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  • richardmitnick 10:21 pm on June 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astrophysics, , , , , NASA's Next Flagship Mission May Be A Crushing Disappointment For Astrophysics   

    From Ethan Siegel: “NASA’s Next Flagship Mission May Be A Crushing Disappointment For Astrophysics” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    Jun 19, 2018

    1
    Various long-exposure campaigns, like the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) shown here, have revealed thousands of galaxies in a volume of the Universe that represents a fraction of a millionth of the sky. Ambitious, flagship-class observatories are needed to take the next great leap forward for science. NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

    Every ten years, the field of astronomy and astrophysics undergoes a Decadal Survey. This charts out the path that NASA’s astrophysics division will follow for the next decade, including what types of questions they’ll investigate, which missions will be funded, and what won’t be chosen. The greatest scientific advances of all come when we invest a large amount of resources in a single, ultra-powerful, multi-purpose observatory, such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    These are high-risk, high-reward propositions. If the mission succeeds, we can learn an unprecedented amount about the Universe as never before.

    2
    Star birth in the Carina Nebula, in the optical (top) and the infrared (bottom). Our willingness to invest in fundamental science is directly related to how much we can learn about the Universe. NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

    Even though the mission proposals go through NASA, its the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences that ultimately make the recommendations. Since the inception of NASA in the 1960s, these Decadal Surveys have shaped the field of astronomy and astrophysics research. They brought us our greatest ground-based and space-based observatories. On the ground, radio arrays like the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array, as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, owe their origins to the decadal surveys.

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    NRAO VLBA

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

    Space-based missions include NASA’s great observatories: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory Even though the mission proposals go through NASA, its the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences that ultimately make the recommendations. Since the inception of NASA in the 1960s, these Decadal Surveys have shaped the field of astronomy and astrophysics research. They brought us our greatest ground-based and space-based observatories. On the ground, radio arrays like the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array, as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, owe their origins to the decadal surveys. Space-based missions include NASA’s great observatories: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory in the 1990s and early 2000s.

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope


    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    NASA Compton Gamma Ray Observatory

    4
    NASA’s Fermi Satellite has constructed the highest resolution, high-energy map of the Universe ever created. Without space-based observatories such as this one, we could never learn all that we have about the Universe. NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

    NASA/Fermi LAT


    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    More recent Decadal Surveys, conducted this millennium, will bring us the James Webb Space Telescope, the WFIRST observatory designed to probe dark energy and exoplanets, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), among others.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    NASA/WFIRST

    LSST


    LSST Camera, built at SLAC



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

    They’ve identified the major, most important science goals of astronomy and astrophysics, including dark energy, exoplanets, supernovae, mergers of extreme objects, and the formation of the first stars and the large-scale structure of the Universe. But there was a warning issued in 2001’s report that hasn’t been heeded, and now it’s creating an enormous problem.

    5
    The 2010 NASA mission timeline doesn’t just show a planned James Webb, but an enormous suite of missions that require ongoing funding. Without a commensurate increase in funds, that means fewer resources available for new missions. NASA Astrophysics Division.

    While a robust astronomy program has many benefits for the nation and the world, it’s vital to have a diverse portfolio of missions and observatories. Prior Decadal Surveys have simultaneously stressed the importance of the large flagship missions that drive the field forward like no other type of mission can, while warning against investing too much in these flagships at the expense of other small and medium-sized missions.

    They’ve also stressed the importance of providing additional funding or securing external funding to support ongoing missions, facilities, and observatories. Without it, the development of new missions is hamstrung by the need to continually fund the existing ones.

    6
    As a percentage of the federal budget, investment in NASA is at a 58 year low; at only 0.4% of the budget, you have to go back to 1959 to find a year where we invested a smaller percentage in our nation’s space agency. Office of Management & Budget.

    Many austerity proponents and budget-hawks — both in politics and among the general public — will often point to the large cost of these flagship missions, which can balloon if unexpected problems arise. The far greater problem, however, would arise if one of these flagship missions failed.

    When Hubble launched with its flawed mirror, unable to properly focus the light it gathered, fixing it became mandatory [Soon after Hubble began sending images from space, scientists discovered that the telescope’s primary mirror had a flaw called spherical aberration. The outer edge of the mirror was ground too flat by a depth of 4 microns (roughly equal to one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair). The flaw resulted in images that were fuzzy because some of the light from the objects being studied was being scattered.After this discovery, scientists and engineers developed COSTAR, corrective optics that functioned like eyeglasses to restore Hubble’s vision. By placing small and carefully designed mirrors in front of the original Hubble instruments, COSTAR –installed during the 1993 First Servicing Mission — successfully improved their vision to their original design goals (Thank you, Sandy Faber)]. Yes, it was expensive, but the far greater cost — to science, to society, and to humanity — would have been not to fix it. Our choice to invest in repairing (and upgrading) Hubble directly led to some of our greatest discoveries of all-time.

    James Webb, similarly, is now over budget, and will require additional funds to complete. But the small, additional cost to get it right enormously outweighs the cost we’d all bear if we cheated ourselves and didn’t finish this incredible investment. [Also, here, we have commitments from CSA and ESA]

    7
    The science instruments aboard the ISIM module being lowered and installed into the main assembly of JWST in 2016. The telescope must be folded and properly stowed in order to fit aboard the Ariane 5 rocket which will launch it, and all its components must work together, correctly, to deliver a successful mission outcome. NASA / Chris Gunn.

    Now, the 2020 Decadal Survey approaches. The future course of astronomy and astrophysics will be charted, and one flagship mission will be selected as the top priority for a premiere mission of the 2030s. (James Webb was that mission for the 2010s; WFIRST will be it for the 2020s.) Unfortunately, a memorandum was just released by the astronomy & astrophysics director, Paul Hertz, of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. In it, each of the four finalist teams were instructed to develop a second architechture: a lower-cost, scientifically-inferior option.

    8
    This figure shows the real stars in the sky for which a planet in the habitable zone can be observed. The color coding shows the probability of observing an exoEarth candidate if it’s present around that star (green is a high probability, red is a low one). Note how the size of your telescope/observatory in space impacts what you can see. C. Stark and J. Tumlinson, STScI.

