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  • richardmitnick 8:50 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , Planet in the making,   

    From U Arizona: “Researchers Capture First Photo of Planet in the Making” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    A composite image of LkCa15 shows the MagAO data, in blue, and the LBT data, in green and red.

    November 18, 2015
    Robin Tricoles

    There are 450 light-years between Earth and LkCa15, a young star with a transition disk around it, a cosmic whirling dervish, a birthplace for planets.

    Despite the disk’s considerable distance from Earth and its gaseous, dusty atmosphere, University of Arizona researchers captured the first photo of a planet in the making, a planet residing in a gap in LkCa15’s disk.

    Of the roughly 2,000 known exoplanets — planets that orbit a star other than our sun — only about 10 have been imaged, and that was long after they had formed, not when they were in the making.

    “This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,” says Stephanie Sallum, a UA graduate student, who with Kate Follette, a former UA graduate student now doing postdoctoral work at Stanford University, led the research.

    “No one has successfully and unambiguously detected a forming planet before,” Follette says. “There have always been alternate explanations, but in this case we’ve taken a direct picture, and it’s hard to dispute that.”

    The researchers’ results were published in the Nov. 19 issue of Nature.

    Only months ago, Sallum and Follette were working independently, each on her own Ph.D. project. But serendipitously they had set their sights on the same star. Both were observing LkCa15, which is surrounded by a special kind of protoplanetary disk that contains an inner clearing, or gap.

    Protoplanetary disks form around young stars using the debris left over from the star’s formation. It is suspected that planets then form inside the disk, sweeping up dust and debris as the material falls onto the planets instead of staying in the disk or falling onto the star. A gap is then cleared in which planets can reside.

    The researchers’ new observations support that view.

    “The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” Follette says. “It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of disks that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”

    Sallum says researchers are just now being able to image objects that are close to and much fainter than a nearby star. “That’s because of researchers at the University of Arizona who have developed the instruments and techniques that make that difficult observation possible,” she says.

    Those instruments include the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, the world’s largest telescope, located on Arizona’s Mount Graham, and the UA’s Magellan Telescope and its adaptive optics system, or MagAO, located in Chile.

    Large Binocular telescope

    Magellan 6.5 meter telescopes
    CTIO Magellan telescope

    Capturing sharp images of distant objects is difficult thanks in large part to atmospheric turbulence, the mixing of hot and cold air.

    “When you look through the Earth’s atmosphere, what you’re seeing is cold and hot air mixing in a turbulent way that makes stars shimmer,” says Laird Close, UA astronomy professor and Follette’s graduate adviser.

    “To a big telescope, it’s a fairly dramatic thing. You see a horrible-looking image, but it’s the same phenomenon that makes city lights and stars twinkle.”

    Josh Eisner, UA astronomy professor and Sallum’s graduate adviser, says big telescopes “always suffer from this type of thing.” But by using the LBT adaptive optics system and a novel imaging technique, he and Sallum succeeded in getting the crispest infrared images yet of LkCa15.

    Meanwhile, Close and Follette used Magellan’s adaptive optics system MagAO to independently corroborate Eisner and Sallum’s planetary findings. That is, using MagAO’s unique ability to work in visible wavelengths, they captured the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” spectral fingerprint, the specific wavelength of light that LkCa 15 and its planets emit as they grow. In fact, almost all young stars are identified by their hydrogen alpha light, says Close, principal investigator of MagAO.

    When cosmic objects are forming, they get extremely hot, Close says. And because they’re forming from hydrogen, those objects all glow a dark red, which astronomers refer to as H-alpha, a particular wavelength of light. “It’s just like a neon sign, the way neon gas glows when it gets energized,” he says.

    “That single dark shade of red light is emitted by both the planet and the star as they undergo the same growing process,” Follette says. “We were able to separate the light of the faint planet from the light of the much brighter star and to see that they were both growing and glowing in this very distinct shade of red.”

    A color so distinct, Close says, that it’s proof positive a planet is forming — something never seen before now.

    “Results like this have only been made possible with the application of a lot of very advanced new technology to the business of imaging the stars,” says professor Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney, one of the study’s co-authors, “and it’s really great to see them yielding such impressive results.”

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

  • richardmitnick 12:13 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , ,   

    From ESO: “Laser Guide Star Units Accepted and Shipped to Chile” 

    European Southern Observatory

    27 November 2015
    Domenico Bonaccini Calia
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6567
    Email: dbonacci@eso.org

    Wolfgang Hackenberg
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6782
    Email: whackenb@eso.org

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

    One of the units of the Four Laser Guide Star Facility for the VLT

    All four laser guide star units that form the Four Laser Guide Star Facility — a core part of the Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) for ESO’s Very Large Telescope — have now been accepted and are being shipped to Chile. This is a major step towards establishing VLT Unit Telescope 4 as a fully adaptive telescope with much enhanced image quality.

