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  • richardmitnick 2:35 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "National Volcano Warning System Gains Steam", , Eruptions have the potential to pose significant security and economic threats across the nation., It took more than a decade but a bill that funds U.S. volcano monitoring efforts and establishes a single system became law on 12 March., Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii, Mount St. Helens in Washington State, Passage of Public Law No. 116-9 authorizing funding for the implementation of the NVEWS was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Since 1980 there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic unrest at 44 U.S. volcanoes, Volcano Observatories: Alaska Volcano Observatory; California Volcano Observatory; Cascades Volcano Observatory; Yellowstone Volcano Observatory; Hawaiian Volcano Observatory,   

    From Eos: “National Volcano Warning System Gains Steam” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Forrest Lewis

    It took more than a decade, but a bill that funds U.S. volcano monitoring efforts and establishes a single system became law on 12 March.

    The string of 2018 eruptions at Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii resulted in about $800 million in damages but no loss of life. Credit: USGS

    Early in the morning on 17 May 2018, Hawaii’s Kīlauea Volcano unleashed a torrent of ash more than 3,000 meters into the sky. The explosion was just one noteworthy event in a months-long series of eruptions that destroyed more than 700 homes and caused $800 million in damage. Remarkably—thanks in large part to the relentless monitoring efforts of scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO)—no one died as a result of the destructive eruption sequence, which lasted into August.

    Across the country, in Washington, D.C., Senate lawmakers happened to meet that same day to vote on a topical piece of legislation: Senate bill 346 (S.346), the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, marking a big step forward for a piece of legislation more than a decade in the making.

    The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington was the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history, responsible for the deaths of 57 people and $1.1 billion in damage. Credit: Austin S. Post, USGS.

    The bill sought to strengthen existing volcano monitoring systems and unify them into a single system, called the National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS), to ensure that volcanoes nationwide are adequately monitored in a standardized way.

    After ultimately lacking the floor time in the House necessary for a vote before the end of 2018, the bill was reintroduced as part of a larger package of natural resources–related bills at the start of the new Congress, which convened in January. The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (S.47) contained elements of more than 100 previously introduced bills related to public lands, natural resources, and water. This bill quickly breezed through Congress and was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on 12 March; it’s now Public Law No. 116-9.

    Although the bipartisan effort and the bill’s other contents, including an urgent reauthorization of the recently expired Land and Water Conservation Fund, captured the media’s attention, Section 5001, National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System, will have lasting effects on the nation’s volcano hazard awareness and preparation.

    Volcano Observatories

    Only five U.S. volcano observatories monitor the majority of U.S. volcanoes, with support from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program and independent universities and institutions. These observatories are the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Fairbanks; the California Volcano Observatory in Menlo Park; the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.; HVO; and the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.

    Volcanologists at these observatories monitor localized earthquakes, ground movement, gas emissions, rock and water chemistry, and remote satellite data to predict when and where volcanic eruptions will happen, ideally providing enough time to alert the local populace to prepare accordingly.

    The USGS has identified 161 geologically active volcanoes in 12 U.S. states as well as in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. More than one third of these active volcanoes are classified by the USGS as having either “very high” or “high” threat on the basis of their hazard potential and proximity to nearby people and property.

    Many of these volcanoes have monitoring systems that are insufficient to provide reliable warnings of potential eruptive activity, whereas at others, the monitoring equipment is obsolete. A 2005 USGS assessment identified 58 volcanoes nationwide as being undermonitored.

    “Unlike many other natural disasters…volcanic eruptions can be predicted well in advance of their occurrence if adequate in-ground instrumentation is in place that allows earliest detection of unrest, providing the time needed to mitigate the worst of their effects,” said David Applegate, USGS associate director for natural hazards, in a statement before a House subcommittee hearing in November 2017.

    During the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, HVO, the oldest of the five observatories, closely monitored the volcano and issued routine safety warnings. However, many volcanoes lack the monitoring equipment or attention given to Kīlauea. Of the 18 volcanoes identified in the USGS report as “very high threat,” Kīlauea is one of only three classified as well monitored (the other two are Mount St. Helens in Washington and Long Valley Caldera in California).

    Public Law No. 116-9 aims to change that. In addition to creating the NVEWS, the law authorizes the creation of a national volcano watch office that will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The legislation also establishes an external grant system within NVEWS to support research in volcano monitoring science and technology.

    More than three of every four U.S. volcanoes that have erupted in the past 200 years are in Alaska (including Mount Redoubt, above). Credit: R. Clucas, USGS

    Volcanic Impacts

    Since 1980, there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic unrest at 44 U.S. volcanoes, according to the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. The cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 was the most destructive, killing 57 people and causing $1.1 billion in damage.

    Although active volcanoes are concentrated in just a handful of U.S. states and territories, eruptions have the potential to pose significant security and economic threats across the nation. A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that eruptions “can have devastating economic and social consequences, even at great distances from the volcano.”

    In 1989, for example, an eruption at Mount Redoubt in Alaska nearly caused a catastrophe. A plane en route from Amsterdam to Tokyo flew through a thick cloud of volcanic ash, causing all four engines to fail and forcing an emergency landing at Anchorage International Airport. More than 80,000 aircraft per year, carrying 30,000 passengers per day, fly over and downwind of Aleutian volcanoes on flights across the Pacific. The potential disruption to flight traffic as well as air quality issues from distant volcanoes poses serious health and economic risks for people across the United States.

    “People think they only have to deal with the hazards in their backyard, but volcanoes will come to you,” says Steve McNutt, a professor of volcano seismology at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

    National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act

    Passage of Public Law No. 116-9 authorizes funding for the implementation of the NVEWS. The bill recommends that Congress, during the annual appropriations process, appropriate $55 million over fiscal years 2019 through 2023 to the USGS to carry out the volcano monitoring duties prescribed in the bill.

    The bill was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), first elected in 2002 and consistently the most steadfast champion of NVEWS legislation. Her home state of Alaska contains the most geologically active volcanoes in the country, and more than three of every four U.S. volcanoes that have erupted in the past 200 years are in Alaska. Often in concert with Alaska’s sole House representative, Don Young (R), Murkowski has introduced volcano monitoring legislation in nearly every congressional session since her election. Five bills over the past decade have stalled in committee without reaching the floor for a vote.

    “Our hazards legislation has become a higher priority because we realize that monitoring systems and networks are crucial to ensuring that Americans are informed of the hazards that we face,” Murkowski said in a speech at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 in Washington, D.C., last December. “They help us prepare and are crucial to protecting lives and property.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 1:57 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Atacama’s Past Rainfall Followed Pacific Sea Temperature", A Lack of Rain and Records, “It seems that ‘wetter’ episodes in the recent past in the Coastal Cordillera between Antofagasta and Arica line up with El Niño–like conditions”, “Our record covers only the first glacial-interglacial cycle”, “Whether this pattern is representative for all glacial­-interglacial times has to be tested with longer paleoclimate records.”, , Paleoclimatology, The abundance of some planktonic diatoms further indicates the existence of an ephemeral water body” meaning the basin may have periodically flooded to become a temporary lake., The researchers are working to see whether the El Niño–like pattern extends further back.   

