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  • richardmitnick 4:34 am on March 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   



    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    March 3, 2015
    Media Contacts:

    Peter Michaud
    Public Information and Outreach
    Gemini Observatory, Hilo, HI
    Email: pmichaud”at”gemini.edu
    Cell: (808) 936-6643

    Science Contacts:

    Dongwon Kim
    Australia National University
    Email: dongwon.kim”at”anu.edu.au
    Office: +61 2 6125 8022

    Helmut Jerjen
    Australia National University
    Email: helmut.jerjen”at”anu.edu.au
    Office: +61 2 6125 8038

    GMOS image of Kim 2, in g band. The image is 4 arcminutes across.

    Like the lost little puppy that wanders too far from home, astronomers have found an unusually small and distant group of stars that seems oddly out of place. The cluster, made of only a handful of stars, is located far away, in the Milky Way’s “suburbs.” It is located where astronomers have never spotted such a small cluster of stars before.

    The new star cluster was discovered by Dongwon Kim, a PhD student at the Australian National University (ANU), together with a team of astronomers (Helmut Jerjen, Antonino Milone, Dougal Mackey, and Gary Da Costa) who are conducting the Stromlo Milky Way Satellite Survey* at ANU.

    “This cluster is faint, very faint, and truly in the suburbs of our Milky Way,” said Kim. “In fact, this group of stars is about ten times more distant than the average globular star cluster in the halo of our galaxy — it’s a lost puppy,” Mackey adds. Globular clusters are spherical cities of stars that form a vast, extended halo around the core of our galaxy, the brightest of which are easily seen in amateur telescopes or even binoculars. However, this new discovery required one of the world’s largest telescopes to confirm, “it’s definitely a diminutive oddball,” says Milone.

    The oddly small, far-flung, cluster was discovered using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the 4-meter Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. “This discovery sheds new light on the formation and evolution of the Milky Way,” said Daniel Evans, National Science Foundation program director for Gemini Observatory. “It’s great to see so many telescopes come together to produce this result, not the least being Gemini Observatory with its incredible light-gathering power.”

    CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope
    CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope interior
    Dark Energy Camera
    4-meter Blanco Telescope and DECam

    The team’s first evidence of the unusually remote star cluster came when they ran detection algorithms on a 500 square-degree imaging data field obtained with DECam. “Such objects are too faint and optically elusive to be seen by eye. The cluster stars are sprinkled so thinly over the image, you look right through them without noticing. They are hiding in the sea of stars from the Milky Way. Sophisticated computer programs are our tools to find them,” said Jerjen.

    Because it is so faint, ultra-deep follow-up observations using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph [GMOS] (in imaging mode) confirmed that the new globular cluster is among the faintest Milky Way globular clusters ever found.

    Gemini Multi Object Spectrograph

    Seven out of 150 known Milky Way globular clusters are comparably faint but none are located as far out toward the edge of the Milky Way. This new globular cluster has 10-20 times fewer stars than any of the other outer halo globular clusters. Also, its star density is less than half of that of other Milky Way globular clusters in the same luminosity (brightness) range.

    The new star cluster, named Kim 2, also shows evidence of significant mass loss over its history. Computer simulations predict that, as a consequence of their evolution over many billions of years, including the slow loss of member stars due to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way, star clusters ought to be arranged such that their more massive stars are concentrated toward their centers. “This ‘mass segregation’ has been difficult to observe, particularly in low mass clusters, but the excellent Gemini data reveal that Kim 2 appears to be mass segregated and has therefore likely lost much of its original mass,” said Da Costa. The finding suggests that a substantial number of low-luminosity globular clusters must have existed in the halo when the Milky Way was younger, but most of them might have evaporated due to internal dynamical processes.

    The observed properties of the new star cluster also raise the question about how such a low luminosity system could have survived until today. One possible scenario is that Kim 2 is not actually a genuine member of the Milky Way globular cluster family, but a star cluster originally located in a satellite dwarf galaxy and was accreted into the Milky Way’s halo. This picture is also supported by the fact that the stars in Kim 2 appear to be more chemically enriched with heavier elements than the other outer halo globular clusters and are young relative to the oldest globular clusters in the Milky Way. As a consequence of spending much of its life in a dwarf galaxy Kim 2 could have largely escaped the destructive influence of tidal forces, thus helping it to survive until the present epoch.

    There are many Milky Way globular clusters formerly and currently associated with satellite dwarf galaxies. It is possible that a significant fraction of the ancient satellite dwarf galaxies were completely disrupted by the tidal field of the Milky Way while the high density of the globular clusters allowed them to survive in our galaxy’s halo. Indeed, Kim 2 is found close to the vast polar structure of Milky Way satellite galaxies, a disc-like region surrounding the Milky Way where satellite galaxies and young halo clusters preferentially congregate. A similar distribution of satellite galaxies is also found in the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy.