    ESO 4LGSF Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF)
    The 4LGSF is to be installed as a subsystem of the Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) on UT4 of the VLT, to provide the AO systems GALACSI/MUSE and GRAAL/HAWK-I with four sodium laser guide stars (LGSs), as artificial reference sources for the high-order AO corrections.

    The 4LGSF will deploy four modular LGS Units (see below) at the UT4 Centrepiece, as shown in Figure 1. Each LGS Unit consists of the Launch Telescope System incl. 20W Laser Head and two close-by cabinets, one hosting the Laser Unit electronics (incl. the pump fibre laser unit) and the other containing the local control electronics. Two additional 4LGSF cabinets are installed on a new 4LGSF Platform underneath the Nasmyth B platform and contain the computers for independently controlling the four LGS Units. The 4LGSF Platform also hosts the heat exchanger for the laser cooling system.

    An adaptive optics system uses sensors to analyse the atmospheric turbulence and a deformable mirror integrated in the telescope to correct for the image distortions caused by the atmosphere. But a bright point-like star very close in the sky to the object being studied is essential, so that the turbulence can be accurately characterised.

    Finding a natural star in the right place for this role is unlikely. So, to make the correction of the atmospheric turbulence possible everywhere in the sky, for all possible science targets, an artificial star is needed. Such stars can be created by projecting a powerful laser beam into the sky onto the sodium layer, where it creates a bright glow that appears star-like from the ground.

    By measuring the atmospherically induced motions and distortions of this artificial star, and making tiny adjustments to the deformable secondary mirror one thousand times per second, the telescope can produce images with much greater sharpness than is possible without adaptive optics.

    The first Adaptive Optics Facility laser guide star unit was installed on the VLT and successfully tested in situ earlier this year. These tests have confirmed the sound design implemented by ESO, in collaboration with European industry and scientific institutes [1]. Tests on VLT Unit Telescope 4 in Chile showed high optical quality, providing an almost perfect artificial star image, and high efficiency of the sodium layer excitation. These successes mean that the team can proceed with preliminary tests with GRAAL, the adaptive optics module feeding HAWK-I, the wide-field imager on Unit Telescope 4; all further steps towards the full commissioning of the Adaptive Optics Facility at Paranal.

    ESO Graal


    The Adaptive Optics Facility will use four lasers simultaneously, which will allow better characterisation of the atmosphere’s properties — and hence a larger field of view where the image is corrected — than is possible with just one laser.

    When fully installed, the Adaptive Optics Facility will feed light into two instruments, HAWK-I (in conjunction with GRAAL) and the integral field spectrograph, MUSE, (in conjunction with GALACSI).




    [1] The companies involved include: TOPTICA, Germany; TNO, The Netherlands; MPB Communications, Canada; Optec, Italy; Astrel, Italy; and Laseroptik, Germany. In addition INAF–Osservatorio di Roma, Italy has made significant contributions to the project.


    More information about the laser
    More information about the deformable secondary mirror
    More information about the laser launch 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 LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    ESO Vista Telescope

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array


    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

  • richardmitnick 11:32 am on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , ,   

    From ESA: “Flight teams prepare for LISA Pathfinder liftoff” 

    European Space Agency

    27 November 2015

    ESA LISA Pathfinder

    Following months of intensive training, mission controllers for the LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave detection testbed will complete a final rehearsal tomorrow, ensuring that all is ready for the journey to space.

    Next week, a Vega rocket will lift LISA Pathfinder into space on a mission that will test-drive the hardware for detecting gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime, the very fabric of the Universe.

    Vega is expected to lift off at 04:15 GMT on 2 December from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, beginning a 105-minute ride to space.

    LISA Pathfinder will separate from the final stage at around 06:00 GMT, moments before transmitting its first signals to the ground.

    For engineers at ESA’s ESOC control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, separation is a crucial moment in the demanding first days in orbit.

    Teams will establish control, start switching on the control systems and begin taking the craft through a series of health checks.

    LISA Pathfinder’s journey from launch to its final destination, around the L1 Sun–Earth Lagrangian point some 1.5 million km away from Earth towards the Sun

    Insert: LISA Pathfinder will be launched in December 2015 on a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Vega will place LISA Pathfinder into an elliptical orbit, with a perigee (closest approach) of 200 km, apogee (furthest approach) of 1540 km, and inclination of about 6.5º. Then, when Vega’s final stage is jettisoned, LISA Pathfinder will continue under its own power, beginning a series of six apogee-raising manoeuvres. These manoeuvres will be completed two weeks after launch.