    From Eos: “Atacama’s Past Rainfall Followed Pacific Sea Temperature” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Kimberly M. S. Cartier

    This is the first paleoclimate record of precipitation near Atacama’s hyperarid core and suggests that its moisture source is different from that of the Andes.

    Past rainfall in the Atacama Desert may have coincided with El Niño–like conditions. The team that discovered this conducted a deep-drilling follow-up expedition in 2017, seen here. Credit: Jan Voelkel

    Even the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, still sees intermittent rainfall. In the past 215,000 years, these sporadic rainfall events may have coincided with elevated sea surface temperatures nearby that resemble El Niño conditions.

    “The Atacama Desert experienced several interspersed episodes of ‘wetter,’ still arid, conditions,” Benedikt Ritter, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Cologne in Germany, told Eos. “We are exploring…the mutual evolutionary relationship between climate, geomorphology, and biological evolution.”

    Ritter and his team published these results last month in Scientific Reports.

    In 2014, Benedikt Ritter and his team, seen here, used percussion drilling to extract a sediment core from the top 6 meters of a clay pan basin in the Atacama Desert. Credit: Damian Lopez

    A Lack of Rain and Records

    The hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert currently gets less than 2 millimeters of rainfall a year. Scientists don’t know when those conditions began or how often they were interrupted or for how long. The area’s sediment record for the most recent geologic period “appears like a white spot on the map,” Ritter said.

    Water runoff from the Altiplano, or Andean Plateau, to the east confuses sediment records in the hyperarid region, making it difficult to isolate local precipitation records.

    “The mostly barren landscape is almost undiscovered in terms of paleoclimate studies for the younger timescale,” Ritter said.

    Ritter and his team focused on a basin in the coastal mountain range, the Coastal Cordillera, that cuts through the hyperarid region. The basin’s location separates it from the surrounding mountain drainage networks, and its clay pan bottom helps it retain water. Sediment cores collected from this endorheic basin, the researchers hypothesized, should track past precipitation near the hyperarid core of the desert.

    Relatively Wet Periods

    The team used percussion drilling to collect a sediment core from the top 6.2 meters of the clay pan. The rock record spans the past 215,000 years and is the first paleoclimate record of the middle and upper Pleistocene for this region.

    The researchers looked at the size and composition of sediment grains as well as the abundance of fossilized microorganisms at different depths along the core. On the basis of these measures, they identified two significant wet times in the paleoclimate record: one around 200,000 years ago and a shorter period around 120,000 years ago.

    “Wet” is relative in the most arid place on the planet, Ritter said. “What we can tell, based on the sedimentological data, is that there was enough water available to transport coarse-grained sediment from the catchment into this pan.”

    Moreover, “the abundance of some planktonic diatoms further indicates the existence of an ephemeral water body,” meaning the basin may have periodically flooded to become a temporary lake.

    Atlantic Versus Pacific

    The researchers compared the timing of the basin’s wet periods with other nearby climate records and found something pretty surprising, Ritter said.

    “It seems that ‘wetter’ episodes in the recent past in the Coastal Cordillera, between Antofagasta and Arica, line up with El Niño–like conditions,” specifically, higher sea surface temperatures along the Chilean and Peruvian coasts, he explained.

    The researchers extracted a pilot core, part of which is seen here, from a basin in the coastal mountain range of the Atacama. Credit: Tibor Dunai

    “The pattern is totally inverse to the Andes,” said Marco Pfeiffer, a geoscientist at the Universidad de Chile in La Pintana who has studied the Atacama’s paleolakes and paleoclimate. “In this sense, [the study] is extremely novel and without a doubt a great contribution to the local paleoclimatology.” Pfeiffer was not involved with this research

    Because Ritter’s team collected this sediment core from a basin near to, but not within, the hyperarid zone, “there is still the question [of whether] these results could be extrapolated to iconic sites of the hyperarid core such as Yungay,” Pfeiffer cautioned.

    Drilling Down Deeper

    “Our record covers only the first glacial-interglacial cycle,” Ritter said. “Whether this pattern is representative for all glacial­-interglacial times has to be tested with longer paleoclimate records.”

    The researchers are working to see whether the El Niño–like pattern extends further back. In 2017, they conducted a follow-up expedition to this region and drilled deeper into the clay pan. Their new cores reach 8 times deeper than their first, Ritter said.

    “This new deep drilling sediment record extends the published reconstructed paleoclimate in this part of the Atacama Desert to even older times,” he said. The team plans to publish these records in the near future.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 1:10 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists find new surprises about Titan’s lakes", , , , , NASA/ESA/ISA Cassini-Huygens   

    From NASA/ESA/ISA Cassini Huygens via EarthSky: “Scientists find new surprises about Titan’s lakes” 

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft

    From NASA/ESA/ISA Cassini-Huygens



    April 23, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Cassini data now reveal that some of Titan’s lakes are surprisingly deep.

    Infrared view of seas and lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere, taken by Cassini in 2014. Sunlight can be seen glinting off the southern part of Titan’s largest sea, Kraken Mare. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho.

    Kraken Mare, Titan’s largest sea, is the body in black and blue that sprawls from just below and to the right of the north pole down to the bottom.

    Saturn’s largest moon Titan is the only world in our solar system besides Earth known to have bodies of liquid on its surface. Scientists announced definitive evidence for them in 2007, based on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The large ones are known as maria (seas) and the small ones as lacus (lakes). It’s now known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle is surprisingly similar to Earth’s, with one big exception: the liquid on Titan is liquid methane/ethane instead of water, due to the extreme cold. The moon’s northern hemisphere, in particular, has dozens of smaller lakes near its pole, and now scientists have found that they are surprisingly deep and sit on the tops of hills and mesas. These observations come from data collected during the last close flyby of Titan during the Cassini mission, which ended in 2017.

    The new peer-reviewed findings were published on April 15, 2019, in the journal Nature Astronomy.

    Scientists had thought that the lakes would be an almost equal mixture of methane and ethane, like the larger seas. This is the case with the one sizable lake in the southern hemisphere called Ontario Lacus.

    This RADAR-image of Ontario Lacus, the largest lake on the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, was obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Jan. 12, 2010. North is up in this image.

    But to their surprise, they found that the lakes in the northern hemisphere are composed almost entirely of methane. As lead author Marco Mastrogiuseppe, a Cassini radar scientist at Caltech, explained:

    “Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious. But these new measurements help give an answer to a few key questions. We can actually now better understand the hydrology of Titan.”

