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  • richardmitnick 9:32 am on March 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESA aim to ram asteroid, Moonlet of asteroid 65803 Didymos, ,   

    From COSMOS: “NASA, ESA aim to ram asteroid” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    22 March 2017
    Richard A. Lovett

    Artist’s impression of the binary asteroid Didymos, the ESA satellite watching, the NASA satellite heading in for impact. ESA/Getty Images [This is confusing. ESA satellite is easy to pick out, but NASA dart?]

    A planned NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) joint mission is poised to test whether it is possible to knock an asteroid from one orbit into another.

    The mission, which has not yet fully funded, is part of the space agencies’ focus on “planetary defense”: the protection of Earth from collision with dangerous asteroids.

    But instead of trying to blow up such a threat, as in the 1998 science fiction movie Armageddon, the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission intends to prove that an asteroid can be shifted by hitting it with a fast-moving spacecraft launched from Earth.

    “We save Bruce Willis’s life,” quips Patrick Michel, a planetary scientist from the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, in Nice, France, in a reference to the movie. “He doesn’t have to sacrifice himself.”

    The mission uses two spacecraft, one to be launched by ESA in 2020, the other by NASA in 2021.

    The ESA spacecraft, called AIM (for Asteroid Impact Mission) will rendezvous with the selected asteroid and go into orbit around it in early 2022.


    The NASA spacecraft, called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) will be timed to hit the rock a few months later, at a speed of six kilometres per second, while the AIM spacecraft and earthbound telescopes watch.


    The target is a moonlet of 65803 Didymos, a near-Earth asteroid discovered in 1996. At the time of impact it will be about 11 million kilometres away.

    As the world “double” in the DART mission’s name suggests, Didymos is a binary system, meaning that there are two asteroids orbiting each other. The large one is about 800 metres across; the moonlet measures about 160 metres.

    The impact is expected to alter the moonlet’s orbital speed around Didymos by about a half-millimetre per second, says Andrew Cheng, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who is lead investigator for the NASA side of the project.

    “That doesn’t sound like much, but it is very easily measured, both by the AIM spacecraft and by telescopes on the ground,” he said, speaking by phone from the 2017 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Woodlands, Texas, where he is presenting details on the project.

    The effect is easy to measure from Earth, he adds, because the moonlet’s orbit is aligned so that viewed from down here it passes behind Didymos once each circuit.

    These disappearances make it easy to precisely measure its orbital period, Cheng says, estimating that even the tiny speed change expected to be imparted by the crash will alter its 11.9-hour orbit by several minutes.

    One of the goals of the mission is to test whether it is possible to hit such a small, distant object with a spacecraft moving at such a high speed. But it’s also important, Cheng says, to see how the asteroid responds to the impact.

    That’s because hitting an asteroid with a spacecraft isn’t like hitting a billiard ball with the cue ball.

    “When we have a high-speed impact on an asteroid, you create a crater,” Cheng says. “You blow pieces back in the direction you came from.”

    The ejection of this material shoves the asteroid in the opposite direction, significantly increasing its momentum change.

    “The amount can be quite large,” Cheng says, “More than a factor of two.”

    With the AIM spacecraft orbiting nearby, the impact will also allow the first scientific measurements of precisely what happens when an asteroid (or moon) gets hit by a fast-moving object, such as the 500-kilogram DART spacecraft.

    “This will tell us about cratering processes,” says Michel, who is the lead investigator of the ESA side of the mission.

    That is important because planetary scientists use crater counts on other worlds to help determine how old their surfaces are, based on the numbers and sizes of objects that have hit the surface since it formed.

    But most of the research designed to correlate crater size to the size of the impactor rests either on modeling or small-scale laboratory tests.

    This is the first time, Cheng says, that scientists will be able to test their models by looking at a crater on an asteroid, knowing exactly what hit it and how fast it was moving. Michel adds that the target moonlet will also be the smallest asteroid ever to be visited by a spacecraft.

    “This is important for science and for companies interested in asteroid mining because so far we don’t have any data regarding what we will find on the surface of such a small body,” he says.

    “Each time we discover a new world we have surprises,” he adds. “The main driver [of this mission] is planetary defence, but it has a lot of scientific implicaitons.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:42 am on March 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Star’s death spiral into black hole   

    From EarthSky: “Star’s death spiral into black hole” 



    March 22, 2017
    Eleanor Imster

    NASA said on March 20, 2017 that scientists used data from its Swift satellite to get a comprehensive look at a star’s death spiral into a black hole.