    After this, LISA Pathfinder will cruise towards its final orbiting location. A month after its final burn, it will jettison its propulsion module and continue its journey before settling into an orbit around the L1. The entire journey, from launch to arrival at the operational orbit around L1, will take about eight weeks.

    Experts spanning a range of specialities, including mission operations, flight dynamics, software and ground stations, will work 24 hours a day for the first dozen days to ensure LISA Pathfinder is operating as it should and to send it towards its final destination.

    It will conduct its mission circling the ‘L1 Lagrange point’, a virtual position in space some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction of the Sun.

    “LISA Pathfinder is a complex mission,” notes flight director Andreas Rudolph. “Even after we’re safely in space, we will have to make seven or eight thruster burns in the first 10 days to take it as safely as possible through Earth’s radiation belts and get it onto the correct trajectory.

    “We won’t arrive at around L1 until late in January, and until then teams will be working intensively to ensure that the thruster burns go as planned, that our navigation is correct and that we ensure the instruments and all flight systems are working normally.”

    LISA Pathfinder’s science mission is expected to last 180 days (updates and details on the science and technology objectives).

    Team training

    By launch day, the 80-plus people on the mission teams will have completed many months of training, including a lengthy series of simulations using the Main Control Room at ESOC.

    “Throughout 2015, the mission team have spent many hours sitting ‘on console’, using simulation software and real flight hardware to practise all stages of the mission,” says spacecraft operations manager Ian Harrison.

    “We’ve practised routine situations as well as contingencies, so that everyone knows what to do if something goes wrong.”

    Several of the trainings were ‘live’, with mission control systems at ESOC connected to LISA Pathfinder as it was being completed at a test centre near Munich. Many simulations also included the science operations teams responsible for the instruments.

    The mission will initially be followed by ESA ground stations at Kourou in French Guiana, Perth in Australia, and Maspalomas in Spain, as well as by a dedicated antenna at Italy’s Malindi station in Kenya.

    Kourou tracking station

    On launch day, grabbing the first signal from LISA Pathfinder will be particularly complicated because the spacecraft uses higher-frequency X-band radio signals for its communications. This produces a much narrower beam than the traditional lower-frequency S-band radio waves normally used for missions to low Earth orbit.

    “X-band is typical for a craft that will voyage 1.5 million kilometres from Earth,” says ground operations engineer Fabienne Delhaise, “but is not common for satellites in low orbit, which is where LISA Pathfinder starts out.”

    “This means our ground stations must point especially accurately and use a special adapter to catch signals just after separation, when the craft is still near Earth.”

    Later, once its orbit rises above about 45 000 km, mission controllers will use ESA’s powerful deep-space radio dishes in Australia, Spain and Argentina, which are designed just for such distant signalling.

    “Our mission teams are ready, the tracking stations are ready and our carefully developed ground systems are ready,” says Paolo Ferri, who heads ESA’s mission operations.

    “We’re excited about the technology on board and we’re looking forward to a smooth launch and an excellent start to this fantastic mission.”

    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 10:59 am on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , , ,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds” 


    February 19, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast radiation and ultra-fast winds outward, as illustrated in this artist’s conception. New data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, which contain gases of highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion, emanating in every direction, as shown in the artwork. The findings rule out the possibility that the winds blow in narrow beams.


    ESA XMM Newton

    With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers were able to determine the winds’ strength. The high-speed winds are powerful enough to shut down star formation throughout a galaxy.

    The artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel galaxy (Messier 101) taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    The galaxy Messier 101 (M101, also known as NGC 5457 and also nicknamed the Pinwheel Galaxy) lies in the northern circumpolar constellation, Ursa Major (The Great Bear), at a distance of about 21 million light-years from Earth. This is one of the largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy that has been released from Hubble. The galaxy’s portrait is actually composed of 51 individual Hubble exposures, in addition to elements from images from ground-based photos [CFHT image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/J.-C. Cuillandre/Coelum NOAO image: George Jacoby, Bruce Bohannan, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

    NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

    This plot of data from two space telescopes, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton determines for the first time the shape of ultra-fast winds from supermassive black holes, or quasars. The winds blow in every direction, in a nearly spherical fashion, coming from both sides of a galaxy (only one side is shown here).