    A large fraction of the Milky Way’s halo is thought to be populated with optically elusive satellite galaxies and star clusters. New discoveries of satellite galaxies and globular clusters will therefore provide valuable information about the formation and the structure of the Milky Way. Previous surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have contributed to many new discoveries in the northern sky. However, most of the southern sky still remains unexplored to date. The detection of Kim 2 suggests that there are a substantial number of interesting astronomical objects waiting to be discovered in the southern hemisphere and the Stromlo Milky Way Satellite Survey team plans to continue searching for them.

    The team’s paper, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, is available as a preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1502.03952.

    • The Stromlo Milky Way Satellite Survey is led by Australian National University’s Associate Professor Helmut Jerjen. The research team includes Dongwon Kim, Antonino Milone, Dougal Mackey, and Gary Da Costa (all from the Australian National University). See project website at: http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~jerjen/SMS_Survey.html

    See the full article here.

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    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.

  • richardmitnick 6:45 pm on March 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    From MIT: “New technique allows analysis of clouds around exoplanets” 

    MIT News

    Analysis of data from the Kepler space telescope has shown that roughly half of the dayside of the exoplanet Kepler-7b is covered by a large cloud mass. Statistical comparison of more than 1,000 atmospheric models show that these clouds are most likely made of Enstatite, a common Earth mineral that is in vapor form at the extreme temperature on Kepler-7b. These models varied the altitude, condensation, particle size, and chemical composition of the clouds to find the right reflectivity and color properties to match the observed signal from the exoplanet.

    Courtesy of NASA (edited by Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

    March 3, 2015
    Helen Knight | MIT News

    Meteorologists sometimes struggle to accurately predict the weather here on Earth, but now we can find out how cloudy it is on planets outside our solar system, thanks to researchers at MIT.

    In a paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT describe a technique that analyzes data from NASA’s Kepler space observatory to determine the types of clouds on planets that orbit other stars, known as exoplanets.

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    The team, led by Kerri Cahoy, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, has already used the method to determine the properties of clouds on the exoplanet Kepler-7b. The planet is known as a “hot Jupiter,” as temperatures in its atmosphere hover at around 1,700 kelvins.

    NASA’s Kepler spacecraft was designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It was pointed at a fixed patch of space, constantly monitoring the brightness of 145,000 stars. An orbiting exoplanet crossing in front of one of these stars causes a temporary dimming of this brightness, allowing researchers to detect its presence.

    Researchers have previously shown that by studying the variations in the amount of light coming from these star systems as a planet transits, or crosses in front or behind them, they can detect the presence of clouds in that planet’s atmosphere. That is because particles within the clouds will scatter different wavelengths of light.

    Modeling cloud formation

    To find out if this data could be used to determine the composition of these clouds, the MIT researchers studied the light signal from Kepler-7b. They used models of the temperature and pressure of the planet’s atmosphere to determine how different types of clouds would form within it, says lead author Matthew Webber, a graduate student in Cahoy’s group at MIT.

    “We then used those cloud models to determine how light would reflect off the atmosphere of the planet [for each type of cloud], and tried to match these possibilities to the actual observations from the Kepler mission itself,” Webber says. “So we ran a large set of models, to see which models fit best statistically to the observations.”

    By working backward in this way, they were able to match the Kepler spacecraft data to a type of cloud made out of vaporized silicates and magnesium. The extremely high temperatures in the Kepler-7b atmosphere mean that some minerals that commonly exist as rocks on Earth’s surface instead exist as vapors high up in the planet’s atmosphere. These mineral vapors form small cloud particles as they cool and condense.

    Kepler-7b is a tidally locked planet, meaning it always shows the same face to its star — just as the moon does to Earth. As a result, around half of the planet’s day side — that which constantly faces the star — is covered by these magnesium silicate clouds, the team found.

    “We are really doing nothing more complicated than putting a telescope into space and staring at a star with a camera,” Cahoy says. “Then we can use what we know about the universe, in terms of temperatures and pressures, how things mix, how they stratify in an atmosphere, to try to figure out what mix of things would be causing the observations that we’re seeing from these very basic instruments,” she says.

    A clue on exoplanet atmospheres

    Understanding the properties of the clouds on Kepler-7b, such as their mineral composition and average particle size, tells us a lot about the underlying physical nature of the planet’s atmosphere, says team member Nikole Lewis, a postdoc in EAPS. What’s more, the method could be used to study the properties of clouds on different types of planet, Lewis says: “It’s one of the few methods out there that can help you determine if a planet even has an atmosphere, for example.”

    A planet’s cloud coverage and composition also has a significant impact on how much of the energy from its star it will reflect, which in turn affects its climate and ultimately its habitability, Lewis says. “So right now we are looking at these big gas-giant planets because they give us a stronger signal,” she says. “But the same methodology could be applied to smaller planets, to help us determine if a planet is habitable or not.”

    The researchers hope to use the method to analyze data from NASA’s follow-up to the Kepler mission, known as K2, which began studying different patches of space last June. They also hope to use it on data from MIT’s planned Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, says Cahoy.