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    The star was much like our sun. The black hole contains some 3 million times the mass of our sun and lies at the center of a galaxy 290 million light-years away. As the black hole tore the star apart, it produced what scientists call a tidal disruption event. They’ve labeled this particular event – an eruption of optical, ultraviolet, and X-ray light, which began reaching Earth in 2014 – as ASASSN-14li.

    Astronomers report the detection of flows of hot, ionized gas in high-resolution X-ray spectra of a nearby tidal disruption event, ASASSN-14li in the galaxy PGC 43234. This artist’s impression shows a supermassive black hole at the center of PGC 43234 accreting mass from a star that dared to venture too close to the galaxy’s center. Image credit: ESA / C. Carreau.

    The scientists have now used Swift’s data to map out how and where these different wavelengths were produced, as the shattered star’s debris circled the black hole. The video animation above is an artist’s depiction of what these scientists believe happened. They said it took awhile for debris from the star to be swallowed up by the black hole.

    Dheeraj Pasham, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the lead researcher of the study, said:

    “We discovered brightness changes in X-rays that occurred about a month after similar changes were observed in visible and UV light. We think this means the optical and UV emission arose far from the black hole, where elliptical streams of orbiting matter crashed into each other.”

    Their study was published March 15, 2017 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    A tidal disruption event happens when a star passes too close to a very massive black hole. ASASSN-14li is the closest tidal disruption discovered in 10 years, so of course astronomers are studying it as extensively as they can. During events like this, tidal forces from a black hole may convert the star into a stream of debris. Stellar debris falling toward the black hole doesn’t fall straight in, however, but instead collects into a spinning accretion disk, encircling the hole.

    The accretion disk is the source of all the action, as observed by earthly astronomers.

    Within the disk, star material becomes compressed and heated before eventually spilling over the black hole’s event horizon, the point beyond which nothing can escape and astronomers cannot observe.

    The animation above, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center illustrates:

    … how debris from a tidally disrupted star collides with itself, creating shock waves that emit ultraviolet and optical light far from the black hole. According to Swift observations of ASASSN-14li, these clumps took about a month to fall back to the black hole, where they produced changes in the X-ray emission that correlated with the earlier UV and optical changes.

    According to the scientists, the ASASSN-14li black hole’s event horizon is typically about 13 times bigger in volume than our sun. Meanwhile, the accretion disk formed by the disrupted star might extend to more than twice Earth’s distance from the sun.

    Bottom line: A team of scientists used observations from NASA’s Swift satellite have mapped the death spiral of a star as it was destroyed by the black hole at the center of its galaxy.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:19 am on March 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CHAMP Lithosphere, , ,   

    From ESA: “Unravelling Earth’s magnetic field” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    21 March 2017

    ESA’s Swarm satellites are seeing fine details in one of the most difficult layers of Earth’s magnetic field to unpick – as well as our planet’s magnetic history imprinted on Earth’s crust.


    Earth’s magnetic field can be thought of as a huge cocoon, protecting us from cosmic radiation and charged particles that bombard our planet in solar wind. Without it, life as we know it would not exist.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    Most of the field is generated at depths greater than 3000 km by the movement of molten iron in the outer core. The remaining 6% is partly due to electrical currents in space surrounding Earth, and partly due to magnetised rocks in the upper lithosphere – the rigid outer part of Earth, consisting of the crust and upper mantle.

    Although this ‘lithospheric magnetic field’ is very weak and therefore difficult to detect from space, the Swarm trio is able to map its magnetic signals. After three years of collecting data, the highest resolution map of this field from space to date has been released.


    “By combining Swarm measurements with historical data from the German CHAMP satellite, and using a new modelling technique, it was possible to extract the tiny magnetic signals of crustal magnetisation,” explained Nils Olsen from the Technical University of Denmark, one of the scientists behind the new map.

    Lithosphere From CHAMP.

    ESA’s Swarm mission manager, Rune Floberghagen, added: “Understanding the crust of our home planet is no easy feat. We can’t simply drill through it to measure its structure, composition and history.

