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  • richardmitnick 2:28 pm on December 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, Cold brown dwarfs, ,   

    From Science: “Alien life could thrive in the clouds of failed stars” 

    Science Magazine

    The comfortably warm atmosphere of a brown dwarf is an underappreciated potential home for alien life, scientists say. Mark Garlick/Science Source

    Dec. 2, 2016
    Joshua Sokol

    There’s an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home—and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts.

    The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. “You don’t necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface,” says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study.

    Atmospheric life isn’t just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth’s surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called “sinkers.” Other organisms could be balloonlike “floaters,” which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus’s inhospitable surface.

    Yates and his colleagues applied the same thinking to a kind of world Sagan didn’t know about. Discovered in 2011, some cold brown dwarfs have surfaces roughly at room temperature or below; lower layers would be downright comfortable. In March 2013, astronomers discovered WISE 0855-0714, a brown dwarf only 7 light-years away that seems to have water clouds in its atmosphere. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan’s calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. Sink too low and you are cooked or crushed. Rise too high and you might freeze.

    On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth’s atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan’s floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.

    The idea is speculative but worth considering, says Duncan Forgan, an astrobiologist at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, who did not participate in the study but says he is close to the team. “It really opens up the field in terms of the number of objects that we might then think, well, these are habitable regions.”

    So far, only a few dozen cold brown dwarfs have been discovered, though statistics suggest there should be about 10 within 30 light-years of Earth. These should be ripe targets for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is sensitive in the infrared where brown dwarfs shine brightest.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated
    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    After it launches in 2018, the JWST should reveal the weather and the composition of their atmospheres, says Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. “We’re going to start getting gorgeous spectra of these objects,” she says. “This is making me think about it.”

    Testing for life would require anticipating a strong spectral signature of microbe byproducts like methane or oxygen, and then differentiating it from other processes, Faherty says. Another issue would be explaining how life could arise in an environment that lacks the water-rock interfaces, like hydrothermal vents, where life is thought to have begun on Earth. Perhaps life could develop through chemical reactions on the surfaces of dust grains in the brown dwarf’s atmosphere, or perhaps it gained a foothold after arriving as a hitchhiker on an asteroid. “Having little microbes that float in and out of a brown dwarf atmosphere is great,” Forgan says. “But you’ve got to get them there first.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:56 am on December 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, ,   

    From ESA: “First views of Mars show potential for ESA’s new orbiter” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    29 November 2016
    Håkan Svedhem
    ESA ExoMars TGO Project Scientist
    Email: hakan.svedhem@esa.int

    Markus Bauer
    ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
    Tel: +31 71 565 6799
    Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
    Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

    ESA’s new ExoMars orbiter has tested its suite of instruments in orbit for the first time, hinting at a great potential for future observations.

    Access mp4 video here .


    The Trace Gas Orbiter, or TGO, a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos, arrived at Mars on 19 October. Its elliptical orbit takes it from 230–310 km above the surface to around 98 000 km every 4.2 days.

    ESA/ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter
    ESA/ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

    It spent the last two orbits during 20–28 November testing its four science instruments for the first time since arrival, and making important calibration measurements.

    First look at the atmosphere. Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/NOMAD/BISA/IAA/INAF/OU

    Data from the first orbit has been made available for this release to illustrate the range of observations to be expected once the craft arrives into its near-circular 400 km-altitude orbit late next year.

    TGO’s main goal is to make a detailed inventory of rare gases that make up less than 1% of the atmosphere’s volume, including methane, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide and acetylene.

    Of high interest is methane, which on Earth is produced primarily by biological activity, and to a smaller extent by geological processes such as some hydrothermal reactions.

    The two instruments tasked with this role have now demonstrated they can take highly sensitive spectra of the atmosphere. During the test observations last week, the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite focused on carbon dioxide, which makes up a large volume of the planet’s atmosphere, while the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery instrument homed in on water.

    They also coordinated observations with ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as they will in the future.

    ESA/Mars Express Orbiter
    ESA/Mars Express Orbiter

    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    Complementary measurements by the orbiter’s neutron detector, FREND, will measure the flow of neutrons from the planet’s surface. Created by the impact of cosmic rays, the way in which they are emitted and their speed on arriving at TGO points to the composition of the surface layer, in particular to water or ice just below the surface.

    The instrument has been active at various times during the cruise to Mars and on recent occasions while flying close to the surface could identify the relative difference between regions of known higher and lower neutron flux, although it will take several months to produce statistically significant results.