    It flies in the face of what a flagship mission actually is. Speaking at this year’s big American Astronomical Society meeting, NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said,

    “What we learn from these flagship missions is why we study the Universe. This is civilization-scale science… If we don’t do this, we aren’t NASA.”

    8
    A simulated view of the same part of the sky, with the same observing time, with both Hubble (L) and the initial architecture of LUVOIR (R). The difference is breathtaking, and represents what civilization-scale science can deliver. G. Snyder, STScI /M. Postman, STScI.

    And yet, these scaled-down architectures are by definition not as ambitious. It’s an indication from NASA that, unless the budget is increased to accommodate the actual costs of doing civilization-scale science, we won’t be doing it. Each of the four finalists has been instructed to propose an option with a total cost of below $5 billion, which will severely curtail the capabilities of such an observatory.

    9
    The concept design of the LUVOIR space telescope would place it at the L2 Lagrange point, where a 15.1-meter primary mirror would unfold and begin observing the Universe, bringing us untold scientific and astronomical riches. NASA / LUVOIR concept team; Serge Brunier (background)

    As an example, one of the proposals, LUVOIR, was designed to be the ultimate successor to Hubble: 40 times as powerful with a diameter of up to ~15 meters. It was designed to tackle problems in our Solar System, measure molecular biosignatures on exoplanets, to perform a cosmic census of stars in every type of galaxy in the Universe, to achieve the sensitivity capable of seeing every galaxy in the Universe, to directly image and map the gas in galaxies everywhere, and to measure the rotation of galaxies (and better understand dark matter) for every galaxy in the Universe.

    But the new architecture would be only half the diameter, half the resolution, and with a quarter of the light-gathering power of the original design. It would basically be an optical version of the James Webb Space Telescope. The sweeping ambition of the original project, with the potential to revolutionize our view of the Universe, would be lost.

    9
    A simulated image of what Hubble would see for a distant, star-forming galaxy (L), versus what a 10-15 meter class telescope would see for the same galaxy (R). With a telescope of half the size, the resolution would be halved, and the light-gathering time would need to be four times as great to create that inferior image. NASA / Greg Snyder / LUVOIR-HDST concept team.

    The other three proposals are more easily scaled-down, but again lose their power. HabEx, designed to directly image Earth-like planets around other stars, loses 87.5% of the interesting planets it can survey if its size is reduced in half. It might not offer much more than the other suites of missions that will fly, like WFIRST (especially if WFIRST gets a starshade), to justify being the flagship mission with such a reduction. LYNX, designed to be a next-generation X-ray observatory that’s vastly superior to Chandra and XMM-Newton, might not be much superior to the ESA’s upcoming Athena mission on such a budget. Its spatial and energy resolution were supposed to be its big selling points; on a reduced budget, it’s hard to see how it will achieve those.

    10
    An artist’s concept of the Origins Space Telescope, with the (architecture 1) 9.1 meter primary mirror. At lower resolutions and sizes, it still offers a tremendous improvement over current-and-previous far-IR observatories. NASA/GSFC

    The best bet might be OST: the Origins Space Telescope, which would represent a huge upgrade over Spitzer: the only other far-infrared observatory NASA’s ever sent to space. Its 9.1 meter design is likely impossible at that price point, but a reduction in size is less devastating to this mission. At a lower price tag, it can still teach us a huge amount about space, from our Solar System to exoplanets to black holes to distant, early galaxies. There is no NASA or European counterpart to compete with, and unlike the optical part of the spectrum, it’s notoriously challenging to attempt astronomy in this wavelength from the ground. The closest we have is the airplane-borne SOFIA, which is fantastic, but has a number of limitations.

    11
    NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) with open telescope doors. This joint partnership between NASA and the German organization DLR enables us to take a state-of-the-art infrared telescope to any location on Earth’s surface, allowing us to observe events wherever they occur. NASA / Carla Thomas

    This is NASA. This is the pre-eminent space agency in the world. This is where science, research, development, discovery, and innovation all come together. The spinoff technologies alone justify the investment, but that’s not why we do it. We are here to discover the Universe. We are here to learn all that we can about the cosmos and our place within it. We are here to find out what the Universe looks like and how it came to be the way it is today.

    It’s time for the United States government to step up to the plate and invest in fundamental science in a way the world hasn’t seen in decades. It’s time to stop asking the scientific community to do more with less, and give them a realistic but ambitious goal: to do more with more. If we can afford an ill-thought-out space force, perhaps we can afford to learn about the greatest unexplored natural resource of all. The Universe, and the vast unknowns hiding in the great cosmic ocean.

    See the full article here .


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    Stem Education Coalition

    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

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  • richardmitnick 2:42 pm on June 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ASKAP, , Astrophysics, , , Meerkat, , ,   

    From AAAS: “New radio telescope in South Africa will study galaxy formation” 

    AAAS

    From AAAS

    Jun. 19, 2018
    Daniel Clery

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    Today, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a continent-spanning radio astronomy project, announced that Spain has come on board as the collaboration’s 11th member. That boost will help the sometimes-troubled project as, over the next year or so, it forms an international treaty organization and negotiates funding to start construction. Meanwhile, on the wide-open plains of the Karoo, a semiarid desert northeast of Cape Town, South Africa, part of the telescope is already in place in the shape of the newly completed MeerKAT, the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.

    The last of 64 13.5-meter dishes was installed late last year, and next month South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will officially open the facility. Spread across 8 kilometers, the dishes have a collecting area similar to that of the great workhorse of astrophysics, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) near Socorro, New Mexico.

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    But with new hardware designs and a powerful supercomputer to process data, the newcomer could have an edge on its 40-year-old northern cousin.

    “For certain studies, it will be the best” in the world, says Fernando Camilo, chief scientist of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cape Town, which operates MeerKAT. Sensitive across a wide swath of the radio spectrum, MeerKAT can study how hydrogen gas moves into galaxies to fuel star formation. With little experience, South Africa has “a major fantastic achievement,” says Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

    MeerKAT, which stands for Karoo Array Telescope along with the Afrikaans word for “more,” is one of several precursor instruments for the SKA. . The first phase of the SKA could begin in 2020 at a cost of €798 million. It would add another 133 dishes to MeerKAT, extending it across 150 kilometers, and place 130,000 smaller radio antennas across Australia—but only if member governments agree to fully fund the work. Months of delicate negotiations lie ahead. “In every country, people are having that discussion on what funding is available,” Falcke says.