    “TESS is the follow-up to Kepler, led by principal investigator George Ricker, a senior research scientist in the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. It will essentially be taking similar measurements to Kepler, but of different types of stars,” Cahoy says. “Kepler was tasked with staring at one group of stars, but there are a lot of stars, and TESS is going to be sampling the brightest stars across the whole sky,” she says.

    This paper is the first to take circulation models including clouds and compare them with the observed distribution of clouds on Kepler-7b, says Heather Knutson, an assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech who was not involved in the research.

    “Their models indicate that the clouds on this planet are most likely made from liquid rock,” Knutson says. “This may sound exotic, but this planet is a roasting hot gas-giant planet orbiting very close to its host star, and we should expect that it might look quite different than our own Jupiter.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:05 pm on March 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    From Chandra: “Abell 2597: NASA’s Chandra Observatory Finds Cosmic Showers Halt Galaxy Growth” 

    NASA Chandra

    March 4, 2015

    Media contacts:
    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington

    Janet Anderson
    Marshall Space Flight Center

    Megan Watzke
    Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

    New research shows how an unusual form of cosmic precipitation can affect the growth and evolution of galaxies. Over 200 galaxy clusters were surveyed in this new study using X-ray data from Chandra. These results provide evidence that this precipitation can slow down star formation in galaxies with giant black holes.




    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/Michigan State Univ/G.Voit et al; Optical: NASA/STScI & DSS; H-alpha: Carnegie Obs./Magellan/W.Baade Telescope
    Release Date March 4, 2015

    This galaxy cluster comes from a sample of over 200 that were studied to determine how giant black holes at their centers affect the growth and evolution of their host galaxy, as reported in our latest press release. This study revealed that an unusual form of cosmic precipitation enables a feedback loop of cooling and heating, stifling star formation in the middle of these galaxy clusters.

    Abell 2597, shown here, is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth. This image contains X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Digitized Sky Survey (yellow) and emission from hydrogen atoms (red) from the Walter Baade Telescope in Chile.

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Magellan 6.5 meter telescopes
    Magellan 6.5 meter Interior
    Walter Baade Telescope

    According to this new study, the regulation of the largest black hole and their host galaxies works as follows: in some galaxies, such as NGC 2597, hot gas is able to quickly cool through radiation and energy loss, in a process called precipitation. The clouds of cool gas that result then fall into the central supermassive black hole, producing jets that heat the gas and prevent further cooling.

    The researchers used Chandra data to estimate how long it should take for the gas to cool at different distances from the black holes in the study. Using that information, they were able to accurately predict the “weather” around each of the black holes.

    They found that the precipitation feedback loop driven by energy produced by the black hole jets prevents the showers of cold clouds from getting too strong. The Chandra data indicate that the regulation of this precipitation has been going on for the last 7 billion years or more.

    While a rain of cool clouds appears to play a key role in regulating the growth of some galaxies, the researchers have found other galaxies where the cosmic precipitation had shut off. The intense heat in these central galaxies, possibly from colliding with another galaxy cluster, likely “dried up” the precipitation around the black hole.

    Evidence was also found, in a few galaxy clusters, that strong bursts of outflows from regions near the black hole may have temporarily shut down precipitation, but the heating is not strong enough to result in conduction. In these cases, further cooling of gas should occur and active precipitation should resume in a few hundred million years.

    A pre-print of the Nature study by Mark Voit (Michigan State University), Megan Donahue (Michigan State), Greg Bryan (Columbia University), and Michael McDonald (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is available online; the study builds on work by Voit and Donahue that was published in the January 20th, 2015 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available online.

    See the full article here.

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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 5:27 pm on March 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    From JPL: “Planet ‘Reared’ by Four Parent Stars” 


    March 4, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    This artist’s conception shows the 30 Ari system, which includes four stars and a planet. The planet, a gas giant, orbits its primary star (yellow) in about a year’s time. The primary star, called 30 Ari B, has a companion — the small “red dwarf” star shown at upper left. This pair of stars is itself locked in a long-distance orbit with another pair of stars (upper right), known as 30 Ari A. Researchers using instruments at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif., recently discovered the red star at upper left, bringing the total number of known stars in the system from three to four.

    — Astronomers have discovered the second known case of a planet residing in a quadruple star system.

    — The planet was known before, but was thought to have only three stars, not four.

    — The findings help researchers understand how multiple star systems can influence the development and fate of planets.

    Growing up as a planet with more than one parent star has its challenges. Though the planets in our solar system circle just one star — our sun — other more distant planets, called exoplanets, can be reared in families with two or more stars. Researchers wanting to know more about the complex influences of multiple stars on planets have come up with two new case studies: a planet found to have three parents, and another with four.

    The discoveries were made using instruments fitted to telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego: the Robo-AO adaptive optics system, developed by the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in India and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and the PALM-3000 adaptive optics system, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Caltech.