    Similarly, the instrument showed a clear increase in neutron detections when close to Mars compared to when it was further away.

    The different capabilities of the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System were also demonstrated, with 11 images captured during the first close flyby on 22 November.

    At closest approach the spacecraft was 235 km from the surface, and flying over the Hebes Chasma region, just north of the Valles Marineris canyon system. These are some of the closest images that will ever be taken of the planet by TGO, given that the spacecraft’s final orbit will be at around 400 km altitude.

    The camera team also completed a quick first test of producing a 3D reconstruction of a region in Noctis Labyrinthus, from a stereo pair of images.

    First ExoMars stereo reconstruction. Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    Although the images are impressively sharp, data collected during this test period will help to improve the camera’s onboard software as well as the quality of the images after processing.

    “We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what’s to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s TGO Project Scientist.

    “Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.

    “We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future.”

    ExoMars science orbit 1. Credit: ESA

    See the full article here .

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

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  • richardmitnick 7:15 am on December 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, , , , Why must time be a dimension?   

    From Starts With a Bang: “Why must time be a dimension?” 

    From Ethan Siegel

    A time-lapse photo like this composition reminds us that photographs are normally snapshots of locations at particular moments, with each moment distinct and unique from the last. Image credit: flickr user Anthony Pucci.

    Sure, we move through it just like space, but it was the aftermath of Einstein that led to us truly understanding it.

    “It is old age, rather than death, that is to be contrasted with life. Old age is life’s parody, whereas death transforms life into a destiny: in a way it preserves it by giving it the absolute dimension. Death does away with time.” -Simone de Beauvoir

    When we think about how we can move through the Universe, we immediately think of three different directions. Left-or-right, forwards-or-backwards, and upwards-or-downwards: the three independent directions of a Cartesian grid. All three of those count as dimensions, and specifically, as spatial dimensions. But we commonly talk about a fourth dimension of a very different type: time. But what makes time a dimension at all? That’s this week’s Ask Ethan question from Thomas Anderson, who wants to know:

    “I have always been a little perplexed about the continuum of 3+1 dimensional Space-time. Why is it always 3 [spatial] dimensions plus Time?”

    Let’s start by looking at the three dimensions of space you’re familiar with.

    On the surface of a world like the Earth, two coordinates, like latitude and longitude, are sufficient to define a location. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Hellerick.

    Here on the surface of the Earth, we normally only need two coordinates to pinpoint our location: latitude and longitude, or where you are along the north-south and east-west axes of Earth. If you’re willing to go underground or above the Earth’s surface, you need a third coordinate — altitude/depth, or where you are along the up-down axis — to describe your location. After all, someone at your exact two-dimensional, latitude-and-longitude location but in a tunnel beneath your feet or in a helicopter overhead isn’t truly at the same location as you. It takes three independent pieces of information to describe your location in space.

    Your location in this Universe isn’t just described by spatial coordinates (where), but also by a time coordinate (when). Image credit: Pixabay user rmathews100.

    But spacetime is even more complicated than space, and it’s easy to see why. The chair you’re sitting in right now can have its location described by those three coordinates: x, y and z. But it’s also occupied by you right now, as opposed to an hour ago, yesterday or ten years from now. In order to describe an event, knowing where it occurs isn’t enough; you also need to know when, which means you need to know the time coordinate, t. This played a big deal for the first time in relativity, when we were thinking about the issue of simultaneity. Start by thinking of two separate locations connected by a path, with two people walking from each location to the other one.

    Two points connected by a 1-dimensional (linear) path. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Simeon87.

    You can visualize their paths by putting two fingers, one from each hand, at the two starting locations and “walking” them towards their destinations. At some point, they’re going to need to pass by one another, meaning your two fingers are going to have to be in the same spot at the same time. In relativity, this is what’s known as a simultaneous event, and it can only occur when all the space components and all the time components of two different physical objects align.

    This is supremely non-controversial, and explains why time needs to be considered as a dimension that we “move” through, the same as any of the spatial dimensions. But it was Einstein’s special theory of relativity that led his former professor, Hermann Minkowski, to devise a formulation that put the three space dimensions and the one time dimension together.


    We all realize that to move through space requires motion through time; if you’re here, now, you cannot be somewhere else now as well, you can only get there later. In 1905, Einstein’s special relativity taught us that the speed of light is a universal speed limit, and that as you approach it you experience the strange phenomena of time dilation and length contraction. But perhaps the biggest breakthrough came in 1907, when Minkowski realized that Einstein’s relativity had an extraordinary implication: mathematically, time behaves exactly the same as space does, except with a factor of c, the speed of light in vacuum, and a factor of i, the imaginary number √(-1).