    With MeerKAT’s 64 dishes now in place, engineers are learning how to process the data they gather. In a technique called interferometry, computers correlate the signals from pairs of dishes to build a much sharper image than a single dish could produce. For early science campaigns last year, 16 dishes were correlated. In March, the new supercomputer came online, and the team hopes to be fully operational by early next year. “It’s going to be a challenge,” Camilo says.

    MeerKAT’s dishes are smaller than the VLA’s, but having more of them puts it in “a sweet spot of sensitivity and resolution,” Camilo says. Its dishes are split into a densely packed core, which boosts sensitivity, and widely dispersed arms, which increase resolution. The VLA can opt for sensitivity or resolution, but not both at once—and only after the slow process of moving its 27 dishes into a different configuration.

    The combination makes MeerKAT ideal for mapping hydrogen, the fuel of star and galaxy formation. Because of a spontaneous transition in the atoms of neutral hydrogen, the gas constantly emits microwaves with a wavelength of 21 centimeters. Stretched to radio frequencies by the expansion of the universe, these photons land in the telescope’s main frequency band. It should have the sensitivity to map the faint signal to greater distances than before, and the resolution to see the gas moving in and around galaxies.

    MeerKAT will also watch for pulsars, dense and rapidly spinning stellar remnants. Their metronomic radio wave pulses serve as precise clocks that help astronomers study gravity in extreme conditions. “By finding new and exotic pulsars, MeerKAT can provide tests of physics,” says Philip Best of the University of Edinburgh. Falcke wants to get a better look at a highly magnetized pulsar discovered in 2013. He hopes it will shed light on the gravitational effects of the leviathan it orbits: the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

    Other SKA precursors are taking shape. The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia is testing a novel survey technology with its 36 12-meter dishes that could be used in a future phase of the SKA.

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    Whereas a conventional radio dish has a single-element detector—the equivalent of a single pixel—the ASKAP’s detectors have 188 elements, which should help it quickly map galaxies across large areas of the sky.

    Nearby is the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), an array of 2048 antennas, each about a meter across, that look like metallic spiders.

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

    Sensitive to lower frequencies than MeerKAT, the MWA can pick up the neutral hydrogen signal from as far back as 500 million years after the big bang, when the first stars and galaxies were lighting up the universe. Astronomers have been chasing the faint signal for years, and earlier this year, one group reported a tentative detection. “We’re really curious to see if it can be replicated,” says MWA Director Melanie Johnston-Hollitt of Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

    If the MWA doesn’t deliver a verdict, the SKA, with 130,000 similar antennas, almost certainly will. Although the MWA may detect the universe lighting up, the SKA intends to map out where it happened.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:14 pm on June 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astrophysics, , , ,   

    From Science News: “Magnetic fields may be propping up the Pillars of Creation” 


    From Science News

    June 15, 2018
    Emily Conover

    The structure’s internal magnetism could mean the columns of gas and dust will be long-lived.

    1
    PILLAR OF STRENGTH Columns of cosmic gas and dust dubbed the Pillars of Creation (shown in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope) may be propped up by an internal magnetic field. NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team/STScI and AURA

    The Pillars of Creation may keep standing tall due to the magnetic field within the star-forming region.

    For the first time, scientists have made a detailed map of the magnetic field inside the pillars, made famous by an iconic 1995 Hubble Space Telescope image (SN Online: 1/6/15). The data reveal that the field runs along the length of each pillar, perpendicular to the magnetic field outside. This configuration may be slowing the destruction of the columns of gas and dust, astronomer Kate Pattle and colleagues suggest in the June 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    Hot ionized gas called plasma surrounds the pillars, located within the Eagle Nebula about 7,000 light-years from Earth. The pressure from that plasma could cause the pillars to pinch in at the middle like an hourglass before breaking up. However, the researchers suggest, the organization of the magnetic field within the pillars could be providing an outward force that resists the plasma’s onslaught, preventing the columns from disintegrating.

    The Pillars of Creation may keep standing tall due to the magnetic field within the star-forming region.

    For the first time, scientists have made a detailed map of the magnetic field inside the pillars, made famous by an iconic 1995 Hubble Space Telescope image (SN Online: 1/6/15). The data reveal that the field runs along the length of each pillar, perpendicular to the magnetic field outside. This configuration may be slowing the destruction of the columns of gas and dust, astronomer Kate Pattle and colleagues suggest in the June 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    2
    FIELD OF DREAMS A map of the magnetic field within the Pillars of Creation reveals that the orientation of the field runs roughly parallel to each skinny column. White bars indicate the field’s orientation in that location. K. Pattle et al/Astrophysical Journal Letters 2018

    Hot ionized gas called plasma surrounds the pillars, located within the Eagle Nebula about 7,000 light-years from Earth. The pressure from that plasma could cause the pillars to pinch in at the middle like an hourglass before breaking up. However, the researchers suggest, the organization of the magnetic field within the pillars could be providing an outward force that resists the plasma’s onslaught, preventing the columns from disintegrating.

    Eagle Nebula NASA/ESA Hubble Public Domain

    The team studied light emitted from the pillars, measuring its polarization — the direction of the wiggling of the light’s electromagnetic waves — using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. Dust grains within the pillars are aligned with each other due to the magnetic field. These aligned particles emit polarized light, allowing the researchers to trace the direction of the magnetic field at various spots.

    “There are few clear measurements of the magnetic fields in objects like pillars,” says Koji Sugitani of Nagoya City University in Japan. To fully understand the formation of such objects, more observations are needed, he says.