    Caltech Palomar 1.5m 60in telescope
    Caltech Palomar 1.5 m 60in telescope interior
    60″ telescope at Palomar with Robo-AO adaptive optics system

    Caltech Palomar Hale Telescope
    Caltech Palomar Hale Telescope interior
    200″ Hale Telescope at Palomar with PALM-3000 adaptive optics system

    This is only the second time a planet has been identified in a quadruple star system. While the planet was known before, it was thought to have only three stars, not four. The first four-star planet, KIC 4862625, was discovered in 2013 by citizen scientists using public data from NASA’s Kepler mission.

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    The latest discovery suggests that planets in quadruple star systems might be less rare than once thought. In fact, recent research has shown that this type of star system, which usually consists of two pairs of twin stars slowly circling each other at great distances, is itself more common than previously believed.

    “About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving,” said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

    The newfound four-star planetary system, called 30 Ari, is located 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The system’s gaseous planet is enormous, with 10 times the mass of Jupiter, and it orbits its primary star every 335 days. The primary star has a relatively close partner star, which the planet does not orbit. This pair, in turn, is locked in a long-distance orbit with another pair of stars about 1,670 astronomical units away (an astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun). Astronomers think it’s highly unlikely that this planet, or any moons that might circle it, could sustain life.

    Were it possible to see the skies from this world, the four parent stars would look like one small sun and two very bright stars that would be visible in daylight. One of those stars, if viewed with a large enough telescope, would be revealed to be a binary system, or two stars orbiting each other.

    In recent years, dozens of planets with two or three parent stars have been found, including those with “Tatooine” sunsets reminiscent of the Star Wars movies. Finding planets with multiple parents isn’t too much of a surprise, considering that binary stars are more common in our galaxy than single stars.

    “Star systems come in myriad forms. There can be single stars, binary stars, triple stars, even quintuple star systems,” said Lewis Roberts of JPL, lead author of the new findings appearing in the journal Astronomical Journal. “It’s amazing the way nature puts these things together.”

    Roberts and his colleagues want to understand the effects that multiple parent stars can have on their developing youthful planets. Evidence suggests that stellar companions can influence the fate of planets by changing the planets’ orbits and even triggering some to grow more massive. For example, the “hot Jupiters” — planets around the mass of Jupiter that whip closely around their stars in just days — might be gently nudged closer to their primary parent star by the gravitational hand of a stellar companion.

    In the new study, the researchers describe using the automated Robo-AO system on Palomar Observatory to scan the night skies, searching hundreds of stars each night for signs of stellar companions. They found two candidates hosting exoplanets: the four-star system 30 Ari, and a triple-star planetary system called HD 2638. The findings were confirmed using the higher-resolution PALM-3000 instrument, also at Palomar Observatory.

    The new planet with a trio of stars is a hot Jupiter that circles its primary star tightly, completing one lap every three days. Scientists already knew this primary star was locked in a gravitational tango with another star, about 0.7 light-years away, or 44,000 astronomical units. That’s relatively far apart for a pair of stellar companions. The latest discovery is of a third star in the system, which orbits the primary star from a distance of 28 astronomical units — close enough to have influenced the hot Jupiter’s development and final orbit.

    “This result strengthens the connection between multiple star systems and massive planets,” said Roberts.

    In the case of Ari 30, the discovery brought the number of known stars in the system from three to four. The fourth star lies at a distance of 23 astronomical units from the planet. While this stellar companion and its planet are closer to each other than those in the HD 2638 system, the newfound star does not appear to have impacted the orbit of the planet. The exact reason for this is uncertain, so the team is planning further observations to better understand the orbit of the star and its complicated family dynamics.

    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 8:30 pm on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    From SEN: “Massive exoplanet has extreme orbit around red giant” 


    28 February 2015
    Jenny Winder


    Sen—Two groups of astronomers from Germany have, independently of each other, discovered an unusually dense and massive planet which orbits a red giant star.

    The teams, one led by Mauricio Ortiz of the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH), and the other by Simona Ciceri of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in the same city, report that Kepler-432b has six times the mass of Jupiter, but is about the same size, making it one of the most dense and massive exoplanets, a planet outside our Solar System, known so far.

    Kepler-432b was first noticed when NASA’s Kepler space telescope recorded tiny dips in the brightness of the planet’s host star, as the planet passed directly in front of the star, a “planetary transit”. The two Heidelberg teams were able to confirm the planet using the CAFE spectrograph at the 2.2-metre telescope at Calar Alto Observatory and the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, to detect the planet’s traces in the spectrum of the star, the “radial velocity method”.

    Calar Alto Observatory
    The 2.2 metre telescope at Calar Alto Observatory

    Nordic Optical Telescope
    Nordic Opitcal Telescope Interior
    Nordic Optical Telescope

    Only five planets, including Kepler-432b, have been observed which are unusually close to their red giant hosts. Of these, only two, namely Kepler-432b and Kepler-91b have been observed sufficiently closely to determine both their mass and their size

    Dr Davide Gandolfi, from the state observatory Königstuhl, told Sen: “The highly eccentric orbit brings Kepler-432b to ‘only’ 24 million km (15 million miles) from its host star, before taking it to about three times as far away. This creates enormous temperature differences over the course of the planet’s year, which is equivalent to 52 Earth days.