    The plot shows the brightness of X-ray light from an extremely luminous quasar called PDS 456, with the highest-energy rays on the right. XMM-Newton sees lower-energy X-rays, and NuSTAR, higher. XMM Newton had previously observed the extremely luminous quasar, called PDS 456, on its own in 2001. At that time, it had measured the X-rays up to an energy level of 11 kiloelectron volts. From those data, researchers detected a dip in the X-ray light, called an absorption feature (see dip in plot). The dip is caused by iron atoms — which are carried by the winds along with other matter — absorbing the X-ray light of a particular energy. What’s more, the absorption feature is ‘blueshifted,” meaning that the winds are speeding toward us (like a train’s whistle shifting to higher frequencies as it races toward you).

    In other words, the 2001 XMM-Newton data had told researchers that at least some of the winds were blowing toward us — but they didn’t reveal whether those winds were confined to a narrow beam along our line of sight, or were blowing in all directions. That’s because XMM-Newton had only detected absorption features, which by definition occur in front of a light source, in this case, the quasar. To probe what was happening to at sides of the quasar, the astronomers needed to find a different type of feature called an emission feature. These occur when iron scatters X-ray light at a particular energy in all directions, not only toward the observer.

    Enter NuSTAR to the X-ray astronomy scene, a high-energy X-ray telescope that was launched in 2012. NuSTAR and XMM-Newton teamed up to observe PDS 456 simultaneously in 2013 and 2014. The results are shown in this plot. NuSTAR data are represented as orange circles and XMM-Newton as blue squares. The NuSTAR data reveal the baseline of the “continuum” quasar light (see gray line) — or what the quasar would look like without any winds. What stands out is the bump to the left of the dips. That’s an iron emission signature, the telltale sign that the black hole winds blow to the sides and in all directions.

    XMM-Newton might have seen the emission feature before, but the feature couldn’t be identified until NuSTAR’s elucidated the baseline quasar light. For example, had the X-ray winds been confined to a beam, then NuSTAR would have seen more brightness at the higher end of the X-ray spectrum, and there would have been no iron emission feature.

    The results demonstrate that, in some cases, two telescopes are better than one at solving tricky problems. By observing the entire X-ray energy range, the astronomers were able to get a more complete picture of what is happening around the quasar.

    “We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies,” said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Harrison is the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. “Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are.”

    Supermassive black holes blast matter into their host galaxies, with X-ray-emitting winds traveling at up to one-third the speed of light. In the new study, astronomers determined PDS 456, an extremely bright black hole known as a quasar more than 2 billion light-years away, sustains winds that carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns.

    “Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation,” said the study’s lead author, Emanuele Nardini of Keele University in England.

    “This is a great example of the synergy between XMM-Newton and NuSTAR,” said Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA. “The complementarity of these two X-ray observatories is enabling us to unveil previously hidden details about the powerful side of the universe.”

    “For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study,” said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the ‘Age of Quasars.'”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nustar and http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , ,   

    From Chandra: All About Black Holes 

    NASA Chandra

    A black hole is a dense, compact object whose gravitational pull is so strong that—within a certain distance of it—nothing can escape, not even light. Black holes range in size from a few times the mass of the Sun to millions or even billions of times the Sun’s mass. Using Chandra, astronomers have learned a great deal about black holes and how they influence their environments. [Here is a primer from NASA/Chandra.]

    Temp 1
    One of the most important black holes to study is the one found at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Known as Sagittarius A*, this black hole is about 4 million times the mass of the Sun and Chandra has revealed much about its behavior and history. NASA/CXC/Univ. of Wisconsin/Y.Bai. et al.

    [Another view, also from Chandra]


    Temp 2
    Galaxies can merge and when they do, the supermassive black holes at their centers may also collide. This is the case of NGC 6240 where Chandra finds two giant black holes—the bright point-like sources in this middle of the image—are only 3,000 light years apart.X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/C.Canizares, M.Nowak; Optical: NASA/STScI

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    Temp 3
    The galaxy Centaurus A is well known for a spectacular jet of outflowing material—seen pointing from the middle to the upper left in this Chandra image—that is generated by a giant black hole at the galaxy’s center. Chandra has also revealed information about smaller black holes throughout Centaurus A.X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Birmingham/M.Burke et al.

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    NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

  • richardmitnick 9:06 pm on November 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From ICRAR: “Scientists spot jets from supermassive black hole snacking on a star” 

    International Center for Radio Astronomy Research

    International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

    27 November, 2015

    Dr Gemma Anderson
    ICRAR – Curtin University
    Ph: +61 8 9266 3577
    M: +61 408 955 483
    E: Gemma.Anderson@icrar.org

    Dr James Miller-Jones
    ICRAR – Curtin University
    Ph: +61 8 9266 3785
    M: +61 488 484 825
    E: James.Miller-Jones@icrar.org

    Pete Wheeler
    Media Contact
    M: +61 423 982 018
    E: Pete.Wheeler@icrar.org

    An artist’s impression of a star being drawn toward a black hole and destroyed, triggering a jet of plasma made from debris left over from the stars destruction.
    Credit: Modified from an original image by Amadeo Bachar.