    Studying objects where stars are born, such as the pillars, could help scientists better understand the role that magnetic fields may play in star formation (SN: 6/9/18, p. 12). “This is really one of the big unanswered questions,” says Pattle, of National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan. “We just don’t have a very good idea of whether magnetic fields are important and, if they are, what they are doing.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:56 pm on June 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Astrophysics, , , , The paleo-detector   

    From astrobites: “A Paleo-Detector for Dark Matter: How Ancient Rocks Could Help Unravel the Mystery” 

    Astrobites bloc

    From astrobites

    Title: Searching for Dark Matter with Paleo-Detectors
    Authors: S. Baum, A. K. Drukier, K. Freese, M. Górski, & P. Stengel
    First Author’s Institution: The Oskar Klein Centre for Cosmoparticle Physics, Department of Physics, Stockholm University, Sweden
    1
    Status: Pre-print available [open access on arXiv]

    Dark matter is, by its very nature, elusive. Though we can detect its presence by observing its gravitational influence, dark matter remains invisible because it doesn’t interact electromagnetically. The most widely accepted explanation for dark matter is the existence of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). WIMPs, if eventually observed, would constitute a new, massive kind of elementary particle. Their discovery would be revolutionary for particle physics and cosmology; therefore, countless direct (in labs) and indirect (observing their annihilation or decay) detection experiments are being conducted to identify them. Today’s astrobite discusses a novel proposal for direct dark matter detection that seems more fit for scientists in Jurassic Park than for particle physicists: the paleo-detector.

    The authors of today’s featured paper theorize that ancient rocks could contain evidence of interactions between WIMPS and nuclei in the minerals, forming a completely natural “detector” that would allow scientists to search for evidence of the massive particles using excavated rocks. This experiment varies significantly from other direct detection efforts, as those look for evidence of WIMPs hitting Earth-based detectors in real time. The paleo-detector would instead trace nanometers-long “tracks” of chemical and physical change in the rocks as the result of WIMP-induced nuclear recoil that occurred long ago.

    See the full article here .


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    What do we do?

    Astrobites is a daily astrophysical literature journal written by graduate students in astronomy. Our goal is to present one interesting paper per day in a brief format that is accessible to undergraduate students in the physical sciences who are interested in active research.
    Why read Astrobites?

    Reading a technical paper from an unfamiliar subfield is intimidating. It may not be obvious how the techniques used by the researchers really work or what role the new research plays in answering the bigger questions motivating that field, not to mention the obscure jargon! For most people, it takes years for scientific papers to become meaningful.
    Our goal is to solve this problem, one paper at a time. In 5 minutes a day reading Astrobites, you should not only learn about one interesting piece of current work, but also get a peek at the broader picture of research in a new area of astronomy.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:12 pm on June 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astrophysics, , , , Star Shredded by Rare Breed of Black Hole, The galaxy is named 6dFGS gJ215022.2-055059, X-ray source inferred to contain the IMBH is named 3XMM J215022.4−055108   

    From NASA Chandra: “Star Shredded by Rare Breed of Black Hole” 

    NASA Chandra Banner

    NASA/Chandra Telescope


    From NASA Chandra

    June 18, 2018
    Media contacts:
    Megan Watzke
    Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
    617-496-7998
    mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu

    1
    Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D.Lin et al, Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI

    ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory has discovered the best-ever candidate for a very rare and elusive type of cosmic phenomenon: a medium-weight black hole in the process of tearing apart and feasting on a nearby star.

    ESA/XMM Newton

    There are various types of black holes lurking throughout the Universe: massive stars create stellar-mass black holes when they die, while galaxies host supermassive black holes at their centers, with masses equivalent to millions or billions of Suns.

    Lying between these extremes is a more retiring member of the black hole family: intermediate-mass black holes. Thought to be seeds that will eventually grow to become supermassive, these black holes are especially elusive, and thus very few robust candidates have ever been found.

    Now, a team of researchers using data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA’s Swift X-ray Telescope, has found a rare telltale sign of activity.

    NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

    They detected an enormous flare of radiation in the outskirts of a distant galaxy, thrown off as a star passed too close to a black hole and was subsequently torn apart and partly devoured.

    “This is incredibly exciting: this type of black hole hasn’t been spotted so clearly before,” says lead scientist Dacheng Lin of the University of New Hampshire, USA. “A few candidates have been found, but on the whole they’re extremely rare and very sought after. This is the best intermediate black hole candidate observed so far.”

    This breed of black hole is thought to form in various ways. One formation scenario is the runaway merger of massive stars lying within dense star clusters, making the centres of these clusters one of the best places to hunt for them. However, by the time such black holes have formed, these sites tend to be devoid of gas, leaving the black holes with no material to consume and thus little radiation to emit — which in turn makes them extremely difficult to spot.

    “One of the few methods we can use to try to find an intermediate black hole is to wait for a star to pass close to it and become disrupted — this essentially ‘activates’ the black hole’s appetite again and prompts it to emit a flare that we can observe,” adds Lin.

    “This kind of event has only been clearly seen at the center of a galaxy before, not at the outer edges.”

    Lin and colleagues sifted through data from XMM-Newton to find the candidate. They identified it in observations of a large galaxy some 740 million light-years away, taken in 2006 and 2009 as part of a galaxy survey, and in additional data from Chandra (2006 and 2016) and Swift (2014).

    2
    Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/D.Lin et al.

    “We also looked at images of the galaxy taken by a whole host of other telescopes, to see what the emission looked like optically,” says co-author Jay Strader of Michigan State University, USA.

    “We spotted the source flaring in brightness in two images from 2005 — it appeared far bluer and brighter than it had just a few years previously.

    “By comparing all the data we determined that the unfortunate star was likely disrupted in October 2003 in our time, and produced a burst of energy that decayed over the following 10 years or so.”

    The scientists believe that the star was disrupted and torn apart by a black hole with a mass of around fifty thousand times that of the Sun.

    Such star-triggered outbursts are expected to only happen rarely from this type of black hole, so this discovery suggests that there could be many more lurking in a dormant state in galaxy peripheries across the local Universe.

    “This candidate was discovered via an intensive search of XMM-Newton’s X-ray Source Catalogue, which is filled with high-quality data covering large areas of sky, essential for determining how large the black hole was and what happened to cause the observed burst of radiation,” says Norbert Schartel, ESA Project Scientist for XMM-Newton.

    “The XMM-Newton X-ray Source Catalogue is presently the largest catalogue of this type, containing more than half a million sources: exotic objects like the one discovered in our study are still hidden there and waiting to be discovered through intensive data mining,” adds co-author Natalie Webb, director of the XMM-Newton Survey Science Center at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) in Toulouse, France.

    “Learning more about these objects and associated phenomena is key to our understanding of black holes. Our models are currently akin to a scenario in which an alien civilization observes Earth and spots grandparents dropping their grandchildren at pre-school: they might assume that there’s something intermediate to fit their model of a human lifespan, but without observing that link, there’s no way to know for sure,” said Schartel. “This finding is incredibly important, and shows that the discovery method employed here is a good one to use.”