    “Measurements from space have great value as they offer a sharp global view on the magnetic structure of our planet’s rigid outer shell.”

    Presented at this week’s Swarm Science Meeting in Canada, the new map shows detailed variations in this field more precisely than previous satellite-based reconstructions, caused by geological structures in Earth’s crust.

    One of these anomalies occurs in Central African Republic, centred around the city of Bangui, where the magnetic field is significantly sharper and stronger. The cause for this anomaly is still unknown, but some scientists speculate that it may be the result of a meteorite impact more than 540 million years ago.

    The magnetic field is in a permanent state of flux. Magnetic north wanders, and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so that a compass would point south instead of north.

    When new crust is generated through volcanic activity, mainly along the ocean floor, iron-rich minerals in the solidifying magma are oriented towards magnetic north, thus capturing a ‘snapshot’ of the magnetic field in the state it was in when the rocks cooled.

    Since magnetic poles flip back and forth over time, the solidified minerals form ‘stripes’ on the seafloor and provide a record of Earth’s magnetic history.

    The latest map from Swarm gives us an unprecedented global view of the magnetic stripes associated with plate tectonics reflected in the mid-oceanic ridges in the oceans.

    “These magnetic stripes are evidence of pole reversals and analysing the magnetic imprints of the ocean floor allows the reconstruction of past core field changes. They also help to investigate tectonic plate motions,” said Dhananjay Ravat from the University of Kentucky in the USA.

    “The new map defines magnetic field features down to about 250 km and will help investigate geology and temperatures in Earth’s lithosphere.”

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:27 pm on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alex Perryman, , , ,   

    From OpenZika at WCG: “OpenZika Researchers Continue Calculations and Prepare for Next Stage” 

    New WCG Logo


    World Community Grid (WCG)

    By: The OpenZika research team
    21 Mar 2017

    The OpenZika researchers are continuing to screen millions of chemical compounds as they look for potential treatments for the Zika virus. In this update, they report on the status of their calculations and their continuing work to spread the word about the project.

    Project Background

    While the Zika virus may not be getting the continuous press coverage that it received in 2015 and 2016, it is still a threat to the health of people across the globe. New infections continue to be reported in both South America and North America, and medical workers are just beginning to assess the effects of the virus on young children whose mothers were infected while pregnant.

    The search for effective treatments is crucial to stemming the tide of the virus. In addition to the OpenZika project, several other labs are doing cell-based screens with drugs already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency, but few to none of the “hit” compounds that have been identified thus far are both potent enough against Zika virus and also safe for pregnant women.

    Also, there are a number of efforts underway to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus. However, vaccines do not help people who already have the infection. It will be several years before they are proven effective and safe, and before enough doses can be mass produced and distributed. And even after approved vaccines are available and distributed to the public, not all people will be vaccinated. Consequently, in the meantime and in the future, cures for Zika infections are needed.

    ZIKV NS3 helicase bound to RNA with the predicted binding modes of five approved drugs (from our second set of candidates) selected by virtual screening. These candidates are shown as surfaces with different shades of green. The identification of these candidates and the video were made by Dr. Alexander L. Perryman at RWJ Rutgers University.

    Alex Perryman

    We began the analysis phase of the project by focusing on the results against the apo NS3 helicase crystal structure (apo means that the protein was not bound to anything else, such as a cofactor, inhibitor, or nucleic acid) to select our first set of candidates, which are currently being assayed by our collaborator at University of California San Diego, Dr. Jair L. Siqueira-Neto, using cell-based assays. The NS3 helicase is a component of the Zika virus that is required for it to replicate itself.

    In the second set of screening results that we recently examined, we used the new crystal structure of NS3 helicase bound to RNA as the target (see the images / animation above). Similar to the first set of candidates, we docked approximately 7,600 compounds in a composite library composed of the US Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, the drugs approved in the European Union, and the US National Institutes of Health clinical collection library against the new RNA-bound structure of the helicase. Below are the results of this second screening:

    232 compounds passed the larger collection of different energetic and interaction-based docking filters, and their predicted binding modes were inspected and measured in detail.
    Of the compounds that were inspected in detail, 19 unique compounds passed this visual inspection stage of their docked modes.
    From the compounds that passed the visual inspection, 9 passed subsequent medicinal chemistry-based inspection and will be ordered soon.

