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  • richardmitnick 1:04 pm on July 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Australia, Australia Enters Strategic Partnership with ESO,   

    From ESO: “Australia Enters Strategic Partnership with ESO” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    11 July 2017

    Randal Markey
    Office of the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science
    Parliament House, Canberra ACT, Australia
    Tel: +61 2 6277 7070
    Email: randal.markey@industry.gov.au

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

    At a ceremony today in Canberra, Australia, an arrangement was signed to begin a ten-year strategic partnership between ESO and Australia. The partnership will further strengthen ESO’s programme, both scientifically and technically, and will give Australian astronomers and industry access to the La Silla Paranal Observatory. It may also be the first step towards Australia becoming an ESO Member State.

    In May 2017 the Australian Government announced its intentions to negotiate a strategic partnership with ESO in order to give Australian astronomers access to ESO’s state-of-the-art research infrastructure. This partnership has now been formalised and will begin immediately. It means that Australia will financially contribute to ESO for ten years, with the potential of then obtaining full membership. The proposed partnership was unanimously approved by the ESO Council.

    The signature ceremony was held at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, during the annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

    Introductions were made by Nobel Laureate and ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt, and were followed by speeches from ESO’s Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, and the Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos, who then together signed the arrangement. The ceremony was attended by senior ESO representatives, members of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and distinguished guests.

    Senator Arthur Sinodinos said: “This important partnership with a world-class organisation, such as the European Southern Observatory, will allow Australia to maintain its research excellence in this era of global astronomy, and it provides crucial opportunities for Australian influence and technical and scientific input, stimulating international research and industry collaborations.”

    “Today we sign a strategic arrangement that will give Australian astronomers — as well as technical institutes and industries — access to the La Silla Paranal Observatory,” added ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw. “An association between Australia and ESO has been a goal for me for more than 20 years, and I am very pleased that it is now becoming a reality.”

    This partnership will allow Australian astronomers to participate in all activities relating to ESO’s La Silla Paranal Observatory facilities — specifically, the Very Large Telescope, the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, VISTA, VST, the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, and the New Technology Telescope. The partnership will also open up opportunities for Australian scientists and industry to collaborate with ESO Member State institutions on upcoming instruments at these observatories.

    Australia’s expertise in instrumentation, including advanced adaptive optics and fibre-optic technology, is ideally matched with ESO’s instrumentation programme. In turn, Australia will gain access to industrial, instrumentation and scientific opportunities at the La Silla Paranal Observatory, essentially being considered a Member State for all matters relating to these facilities. The results of such collaborations are eagerly anticipated by the ESO community.

    Tim de Zeeuw further comments: “Australia’s contributions to the partnership will strengthen ESO, and ESO’s facilities will allow Australian astronomers to make many discoveries and develop the next generation of high-tech instrumentation to the benefit of science and technology worldwide. I believe that this is also a key step towards full membership of ESO in due course.”

    Australia has a long and rich history of internationally acclaimed astronomical research. Its already very active and successful astronomical community will undoubtedly thrive with long-term access to ESO’s cutting-edge facilities. This European–Australian collaboration will lead to fundamental new advances in science and technology that neither could hope to achieve alone.


    Tim de Zeeuw’s speech at the signing ceremony
    Australian press release
    Australian Decadal Plan

    [From where I sit, I can only experience jealousy. If Australia can join ESO, why not the U.S.A.? True, we have our own great history in Astronomy. But so does Australia, which will be the leader in SKA, even if it is managed from Jodrell Bank. In my work on this blog, I see Australia as a juggernaut in Basic and Applied Scientific research. I see our NSF backing away, especially in Radio Astronomy. Good luck to Australia and ESO in this new relationship.]

    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

    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 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 to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m

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

  • richardmitnick 11:54 am on June 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Australia, , , Megafauna, Naracoorte where half a million years of biodiversity and climate history are trapped in caves,   

    From COSMOS: “Naracoorte, where half a million years of biodiversity and climate history are trapped in caves” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    13 June 2017
    Liz Reed, Research Fellow, University of Adelaide
    Lee Arnold, ARC Future Fellow, University of Adelaide

    Enormous sediment cones in a cave at Naracoorte. Two people in overalls show the scale of the area. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    In 1857, guided by the flickering light of a candle deep in a cave at Naracoorte in South Australia, the Reverend Julian Tenison-Woods stumbled across thousands of tiny bones of rodents and small marsupials buried at the base of crystal columns.