    “The majority of known planets moving around giant stars have large and circular orbits. With its small and highly elongated orbit, Kepler-432b is a real ‘maverick’ among planets of this type,” he added.

    The orbit of Kepler-432b is highly elongated. As a consequence, the distance between the planet and the star, as well as the temperature on the planet, change dramatically over the course of the planet’s year.

    Illustration of the orbit of Kepler-432b (inner, red) in comparison to the orbit of Mercury around the Sun (outer, orange). Image credit: Dr Sabine Reffert

    “During the winter season, the temperature on Kepler-432b is roughly 500° Celsius. In the short summer season, it can increase to nearly 1,000° Celsius,” said astronomer Dr Sabine Reffert, also based at Königstuhl.

    Of the nearly 1,900 exoplanets known, around 50 orbit red giant stars, which are stars in the later stages of their lives. Kepler-432b’s parent star has already exhausted the nuclear fuel in its core and is gradually expanding. Its radius is already four times that of our Sun and it will get even larger in the future. Planets too close to such a star will be swallowed up, and planets orbiting too close to the red giant’s surface are likely to be drawn in and swallowed within tens or a few hundreds of million years.

    Astronomers do not expect to observe many examples of such a fairly short-lived phenomenon. Ciceri said. “At this point, there are two possibilities: Either we have been unusually lucky to observe two rare, close planetary orbits such as those of Kepler-432b and Kepler-91b. Or else, planets like these survive for much longer than was previously assumed.”

    Ortiz added: “The days of Kepler-432b are numbered. In less than 200 million years, Kepler-432b will be swallowed by its continually expanding host star. This might be the reason why we do not find other planets like Kepler-432b—astronomically speaking, their lives are extremely short”.

    See the full article here.

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    The vision of Sen—space exploration network—is to create a global space content network. Sen provides space news and information on the science, economics and government of space and in so doing aims to:
    —promote interest in space;
    —raise awareness of the reality of humankind and Earth in the Universe, providing a different perspective to life on this planet;
    —educate and encourage consideration of the physics, economics and government of space;
    —create a community in which people can learn, debate and share information about space;
    —further the exploration of space;
    —film the universe forever building an electronic version of the universe, a never ending work of art, creating Sen Universe – a computerised to scale 3D universe, starting with the Solar System. Sen Universe will replace computer imagery with real film and imagery as our exploration of the universe continues, forever building an electronic version of the universe, a never ending work of art and science.
    —Ultimately, in achieving the above, Sen aims to be a business without boundary in space and time.

    Space is everything, it affects everything – it defines our environment, the government of mankind, relations, the future. By promoting interest and awareness of space a different perspective of our conduct and government of life on the planet can be obtained in the hope of creating a united planet.

    Sen will aim to be an enterprise that represents the best human effort at creating an enterprise without boundary in space and time.

  • richardmitnick 7:24 pm on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astronomy, , , Infrared Astronomy,   

    From ESO And ALMA: “An Old-looking Galaxy in a Young Universe” 

    ESO ALMA Array

    European Southern Observatory

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    2 March 2015

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

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

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

    Darach Watson
    Niels Bohr Institute
    University of Copenhagen, Denmark
    Tel: +45 2480 3825
    Email: darach@dark-cosmology.dk

    Kirsten K. Knudsen
    Chalmers University of Technology
    Onsala, Sweden
    Tel: +46 31 772 5526
    Cell: +46 709 750 956
    Email: kirsten.knudsen@chalmers.se

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


    One of the most distant galaxies ever observed has provided astronomers with the first detection of dust in such a remote star-forming system and tantalising evidence for the rapid evolution of galaxies after the Big Bang. The new observations have used ALMA to pick up the faint glow from cold dust in the galaxy A1689-zD1 and used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to measure its distance.

    A team of astronomers, led by Darach Watson from the University of Copenhagen, used the Very Large Telescope’s X-shooter instrument along with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe one of the youngest and most remote galaxies ever found.

    ESO VLT X-shooter

    They were surprised to discover a far more evolved system than expected. It had a fraction of dust similar to a very mature galaxy, such as the Milky Way. Such dust is vital to life, because it helps form planets, complex molecules and normal stars.

    The target of their observations is called A1689-zD1 [1]. It is observable only by virtue of its brightness being amplified more than nine times by a gravitational lens in the form of the spectacular galaxy cluster, Abell 1689, which lies between the young galaxy and the Earth. Without the gravitational boost, the glow from this very faint galaxy would have been too weak to detect.

    We are seeing A1689-zD1 when the Universe was only about 700 million years old — five percent of its present age [2]. It is a relatively modest system — much less massive and luminous than many other objects that have been studied before at this stage in the early Universe and hence a more typical example of a galaxy at that time.


    A1689-zD1 is being observed as it was during the period of reionisation, when the earliest stars brought with them a cosmic dawn, illuminating for the first time an immense and transparent Universe and ending the extended stagnation of the [cosmic] Dark Ages. Expected to look like a newly formed system, the galaxy surprised the observers with its rich chemical complexity and abundance of interstellar dust.