    Status of the calculations

    In total, we have submitted 2.56 billion docking jobs, which involved the virtual screening of 6 million compounds versus 427 different target sites. We have already received approximately 1.9 billion of these results on our server. (There is some lag time between when the calculations are performed on your volunteered machines and when we get the results, since all of the results per “package” of approximately 10,000 different docking jobs need to be returned to World Community Grid, re-organized, and then compressed before sending them to our server.)

    Except for a few stragglers, we have received all of the results for our experiments that involve docking 6 million compounds versus the proteins NS1, NS3 helicase (both the RNA binding site and the ATP site), and NS5 (both the RNA polymerase and the methyltransferase domains). We are currently receiving the results from our most recent experiments against the NS2B / NS3 protease.

    A new stage of the project

    We just finished preparing and testing the docking input files that will be used for the second stage of this project. Instead of docking 6 million compounds, we will soon be able to start screening 30.2 million compounds against these targets. This new, massive library was originally obtained in a different type of format from the ZINC15 server. It represents almost all of “commercially available chemical space” (that is, almost all of the “small molecule” drug-like and hit-like compounds that can be purchased from reputable chemical vendors).

    The ZINC15 server provided these files as “multi-molecule mol2” files (that is, many different compounds were contained in each “mol2” formatted file). These files had to be re-formatted (we used the Raccoon program from Dr. Stefano Forli, who is part of the FightAIDS@Home team) by splitting them into individual mol2 files (1 compound per file) and then converting them into the “pdbqt” docking input format.

    We then ran a quick quality control test to make sure that the software used for the project, called AutoDock Vina, could properly use each pdbqt file as an input. Many compounds had to be rejected, because they had types of atoms that cause Vina to crash (such as silicon or boron), and we obviously don’t want to waste the computer time that you donate by submitting calculations that will crash.

    By splitting, reformatting, and testing hundreds of thousands of compounds per day, day after day, after approximately six months this massive new library of compounds is ready to be used in our OpenZika calculations. Without the tremendous resources that World Community Grid volunteers provide for this project, we would not even dream of trying to dock over 30 million compounds against many different targets from the Zika virus. Thank you all very much!!!

    For more information about these experiments, please visit our website.

    Publications and Collaborations

    Our PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases paper, OpenZika: An IBM World Community Grid Project to Accelerate Zika Virus Drug Discovery, was published on October 20, and it has already been viewed over 4,000 times. Anyone can access and read this paper for free. Another research paper Illustrating and homology modeling the proteins of the Zika virus has been accepted by F1000Research and viewed > 3800 times.

    A group from Brazil, coordinated by Prof. Glaucius Oliva, has contacted us because of our PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases paper to discuss a new collaboration to test the selected candidate compounds directly on enzymatic assays with the NS5 protein of Zika virus. They have solved two high-resolution crystal structures of ZIKV NS5, which have been recently released on the PDB (Protein Data Bank) (PDB ID: 5TIT and 5U04).

    Our paper entitled “Molecular Dynamics simulations of Zika Virus NS3 helicase: Insights into RNA binding site activity” was just accepted for publication in a special issue on Flaviviruses for the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. This study of the NS3 helicase system helped us learn more about this promising target for blocking Zika replication. The results will help guide how we analyze the virtual screens that we already performed against NS3 helicase, and the molecular dynamics simulations generated new conformations of this protein that we will use as input targets in new virtual screens that we perform as part of OpenZika.

    These articles are helping to bring additional attention to the project and to encourage the formation of new collaborations.

    Additional News

    We have applied and been accepted to present “OpenZika: Opening the Discovery of New Antiviral candidates against Zika Virus and Insights into Dynamic behavior of NS3 Helicase” to the 46th World Chemistry Congress. The conference will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 7-14.

    Dr. Sean Ekins has hired a postdoc and a master level scientist who will get involved with the OpenZika project. We have also started to collate literature inhibitors from Zika papers.

    Also, Drs. Sean Ekins and Carolina Andrade have offered to buy some of the candidate compounds that we identified in the virtual screens from OpenZika, so that they can be assayed in the next round of tests.

    See the full article here.

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    World Community Grid (WCG) brings people together from across the globe to create the largest non-profit computing grid benefiting humanity. It does this by pooling surplus computer processing power. We believe that innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can help make the planet smarter. Our success depends on like-minded individuals – like you.”
    WCG projects run on BOINC software from UC Berkeley.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing.