    Scientists have discovered a hungry black hole swallowing a star at the centre of a nearby galaxy.

    The supermassive black hole was found to have faint jets of material shooting out from it and helps to confirm scientists’ theories about the nature of black holes.

    The discovery was published today in the journal Science.

    Astrophysicist Dr Gemma Anderson, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said a supermassive black hole swallowing a star is an extreme event in which the star gets ripped apart.

    “It’s very unusual when a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy actually eats a star, we’ve probably only seen about 20 of them,” she said.

    “Everything we know about black holes suggests we should see a jet when this happens but until now they’ve only been detected in a few of the most powerful systems.

    “Now we’ve finally found one in a more normal event.”

    The discovery is the first time scientists have been able to see both a disk of material falling into a black hole, known as an accretion disk, and a jet in a system of this kind.

    ICRAR astrophysicist Dr James Miller-Jones compared the energy produced by the jets in this event to the entire energy output of the Sun over 10 million years.

    He said it was likely all supermassive black holes swallowing stars launched jets but this discovery was made because the black hole is relatively close to Earth and was studied soon after it was first seen.

    The black hole is only 300 million light years away from us and the team (led by Dr Sjoert van Velzen from The Johns Hopkins University in the USA) were able to make their first observations only three weeks after it was found.

    “We’ve shown that it was just a question of looking at the right time and with enough sensitivity,” Dr Miller-Jones said.

    “Then you can show that a jet exists right at the point you think it should.”

    Dr Anderson began the research while working with the 4 PI SKY team at Oxford University but moved to Western Australia in September.

    She said the event was first picked up by the All-sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), which is pronounced ‘assassin’ by astronomers, and followed up with the Arcminute Microkelvin Imager (AMI), a radio telescope, located near Cambridge.

    Arcminute Microkelvin Imager
    Arcminute Microkelvin Imager (AMI) Small Array

    “Hopefully with the increased sensitivity of future telescopes like the Square Kilometre Array we’ll be able to detect jets from other supermassive black holes of this type and discover even more about them,” Dr Anderson said.

    Further information:
    For more information about the 4 PI SKY project visit http://www.4pisky.org

    ICRAR is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia.

    Original publication details:

    ‘A radio jet from the optical and X-ray bright stellar tidal disruption flare ASASSN-14li’ published in the journal Science on 26/11/2015. A copy of the paper is available upon request. ​

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    ICRAR is an equal joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with funding support from the State Government of Western Australia. The Centre’s headquarters are located at UWA, with research nodes at both UWA and the Curtin Institute for Radio Astronomy (CIRA).
    ICRAR has strong support from the government of Australia and is working closely with industry and the astronomy community, including CSIRO and the Australian Telescope National Facility, iVEC, and the international SKA Project Office (SPO), based in the UK.

    ICRAR is:

    Playing a key role in the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, the world’s biggest ground-based telescope array.

    SKA Square Kilometer Array
    Attracting some of the world’s leading researchers in radio astronomy, who will also contribute to national and international scientific and technical programs for SKA and ASKAP.
    Creating a collaborative environment for scientists and engineers to engage and work with industry to produce studies, prototypes and systems linked to the overall scientific success of the SKA, MWA and ASKAP.

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array
    A Small part of the Murchison Widefield Array

    Enhancing Australia’s position in the international SKA program by contributing to the development process for the SKA in scientific, technological and operational areas.
    Promoting scientific, technical, commercial and educational opportunities through public outreach, educational material, training students and collaborative developments with national and international educational organisations.
    Establishing and maintaining a pool of emerging and top-level scientists and technologists in the disciplines related to radio astronomy through appointments and training.
    Making world-class contributions to SKA science, with emphasis on the signature science themes associated with surveys for neutral hydrogen and variable (transient) radio sources.
    Making world-class contributions to SKA capability with respect to developments in the areas of Data Intensive Science and support for the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

  • richardmitnick 9:43 am on November 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , , LCOGT   

    From LCOGT: “A blue, neptune-size exoplanet around a red dwarf star” 

    LCOGT bloc

    Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

    Edward Gomez

    A team of astronomers have used the LCOGT network to detect light scattered by tiny particles (called Rayleigh scattering), through the atmosphere of a Neptune-size transiting exoplanet. This suggests a blue sky on this world which is only 100 light years away from us. The result was published in the Astrophysical Journal on November 20 (and is available on ArXiV).