    “After confirming the galaxy’s distance using the VLT,” said Darach Watson, “we realised it had previously been observed with ALMA. We didn’t expect to find much, but I can tell you we were all quite excited when we realised that not only had ALMA observed it, but that there was a clear detection. One of the main goals of the ALMA Observatory was to find galaxies in the early Universe from their cold gas and dust emissions — and here we had it!”

    This galaxy was a cosmic infant — but it proved to be precocious. At this age it would be expected to display a lack of heavier chemical elements — anything heavier than hydrogen and helium, defined in astronomy as metals. These are produced in the bellies of stars and scattered far and wide once the stars explode or otherwise perish. This process needs to be repeated for many stellar generations to produce a significant abundance of the heavier elements such as carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.

    Surprisingly, the galaxy A1689-zD1 seemed to be emitting a lot of radiation in the far infrared [3], indicating that it had already produced many of its stars and significant quantities of metals, and revealed that it not only contained dust, but had a dust-to-gas ratio that was similar to that of much more mature galaxies.

    “Although the exact origin of galactic dust remains obscure,” explains Darach Watson, “our findings indicate that its production occurs very rapidly, within only 500 million years of the beginning of star formation in the Universe — a very short cosmological time frame, given that most stars live for billions of years.”

    The findings suggest A1689-zD1 to have been consistently forming stars at a moderate rate since 560 million years after the Big Bang, or else to have passed through its period of extreme starburst very rapidly before entering a declining state of star formation.

    Prior to this result, there had been concerns among astronomers that such distant galaxies would not be detectable in this way, but A1689-zD1 was detected using only brief observations with ALMA.

    Kirsten Knudsen (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden), co-author of the paper, added, “This amazingly dusty galaxy seems to have been in a rush to make its first generations of stars. In the future, ALMA will be able to help us to find more galaxies like this, and learn just what makes them so keen to grow up.”

    [1] This galaxy was noticed earlier in the Hubble images, and suspected to be very distant, but the distance could not be confirmed at that time.

    [2] This corresponds to a redshift of 7.5.

    [3] This radiation is stretched by the expansion of the Universe into the millimetre wavelength range by the time it gets to Earth and hence can be detected with ALMA.
    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled A dusty, normal galaxy in the epoch of reionization by D. Watson et al., to appear online in the journal Nature on 2 March 2015.

    The team is composed of D. Watson (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), L. Christensen (University of Copenhagen), K. K. Knudsen (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden), J. Richard (CRAL, Observatoire de Lyon, Saint Genis Laval, France), A. Gallazzi (INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Firenze, Italy) and M. J. Michalowski (SUPA, Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, UK).

    See the full article here.

    Hubble’s results

    Abell 1689
    This new Hubble image shows galaxy cluster Abell 1689. It combines both visible and infrared data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) with a combined exposure time of over 34 hours (image on left over 13 hours, image on right over 20 hours) to reveal this patch of sky in greater and striking detail than in previous observations.

    This image is peppered with glowing golden clumps, bright stars, and distant, ethereal spiral galaxies. Material from some of these galaxies is being stripped away, giving the impression that the galaxy is dripping, or bleeding, into the surrounding space. Also visible are a number of electric blue streaks, circling and arcing around the fuzzy galaxies in the centre.
    These streaks are the telltale signs of a cosmic phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. Abell 1689 is so massive that it bends and warps the space around it, affecting how light from objects behind the cluster travels through space. These streaks are the distorted forms of galaxies that lie behind the cluster.
    Date 12 September 2013
    NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Blakeslee (NRC Herzberg Astrophysics Program, Dominion Astrophysical Observatory), and H. Ford (JHU)

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    NASA Hubble ACS
    Hubble’s ACS

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    ESO Main

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

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

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

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  • richardmitnick 6:01 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    From Hubble: “A young star takes centre stage” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope


    2 March 2015

    Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble
    Karl Stapelfeldt (GSFC), B. Stecklum and A. Choudhary (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Germany)
    Hubble Space Telescope WFPC2

    NASA Hubble WFPC2

    With its helical appearance resembling a snail’s shell, this reflection nebula seems to spiral out from a luminous central star in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image.

    The star in the centre, known as V1331 Cyg and located in the dark cloud LDN 981 — or, more commonly, Lynds 981 — had previously been defined as a T Tauri star. A T Tauri is a young star — or Young Stellar Object — that is starting to contract to become a main sequence star similar to the Sun.

    What makes V1331Cyg special is the fact that we look almost exactly at one of its poles. Usually, the view of a young star is obscured by the dust from the circumstellar disc and the envelope that surround it. However, with V1331Cyg we are actually looking in the exact direction of a jet driven by the star that is clearing the dust and giving us this magnificent view.

    This view provides an almost undisturbed view of the star and its immediate surroundings allowing astronomers to study it in greater detail and look for features that might suggest the formation of a very low-mass object in the outer circumstellar disc.