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    “Download and install secure, free software that captures your computer’s spare power when it is on, but idle. You will then be a World Community Grid volunteer. It’s that simple!” You can download the software at either WCG or BOINC.

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  • richardmitnick 1:08 pm on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 30 million collision events, , , , ,   

    From ATLAS: “Particle-hunting at the energy frontier” 

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event


    20th March 2017
    ATLAS Collaboration

    Fig. 1: The highest-mass dijet event measured by ATLAS (mass = 8.12TeV). Green lines indicate tracks of charged particles. Green and yellow blocks show the energy of the two back-to-back jets deposited in the calorimeters. (Image: ATLAS Collaboration/CERN)

    There are many mysteries the Standard Model of particle physics cannot answer. Why is there an imbalance between matter and anti-matter in our Universe? What is the nature of dark matter or dark energy? And many more. The existence of physics beyond the Standard Model can solve some of these fundamental questions. By studying the head-on collisions of protons at a centre-of-mass energy of 13 TeV provided by the LHC, the ATLAS Collaboration is on the hunt for signs of new physics.

    Fig. 2: Dijet resonance search results. (Image: ATLAS Collaboration/CERN)

    A newly released ATLAS search studies approximately 30 million collision events that produce two high-energy sprays of particles in the final state. These sprays are known as “jets” or, when seen in pairs as in this case, “dijets” (Figure 1). Jets with extraordinarily high energies – copiously produced due to the strong interactions of quarks and gluons – probe the highest energy scales of all processes at the LHC. These jets can provide a window into new physics phenomena, and allow ATLAS physicists to search for mediators between Standard Model and dark matter particles or other hypothetical objects such as non-elementary quarks, heavy “partners” of known Standard Model particles or miniature quantum black-holes (a phenomenon of strong gravity predicted in models with additional spatial dimensions). They can even be used to search for very heavy particles with masses beyond the LHC collision energies, through models known as contact interactions (similar to the Fermi model for weak interactions).

    The dijet search described here consists of two complementary analyses: the resonance analysis and the angular analysis. The resonance analysis looks for a localized excess in the dijet mass spectrum. In the absence of a heavy resonance, the mass distribution is well described by a smooth, monotonically falling function. A statistically significant bump would signify a new particle with mass near the measured bump. The histogram in Figure 2 displays the results of the resonance analysis. The x-axis represents the dijet mass (mjj) and the y-axis (shown with a logarithmic scale) represents the number of observed events. The solid black dots show the data, the red curve represents the fit of a smooth function to the data, and the open green dots show how two non-elementary (“excited”) quark signals might look like. The second panel shows how significant the deviations in the data are as compared to the smooth background fit. The vertical blue lines show the region with the largest significance. A statistical analysis results in a probablility value of 0.63 which means that there is no significant deviation from the Standard Model. The third panel compares the data to the dijet mass prediction; again, no significant deviation from the Standard Model expectation is seen.

    See the full article here .

    CERN LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel
    CERN LHC particles
    LHC at CERN

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  • richardmitnick 12:43 pm on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility (SSRF), Soft X-ray Free Electron Laser (SXFEL) facility   

    From “China outlines free-electron laser plans” 


    Mar 21, 2017
    Michael Banks

    Zhentang Zhao, director of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics.

    There was a noticeable step change in the weather today in Shanghai as the Sun finally emerged and the temperature rose somewhat.

    This time I braved the rush-hour metro system to head to the Zhangjiang Technology Park in the south of the city.

    The park is home to the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility (SSRF), which opened in 2007. The facility accelerates electrons to 3.5 GeV before making them produce X-rays that are then used by researchers to study a range of materials.

    The SSRF currently has 15 beamlines focusing on topics including energy, materials, bioscience and medicine. I was given a tour of the facility by Zhentang Zhao, director of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, which operates the SSRF.

    As I found out this morning, the centre has big plans. Perhaps the sight of building materials and cranes nearby the SSRF should have given it away.

    Over the next six years there are plans to build a further 16 beamlines to put the SSRF at full capacity, some of which will extend 100 m or so from the synchrotron.