    Map of Titan’s seas and lakes in the northern hemisphere. Image via JPL-Caltech/NASA/ASI/USGS.

    But while some questions may be answered, other new ones are also raised. Why the difference between the lakes in the northern and southern hemispheres? Also, the hydrology on one side of the northern hemisphere appears to be very different from that on the other side. Why? On the eastern side, you find larger seas with low elevation, canyons and islands. But the western side is dominated by the smaller lakes perched on top of hills and mesas. Some of those lakes are more than 300 feet (100 meters) deep, a surprise given their small sizes. As noted by Cassini scientist and co-author Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University:

    “It is as if you looked down on the Earth’s North Pole and could see that North America had completely different geologic setting for bodies of liquid than Asia does.”

    The findings show how Titan’s alien yet earthly-ish landscape is even more unusual than first thought. They show very deep lakes sitting atop tall mesas or plateaus, suggesting that they formed when the surrounding bedrock of ice and solid organics chemically dissolved and collapsed. These Titan lakes are reminiscent of karst lakes on Earth, which form when subterranean caves collapse. In the earthly counterparts, however, water dissolves limestone, gypsum or dolomite rock.

    This is a great example of how – much like the hydrologic cycle – geologic processes on Titan can also mimic those on Earth, yet be uniquely Titanian at the same time. In many ways, Titan looks a lot like Earth, but the underlying mechanisms, and composition of materials, are fundamentally different on this world in the much-colder outer solar system.

    Cassini also observed another kind of lake on Titan. Radar and infrared data revealed transient lakes where the level of liquids varies significantly. These results have been published in a separate paper in Nature Astronomy. According to Shannon MacKenzie, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, those changes may be seasonal:

    “One possibility is that these transient features could have been shallower bodies of liquid that over the course of the season evaporated and infiltrated into the subsurface.”

    Images from Cassini showing new small lakes appearing in Arrakis Planitia between 2004 and 2005. Such lakes seem to be transient, where the liquids fill the lakes before evaporating or seeping into the ground again. Image via NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

    Taken together, the results about both the deep lakes and transient lakes support the scenario where methane/ethane rain feeds the lakes, which then evaporate back into the atmosphere or drain into the subsurface, leaving reservoirs of liquid below the surface. It is a complete hydrologic cycle, but, in the colder environment than on Earth, one where methane and ethane can be liquid and water is in the form of rock-hard ice.

    The presence of lakes and seas on Titan brings up another question. Might there possibly be any form of life there? Some scientists think there indeed could be at least microscopic organisms, despite the harsh conditions in contrast to Earth, that use liquid methane/ethane in a similar way that life here uses water. Such life would have to be evolved to exist in conditions unlike any on Earth, but it’s an intriguing possibility.

    Bottom line: Data on Titan’s lakes, collected by the Cassini spacecraft (whose mission ended in 2017), continue to reveal insights into a hydrologic cycle that’s remarkably similar to Earth’s in some ways – but distinctly alien in others. A new finding is that lakes near Titan’s north pole are surprisingly deep and sit on the tops of hills and mesas.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Cassini-Huygens mission was a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, managed the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The VIMS team is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the US and several European countries.

    Cassini launched in October 1997 with the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe. The probe was equipped with six instruments to study Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. It landed on Titan’s surface on Jan. 14, 2005, and returned spectacular results.

    Meanwhile, Cassini’s 12 instruments returned a daily stream of data from Saturn’s system since arriving at Saturn in 2004.

    Among the most important targets of the mission are the moons Titan and Enceladus, as well as some of Saturn’s other icy moons. Towards the end of the mission, Cassini made closer studies of the planet and its rings.

    Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008 and the first extended mission, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010. Since then the healthy spacecraft was seeking to make exciting new discoveries in a second extended mission called the Cassini Solstice Mission.

    The mission’s extension, which goes through September 2017, is named for the Saturnian summer solstice occurring in May 2017. The northern summer solstice marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere. Since Cassini arrived at Saturn just after the planet’s northern winter solstice, the extension will allow for the first study of a complete seasonal period.

    The mission ended on September 15, 2017, when Cassini’s trajectory took it into Saturn’s upper atmosphere and it burned up.

    NASA image
    ESA50 Logo large

    Italian Space Agency

  • richardmitnick 12:10 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Falsifiability and physics", , , , , , , , Karl Popper (1902-1994) "The Logic of Scientific Discovery", , ,   

    From Symmetry: “Falsifiability and physics” 

    Symmetry Mag
    From Symmetry

    Matthew R. Francis

    Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Corinne Mucha

    Can a theory that isn’t completely testable still be useful to physics?

    What determines if an idea is legitimately scientific or not? This question has been debated by philosophers and historians of science, working scientists, and lawyers in courts of law. That’s because it’s not merely an abstract notion: What makes something scientific or not determines if it should be taught in classrooms or supported by government grant money.

    The answer is relatively straightforward in many cases: Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary, the Earth is not flat. Literally all evidence is in favor of a round and rotating Earth, so statements based on a flat-Earth hypothesis are not scientific.

    In other cases, though, people actively debate where and how the demarcation line should be drawn. One such criterion was proposed by philosopher of science Karl Popper (1902-1994), who argued that scientific ideas must be subject to “falsification.”

    Popper wrote in his classic book The Logic of Scientific Discovery that a theory that cannot be proven false—that is, a theory flexible enough to encompass every possible experimental outcome—is scientifically useless. He wrote that a scientific idea must contain the key to its own downfall: It must make predictions that can be tested and, if those predictions are proven false, the theory must be jettisoned.

    When writing this, Popper was less concerned with physics than he was with theories like Freudian psychology and Stalinist history. These, he argued, were not falsifiable because they were vague or flexible enough to incorporate all the available evidence and therefore immune to testing.

    But where does this falsifiability requirement leave certain areas of theoretical physics? String theory, for example, involves physics on extremely small length scales unreachable by any foreseeable experiment.

    String Theory depiction. Cross section of the quintic Calabi–Yau manifold Calabi yau.jpg. Jbourjai (using Mathematica output)

    Cosmic inflation, a theory that explains much about the properties of the observable universe, may itself be untestable through direct observations.

    Some critics believe these theories are unfalsifiable and, for that reason, are of dubious scientific value.

    At the same time, many physicists align with philosophers of science who identified flaws in Popper’s model, saying falsification is most useful in identifying blatant pseudoscience (the flat-Earth hypothesis, again) but relatively unimportant for judging theories growing out of established paradigms in science.

    “I think we should be worried about being arrogant,” says Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire. “Falsifiability is important, but so is remembering that nature does what it wants.”

    Prescod-Weinstein is both a particle cosmologist and researcher in science, technology, and society studies, interested in analyzing the priorities scientists have as a group. “Any particular generation deciding that they’ve worked out all that can be worked out seems like the height of arrogance to me,” she says.