    See the full article here.

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

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  • richardmitnick 9:29 am on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, , Sky and Telescope, U Toronto Dragonfly Telescope Array   

    From S&S: “Dark Galaxies Discovered in Coma Cluster” 

    Sky and Telescope

    Sky and Telescope News

    November 19, 2014
    Monica Young

    Coma Cluster
    Adam Block / Mount Lemmon SkyCenter / University of Arizona

    The Coma Cluster, visible in the evening skies of spring and summer, reveals its jewel box to large backyard telescopes: several thousand galaxies sardine-packed into a space only 20 million light-years across.

    But there’s more to the Coma Cluster than meets the eye — or the backyard telescope.

    Pieter van Dokkum (Yale University) and colleagues took a unique look at Coma through the Dragonfly Telephoto Array, eight Canon telephoto lenses coupled to CCD cameras. The Dragonfly is designed to find faint, fuzzy blobs, but what its images revealed surprised the team.

    U Toronto Dunlap Dragonfly telescope Array
    The Dragonfly Telephoto Array currently consists of ten Canon telephoto lenses coupled to CCD cameras. (The paper used eight lens/CCD pairings.) The array is designed to image low surface brightness objects. Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics / University of Toronto

    On Coma’s outskirts lurk 47 galaxies similar in size to the Milky Way — but with 1,000 times fewer stars. To survive in crowded Coma, these dark galaxies must contain 98% dark matter to hold themselves together, much higher than the fraction in the universe at large (83%).

    Hubble imaging picked up one of the dark galaxies serendipitously. The galaxy’s smattering of red stars is barely visible against the backdrop.
    Pieter van Dokkum & others

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    The galaxies’ size depends on their distance, so to make sure this result wasn’t just a trick of perspective, van Dokkum and colleagues had to make sure these galaxies really belonged to the Coma cluster, more than 300 million light-years away. If they turned out to live nearby, the galaxies’ size would be akin to regular ol’ dwarf galaxies.

    Determining cluster membership was a challenge because the objects are far too faint to study in the usual ways, such as taking a spectrum to determine their distance. Nonetheless, “van Dokkum and his co-authors make quite a convincing case,” says Mark den Brok (University of Utah).

    The authors initially expected the galaxies to be distributed randomly, as they would be if they lay in the foreground near the Milky Way. Instead, the galaxies cluster around the center of the image in the cluster’s periphery. The discovery of a serendipitous Hubble image of one of the galaxies strengthened the team’s case, den Brok says, definitively showing that it doesn’t have the traits of a nearby dwarf galaxy.

    Starless Galaxies

    Somehow these weirdly faint galaxies have lost their stars — or they never had many stars in the first place. Van Dokkum and colleagues suggest that these may be “failed” galaxies, having forfeited most of their star-building gas after hosting a first generation of stars.

    Simulations that track the evolution of large-scale structure suggest that even normal galaxies start out with three times more star-building material than they develop into stars. So whatever process works to limit star formation in normal galaxies is working particularly well in these dark matter-rich galaxies.

    “Our simulations have shown that one way to limit star formation so drastically is to use the energy stars produce when they blow up as supernovae,” says Greg Stinson (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany). “It turns out that this disruption leads directly to galaxies that look like the ones van Dokkum is seeing.”

    “I was actually very much relieved to see Prof. van Dokkum’s paper,” Stinson adds. Dark matter simulations have been producing galaxies with exactly the size and matter distribution that van Dokkum’s team observed, but such galaxies are naturally difficult to observe.

    It’s ironic that dark matter-rich galaxies were discovered in Coma, the birthplace of dark matter theory. Observations of the same cluster in 1933 helped Fritz Zwicky (Caltech) first conceive of the invisible matter that shapes the large-scale structure of the universe. Now ever-deeper observations continue to help astronomers understand dark matter’s role in galaxy evolution.

    See the full article here.

    Another view of the Coma Cluster

    A Sloan Digital Sky Survey/Spitzer Space Telescope mosaic of the Coma Cluster in long-wavelength infrared (red), short-wavelength infrared (green), and visible light. The many faint green smudges are dwarf galaxies in the cluster.
    Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SDSS

    SDSS Telescope
    SDSS telescope

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

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    About Sky & Telescope

    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.

    A Brief History of Sky & Telescope

    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.

    The Telescope

    Meanwhile, The Telescope first appeared as a quarterly magazine in March 1931 under the editorship of Harlan Stetson, director of the Perkins Observatory in Ohio. It featured popular articles about contemporary research written by professional astronomers. In 1934 Stetson moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and brought the magazine with him. Publishing duties were assumed by the Harvard College Observatory (HCO), and The Telescope became bimonthly.