    Neighbouring the SSRF, scientists are also building the Soft X-ray Free Electron Laser (SXFEL) facility. The SSRF used to have a test FEL beam line, but since 2014 that has transformed to become a fully fledged centre costing 8bn RMB.

    Currently, the 250 m, 150 MeV linac for the SXFEL has been built and is being commissioned. Over the next couple of years two undulator beamlines will be put in place to generate X-rays with a wavelength of 9 nm and at a repetition rate of 10 Hz. The X-rays will then be sent to five experimental stations that will open to users in 2019.

    There are also plans to upgrade the SXFEL so that it generates X-rays with a 2 nm wavelength (soft X-ray regime) at a frequency of 50 Hz.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:31 pm on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breaking the supermassive black hole speed limit, ,   

    From LANL: “Breaking the supermassive black hole speed limit” 

    LANL bloc

    Los Alamos National Laboratory

    March 21, 2017
    Kevin Roark
    Communications Office
    (505) 665-9202

    Quasar growing under intense accretion streams. No image credit

    A new computer simulation helps explain the existence of puzzling supermassive black holes observed in the early universe. The simulation is based on a computer code used to understand the coupling of radiation and certain materials.

    “Supermassive black holes have a speed limit that governs how fast and how large they can grow,” said Joseph Smidt of the Theoretical Design Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, “The relatively recent discovery of supermassive black holes in the early development of the universe raised a fundamental question, how did they get so big so fast?”

    Using computer codes developed at Los Alamos for modeling the interaction of matter and radiation related to the Lab’s stockpile stewardship mission, Smidt and colleagues created a simulation of collapsing stars that resulted in supermassive black holes forming in less time than expected, cosmologically speaking, in the first billion years of the universe.

    “It turns out that while supermassive black holes have a growth speed limit, certain types of massive stars do not,” said Smidt. “We asked, what if we could find a place where stars could grow much faster, perhaps to the size of many thousands of suns; could they form supermassive black holes in less time?”

    It turns out the Los Alamos computer model not only confirms the possibility of speedy supermassive black hole formation, but also fits many other phenomena of black holes that are routinely observed by astrophysicists. The research shows that the simulated supermassive black holes are also interacting with galaxies in the same way that is observed in nature, including star formation rates, galaxy density profiles, and thermal and ionization rates in gasses.

    “This was largely unexpected,” said Smidt. “I thought this idea of growing a massive star in a special configuration and forming a black hole with the right kind of masses was something we could approximate, but to see the black hole inducing star formation and driving the dynamics in ways that we’ve observed in nature was really icing on the cake.”

    A key mission area at Los Alamos National Laboratory is understanding how radiation interacts with certain materials. Because supermassive black holes produce huge quantities of hot radiation, their behavior helps test computer codes designed to model the coupling of radiation and matter. The codes are used, along with large- and small-scale experiments, to assure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

    “We’ve gotten to a point at Los Alamos,” said Smidt, “with the computer codes we’re using, the physics understanding, and the supercomputing facilities, that we can do detailed calculations that replicate some of the forces driving the evolution of the Universe.”

    Research paper available at

    See the full article here .

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    Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission is to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.

    LANL campus
    Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

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  • richardmitnick 11:46 am on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Hernán Quintana Godoy,   

    From Symmetry: “High-energy visionary” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Oscar Miyamoto

    Meet Hernán Quintana Godoy, the scientist who made Chile central to international astronomy.


    Professor Hernán Quintana Godoy has a way of taking the long view, peering back into the past through distant stars while looking ahead to the future of astronomy in his home, Chile.

    For three decades, Quintana has helped shape the landscape of astronomy in Chile, host to some of the largest ground-based observatories in the world.


    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO/Cerro LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres


    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.

    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile



    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile

    Giant Magellan Telescope, Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile

    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    In January he became the first recipient of the Education Prize of the American Astronomical Society from a country other than the United States or Canada.

    Long overdue.

    “Training the next generation of astronomers should not be limited to just a few countries,” says Keely Finkelstein, former chair of the AAS Education Prize Committee. “[Quintana] has been a tireless advocate for establishing excellent education and research programs in Chile.”

    Quintana earned his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1973. The same year, a military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet took power in a coup d’état.

    Quintana came home and secured a teaching position at the University of Chile. At the time, Chilean researchers mainly focused on the fundamentals of astronomy—measuring the radiation from stars and calculating the coordinates of celestial objects. By contrast, Quintana’s dissertation on high-energy phenomena seemed downright radical.