    Tracy Slatyer of MIT agrees, and argues that stringently worrying about falsification can prevent new ideas from germinating, stifling creativity. “In theoretical physics, the vast majority of all the ideas you ever work on are going to be wrong,” she says. “They may be interesting ideas, they may be beautiful ideas, they may be gorgeous structures that are simply not realized in our universe.”

    Particles and practical philosophy

    Take, for example, supersymmetry. SUSY is an extension of the Standard Model in which each known particle is paired with a supersymmetric partner.

    Standard Model of Supersymmetry via DESY

    The theory is a natural outgrowth of a mathematical symmetry of spacetime, in ways similar to the Standard Model itself. It’s well established within particle physics, even though supersymmetric particles, if they exist, may be out of scientists’ experimental reach.

    SUSY could potentially resolve some major mysteries in modern physics. For one, all of those supersymmetric particles could be the reason the mass of the Higgs boson is smaller than quantum mechanics says it should be.

    CERN CMS Higgs Event

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event

    “Quantum mechanics says that [the Higgs boson] mass should blow up to the largest mass scale possible,” says Howard Baer of the University of Oklahoma. That’s because masses in quantum theory are the result of contributions from many different particles involved in interactions—and the Higgs field, which gives other particles mass, racks up a lot of these interactions. But the Higgs mass isn’t huge, which requires an explanation.

    “Something else would have to be tuned to a huge negative [value] in order to cancel [the huge positive value of those interactions] and give you the observed value,” Baer says. That level of coincidence, known as a “fine-tuning problem,” makes physicists itchy. “It’s like trying to play the lottery. It’s possible you might win, but really you’re almost certain to lose.”

    If SUSY particles turn up in a certain mass range, their contributions to the Higgs mass “naturally” solve this problem, which has been an argument in favor of the theory of supersymmetry. So far, the Large Hadron Collider has not turned up any SUSY particles in the range of “naturalness.”


    CERN map

    CERN LHC Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    However, the broad framework of supersymmetry can accommodate even more massive SUSY particles, which may or may not be detectable using the LHC. In fact, if naturalness is abandoned, SUSY doesn’t provide an obvious mass scale at all, meaning SUSY particles might be out of range for discovery with any earthly particle collider. That point has made some critics queasy: If there’s no obvious mass scale at which colliders can hunt for SUSY, is the theory falsifiable?

    A related problem confronts dark matter researchers: Despite strong indirect evidence for a large amount of mass invisible to all forms of light, particle experiments have yet to find any dark matter particles. It could be that dark matter particles are just impossible to directly detect. A small but vocal group of researchers has argued that we need to consider alternative theories of gravity instead.

    Fritz Zwicky, the Father of Dark Matter research.No image credit after long search

    Astronomer Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory in 1965, worked on Dark Matter (The Carnegie Institution for Science)

    U Washington ADMX Axion Dark Matter Experiment

    DEAP Dark Matter detector, The DEAP-3600, suspended in the SNOLAB deep in Sudbury’s Creighton Mine

    Dark Side-50 Dark Matter Experiment at Gran Sasso

    Slatyer, whose research involves looking for dark matter, considers the criticism partly as a problem of language. “When you say ‘dark matter,’ [you need] to distinguish dark matter from specific scenarios for what dark matter could be,” she says. “The community has not always done that well.”

    In other words, specific models for dark matter can stand or fall, but the dark matter paradigm as a whole has withstood all tests so far. But as Slatyer points out, no alternative theory of gravity can explain all the phenomena that a simple dark matter model can, from the behavior of galaxies to the structure of the cosmic microwave background.

    Prescod-Weinstein argues that we’re a long way from ruling out all dark matter possibilities. “How will we prove that the dark matter, if it exists, definitively doesn’t interact with the Standard Model?” she says. “Astrophysics is always a bit of a detective game. Without laboratory [detection of] dark matter, it’s hard to make definitive statements about its properties. But we can construct likely narratives based on what we know about its behavior.”

    Similarly, Baer thinks that we haven’t exhausted all the SUSY possibilities yet. “People say, ‘you’ve been promising supersymmetry for 20 or 30 years,’ but it was based on overly optimistic naturalness calculations,” he says. “I think if one evaluates the naturalness properly, then you find that supersymmetry is still even now very natural. But you’re going to need either an energy upgrade of LHC or an ILC [International Linear Collider] in order to discover it.”

    ILC schematic, being planned for the Kitakami highland, in the Iwate prefecture of northern Japan

    Beyond falsifiability of dark matter or SUSY, physicists are motivated by more mundane concerns. “Even if these individual scenarios are in principle falsifiable, how much money would [it] take and how much time would it take?” Slatyer says. In other words, rather than try to demonstrate or rule out SUSY as a whole, physicists focus on particle experiments that can be performed within a certain number of budgetary cycles. It’s not romantic, but it’s true nevertheless.

    Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Corinne Mucha

    Is it science? Who decides?

    Historically, sometimes theories that seem untestable turn out to just need more time. For example, 19th century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann and colleagues showed they could explain many results in thermal physics and chemistry if everything were made up of “atoms”—what we call particles, atoms, and molecules today—governed by Newtonian physics.

    Since atoms were out of reach of experiments of the day, prominent philosophers of science argued that the atomic hypothesis was untestable in principle, and therefore unscientific.

    However, the atomists eventually won the day: J. J. Thompson demonstrated the existence of electrons, while Albert Einstein showed that water molecules could make grains of pollen dance on a pond’s surface.

    Atoms provide a case study for how falsifiability proved to be the wrong criterion. Many other cases are trickier.

    For instance, Einstein’s theory of general relativity is one of the best-tested theories in all of science. At the same time, it allows for physically unrealistic “universes,” such as a “rotating” cosmos where movement back and forth in time is possible, which are contradicted by all observations of the reality we inhabit.

    General relativity also makes predictions about things that are untestable by definition, like how particles move inside the event horizon of a black hole: No information about these trajectories can be determined by experiment.

    The first image of a black hole, Messier 87 Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via NSF 4.10.19

    Yet no knowledgeable physicist or philosopher of science would argue that general relativity is unscientific. The success of the theory is due to enough of its predictions being testable.

    Eddington/Einstein exibition of gravitational lensing solar eclipse of 29 May 1919

    Another type of theory may be mostly untestable, but have important consequences. One such theory is cosmic inflation, which (among other things) explains why we don’t see isolated magnetic monopoles and why the universe is a nearly uniform temperature everywhere we look.

    The key property of inflation—the extremely rapid expansion of spacetime during a tiny split second after the Big Bang—cannot be tested directly. Cosmologists look for indirect evidence for inflation, but in the end it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between different inflationary models, simply because scientists can’t get the data. Does that mean it isn’t scientific?