    The study used data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and NASA’s Swift X-Ray Telescope, and additional images from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NAOJ’s Subaru Telescope, the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope, and the Gemini Observatory.



    CFHT Telescope, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA, at Maunakea, Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope


    NAOJ/Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    South African Large Telescope, close to the town of Sutherland in the semi-desert region of the Karoo, South Africa, Altitude 1,798 m (5,899 ft)


    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Added from ESA:

    Dacheng Lin
    University of New Hampshire, USA
    Email: dacheng.lin@unh.edu
    Tel: +1-603-862-4379

    Jay Strader
    Michigan State University, USA
    Email: strader@pa.msu.edu

    Natalie Webb
    XMM-Newton Survey Science Center
    Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP)
    Toulouse, France
    Email: Natalie.Webb@irap.omp.eu

    Norbert Schartel
    XMM-Newton Project Scientist
    European Space Agency
    Email: norbert.schartel@esa.int

    Markus Bauer








    ESA Science Communication Officer









    Tel: +31 71 565 6799









    Mob: +31 61 594 3 954









    Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

    “A luminous X-ray outburst from an intermediate-mass black hole in an off-centre star cluster”, by D. Lin et al, is published in Nature Astronomy.

    The study used data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and NASA’s Swift X-Ray Telescope, and additional images from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NAOJ’s SubaruTelescope, the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope, and the Gemini Observatory.

    The galaxy is named 6dFGS gJ215022.2-055059, while the X-ray source inferred to contain the IMBH is named 3XMM J215022.4−055108.

    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 9:23 am on June 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Astrophysics, ,   

    From astrobites: “The Planets in the Gaps” 

    Astrobites bloc

    From astrobites

    Title: A Kinematical Detection of Two Embedded Jupiter Mass Planets in HD 163296
    Authors: Richard Teague (University of Michigan), Jaehan Bae, Edwin Bergin, Tilman Birnstiel, Daniel Foreman-Mackey

    Status: Accepted to ApJL, 2018 [open access]

    Planets form. (We know this, occupying, as we do, a planet.) And planets form out of the disks of gas and dust that surround young stars. (We know this because we see these disks around young stars, and we cannot explain where the stuff of planets comes from otherwise.) And planets form in these disks quite quickly. (We know this because the disks only last a few million years–a blink of an eye, astronomically speaking.) And planets form in these disks easily. (We know this because planets are everywhere! On average, there’s at least one planet per star.)

    Planet formation, then: it’s quick, easy, commonplace, and completely mysterious. How does a sphere the size of Jupiter coalesce from a bunch of grains of dust swimming in hydrogen gas? Or a snowball like Pluto (planet, dwarf planet, don’t @ me), for that matter, or a rock like Earth?

    1
    Figure 1. The big q

    See the full article here .


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    What do we do?

    Astrobites is a daily astrophysical literature journal written by graduate students in astronomy. Our goal is to present one interesting paper per day in a brief format that is accessible to undergraduate students in the physical sciences who are interested in active research.
    Why read Astrobites?

    Reading a technical paper from an unfamiliar subfield is intimidating. It may not be obvious how the techniques used by the researchers really work or what role the new research plays in answering the bigger questions motivating that field, not to mention the obscure jargon! For most people, it takes years for scientific papers to become meaningful.
    Our goal is to solve this problem, one paper at a time. In 5 minutes a day reading Astrobites, you should not only learn about one interesting piece of current work, but also get a peek at the broader picture of research in a new area of astronomy.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:11 pm on June 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Astrophysics, , , Hayabusa2,   

    From NASA Spaceflight: “Sample return mission Hayabusa2 approaching Asteroid Ryugu” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    From NASA Spaceflight

    June 15, 2018
    Justin Davenport

    1
    The Japanese asteroid sampling mission Hayabusa2, launched on December 3, 2014 aboard an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima, Japan, has nearly completed its long flight to asteroid Ryugu (formerly 1999 JU3) after a five year mission and an Earth flyby.

    The mission was approved as a follow-on to the Hayabusa mission which became the first probe to sample an asteroid when it landed on the young “rubble pile” asteroid Itokawa, though the mission had its share of problems.

    The Hayabusa mission to Itokawa had problems with one of its four ion engines from the start of the mission after a solar flare damaged the craft and two reaction wheels failed before its approach to Itokawa.

    The hopper that was supposed to land on the surface missed the asteroid and flew off into deep space, the sampling mechanism did not function properly, and although Hayabusa was able to land on Itokawa, it suffered thruster leaks and another ion engine failed during the trip home, and contact was lost for several weeks after the second landing on Itokawa, delaying Hayabusa’s departure to Earth.

    Despite this, 1,500 microscopic samples from Itokawa were successfully returned and examined after the capsule landed in the Woomera test range in Australia in 2010.

    The Hayabusa2 follow-on has one more reaction wheel (to make four) and improved, higher thrust ion engines, along with a backup asteroid sampling system, and the spacecraft is in good health so far.

    Hayabusa2 is a 600 kilogram (1300 pound) spacecraft that is based on the Hayabusa craft, with some improvements.

    It is powered by two solar panels and uses an ion engine with xenon propellant as its main propulsion source. The ion engine technology was first used in the Deep Space One experimental spacecraft in the late 1990’s and also has been successfully used in the Dawn asteroid probe as well.

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    Hayabusa2 IKON engines. JAXA

    Although the thrust is very low it is continuous and can be used to propel a spacecraft to very high velocities over time, very efficiently.

    The craft also features thrusters and four reaction wheels to maintain its position in space as well as four auxiliary lander/hopper craft, a sub-satellite, and an impactor, along with sampling mechanisms, a full suite of science instruments and a reentry capsule to return samples to Earth.

    The Hayabusa2 mission is intended to image and sample the asteroid 1999 JU3, discovered in May 1999, now known as Ryugu, and to return samples of the asteroid, including samples excavated from an impactor to collect materials from under the surface, to Earth for analysis in laboratories.


    Besides the primary and backup sample collectors, the mission includes three MINERVA “hoppers” similar to the one used on the original Hayabusa mission that will land at several locations on the surface to study these locations with cameras and thermometers.

    An impactor (SCI) with a 2 kg pure copper lump (Liner) will be used to excavate a crater on the surface, and there will be a sub-satellite that will be released to observe the impact.