    A year and a half after taking his new job, Quintana was granted a leave of absence to complete a post-doc abroad. Writing from the United States, Quintana published an article encouraging Chile to take better advantage of its existing international observatories. He urged the government to provide more funding and to create an environment that would encourage foreign-educated astronomers to return home to Chile after their postgraduate studies. The article did not go over well with the administration at his university.

    “I wrote it for a magazine that was clearly against Pinochet,” Quintana says. “The magazine cover was a black page with a big ‘NO’ in red” related to an upcoming referendum.

    UCh dissolved Quintana’s teaching position.

    Quintana became a wandering postdoc and research associate in Europe, the US and Canada. It wasn’t until 1981 that Quintana returned to teach at the Physics Institute at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

    He continued to push the envelope at PUC. He created elective courses on general astronomy, extragalactic astrophysics and cluster dynamics. He revived and directed a small astronomy group. He encouraged students to expand their horizons by hiring both Chilean and foreign teachers and sending students to study abroad.

    “Because of him I took advantage of most of the big observatories in Chile and had an international perspective of research from the very beginning of my career,” says Amelia Ramirez, who studied with Quintana in 1983. A specialist in interacting elliptical galaxies, she is now head of Research and Development in University of La Serena.

    In mid-1980s Quintana became the scriptwriter for a set of distance learning astronomy classes produced by the educational division of his university’s public TV channel, TELEDUC. He challenged his viewers to take on advanced topics—and they responded.

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 10:46 am on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 7 Earth-sized worlds? What we really see, , , , , , ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, TRAPPIST-1   

    From EarthSky: “7 Earth-sized worlds? What we really see” 



    March 21, 2017
    Brian Koberlein

    A reality check from astrophysicist Brian Koberlein on what we actually see of the 7 recently discovered Earth-sized planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1.

    ESO Belgian robotic TRAPPIST, the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    Artist’s concept of TRAPPIST-1 and its newly discovered system of 7 Earth-size planets. This image is evocative, but it’s not – even remotely – what we really see. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    When news of the TRAPPIST-1 system blazed across headlines, one of the common questions I got was what the planets really looked like. After all, if we can discover planets around other stars, we surely must be able to see them. But we can’t. In some ways can barely see the star. This demonstrates how what we actually observe (and how the data important to astronomers) is very different from the common perception of what astronomers observe.

    Part of this misconception comes from the way we tell the story of astronomy. When articles came out talking about seven Earth-sized worlds, there were plenty of pictures of the planets as rich worlds with complex surface features. These artistic imaginings make for great images, but they are just imagined possibilities. We don’t know anything about the surface features of these planets, because we can’t even see the planets.

    But we don’t have to observe planets directly to know that they are there.

    The TRAPPIST planets, like most exoplanets, were discovered using a technique known as the transit method.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    Basically we measure the brightness of a star over time, and watch for little dips in brightness. You can see a graph of these measurements in the image below, which shows 500 hours of data gathered from the Spitzer space telescope.


    Here’s how we know planets orbit the star TRAPPIST-1, via changes in the brightness of the star’s light. Image via Brian Koberlein/ One Universe at a Time.

    Every dot on the graph is a brightness measurement. You can see how most of the time it seems to fluctuate randomly along a common average, but every now and then it dips in brightness for a bit. That dip occurs when one of the planets passes in front of the star, blocking some of the light.

    If you look on the vertical scale, you’ll notice that the variation in brightness is actually quite small. It only dips in brightness by about 1% when a planet passes by. This is actually pretty large for an exoplanet, and is due to the fact that TRAPPIST-1 is a small star, only about the size of Jupiter (though 80 times more massive), so the planets block about 1% of the light. This is why we need to make sensitive measurements of a star to detect exoplanets.

    But even this graph is a bit misleading. We don’t just point a telescope at the star and measure “brightness.” What the telescope actually does is focus the image of a star on a digital camera detector known as a CCD. Each pixel of the detector measures the amount of light it gathers as a number, where a higher number means more light struck the pixel. TRAPPIST-1 is a small, faint, 18th-magnitude star, so even on a good telescope its light only strikes a few pixels at a time.