    An example of a light cone, the three-dimensional surface of all possible light rays arriving at and departing from a point in spacetime. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user MissMJ.

    Putting all of these revelations together yielded a new picture of the Universe, particularly as respects how we move through it.

    If you’re completely stationary, remaining in the same spatial location, you move through time at its maximal rate.
    The faster you move through space, the slower you move through time, and the shorter the spatial distances in your direction-of-motion appear to be.
    And if you were completely massless, you would move at the speed of light, where you would traverse your direction-of-motion instantaneously, and no time would pass for you.

    A stationary observer sees time pass normally, but an observer moving rapidly through space will have their clock run slower relative to the stationary observer. Image credit: Michael Schmid of Wikimedia Commons.

    From a physics point of view, the implications are astounding. It means that all massless particles are intrinsically stable, since no time can ever pass for them. It means that an unstable particle, like a muon created in the upper atmosphere, can reach the Earth’s surface, despite the fact that multiplying its lifetime (2.2 µs) by the speed of light yields a distance (660 meters) that’s far less than the distance it must travel. And it means that if you had a pair of identical twins and you left one on Earth while the other took a relativistic journey into space, the journeying twin would be much younger upon return, having experienced the passage of less time.

    Mark and Scott Kelly at the Johnson Space Center, Houston Texas; one spent a year in space (and aged slightly less) while the other remained on the ground. Image credit: NASA.

    As Minkowski said in 1908,

    “The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth, space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

    Today, the formulation of spacetime is even more generic, and encompasses the curvature inherent to space itself, which is how special relativity got generalized. But the reason time is just as good a dimension as space is because we’re always moving through it, and the reason it’s sometimes written as a “1″ in “3+1″ (instead of just treated as another “1″ of the “4″) is because increasing your motion through space decreases your motion through time, and vice versa. (Mathematically, this is where the i comes in.)

    Having your camera anticipate the motion of objects through time is just one practical application of the idea of time-as-a-dimension.

    The remarkable thing is that anyone, regardless of their motion through space relative to anyone else, will see these same rules, these same effects and these same consequences. If time weren’t a dimension in this exact way, the laws of relativity would be invalid, and there might yet be a valid concept such as absolute space. We need the dimensionality of time for physics to work the way it does, and yet our Universe provides for it oh so well. Be proud to give it a “+1” in all you do.

    See the full article here .

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    “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

  • richardmitnick 10:56 pm on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, GREGOR solar telescope, Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics   

    From Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics: “New Solar Telescope GREGOR” 


    Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics

    KIP telescope GREGOR

    First Results from the GREGOR Solar Telescope


    GREGOR is Europe’s largest solar telescope and is a part of the Teide Observatory on Tenerife, on the Canary Islands, Spain. It observes the Sun at visible and near-infrared wavelengths to collect data from the photosphere and the overlying chromosphere. GREGOR measures magnetic field and material motion with high precision and with a spatial resolution of some 50 km on the solar surface.

    The development of GREGOR started around the turn of the millennium and marked an important paradigm change. Since the 1970s, large solar telescopes were constructed as evacuated systems in order to eliminate internal seeing and to improve the imaging quality. With an aperture of 1.5 meters, an evacuated telescope with an entrance window was no longer an option, so GREGOR is an open telescope with active cooling of the primary mirror. A retractable dome allows flushing of the telescope with ambient air. Thanks to its mature adaptive optics and a suite of spectroscopic, polarimetric, and imaging instruments, it is now one of world’s most powerful solar telescopes.

    See the full article here .

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    KIS operates the german solar telescopes at Teide Observatory on Tenerife (Spain)

    The Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics (KIS) conducts experimental and theoretical investigations of physical processes on and within the Sun. Its headquarter is in Freiburg, Germany. The KIS operates the german solar telescopes at Teide Observatory on Tenerife (Spain) where most of the scientific observations are performed. KIS offers lectures on astronomy and astrophysics at Freiburg university and trains young scientists.