    Transits occur when an exoplanet passes in front of its parent star, reducing the amount of light we receive from the star by a small fraction. When the orbit of an exoplanet is aligned just right for transits to occur, astronomers can measure the planet’s size at different wavelengths in order to generate a spectrum of its atmosphere. The spectrum then reveals the substances present in the planet’s atmosphere, and therefore its composition. This measurement is most often performed using infrared light, where the planet is brightest and most easily observed. During the last few years, researchers have been probing the atmospheres of several small exoplanets with large ground and space-based telescopes, but have found it challenging to determine their composition using this method. This is either because the planets have clouds (which obscure the atmosphere) or because the measurements were not sufficiently precise.

    Image credit: NAOJ, artists impression of GJ 3470b and its host star.

    At four times the size of the Earth, GJ 3470b is a transiting exoplanet closer in size to our own planet than to the hot Jupiters (about 10 times the size of the Earth) which so far make up the majority of exoplanets with well-characterized atmospheres. Astronomers led by Diana Dragomir of the University of Chicago have followed up on a discovery by a different group, whose results tentatively hinted at the presence of Rayleigh scattering in the atmosphere of GJ 3470b. Dr. Dragomir’s team acquired and combined transit observations from all of LCOGT’s observatory sites (Hawaii, Texas, Chile, Australia and South Africa) to conclusively confirm the detection of Rayleigh scattering for GJ 3470b.

    The result is significant for several reasons. GJ 3470b is the smallest exoplanet for which a detection of Rayleigh scattering exists. While this planet is also believed to be cloudy or hazy, the measurement tells astronomers that the planet has a thick hydrogen-rich atmosphere below a layer of haze which scatters blue light. Indeed, the sky is blue on GJ 3470b. Moreover, the planet orbits a small (red dwarf) star, which means it blocks a large amount of light during every transit, making the transit easier to detect and the planet more easily characterisable. Finally, this measurement is the first clear detection of a spectroscopic feature in the atmosphere of an exoplanet that was made only with small (1.0m and 2.0m) telescopes. The team has also supplemented the LCOGT data with observations obtained from the 1.5m Kuiper Telescope in Arizona.

    LCOGT Steward Observatory 61 inch Kuiper Telescope
    LCOGT Steward Observatory 61 inch Kuiper Telescope interior
    LCOGT Steward 1.5 meter telescope in Arizona

    Dr. Dragomir, who carried out the project while she was a researcher at LCOGT, says that “this detection brings us closer to understanding the nature of increasingly smaller exoplanets through the use of a novel approach which allows us to probe the atmospheres of exoplanets even if they are cloudy.” At the same time, the result highlights the role that meter-size telescopes can play toward characterising the atmospheres of these worlds.

    See the full article here.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    LCOGT Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network
    Sutherland is home to several telescopes including the 11-meter SALT.

    Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network is an integrated set of robotic telescopes, distributed around the world. The network currently includes two 2-meter telescopes, sited in Hawaii and eastern Australia, nine 1-meter telescopes, sited in Chile, South Africa, eastern Australia, and Texas, and three 0.4-meter telescopes, sited in Chile and the Canary Islands.

    LCOGT map

  • richardmitnick 11:27 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , ,   

    From CAASTRO: “Simulations first to reveal fundamental plane of star formation” 

    CAASTRO bloc

    CAASTRO ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics

    26 November 2015

    Galaxy formation involves many inter-linked physical processes at any given time: the rate at which the galaxy’s halo accretes mass from the intergalactic medium, the rate of shocking and cooling of this gas onto the galaxy, and the conversion of gas in the interstellar medium into stars. The complexity and non-linearity of these processes make it difficult to understand which processes dominate, and if and how this changes over time. The identification of scaling relations, that is the tight correlation between certain physical galaxy properties, can therefore be very valuable to reduce the number of properties in galaxy formation models and to formulate simple relations that capture the dominant paths along which galaxies evolve. While helpful for this reason, these relations cannot ultimately distinguish between cause and effect though. Cosmological simulations of galaxy formation are excellent testbeds as they allow examining causality directly. If reproducing the observed scaling relations adequately, these simulations can be used to better understand how galaxies evolve and to predict how scaling relations are established, how they evolve, and which processes determine the scatter around the main trends.