    Without knowing it, Woods had found a time machine of sorts – a record of biodiversity and environment spanning more than half a million years.

    Now Naracoorte Caves are known as one of the world’s best fossil sites, a place where marsupial lions, enormous kangaroos and giant monitor lizards met their deaths and were preserved by layers of sand.

    But the caves captured more than just giants. Clues to Naracoorte’s past environment are also preserved in plant fossils, sediments and calcite formations.

    Big marsupials with bite: Australia’s megafauna

    Global scientific attention first focused on Naracoorte after 1969, when cave explorers entered relatively inaccessible limestone chambers. After squeezing their way through an impossibly tight gap in Victoria Cave, they discovered the palaeontological equivalent of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

    Scattered across the red sediment floor of a vast chamber were countless skulls and jaws of Australia’s lost giants, the megafauna.

    Pitfall megafauna fossil assemblage in the Upper Ossuary, Victoria Fossil Cave Naracoorte. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    The find created a buzz worldwide and set the stage for a scientific journey of discovery that has unfolded over the past four decades.

    Preserved within the deposits are fossils from a suite of megafauna species including heavyweight plant eaters such as Zygomaturus trilobus, short-faced leaf-eating kangaroos such as Procoptodon goliah, and the five-metre snake Wonambi naracoortensis. The most famous of these is the marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex. The most spectacular fossils from this king of the Pleistocene forests have come from Naracoorte.

    The reign of these amazing animals came to an end around 45,000 years ago, with the precise cause for their extinction still a hot topic for debate.

    Fossilised skull from Thylacoleo- a carnivorous marsupial that lived in Australia around 50,000-1.5 million years ago. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    How the underground archives formed

    The Naracoorte Caves formed around one million years ago within the Gambier Limestone, itself dated to around 37 million to 12 million years old and formed during the late Eocene or Miocene epochs.

    Overlying the limestone, a series of ancient sand dunes preserve records of the changing coastline over the past few million years.

    Over time, holes opened up in the limestone, connecting the caves to the land surface. Sand and soil was transported into these cave entrances by water and wind, forming deep layered deposits spanning at least the last 500,000 years of the Quaternary period (2.6 million years to present).

    Deep, layered fossil deposits in Blanche Cave, Naracoorte. Each layer represents a window in time. The tags mark individual layers. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    At the same time as the sediments were deposited, many types of animals lived in the landscape surrounding the caves. The remains of these animals accumulated in the caves and became buried and preserved in the sediment layers.

    Some species, such as bats and possums, lived and died in the caves. Predators used the caves as roosts and dens, leaving behind the bones of their prey. Owls accumulated vast deposits of small vertebrates, such as the ones discovered by Woods in 1857.

    Larger species fell victim to concealed cave entrances that acted as pitfall traps for the unwary. Kangaroos were particularly susceptible to entrapment, being fast-moving and active at night, dusk or dawn. Even the gigantic megafauna species succumbed to these traps.

    With all of these ways for animals to accumulate, it is unsurprising that the caves preserve many deposits and tens of thousands of individual animals.

    Why are these deposits so significant?

    The fossil deposits preserve diverse vertebrate species, including more than 135 different examples of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

    Nearly 20 species of megafauna are preserved, including nine species of extinct kangaroos. The preservation of the fossils is exceptional, with the finest details retained.

    Naracoorte’s record is relatively young geologically (around 500,000 years to less than 1,000 years before now), making it representative of modern ecosystems. This is why it offers value in addressing questions relevant to present and future conservation such as extinctions and adaptation to climate change and human impacts.

    Unlike most localities where single sites are preserved, the Naracoorte Caves have multiple sites in many adjacent caves. This provides a unique opportunity to compare and correlate observations across related sites over a long, continuous time span.

    It’s a little bit squeezy in here. A film crew working with researchers at Naracoorte Caves. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    Recent research has revealed that the deposits contain much more than bones, with fossil plant material, pollen, fossilised algae and even DNA. This allows scientists to build a comprehensive picture of the environment during this time period. It is this incredible wealth of preserved materials that makes Naracoorte stand out.

    Associated calcite formations (such as stalagmites) have preserved critical information on past climate. For example, past rainfall can be determined by studying the fine growth layers within the formations.