    A New Beginning

    The first issue of the merged Sky & Telescope came out in November 1941, just one month before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

  • richardmitnick 8:39 am on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    From Cornell: “The Irving Porter Church Telescope” 

    Cornell Bloc

    Cornell University

    Michael Roman


    Fuertes Observatory was completed in 1917 with a dome capable of housing a 12-inch (0.3 m) equatorial refracting telescope; however, at the time, the University had yet to acquire such a telescope. Several small “transit” telescopes used for instruction in civil engineering and geodesy were installed on piers in the eastern wing of the observatory, while a 4 1/2″ (0.11 m) equatorial telescope owned by the College of Civil Engineering was temporarily installed in place of the anticipated 12″.

    Cornell Fuertes Observatory
    Fuertes Observatory

    By 1919, A pair of 12″ surplus flint and crown glass blanks was acquired from Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago by Irving Porter Church (’73), the retired chair of the Department of Civil Engineering at Cornell. These were delivered to the Pittsburgh firm, the John A. Brashear Co., where they were polished and figured, and delivered to Cornell in 1920, the year of Brashear’s death.

    The renowned Warner and Swasey company was contracted early in 1922 to build a mounting, which was completed and installed at Cornell in October of that year. Much of the necessary funds for the mounting were obtained through donations from alumni. The dedication, held on 15 June 1923, named the telescope for Professor Church, who was then still alive.

    The telescope optics consist of a 12″ (0.3m) pair of objective lenses, ground of crown and flint glass, that form an achromatic lens with a focal length of 180″ (4.6m) and a focal ratio of f/15. Brashear-made optics commonly place the flint element of glass “forward” towards the sky, unlike most refractor designs. Such is the case for the Irving Porter Church refractor; the forward element is a negative meniscus lens made of flint glass, while the rear element is a positive biconvex lens made of crown glass. The achromat doublet was designed for “visual” correction of colors, with the shapes of the two objective lenses calculated to produce the least amount of color fringing in the wavelengths where the eye is most sensitive — that is, the green to yellow region. As a result, bright stars exhibit a blue-violet halo from poor focus outside the eye’s most sensitive region.

    The telescope includes an auxiliary color correction lens, midway in the telescope tube, which can be inserted into the beam to change the correction of colors to produce best focus in the violet to blue section of the spectrum: this was intended to make the telescope function well with photographic plates available at the time of its construction, whose chief sensitivity was in this color range.

    Professor Church died in 1931. In 1964, monies were obtained to endow an Irving Porter Church professorship in engineering — this prestigious post is currently held by Joseph A. Burns, professor of engineering and astronomy.

    The Irving Porter Church telescope is open to the public on most Friday nights throughout the year, courtesy of the Cornell Astronomical Society.

    See the full article here.

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    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

  • richardmitnick 5:04 am on February 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomy, ,   

    from NASA Wise: “Living on the Edge: Stars Found Far from Galaxy Center” 


    February 27, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Like early explorers mapping the continents of our globe, astronomers are busy charting the spiral structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Using infrared images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have discovered that the Milky Way’s elegant spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

    Previously, our galaxy was thought to possess four major arms. This artist’s concept illustrates the new view of the Milky Way, along with other findings presented at the 212th American Astronomical Society meeting in St. Louis, Mo. The galaxy’s two major arms (Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus) can be seen attached to the ends of a thick central bar, while the two now-demoted minor arms (Norma and Sagittarius) are less distinct and located between the major arms. The major arms consist of the highest densities of both young and old stars; the minor arms are primarily filled with gas and pockets of star-forming activity. The artist’s concept also includes a new spiral arm, called the “Far-3 kiloparsec arm,” discovered via a radio-telescope survey of gas in the Milky Way. This arm is shorter than the two major arms and lies along the bar of the galaxy. Our sun lies near a small, partial arm called the Orion Arm, or Orion Spur, located between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Astronomers using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, have found a cluster of stars forming at the very edge of our Milky Way galaxy.

    “A stellar nursery in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is quite surprising,” said Peter Eisenhardt, the project scientist for the WISE mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But surprises turn up when you look everywhere, as the WISE survey did.”

    The discovery, led by Denilso Camargo of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, appears in a new study in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, has a barred spiral shape, with arms of stars, gas and dust winding out from a central bar. Viewed from the side, the galaxy would appear relatively flat, with most of the material in a disk and the central regions.

    Using infrared survey images from WISE, the team discovered two clusters of stars thousands of light-years below the galactic disk. The stars live in dense clumps of gas called giant molecular clouds.

    This is the first time astronomers have found stars being born in such a remote location. Clouds of star-forming material at very high latitudes away
 from the galactic plane are rare and, in general, are not expected to form stars.

    “Our work shows that the space around the galaxy is a lot less empty that we thought,” said Camargo. “The new clusters of stars are truly exotic. In a few million years, any inhabitants of planets around the stars will have a grand view of the outside of the Milky Way, something no human being will probably ever experience.”

    To learn more about the discovery, and what might have caused the stars to form at the edge of our galaxy, read the Royal Astronomical Society news release at:


    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission’s principal investigator, Edward L. (Ned) Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected in 2002 under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp, Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing will take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    The mission’s education and public outreach office is based at the University of California, Berkeley.

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