    Alan Guth, from Highland Park High School and M.I.T., who first proposed cosmic inflation

    HPHS Owls

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex MittelmannColdcreation

    Alan Guth’s notes:

    “A lot of people have personal feelings about inflation and the aesthetics of physical theories,” Prescod-Weinstein says. She’s willing to entertain alternative ideas which have testable consequences, but inflation works well enough for now to keep it around. “It’s also the case that the majority of the cosmology community continues to take inflation seriously as a model, so I have to shrug a little when someone says it’s not science.”

    On that note, Caltech cosmologist Sean M. Carroll argues that many very useful theories have both falsifiable and unfalsifiable predictions. Some aspects may be testable in principle, but not by any experiment or observation we can perform with existing technology. Many particle physics models fall into that category, but that doesn’t stop physicists from finding them useful. SUSY as a concept may not be falsifiable, but many specific models within the broad framework certainly are. All the evidence we have for the existence of dark matter is indirect, which won’t go away even if laboratory experiments never find dark matter particles. Physicists accept the concept of dark matter because it works.

    Slatyer is a practical dark matter hunter. “The questions I’m most interested asking are not even just questions that are in principle falsifiable, but questions that in principle can be tested by data on the timescale of less than my lifetime,” she says. “But it’s not only problems that can be tested by data on a timescale of ‘less than Tracy’s lifetime’ are good scientific questions!”

    Prescod-Weinstein agrees, and argues for keeping an open mind. “There’s a lot we don’t know about the universe, including what’s knowable about it. We are a curious species, and I think we should remain curious.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 11:12 am on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: DiRAC is the integrated supercomputing facility for theoretical modeling and HPC-based research in particle physics and astrophysics cosmology and nuclear physics all areas in which the UK is world-le, ,   

    From insideHPC: “40 Powers of 10 – Simulating the Universe with the DiRAC HPC Facility” 

    From insideHPC

    DiRAC is the UK’s integrated supercomputing facility for theoretical modelling and HPC-based research in particle physics, astronomy and cosmology.

    49 minutes, worth your time
    In this video from the Swiss HPC Conference, Mark Wilkinson presents: 40 Powers of 10 – Simulating the Universe with the DiRAC HPC Facility.

    Dr. Mark Wilkinson is the Project Director at DiRAC.

    “DiRAC is the integrated supercomputing facility for theoretical modeling and HPC-based research in particle physics, and astrophysics, cosmology, and nuclear physics, all areas in which the UK is world-leading. DiRAC provides a variety of compute resources, matching machine architecture to the algorithm design and requirements of the research problems to be solved. As a single federated Facility, DiRAC allows more effective and efficient use of computing resources, supporting the delivery of the science programs across the STFC research communities. It provides a common training and consultation framework and, crucially, provides critical mass and a coordinating structure for both small- and large-scale cross-discipline science projects, the technical support needed to run and develop a distributed HPC service, and a pool of expertise to support knowledge transfer and industrial partnership projects. The on-going development and sharing of best-practice for the delivery of productive, national HPC services with DiRAC enables STFC researchers to produce world-leading science across the entire STFC science theory program.”


    Dr. Mark Wilkinson is the Project Director at DiRAC. He obtained his BA and MSc in Theoretical Physics at Trinity College Dublin and a DPhil in Theoretical Astronomy at the University of Oxford. Between 2000 and 2006, he was a post-doc at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. He subsequently moved to the University of Leicester to take up a Royal Society University Research Fellow. I am currently a Reader in the Theoretical Astrophysics Group of the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Founded on December 28, 2006, insideHPC is a blog that distills news and events in the world of HPC and presents them in bite-sized nuggets of helpfulness as a resource for supercomputing professionals. As one reader said, we’re sifting through all the news so you don’t have to!

    If you would like to contact me with suggestions, comments, corrections, errors or new company announcements, please send me an email at Or you can send me mail at:

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  • richardmitnick 8:29 am on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A day in the life of a midnight beam master", , , Ben Ripman- operations engineer at the SLAC accelerator control room, , , SLAC SPEAR3, ,   

    From SLAC National Accelerator Lab: “A day in the life of a midnight beam master” 

    From SLAC National Accelerator Lab

    April 16, 2019 [Just today 4.23.19 in social media]
    Angela Anderson

    In SLAC’s accelerator control room, shift lead Ben Ripman and a team of operators fine-tune X-ray beams for science experiments around the clock.

    When is a day not a day? When you work in the central nervous system of the world’s longest linear accelerator, open 24-7.

    “There’s a constant cycle of people coming and going,” says Ben Ripman, an operations engineer at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    Ben Ripman, operations engineer at the SLAC accelerator control room (Angela Anderson/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

    He might start at 8 a.m., at 4 p.m. or at midnight. But the shift rotations are no barrier to his passion for the job – leading a team of control room operators who deliver brilliant X-ray beams for scientific experiments.

    Control room operators spend most of their workdays (or nights) in a room filled with monitors, three deep and crowded with numbers, charts and graphs. Those displays track the status of thousands of devices and systems in the linear accelerator that runs through a tunnel below Highway 280 and feeds SLAC’s X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).


    The accelerator boosts electrons to almost the speed of light and then wiggles them between magnets to generate X-rays. That X-ray light is formed into pulses and optimized for materials science, biology, chemistry, and physics experiments.

    The entire operation is monitored in the control room, which also serves SPEAR3, the accelerator that produces X-rays for the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).



    Another set of monitors, staffed by SLAC Facilities, tracks water, compressed air and electricity systems that serve the lab campus.

    Ripman and his fellow operators are experts in reading these digital vital signs. But they are also some of the most knowledgeable people at the lab when it comes to the entire physical machine.

    “We know the accelerator from beginning to end,” he says. “When an operator adjusts something from the control room, they can picture that machine part and what it is doing.”

    For LCLS, they measure the amount of energy in individual X-ray pulses being fed to experimental hutches and often spend hours improving the pulses: tweaking magnets, adjusting the undulators, tuning the shape and length of the electron bunches.

    Some days the control room is quiet, and the operators focus on training and individual projects. On other, more challenging days when the machine is running in exotic modes, they work elbow to elbow with physicists.

    “We love this machine, but the accelerator was built decades ago and can be cantankerous,” Ripman explains. “When things do go wrong, it’s like a game of pickup sticks – one problem triggers another and you need to know how it all fits together.”

    An important part of the job is knowing who to call for help. “We wake up a lot of people in the middle of the night,” Ripman says with a smile.

    Control room operators also make sure everyone who goes into the accelerator tunnel stays safe.

    There are two ways to get into the accelerator. For minor repairs and inspections, people take keys from special key banks that block the accelerator from turning on until all the keys have been returned. On official maintenance days, the doors are thrown open.

    “On those days, maintenance crews, engineers and physicists descend into the tunnel and swarm the machine to resolve as many issues as possible before we have to summon them out again,” Ripman says. “We search the machine to make sure everyone is out before it’s turned back on.”