    In their current publication, the research team around CAASTRO member Dr Claudia Lagos (ICRAR-UWA) investigated the correlations between different physical properties of star-forming galaxies in the “Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments” (EAGLE) cosmological hydrodynamical simulation suite over the redshift range 0<z<4.5. Their careful statistical analysis revealed that the neutral gas fraction, stellar mass and star formation rate account for most of the variance seen in the population of galaxies at all times. Galaxies trace a two-dimensional, nearly flat surface in the three-dimensional space of the properties above which the team names "Fundamental plane of star formation". The location of this plane varies little in time, whereas galaxies themselves move along the plane as their gas fraction and star formation rate decrease over time. The existence of this "fundamental plane of star formation" is a consequence of the self-regulation of galaxies in which the accretion of newly cooled gas and feedback outflows from stars and Active Galactic Nuclei balance each other out: the rate at which gas flows into and out from the galaxy are similar. Excitingly, using the insights from their simulations, the researchers found that real galaxies follow the same plane, based on a large compilation of observations spanning the redshift range 0<z<2.5. This is the first time that the existence of such a plane was initially established in simulations and then confirmed in observations.


    Publication details:
    Claudia Lagos et al. in MNRAS (2015) The fundamental plane of star formation in galaxies revealed by the EAGLE hydrodynamical simulations

    See the full article here .

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    Stem Education Coalition

    Astronomy is entering a golden age, in which we seek to understand the complete evolution of the Universe and its constituents. But the key unsolved questions in astronomy demand entirely new approaches that require enormous data sets covering the entire sky.

    In the last few years, Australia has invested more than $400 million both in innovative wide-field telescopes and in the powerful computers needed to process the resulting torrents of data. Using these new tools, Australia now has the chance to establish itself at the vanguard of the upcoming information revolution centred on all-sky astrophysics.

    CAASTRO has assembled the world-class team who will now lead the flagship scientific experiments on these new wide-field facilities. We will deliver transformational new science by bringing together unique expertise in radio astronomy, optical astronomy, theoretical astrophysics and computation and by coupling all these capabilities to the powerful technology in which Australia has recently invested.


    The University of Sydney
    The University of Western Australia
    The University of Melbourne
    Swinburne University of Technology
    The Australian National University
    Curtin University
    University of Queensland

  • richardmitnick 4:55 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , ,   

    From ESO: “MUSE Observations Enable Prediction of Once-in-a-lifetime Supernova Replay” 

    European Southern Observatory

    25 November 2015
    Claudio Grillo
    Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute
    University of Copenhagen, Denmark
    Email: grillo@dark-cosmology.dk

    Piero Rosati
    Department of Physics and Earth Science
    University of Ferrara
    Email: rosati@fe.infn.it

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


    Astronomers have used the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), attached to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory, to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test their understanding of massive clusters of galaxies. They are making the first ever prediction of an observational event in the distant Universe before it actually becomes visible.

    Images of the galaxy cluster MACS J1149+2223, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in November 2014, revealed a distant exploding star — a supernova — like no other ever seen. Nicknamed Refsdal [1], it is the first supernova to be split into four separate images through the process of gravitational lensing, forming an almost perfect Einstein Cross around one of the cluster’s galaxies.


    The European Space Agency’s Faint Object Camera on board NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has provided astronomers with the most detailed image ever taken of the gravitational lens G2237 + 0305 — sometimes referred to as the Einstein Cross. The photograph shows four images of a very distant quasar which has been multiple-imaged by a relatively nearby galaxy acting as a gravitational lens. The angular separation between the upper and lower images is 1.6 arcseconds.
    Date 13 September 1990

    Gravitational lensing is a consequence of [Albert] Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The paper stating the equations of this fundamental change in our understanding of gravity was published on 25 November 1915, exactly one century ago.

    Critical observations of the precise distances to galaxies in the region of MACS J1149+2223 were made using MUSE in early 2015. They have enabled astronomers to model the matter distribution inside the behemoth galaxy cluster more precisely than ever before. This has led to several predictions of when and where another image of the distant supernova — an instant replay on the biggest screen imaginable — will appear.

    Because the light that forms the multiple images of the supernova takes paths to the Earth with different lengths, they appear at different times as well as at different points on the sky.

    Using all the available MUSE data, in combination with Hubble observations, a team of astronomers led by Claudio Grillo (Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark) have predicted that a further replay will peak in brightness between March and June 2016, with a possible first detection before the end of 2015. They can also anticipate not only where and when the supernova is expected to become visible again, but also approximately how bright it will appear.

    Hubble is now being periodically pointed at the cluster in hopes of catching the once-in-a-lifetime event, putting the astronomers’ models to the ultimate test in the process.

    These observations highlight the vital role that MUSE and the VLT play in the exploration of the distant Universe, as well as the synergy between Hubble and ground-based observatories.