    The main imaging instrument is the ONC (Optical Navigation Camera) which has telephoto and wide-angle modes, and which is being used right now to provide optical images of Ryugu, which are being used to navigate Hayabusa2 safely to the asteroid. Once at Ryugu, this instrument will image the surface.

    Other instruments that will be used are the TIR (Thermal Infrared Camera) which will measure the asteroid’s surface temperature, the NIRS3 (Near Infrared Spectrometer) which will check the distribution of minerals on the surface using the 3 micron band, and the laser altimeter (LIDAR) which measures the distance between the spacecraft and the asteroid.

    International contributions include a small robotic lander (10 kilograms or 20 pounds) called MASCOT that is a joint venture of DLR (Germany) and CNES (France), while NASA is providing communications through the Deep Space Network.

    NASA Deep Space Network

    3
    MASCOT. DLR

    MASCOT’s purpose is to provide extremely detailed mineralogical and geological surveys of the asteroid’s surface, providing up to 16 hours of data with a battery set to last 2 asteroidal days, and will use four instruments (MicrOmega – a hyperspectral microscope, MAG – a magnetometer, CAM – a camera, and MARA – a radiometer) to do this.

    MASCOT will “jump” to various sites on the surface using a robotic arm to study these sites in detail, after being released from Hayabusa2 100 meters (328 feet) above the surface of the asteroid. MASCOT systems are based on designs from Rosetta/Philae, Phobos-Grunt, and ExoMars.

    The Hayabusa2 craft has finished its first correction burn and is now less than 600 kilometers (372 miles) away from asteroid Ryugu. Over the coming days the asteroid, which is now seen as a small round object, will become much more visible and surface features will be seen.

    The craft is also searching for any satellites that may be orbiting the asteroid, and have not detected any so far (detection limit: larger than 50 cm). Other asteroids such as Ida have been found to have satellites, and satellites can be hazards to navigation for spacecraft like Hayabusa2.

    Ryugu itself is approximately 880 meters wide (nearly a kilometer), rotates around its axis every 7 hours 38 minutes, and is thought to be very dark (0.05 albedo). Ryugu orbits from a distance just within Earth’s orbit to as far as just outside Mars’ orbit around the Sun, and its orbital radius around the Sun is 180 million kilometers (111 million miles), orbiting the Sun in 1.3 Earth years.

    It is believed that Ryugu is an older C-type asteroid that may have material from the beginning of the solar system (including water and organics), or at least more ancient material, as opposed to Itokawa, an S-type asteroid. Ryugu appears to be mostly spherical, unlike Itokawa’s potato shape, and we are seeing the asteroid in more detail as the spacecraft draws closer.

    3
    Its arrival at Ryugu is set for June 27th, and Hayabusa2 will be 20 km (12 miles) above the surface on that date, as things currently stand. The arrival will be followed by a press conference in Sagamihara, Japan.

    After arrival, Hayabusa2 will start imaging the asteroid, with medium altitude observations at 5 km (3 miles) starting at the end of July. In August, Hayabusa2 is set to measure the asteroid’s gravity by going to an altitude of 1 km (0.6 miles) above the surface, and in the fall (September – October timeframe) the first touchdown and MINERVA deployment are set to occur.

    After solar conjunction in late fall (November – December) where communication will not be possible with the probe, Hayabusa2 will resume contact afterward and conduct more medium altitude observations at 5 km to start 2019, with the second touchdown in February and the artificial crater experiment using the impactor in the spring (March – April timeframe).

    The third touchdown on the asteroid will follow in April or May, and another MINERVA deployment will follow in July. The Hayabusa2 craft will remain near Ryugu until the end of 2019 (November or December) when it will depart for Earth after 18 months at Ryugu. The sample delivery reentry capsule is set to be returned to Earth in late 2020.

    4
    Rover deployment. JAXA

    Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks of the solar system and can tell us important details about how the solar system, and by extension Earth and ourselves, came to be, and asteroids can and have endangered life on this planet throughout geologic history. Most notably, a 10 kilometer (6 mile) wide asteroid hit the area of the Yucatán in Mexico 65 million years ago and ended the reign of the dinosaurs.

    A future asteroid could pose a similar threat to humanity and Ryugu is classified as one of these “potentially hazardous asteroids” (PHAs) in the Apollo group.

    What we learn about these asteroids will inform how we intercept one if the time ever came. Finally, asteroids are being looked at as potential sites for mining metals for future industries, and the composition of asteroids like Ryugu will inform mining plans as well.

    For all these reasons, missions like Hayabusa2, Osiris-Rex (to approach Bennu in 2 months), and others are very important efforts to understand the solar system.

    See the full article here .


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    NASASpaceFlight.com, now in its eighth year of operations, is already the leading online news resource for everyone interested in space flight specific news, supplying our readership with the latest news, around the clock, with editors covering all the leading space faring nations.

    Breaking more exclusive space flight related news stories than any other site in its field, NASASpaceFlight.com is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry, which in turn is reflected in the many thousands of space industry visitors to the site, ranging from NASA to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Space Alliance and commercial space flight arena.

    With a monthly readership of 500,000 visitors and growing, the site’s expansion has already seen articles being referenced and linked by major news networks such as MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Popular Science, but to name a few.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:01 pm on June 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astrophysics, , , Dealing with Science Data at ESO,   

    From ESOblog: “Dealing with Science Data” 

    ESO 50 Large

    From ESOblog

    15 June 2018

    ESO is proud of being the most productive ground-based observatory in the world, making observations that led to over one thousand scientific papers in 2017 alone. But to produce such a huge number of papers, ESO’s telescopes must churn out mind-boggling amounts of data. So where is all this data stored and how do astronomers get their hands on it? We spoke to Martino Romaniello, Head of the Back-end Operations Department at ESO Headquarters, to find out.

    1
    Science@ESO

    Q: Martino, tell us a bit about your role at ESO.

    A: I joined ESO in late 1998 as a postdoctoral fellow, fresh out of my PhD at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA, the “home” of the Hubble Space Telescope. Those were the early days of science operations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope and I was immediately transfixed with the scale and ambition of the project, and of how much it aimed to change the paradigm of ground-based astronomy. I became an ESO staff member in the year 2000, sharing my time between functional duties for ESO and research as a member of the Science Faculty.