    Almost all of the displays in the control room were designed by the operators, he says. “We are known to hide ‘Easter eggs’ in them, but you have to get in our good graces to find out about them.”

    New operators take more than a year to get trained and proficient, Ripman says. “People come with a physics degree, but there is not a lot of formal coursework you can take on accelerator operations – it’s a lot of on-the-job training.”

    It was that hands-on learning that drew him to the job in 2010.

    “I was a nerd in high school,” Ripman admits proudly, “Stephen Hawking was my hero.” After studying physics and astronomy in college, Ripman worked as a contractor for NASA before joining SLAC. On his off hours, he plays board games and travels several times a year for card tournaments. He also loves hiking, skiing and snowboarding, and is a member of the Stanford University Singers.

    His favorite thing about the job? “My coworkers,” he says. “I have the privilege of working with smart, fun, quirky people. We all get along quite well, and there’s a great camaraderie.”

    Operators leave sticky notes with jokes or short messages for the next shift and share stories about their days and nights in the accelerator’s brain.

    Like the one about a ghost calling from an abandoned tunnel. But that’s a tale for another night…

    LCLS and SSRL are DOE Office of Science user facilities.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition


    SLAC/LCLS II projected view

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.

  • richardmitnick 8:04 am on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , ESA's proposed Hera spaceraft, , NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft 2004, US Double Asteroid Redirect Test or DART spacecraft   

    From European Space Agency: “Earth vs. asteroids: humans strike back” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    22 April 2019

    Incoming asteroids have been scarring our home planet for billions of years. This month humankind left our own mark on an asteroid for the first time: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft dropped a copper projectile at very high speed in an attempt to form a crater on asteroid Ryugu. A much bigger asteroid impact is planned for the coming decade, involving an international double-spacecraft mission.

    JAXA/Hayabusa 2 Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita

    On 5 April, Hayabusa2 released an experiment called the ‘Small Carry-on Impactor’ or SCI for short, carrying a plastic explosive charge that shot a 2.5-kg copper projectile at the surface of the 900-m diameter Ryugu asteroid at a velocity of around 2 km per second. The objective is to uncover subsurface material to be brought back to Earth for detailed analysis.

    “We are expecting it to form a distinctive crater,” comments Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France’s Côte d’Azur Observatory, serving as co-investigator and interdisciplinary scientist on the Japanese mission. “But we don’t know for sure yet, because Hayabusa2 was moved around to the other side of Ryugu, for maximum safety.

    “The asteroid’s low gravity means it has an escape velocity of a few tens of centimetres per second, so most of the material ejected by the impact would have gone straight out to space. But at the same time it is possible that lower-velocity ejecta might have gone into orbit around Ryugu and might pose a danger to the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

    “So the plan is to wait until this Thursday, 25 April, to go back and image the crater. We expect that very small fragments will meanwhile have their orbits disrupted by solar radiation pressure – the slow but persistent push of sunlight itself. In the meantime we’ve also been downloading images from a camera called DCAM3 that accompanied the SCI payload to see if it caught a glimpse of the crater and the early ejecta evolution.”

    According to simulations, the crater is predicted to have a roughly 2 m diameter, although the modelling of impacts in such a low-gravity environment is extremely challenging. It should appear darker than the surrounding surface, based on a February touch-and-go sampling operation when Hayabusa2’s thrusters dislodged surface dust to expose blacker material underneath.

    “For us this is an exciting first data point to compare with simulations,” adds Patrick, “but we have a much larger impact to look forward to in future, as part of the forthcoming double-spacecraft Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

    “In late 2022 the US Double Asteroid Redirect Test or DART spacecraft will crash into the smaller of the two Didymos asteroids.

    NASA DART Double Impact Redirection Test vehicle depiction schematic

    As with Hayabusa2’s SCI test it should form a very distinct crater and expose subsurface material in an even lower gravity environment, but its main purpose is to actually divert the orbit of the 160 m diameter ‘Didymoon’ asteroid in a measurable way.”

    The DART spacecraft will have a mass of 550 kg, and will strike Didymoon at 6 km/s. Striking an asteroid five times smaller with a spacecraft more than 200 times larger and moving three times faster should deliver sufficient impact energy to achieve the first ever asteroid deflection experiment for planetary defence.

    DART mission profile. APL – Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

    A proposed ESA mission called Hera would then visit Didymos to survey the diverted asteroid, measure its mass and perform high-resolution mapping of the crater left by the DART impact.

    DLR Asteroid Framing Camera used on NASA Dawn and ESA HERA missions

    ESA’s proposed Hera spaceraft

    “The actual relation between projectile size, speed and crater size in low gravity environments is still poorly understood,” adds Patrick, also serving as Hera’s lead scientist. “Having both SCI and Hera data on crater sizes in two different impact speed regimes will offer crucial insights.

    “These scaling laws are also crucial on a practical basis, because they underpin how our calculations estimating the efficiency of asteroid deflection are made, taking account the properties of the asteroid material as well as the impact velocity involved.

    “This is why Hera is so important; not only will we have DART’s full-scale test of asteroid deflection in space, but also Hera’s detailed follow-up survey to discover Didymoon’s composition and structure. Hera will also record the precise shape of the DART crater, right down to centimetre scale.

    “So, building on this Hayabusa2 impact experiment, DART and Hera between them will go on to close the gap in asteroid deflection techniques, bringing us to a point where such a method might be used for real.”

    Didymoon will also be by far the smallest asteroid ever explored, so will offer insights into the cohesion of material in an environment whose gravity is more than a million times weaker than our own – an alien situation extremely challenging to simulate.

    In 2004, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft launched an impactor into comet Tempel 1. The body was subsequently revisited, but the artificial crater was hard to pinpoint – largely because the comet had flown close to the Sun in the meantime, and its heating would have modified the surface.

    NASA’s Deep Impact hitting a comet

    NASA Deep Impact spacecraft 2004

    Hera will visit Didymoon around four years after DART’s impact, but because it is an inactive asteroid in deep space, no such modification will occur. “The crater will still be ‘fresh’ for Hera,” Patrick concludes.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    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.

    ESA50 Logo large

  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics,   

    From UC Santa Cruz: “UC Santa Cruz hosts summer program on machine learning in astronomy” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    From UC Santa Cruz

    April 19, 2019
    Tim Stephens

    The Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics brings together an international group of scientists and students for a six-week program of learning and research


    An international group of students participated in the 2016 Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    The 2019 Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz will focus on “Machine Learning in the Era of Large Astronomical Surveys,” bringing together scientists and students from a broad range of backgrounds to learn about machine learning techniques and their applications in astronomy.

    The Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics combines the concept of a long-term workshop with graduate student training through research projects. Up to 15 established faculty, 15 post-doctoral researchers, and 15 graduate students come from around the world to join local scientists at the host institution for the six-week program, which alternates between UC Santa Cruz and various institutions world-wide.