    [1] It is named after the late Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who was a pioneer of the study of gravitational lenses.


    Science paper (Grillo et al)
    Related science paper (Jauzac et al)
    Related science paper (Treu et al)
    Related science paper (Karman et al)
    Related announcement from Hubble

    See the full article here .

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    Visit ESO in Social Media-




    ESO Bloc Icon

    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 LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    ESO Vista Telescope

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array


    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

  • richardmitnick 4:21 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , ,   

    From Sky and Telescope: “Star-Counting in the Galactic Bulge” 

    SKY&Telescope bloc

    Sky & Telescope

    November 24, 2015
    John Bochanski

    An artist’s impression of what Milky Way, and especially its peanut-shaped bulge, would look like from the outside.
    ESO / NASA / JPL-Caltech / M. Kornmesser / R. Hurt

    Astronomers root their response in a mathematical function that describes how many stars exist at any given mass, known as the initial mass function. In general, we know there are many more low-mass stars than high-mass ones, just as you’ll find far more fine grains of sand than large pebbles on a beach.

    And just as knowing exactly how many more fine grains there are than pebbles will tell you something about how that beach came to be, stars’ initial mass function helps astronomers investigate everything from the details of star formation to the mass of the Milky Way and other galaxies.

    Until now, astronomers’ best measurements of the initial mass function have been limited to relatively nearby stars, which lie within the Milky Way’s pancake-shaped disk. But other galaxies have shown tantalizing hints that the mass distribution of stars might differ from place to place within a galaxy.

    Now, a recent study has applied the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to go beyond the disk and count stars within the Milky Way’s bulge, the sardine-packed collection of stars far away in the center of our galaxy.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    A team led by Annalisa Calamida (Space Telescope Science Institute) reported the initial mass function for low-mass bulge stars in the September 1st Astrophysical Journal, focusing stars less massive than the Sun. The astronomers tracked stars’ proper motions across the sky using the exquisitely sharp Hubble images, then picked out the background bulge stars by their odd, boxy orbits. The result is a sample of low-mass stars with near-zero “contamination” from nearby stars.

    Overall, the team’s results aren’t surprising: they estimate an initial mass function that roughly agrees with previous measurements, including one made by this author. But there are hints of something interesting afoot: the new results suggest that the bulge might contain relatively fewer very low-mass stars. More work is needed to test whether this result pans out, but if it’s real, the difference would suggest a difference in how stars form in the galactic bulge compared to the disk.

    This study is an important first step in going beyond the nearby disk stars that are often observed. And there’s more to come: with the Gaia mission already at work surveying more than 1 billion stars and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope on the way, astronomers will soon be counting stars throughout our galaxy. And the initial mass functions they measure will tell us not only how many stars are out there, but how star formation varies from place to place in our galaxy.

    ESA Gaia satellite

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera
    Future home of the LSST telescope and Camera (camera being built by SLAC)

    See the full article here .

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    Sky & Telescope magazine, founded in 1941 by Charles A. Federer Jr. and Helen Spence Federer, has the largest, most experienced staff of any astronomy magazine in the world. Its editors are virtually all amateur or professional astronomers, and every one has built a telescope, written a book, done original research, developed a new product, or otherwise distinguished him or herself.

    Sky & Telescope magazine, now in its eighth decade, came about because of some happy accidents. Its earliest known ancestor was a four-page bulletin called The Amateur Astronomer, which was begun in 1929 by the Amateur Astronomers Association in New York City. Then, in 1935, the American Museum of Natural History opened its Hayden Planetarium and began to issue a monthly bulletin that became a full-size magazine called The Sky within a year. Under the editorship of Hans Christian Adamson, The Sky featured large illustrations and articles from astronomers all over the globe. It immediately absorbed The Amateur Astronomer.

    Despite initial success, by 1939 the planetarium found itself unable to continue financial support of The Sky. Charles A. Federer, who would become the dominant force behind Sky & Telescope, was then working as a lecturer at the planetarium. He was asked to take over publishing The Sky. Federer agreed and started an independent publishing corporation in New York.

    “Our first issue came out in January 1940,” he noted. “We dropped from 32 to 24 pages, used cheaper quality paper…but editorially we further defined the departments and tried to squeeze as much information as possible between the covers.” Federer was The Sky’s editor, and his wife, Helen, served as managing editor. In that January 1940 issue, they stated their goal: “We shall try to make the magazine meet the needs of amateur astronomy, so that amateur astronomers will come to regard it as essential to their pursuit, and professionals to consider it a worthwhile medium in which to bring their work before the public.”

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