    For functional duties, I served as a Support Astronomer until 2006. Since then, I have led different organisational units that dealt with the handling of science data. In our latest incarnation as Back-end Operations Department, we are responsible for the “last mile” of the long journey of science data, namely that the science content is there in the data, that it can be extracted and calibrated, and that it is made available to our community in a scientifically meaningful way through the ESO Science Archive.

    In my own research, I am interested in the formation and evolution of stars, both as individual objects and in stellar systems. Specifically, I use a particular type of stars called Cepheids to gather hints on what might be driving the accelerated expansion of the Universe.

    Q: What data does ESO make available to the community?

    A: ESO makes all of the data generated by our telescopes that has scientific relevance openly available to the science community around the world. Preventing data from being accessible is the absolute exception and is reserved to cases such as the very early phases of commissioning of new instruments or other similar test phases in which the data has no scientific content to speak of.

    In order to be useful for scientific measurements, the raw data acquired at the telescopes have to be processed to remove the signatures of the measurement process (from the telescope, instrument or Earth’s atmosphere) and extract and calibrate the science signal. In addition to the raw data, we also provide processed data directly through the archive. The availability of processed data for science analysis is specifically important to making the archive useful for the general community and increasing ESO’s overall scientific return.

    Q: How much data is currently stored and where?

    A: The data from the La Silla and Paranal Observatories amounts to a bit more than one petabyte (equal to one million gigabytes), and we store copies for redundancy and safety reasons. Two of these copies are in different locations at ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany. The third one is hosted by the Max Planck Computing and Data Facility at the Garching Research Campus. The homepage of the ESO Science Archive is at http://www.archive.eso.org. ESO also host the European copy of the ALMA Science Archive at https://almascience.eso.org/alma-data/archive.

    Data storage and exchange technologies are rapidly evolving, pushed by the increasing demands of scientific and commercial endeavours. We actively partner with the likes of ALMA, CERN and the Square Kilometre Telescope (SKA) to cater for our needs in the most efficient way possible.

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    2
    The ESO Science Archive is located at ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany. It was developed in partnership with the Space Telescope – European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF) and operated jointly until the closure of the ST-ECF in December 2010. It holds the astronomical data produced by the La Silla and Paranal Observatories and makes them available to the public. Over 1 Pb are stored in the disk servers like those seen on this photo. Credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

    Q: Why is ESO’s data available as open access for anyone to use? Has it always been that way?

    A: Open access to data is a staple of scientific research and serves several purposes. The first is that it enables any scientific claim to be independently verified and challenged, which is a founding principle of the scientific method. Secondly, it allows for genuinely new science and knowledge to come from the data. This is both in conjunction with other data, or by using the archive as a primary source. In addition, archival data is used to design better experiments that require new data to be obtained. In fact, in order to apply for observing time with any of ESO’s telescopes, astronomers need to show that their proposed science goals cannot be achieved with data already available in the archives — this is much quicker, as applying for and receiving new data can take as long as one to two years.

    ESO’s data open access policy can be traced back to 1988 with the introduction of “Key Programmes” on La Silla. Open access to data has been ingrained in the science operations policy of the Very Large Telescope and its interferometer since the very beginning of science operations in 1999. Initially, access was limited to ESO Member States. Following a decision by the ESO Council in December 2004, the archive was opened to the whole world on 1 April 2005.

    A recent science paper described the ESO Science Archive as the “largest telescope facility ever.” While it may be a bit of a hyperbole, it does convey the power of reusing data collected over decades from some of the most powerful telescopes and instruments ever built.

    3
    These servers help provide access to the science data archive. This picture was obtained in early 2005. Credit: ESO

    Q: By sharing its data, how does ESO benefit?

    A: What ESO gets in return is that more science is done with our data.

    Enabling major scientific discoveries by the astronomical community is core to ESO’s mission. The ESO Science Archive plays a very significant role in this: 30% of the refereed publications that use ESO data make use of archival data. In addition, the Science Archive broadens the user base of ESO data: about 30% of the users of the archive do not use ESO in any other way. And again, open access to data is a staple of research. Astronomy as a discipline and ESO, in particular, have long been pioneers in this area. In order to further increase archive use of the data, we have recently developed the Archive Science Portal to provide more intuitive, enhanced data discovery tools to our users.

    Open access to science data is also a pivotal policy point for governments and funding agencies around the world. Most notably, the European Commission has launched and is shaping the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). ESO has endorsed the EOSC Declaration in recognition of the vital need for open access to trusted and reliable data in today’s world of scientific research. We also actively collaborate with other observatories and data centres worldwide, most notably with ESA and the Strasbourg astronomical Data Centre (CDS), to foster the open exchange of science data.

    Q: Who uses ESO data?

    A: Scientists are the main users of ESO data. Since 2011, more than 7000 professional astronomers have accessed the ESO Science Archive. For reference, this is between a half and two-thirds of astronomers worldwide, as gauged by the number of IAU members. As mentioned earlier, they use the data in a variety of ways that ultimately lead to more science being done and more knowledge being extracted from the data.

    There are other scientists than astronomers who use the ESO Science Archive, for example, the people who study the Earth atmosphere. In contrast to astronomers, they are not interested in the celestial objects. Rather, they study the composition of the atmosphere above the observatory and how it changes over time, which relates to climate studies. Such cross-disciplinary science is growing in importance.

    There are also amateur astronomers and teachers among the visitors to the ESO archive. Unfortunately, we do not have a good handle of what they do with it. Perhaps it would be worth it trying to learn more about this, as it may be worth experimenting with citizen science.

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    The number of refereed papers published based on data from ESO and other telescopes over the period 1996 to 2017. These numbers are from the ESO Telescope Bibliography (telbib).
    Credit: ESO [There are many astronomical assets simply not included n this portrayal, which mostly serves to benefit ESO.]

    Q: Are there any restrictions — are some data off limits?

    A: The basic policy is that access to data is initially restricted to the scientists who triggered their creation, after which it becomes publicly available.

    Observing with ESO telescopes is a competitive process. Teams of astronomers submit their ideas for new observations to ESO, which organises a peer-review process within the astronomical community itself. The proposals that are approved through this process are executed and generate new data, which is stored in the ESO Science Archive. Access to this data is initially limited to the original proposers of the observations, typically for a period of one year, after which the data itself becomes available without restrictions. The purpose of the policy is to recognise the effort that went into new data being generated while preserving the principle of open data access.