    Alexandra Cave, Naracoorte Caves National Park. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    World heritage significance

    International recognition came to Naracoorte in December 1994, when the caves were World Heritage listed as part of the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (along with Riversleigh in northwestern Queensland).

    The fossil records of Naracoorte and Riversleigh reveal the evolutionary history of Australia’s unique mammals over much of the past 25 million years. The Naracoorte deposits encompass the latter part of this record, covering important events such as megafauna extinction and the arrival of humans in Australia.

    The caves are managed by the South Australian government, which oversees tourism, conservation and research. The park is an established visitor attraction, and vital to the economy and culture of the Naracoorte district. The caves add to the wealth of other geological attractions in the Limestone Coast region, including volcanoes and some of the world’s largest sinkholes.

    Moving forwards, new funding has just been announced on a project to establish benchmark data on past ecological and environmental change that is trapped in the structures at Naracoorte Caves. Working with colleagues at University of Adelaide and other Australian universities, museums, government and industry partners, we expect our next phase of research will have applications for biodiversity conservation, climate change, and building capacity for regional communities to share the stories of their unique heritage.

    Large roof window entrance in the spectacular Blanche Cave, Naracoorte. It is in this cave that the first fossil bones were discovered by Woods in 1857. Steven Bourne, Author provided

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:10 pm on April 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Australia, , , , Live fast die young: quiescent galaxies in the early universe,   

    From astrobites: “Live fast, die young: quiescent galaxies in the early universe” 

    Astrobites bloc


    Apr 18, 2017
    Christopher Lovell

    Title: A massive, quiescent galaxy at redshift of z=3.717
    Authors: Karl Glazebrook, Corentin Schreiber, Ivo Labbé, Themiya Nanayakkara, Glenn G. Kacprzak, Pascal A. Oesch, Casey Papovich, Lee R Spitler, Caroline M. S. Straatman, Kim-Vy H. Tran, Tiantian Yuan
    First author’s institution: Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia

    Status: Submitted for publication in NATURE, Open Access

    Galaxies in the early universe tend to be young and carefree. They have plenty of gas, and set about vigorously forming lots of stars. As a galaxy gets older though, it starts to run out of gas and becomes quiescent, no longer forming stars (see these bites for more details on quiescent galaxies). Theorists predict that it takes at least a few gigayears to deplete the gas, and this can be sped up by mergers and interactions with other galaxies. So, the further away we look (which corresponds to looking further back in time) the fewer quiescent galaxies we expect to see.

    Today’s paper is about the snappily named ZF-COSMOS-20115, a quiescent galaxy at the unusually high redshift of 3.7, around one and a half billion years after the big bang.

    RARE FIND Galaxy ZF-COSMOS-20115, illustrated here, may be an oddity in the early universe. It formed stars rapidly, but then suddenly shut off, becoming red and dead by the time the universe was only 1.65 billion years old. Leonard Doublet/Swinburne University of Technology

    It has a mass equivalent to 170 billion suns, making it one of the most massive galaxies at this point in the universe’s history (much bigger than other similarly quiescent galaxies at this time), but it’s also very compact, less than a kiloparsec across (in comparison, our own Milky Way is ~ 50 kiloparsecs across). How did ZF-COSMOS-20115 become quiescent so quickly after forming, and is it a challenge to our current understanding of galaxy evolution?

    Figure 1: Images of ZF-COSMOS-20115 with the Hubble Space Telescope (left panel), and from ground based telescopes (right panels). The left and top right images show the near-infrared, and the galaxy is clearly visible. In bottom right panel, showing visible light, the galaxy is undetected.

    In order for this galaxy to have formed so many stars and then become quiescent it must have had an enormous burst of star formation very early in its history. The authors speculate that such a burst could have been caused by a major merger between two similarly sized galaxies. Such a violent collision would have caused a huge amount of star formation in a relatively short period of time, sufficient to use up the gas reserves of both galaxies and prevent any further star formation after the merger.

    The authors argue that many current galaxy evolution models struggle to explain ZF-COSMOS-20115 – they contain galaxies of the right mass, but are still forming lots of stars. However, since this pre-print was released many of the theorists working on such models have retorted with evidence that they can produce analogues of ZF-COSMOS-20115 (see here and here). Whether these model analogues are really capturing the true nature of this galaxy or not is still up for debate. Future observations of more quiescent galaxies in the early universe will help theorists build a better picture of these young galaxies, tragically quiescent before their time…

    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.

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