wavelengths that ALMA can see.

    “The ALMA astrometry used a bright quasar named J1911-2006 with the goal to cut in half the uncertainty of Pluto’s position,” said Ed Fomalont, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, and currently assigned to ALMA’s Operations Support Facility in Chile.

    ALMA was able to study Pluto and its largest moon Charon by picking up the radio emission from their cold surfaces, which are about 43 degrees Kelvin (-230 degrees Celsius).

    The team first observed these two icy worlds in November 2013, and then three more times in 2014 — once in April and twice in July. Additional observations are scheduled for October 2014.

    “By taking multiple observations at different dates, we allow Earth to move along its orbit, offering different vantage points in relation to the Sun,” said Fomalont. “Astronomers can then better determine Pluto’s distance and orbit.” This astronomical technique is called measuring Pluto’s parallax.

    “We are very excited about the state-of-the-art capabilities that ALMA brings to bear to help us better target our historic exploration of the Pluto system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “We thank the entire ALMA team for their support and for the beautiful data they are gathering for New Horizons.”

    The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

    ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

    New Horizons is the first mission to the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt of rocky, icy objects beyond. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate; Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning; APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. For more information, visit http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.

    See the full article here.

    The NRAO operates a complementary, state-of-the-art suite of radio telescope facilities for use by the scientific community, regardless of institutional or national affiliation: the Very Large Array (VLA), the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA)*.

    NRAO ALMA
    NRAO ALMA

    NRAO GBT
    NRAO GBT

    NRAO VLA
    NRAO VLA

    The NRAO is building two new major research facilities in partnership with the international community that will soon open new scientific frontiers: the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), and the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA). Access to ALMA observing time by the North American astronomical community will be through the North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC).
    *The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) comprises ten radio telescopes spanning 5,351 miles. It’s the world’s largest, sharpest, dedicated telescope array. With an eye this sharp, you could be in Los Angeles and clearly read a street sign in New York City!

    Astronomers use the continent-sized VLBA to zoom in on objects that shine brightly in radio waves, long-wavelength light that’s well below infrared on the spectrum. They observe blazars, quasars, black holes, and stars in every stage of the stellar life cycle. They plot pulsars, exoplanets, and masers, and track asteroids and planets.

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