    There are, of course, exceptions to the general policies and they can go both ways. In some cases, most notably with the Public Surveys, raw data is public immediately. Also, the Principal Investigator of such surveys has to return processed data to the archive for the community at large to benefit. The same applies to Principal Investigators of Large Programmes. In both cases, this is in recognition that the large investment of telescope time needed to carry out these large, coordinated observational campaigns has to have a large return for the whole community.

    4
    This picture of the spiral galaxy NGC 3621 was taken using the Wide Field Imager (WFI) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    ESO WFI LaSilla 2.2-m MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres

    The data used to make this image were selected from the ESO archive by Joe DePasquale as part of the Hidden Treasures competition.
    Credit: ESO and Joe DePasquale.

    In other cases, at the discretion of the Director General, the proprietary rights can be extended if a valid justification exists. This can be applied to individual observations or groups by extending the proprietary protection period, or even to the knowledge that certain data was acquired in the first place. An example of this is the follow-up with ESO telescopes of gravitational wave signals, in which the potential detections themselves were not immediately made public. In these situations, the fact itself of pointing a telescope in a given patch of the sky would give away confidential information, hence the special treatment.

    Q: Do you expect ESO to continue to make this data widely available in the future, particularly in the era of the ELT?

    A: Most definitely! The science return of doing so is evident, as are the wider cultural implications. Plus, ultimately the data generated by ESO is the result of a large investment of public money and it is only fair that it is accessible for everyone to benefit. The ELT will be a unique science machine that will generate preciously unique data and science opportunities. Open access to this data will be fundamental to fully exploit its amazing potential.

    See the full article here .


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

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

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

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

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

    ALMA Array
    ALMA on the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres.

    ESO E-ELT
    ESO/E-ELT to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m.

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

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

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

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

    SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

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

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

     
  • richardmitnick 1:38 pm on June 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astrophysics, , , , , NGC 3199, , WR18 (Wolf-Rayet 18)   

    From European Space Agency: “Star-circling bubble of gas” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    1
    Star-circling bubble of gas
    11/06/2018
    ESA/XMM-Newton; J. Toalá; D.Goldman

    ESA/XMM Newton

    This turbulent celestial palette of purple and yellow shows a bubble of gas named NGC 3199, blown by a star known as WR18 (Wolf-Rayet 18).

    Wolf-Rayet stars are massive, powerful, and energetic stars that are just about reaching the end of their lives. They flood their surroundings with thick, intense, fast-moving winds that push and sweep at the material found there, carving out weird and wonderful shapes as they do so. These winds can create strong shockwaves when they collide with the comparatively cool interstellar medium, causing them to heat up anything in their vicinity. This process can heat material to such high temperatures that it is capable of emitting X-rays, a type of radiation emitted only by highly energetic phenomena in the Universe.

    This is what has happened in the case of NGC 3199. Although this kind of scenario has been seen before, it is still relatively rare; only three other Wolf-Rayet bubbles have been seen to emit X-rays (NGC 2359, NGC 6888, and S308). WR18 is thought to be a star with especially powerful winds; once it has run out of material to fuel these substantial winds it will explode violently as a supernova, creating a final breath-taking blast as it ends its stellar life.

    This image was taken by the European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC) on ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, and marks different patches of gas in different colours. The incredibly hot, diffuse, X-ray-emitting gas within the Wolf-Rayet bubble is shown in blue, while a bright arc that is visible in the optical part of the spectrum is traced out in shades of yellow-green (oxygen emission) and red (sulphur emission).

    This blue and yellow-green component forms an optical nebula – a glowing cloud of dust and ionised gases – that stretches out towards the western end of the X-ray bubble (in this image, North is to the upper left). This lopsided arc caused astronomers to previously identify WR18 as a so-called runaway star moving far faster than expected in relation to its surroundings, but more recent studies have shown that the observed X-ray emission does not support this idea. Instead, the shape of NGC 3199 is thought to be due to variations in the chemistry of the bubble’s surroundings, and the initial configuration of the interstellar medium around WR18.

    Explore this object in ESASky.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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  • richardmitnick 1:25 pm on June 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Astrophysics, , BepiColombo, , , Hand-sewn insulation blankets   

    From European Space Agency: “Hand-sewn insulation blankets” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    1
    Hand-sewn insulation blankets
    12/06/2018
    ESA–B. Guillaume

    One of the main activities in recent weeks for the BepiColombo team at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou has been the installation of multi-layered insulation foils and sewing of high-temperature blankets on the Mercury Planetary Orbiter.

    The insulation is to protect the spacecraft from the extreme thermal conditions that will be experienced in Mercury orbit.

    While conventional multi-layered insulation appears gold-coloured, the upper layer of the module’s striking white high-temperature blanket provides the focus of this image.

    The white blankets are made from quartz fibres. Because the fabric is not electrically conductive, to control the build-up of electrostatic charge on the surface of the spacecraft, conducting threads have been woven through the outer layer every 10 cm. The edges of the outer blanket are hand-sewn together once installed on the module, as seen in this image.

    The face of the spacecraft the engineer is working on is the panel that will always look at Mercury’s surface and as such many of the science instruments are focused here. This includes the orbiter’s cameras and spectrometers, a laser altimeter and particle analyser.

    The panel also has fixtures to connect the module to the Transfer Module during the cruise to Mercury.

    The face of the spacecraft pointing to the left in this orientation is the spacecraft radiator, which will eventually be fitted with ‘fins’ designed to reflect heat directionally, allowing the spacecraft to fly at low altitude over the hot surface of the planet. Heat generated by spacecraft subsystems and payload components, as well as heat that comes from the Sun and Mercury and ‘leaks’ through the blankets into the spacecraft, will be conducted to the radiator by heat pipes and ultimately radiated into space.

    The oval shapes correlate to star trackers, used for navigation, while a spectrometer is connected with ground support equipment towards the top. At the back of this face, the magnetometer boom can be seen folded against the spacecraft – it has now also been fitted with multi-layered insulation.

    For more images of the launch preparations at Kourou visit the BepiColombo image gallery.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

    ESA50 Logo large

     
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