    You can see an animation of its actual image below. If you want to know what the TRAPPIST-1 system looks like from Earth, that’s it.

    Animation showing the actual brightness variation of the few pixels of light from TRAPPIST-1. Image via Brian Koberlein/ One Universe at a Time [link above].

    Technically we don’t even see that. Since the CCD pixels just produce a number, what we really have are an array of numbers for each observation we make. The pixel numbers for each observation are then combined to create an overall brightness measurement. From that we analyze the dips in brightness to calculate the orbits, sizes, and masses of the planets. It’s complex work, which is what makes exoplanet discoveries so amazing.

    Now certain skeptics might argue that since we don’t have images of the planets, we don’t really know they exist. But that goes back to the misconception about astronomy. While there are lots of great astronomical images, astronomy is really about data. Even when we gather images, our focus is not about making them pretty, but about making them useful. That’s why, for example, most astronomical images are black and white rather than color, and why we observe things at a range of wavelengths to see different features.

    So while astronomy can discover entire solar systems, and those distant worlds would undoubtedly be wondrous to behold, that’s not what we really see.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:31 am on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Heavy California rains par for the course for climate change,   

    From Stanford: “Heavy California rains par for the course for climate change” 

    Stanford University Name
    Stanford University

    March 21, 2017
    Ker Than

    Here’s a question that Stanford climatologist Noah Diffenbaugh gets asked a lot lately: “Why did California receive so much rain lately if we’re supposed to be in the middle of a record-setting drought?”

    When answering, he will often refer the questioner to a Discover magazine story published in 1988, when Diffenbaugh was still in middle school.

    The article, written by veteran science writer Andrew Revkin, detailed how a persistent rise in global temperatures would affect California’s water system. It predicted that as California warmed, more precipitation would fall as rain rather than snow, and more of the snow that did fall would melt earlier in the season. This in turn would cause reservoirs to fill up earlier, increasing the odds of both winter flooding and summer droughts.

    “It is amazing how the state of knowledge in 1988 about how climate change would affect California’s water system has played out in reality over the last three decades,” said Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth System Science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

    Diffenbaugh, who specializes in using historical observations and mathematical models to study how climate change affects water resources, agriculture, and human health, sees no contradiction in California experiencing one of its wettest years on record right on the heels of a record-setting extended drought.

    “When you look back at the historical record of climate in California, you see this pattern of intense drought punctuated by wet conditions, which can lead to a lot of runoff,” said Diffenbaugh, who is also the Kimmelman Family senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “This is exactly what state-of-the-art climate models predicted should have happened, and what those models project to intensify in the future as global warming continues.”

    That intensifying cycle poses risks for many Western states in the decades ahead. “In California and throughout the Western U.S., we have a water system that was designed and built more than 50 years ago,” Diffenbaugh said. “We are now in a very different climate, one where we’re likely to experience more frequent occurrences of hot, dry conditions punctuated by wet conditions. That’s not the climate for which our water system was designed and built.”

    Viewed through this lens, the recent disastrous flooding at Oroville Dam and the flooding in parts of San Jose as a result of the winter rains could foreshadow what’s to come. “What we’ve seen in Oroville and in San Jose is that not only is our infrastructure old, and not only has maintenance not been a priority, but we’re in a climate where we’re much more likely to experience these kinds of extreme conditions than we were 50 or 100 years ago,” Diffenbaugh said.

    It’s not too late, however, for California to catch up or even leap ahead in its preparations for a changing climate, scientists say. Diffenbaugh argues that there are plenty of “win-win” investment opportunities that will not only make Americans safer and more secure in the present, but also prepare for the future.

    California could, for example, boost its groundwater storage capacity, which research at Stanford shows to be a very cost-effective method for increasing water supply. This would have the dual benefit of siphoning off reservoirs at risk of flooding and storing water for future dry spells. It would also help jurisdictions reach the groundwater sustainability targets mandated by the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

    Diffenbaugh also sees opportunities to increase water recycling throughout the state. “Our technology has advanced to a point now where we can create clean, safe water from waste water,” he said. “In fact, work here at Stanford shows that this can now be done using the organic matter in the waste water to provide an energy benefit.”

    Diffenbaugh stresses that reaping the full benefits of these investments requires a recognition that the climate of California and the West has changed, and will continue to change in the future as long as global warming continues.

    See the full article here .

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    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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