    The program begins with a one-week workshop on the topic of the year, after which the students are teamed with the senior participants and are expected to make significant progress on their selected project. Each year, the program tackles a different topic in astrophysics.

    This year’s topic addresses the challenges of big data in astronomy. Large astronomical surveys now collect unprecedented amounts of data, while large-scale computer simulations of astrophysical phenomena can also generate enormous datasets. To cope with this torrent of data, astronomers are adopting tools developed in the data science industry, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

    “This field is very rapidly emerging in astronomy,” said J. Xavier Prochaska, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Indeed, some of the students attending have more experience than the organizers.”

    Prochaska is a co-director of the 2019 program, along with UCSC astronomers Alexie Leauthaud and Brant Robertson. Prochaska is also a co-founder of the Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute at UC Santa Cruz, one of the sponsors of the summer program. Pascale Garaud, professor of applied mathematics at UC Santa Cruz, started the program in 2010 as the International Summer Institute for Modeling in Astrophysics (ISIMA). The Kavli Foundation has been supporting the program since 2016.

    “The Kavli Foundation is pleased to support innovative projects, and this year’s focus on big data addresses an issue of growing importance to astronomy,” said Christopher Martin, senior science program officer for the Kavli Foundation.

    In Santa Cruz, the Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics is associated with TASC (Theoretical Astrophysics at Santa Cruz), a multi-departmental research group of UCSC scientists from Applied Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Physics. Additional support for the 2019 program is provided by the National Science Foundation, UC Santa Cruz, and the UCSC Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    UCSC Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California, Altitude 1,283 m (4,209 ft)


    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

  • richardmitnick 2:36 pm on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    From PBS NOVA: “How This NASA Telescope is Defending the Earth From Asteroids” 

    From PBS NOVA

    April 19, 2019
    Katherine J. Wu

    An artist’s conception of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE spacecraft, in its orbit around Earth, which has now been repurposed into NEOWISE. NEOWISE has been scouring the skies for near-Earth objects for the past five years. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    With rogue asteroids and comets on the move, space can sometimes be a bit of a warzone.

    Serious impacts with Earth are few and far between. But these collisions can be catastrophic (just ask a few disgruntled dinosaurs circa 66 million years ago)—and Earthlings are often caught unaware.

    That’s why a team of NASA astronomers has spent the past five years scouring the skies for near-Earth objects (NEOs)—asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun in our vicinity—in the hopes of potentially staving off impending doom.

    “If we find an object only a few days from impact, it greatly limits our choices,” NASA astronomer Amy Mainzer said in a statement. “We’ve focused on finding NEOs when they are further away from Earth, providing the maximum amount of time and opening up a wider range of mitigation possibilities.”

    The endeavor is a part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, an Earth-orbiting satellite equipped with cameras and an infrared-sensitive telescope. And the spacecraft, which isn’t limited to tracking the trajectories of asteroids, has kept itself busy: In the past half decade, it has recorded more than 95 billion measurements of asteroids, comets, stars, and galaxies, with data collection ongoing.

    These measurements have revealed more than 1,000 wayfaring asteroids near our planet in the past half decade. None of these NEOs currently pose any threat to us here on Earth. But according to NASA estimates, about 20,000 near-Earth objects have flitted in and out of our neighborhood in recent decades—almost 900 of which were more than 3,200 feet across. And it was only six years ago that a meteor just 66 feet in diameter injured over 1,500 people when it exploded over the Russian region of Chelyabinsk.

    Detecting rocky interlopers, however, is no easy task. Because NEOs are often so small and far away, they’re frustratingly hard to spot under even the best of circumstances. What’s more, under visible light, these objects can look as dark as coal or printer toner, making them hard to pick out against the black backdrop of space.

    But the NEOWISE telescope has found a clever workaround—one that essentially involves it donning a set of cosmic night vision goggles. Heated by the warmth of the Sun, rocky bodies near Earth emit an infrared glow. By working in infrared, the telescope can pick up on any objects that are comin’ in hot, providing Mainzer’s team with images that reveal properties like a NEO’s size, mass, and composition. These measurements could someday help engineers calculate the amount of energy needed for a spacecraft to “nudge” (or detonate) a looming asteroid off an Earthbound path.

    The NEOWISE spacecraft, which was initially launched for a separate mission in 2009, will eventually reach the end of its tenure when its changing orbit prevents it from acquiring high-quality data. But a plan is already in the works to succeed it with another telescope called NEOCam—a new and improved addition to the NEO suite that will purposefully be designed to peer into space for asteroids.

    NASA NEOCam depiction

    If funded, NEOCam will “do a much more comprehensive job of mapping asteroid locations and measuring their sizes,” Mainzer said in the statement.

    NEOCam’s fate hasn’t yet been decided. For now, its predecessor remains on the frontlines of defense, and will still be actively collecting data. So for any asteroids, comets, or meteors headed our way, the message is clear: Earth has plans to take the heat—and it starts with taking note of it.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

  • richardmitnick 1:55 pm on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , The Black Hole of Messier 87   

    From ESOblog: “Behind the black hole Messier 87” 

    ESO 50 Large

    From ESOblog

    The first image of a black hole, Messier 87 Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via NSF 4.10.19

    Imaging a black hole is no easy task. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project involved over 200 scientists from around the world, and without their hard work, dedication, and imagination, such a feat would never have been possible. Three of these scientists talk about how it feels to be part of an international collaboration that has recently turned the seemingly-impossible into a reality.

    Sera Markoff is a member of the EHT Science Council, co-coordinator of the Multiwavelength Working Group, co-coordinator of Proposals Working Group and leads a research group that contributed to theoretical modelling and interpretation.
    Credit: ESO/BlackHoleCam /Radboud University/ Cristian Afker/Cafker Productions. Produced by: Cristian Afker/Cafker Productions /ESO.

    Name: Sera Markoff
    Job: Professor of Theoretical High Energy Astrophysics, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
    Roles in the EHT project: Member of the Science Council, co-coordinator of the Multiwavelength Working Group, co-coordinator of Proposals Working Group and leads a research group that contributed to theoretical modelling and interpretation.

    What has been the most exciting part of this project so far?

    Without a doubt, the most exciting part of the project so far was to make the big discovery — to show the world that black holes really exist, and to quite literally be able to gaze down into that sinkhole. I have been working on modeling black holes in one way or another for most of my career, and I think that one gets a bit blasé at some point, since we use the concept of black holes all the time without having ever actually seen one directly. To really “look it in the eye” is fascinating but also a bit maddening! And now I dream of seeing what it looks like close up, without the distortions of a telescope in between! I want to understand how such a thing can be possible, when our understanding of physics at the moment is not complete and cannot yet explain gravity or black holes at a quantum level.

    I also found working with a big team focused on a single, major goal very exciting. There were so many researchers, particularly PhD and postdoctoral students who dedicated a huge amount of time to making this project a success, and I am very happy to see it pay off for them, since it will boost their careers massively.

    Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, coined the term “black hole shadow” and was the scientists that originally came up with the idea of imaging a black hole using millimetre-wavelength Very Large Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). Heino is currently chair of the EHT science council and co-Principal Investigator of the European Research Council Synergy Grant BlackHoleCam that co-funded the EHT.
    Credit: ESO/BlackHoleCam /Radboud University/ Cristian Afker/Cafker Productions. Produced by: Cristian Afker/Cafker Productions /ESO.

    Name: Heino Falcke
    Job: Professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy, Radboud University, the Netherlands
    Roles in the EHT project: Coiner of the term “black hole shadow” and proposer to try to image a black hole using millimetre-wavelength Very Large Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). Chair of the EHT science council and co-Principal Investigator (together with Luciano Rezzolla and Michael Kramer) of the European Research Council Synergy Grant BlackHoleCam that co-funded the EHT.

    How did it feel when you saw the first image of the black hole?

    Twenty-five years ago, back in the pioneering days of millimetre-wavelength VLBI, I was doing my PhD at the Max-Planck Institute in Bonn. Modeling the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, I realised that light of millimetre-wavelength or below would be emitted from close to the black hole’s event horizon. Alas, black holes are surprisingly tiny, so the event horizon seemed too small to see, even with an Earth-sized telescope.

    But then, one lonely afternoon in the library, I stumbled across an article that described how a black hole would look much bigger when illuminated from behind. I was electrified. I hadn’t considered gravitational lensing — that a black hole could actually magnify itself due to the bending of light by its own mass. This would make it look much bigger!

    I worked with two other scientists, Eric Agol and Fulvio Melia, to calculate what a black hole would look like if it was engulfed by a glowing transparent region and, lo and behold, we found that a dark area would appear, surrounded by a bright ring that would be just large enough to be detected. We called the dark area the “shadow of the black hole” and claimed it could be detected within the following ten years!

    Well, not quite. But 19 years later my own PhD student, Sara Issaoun, showed me the first raw data from the EHT project. The plot was a complicated and incomplete one-dimensional mathematical transformation of an image. But doing the mathematical inversion in my head, as we have all learned to do during this project, my heart started beating faster: this could be a ring!

    Weeks later, we could finally make the actual image and there it was — the shadow inside a ring. All these years after predicting that it would be possible to image a black hole in this way, this huge collaboration of scientists had finally done so! For an hour I felt like I was hovering above the ground, but then it hit me that we still had many rough months to go before we could be certain. I sent up a brief “thank you” prayer to heaven and continued the day with a smile on my face.

    Sara Issaoun, of Radboud University in the Netherlands observed using one of the eight EHT telescopes, the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT). Sara also contributed to data processing and calibration, as well as the imaging efforts.
    Credit: ESO/BlackHoleCam /Radboud University/ Cristian Afker/Cafker Productions. Produced by: Cristian Afker/Cafker Productions /ESO.

    Name: Sara Issaoun
    Job: Graduate student at Radboud University, the Netherlands
    Roles in EHT project: EHT observing staff at the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT), core contributor in EHT data processing and calibration, active contributor in imaging efforts

    Describe some of the emotions you went through whilst getting to this result.

    Although I’ve gone through many emotions during this project, the most common is probably exhaustion! During our 2017 observing campaign at the SMT in Arizona, I was excited to be carrying out observations, hearing the equipment roar as blinking green lights indicated the successful collection of data. And the weather was excellent, meaning that we could observe on multiple days in a row. The downside to this? Back-to-back 16 hour observing shifts, with preparation time in between, and very, very little sleep. Combined with the high altitude, this made it an exhausting expedition. But then I saw the messages rolling in from Chile, the South Pole, Spain, Mexico and Hawaii, which made me feel part of a truly historic moment; all these telescopes and people, all staring towards the centre of Messier 87 — just one galaxy in amongst several trillion that exist in the Universe.

    After we packed up our recordings and drove down the mountain, it took a few months before we got the results of our observations. But when we heard that the telescope had worked well, and that we had worked well, I felt extreme relief.

    But it also meant that our data was ready for calibration, which involved a lot more hard work, exhaustion and stress. I will never forget the day when I first saw the fully calibrated data; the quality was so high that it took only seconds for me to understand that this could lead to a groundbreaking image. Four imaging teams worked separately to create the final image, and I was part of one of these teams.

    A mere few minutes after I started processing the data, I saw the ring structure appear. It was jaw-dropping, even thrilling. Six weeks of hard work passed, during which we perfected our image and improved our understanding of the data, before all the imaging teams met at a workshop in July 2018. We were all extremely anxious to see if everyone had seen the same structure. Once again, it turned out that everyone saw the same thing, even though we had all been using different software. This was real. This was it. The room filled with applause and laughter and general awe at being part of this incredible project. We were fully aware of the huge amount of work ahead of us, to understand what we were seeing and convince the rest of the community, but that moment was really special.

    See the full article here .

    Katie Bouman “Imaging a Black Hole with the Event Horizon Telescope”

    Event Horizon Telescope Array

    Arizona Radio Observatory
    Arizona Radio Observatory/Submillimeter-wave Astronomy (ARO/SMT)

    Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment

    CARMA Array no longer in service
    Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA)

    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)
    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)

    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory
    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO)

    IRAM 30m Radio telescope, on Pico Veleta in the Spanish Sierra Nevada,, Altitude 2,850 m (9,350 ft)

    Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) 30m

    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano
    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano

    CfA Submillimeter Array Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, Altitude 4,080 m (13,390 ft)

    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array, Chile

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL
    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL

    NSF CfA Greenland telescope

    Future Array/Telescopes

    Future Array/Telescopes

    IRAM NOEMA in the French Alps on the wide and isolated Plateau de Bure at an elevation of 2550 meters, the telescope currently consists of ten antennas, each 15 meters in diameter.interferometer, Located in the French Alpes on the wide and isolated Plateau de Bure at an elevation of 2550 meters

    NSF CfA Greenland telescope

    NSF CfA Greenland telescope

    Greenland Telescope

    ARO 12m Radio Telescope, Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, USA, Altitude 1,914 m (6,280 ft)

    ARO 12m Radio Telescope


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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO VLT at Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert, •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ),
    •KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ),
    •MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and
    •YEPUN (UT4; Venus – as evening star).
    elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft) from above Credit J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl atacama photo,

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

    ESO VLT 4 lasers on Yepun

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

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

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

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    APEX Atacama Pathfinder 5,100 meters above sea level, at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert.

    Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO Speculoos telescopes four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes at ESO Paranal Observatory 2635 metres 8645 ft above sea level

    ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO ExTrA telescopes at Cerro LaSilla at an altitude of 2400 metres

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