  • richardmitnick 2:56 pm on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Basic Research, , ,   

    From The Atlantic: “Fancy Math Can’t Make Aliens Real” 

    Atlantic Magazine

    The Atlantic Magazine

    Jun 17, 2016 [Where has this been?]
    Ross Andersen


    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey
    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    Inflationary Universe. NASA/WMAP
    Inflationary Universe. NASA/WMAP

    Last week [at the time of this article], The New York Times published an op-ed titled, Yes, There Have Been Aliens. As its headline suggests, the piece makes an extraordinary claim. “While we do not know if any advanced extraterrestrial civilizations currently exist in our galaxy,” its author writes, “we now have enough information to conclude that they almost certainly existed at some point in cosmic history.”

    That we could know such a thing is not inconceivable. For decades now, a small group of “interstellar archaeologists” has pored over star surveys, looking for evidence of long-dead civilizations, in the form of enormous technological structures. Reading that headline in the Times, I wondered: had one of these astronomers seen something extraordinary?

    Alas, I was disappointed.

    Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, wrote the essay that appeared in the Times. Frank is a gifted scientist, and a thoughtful science writer. He begins the op-ed with an enthusiastic update on the ongoing exoplanet revolution. I must confess I share his enthusiasm. I suspect that future historians of science will wonder what it was like to live in this moment. A little more than two decades ago, we weren’t sure whether there were any planets outside our solar system. Now we have reason to believe that nearly all stars host planets, and that many of them are rocky and wet like our own. No generation of humans has ever gazed up at night skies so pregnant with possibility.

    It is precisely this profusion of planets that gives Frank confidence that ours is not the first intelligent civilization. “Given what we now know about the number and orbital positions of the galaxy’s planets,” he tells us, “the degree of pessimism required to doubt the existence, at some point in time, of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization borders on the irrational.” Most of us have heard a version of this argument, late at night, around a campfire: Look at all the stars in the night sky. Is it really possible that all of their planets are sterile, and all of their predecessors, too?

    These arguments have their appeal, but it is an appeal to intuition. The simple fact is that no matter how much we wish to live in a universe that teems with life—and many of us wish quite fervently—we haven’t the slightest clue how often it evolves. Indeed, we aren’t even sure how life arose on this planet. We have our just-so stories about lightning strikes and volcanic vents, but no one has come close to duplicating abiogenesis in a lab. Nor do we know whether basic organisms reliably evolve into beings like us.

    We can’t extrapolate from our experience on this planet, because it’s only one data point. We could be the only intelligent beings in the universe, or we could be one among trillions, and either way Earth’s natural history would look the exact same. Even if we could draw some crude inferences, the takeaways might not be so reassuring. It took two billion years for simple, single-celled life to spawn our primordial lineage, the eukaryotes. And so far as we can tell, it only happened once. It took another billion years for eukaryotes to bootstrap into complex animal life, and hundreds of millions of years more for the development of language and sophisticated tool-making. And unlike the eye, or bodies with legs—adaptations that have arisen independently on many branches of life’s tree—intelligence of the spaceship-making sort has only emerged once, in all of Earth’s history. It just doesn’t seem like one of evolution’s go-to solutions.

    Frank compresses each of these important, billions-of-years-in-the-making leaps in evolution into a single “biotechnical” probability, which is meant to capture the likelihood of the whole sequence. For all we know, each step could be a highly contingent cosmic lottery win. Perhaps eukaryotes “usually” take tens of billions of years to evolve, and we lucked into an early outlier on the distribution curve. Perhaps we have been fortunate at every step of the way. Frank’s argument skips over these probabilities. Or rather, it bundles them up into a single, tidy unknown, that he can hammer with a big italicized number:

    “What our calculation revealed is that even if this probability [that technological civilization evolves] is assumed to be extremely low, the odds that we are not the first technological civilization are actually high. Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first.”

    Absent a clear account of how often we can expect planets to spawn technological civilizations, we don’t have any way to evaluate that “10 billion trillion” number. We certainly don’t have grounds to say that the “odds are high” that some civilization preceded ours, or enough evidence to suggest that skepticism about the possibility “borders on the irrational.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:45 am on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Basic Research, Classifying Supernovae,   

    From astrobites: “Classifying Supernovae” 

    Astrobites bloc


    Dec 2, 2016
    Ashley Villar

    Supernovae (SNe) are the deaths of stars big and small. Like many older fields of astronomy, the study of supernovae is plagued with dated nomenclature which is largely unrelated to the physics driving these dazzling events. Below is an enumeration of many known supernova subtypes and simple guidelines for classification. These classifications will rely on your knowledge of spectra, so we recommend reading our spectroscopy guide first!

    Thermonuclear Explosions:

    Type Ia: Type Ia supernovae are the most famous type for two reasons: we find them most often, and they can be used to study cosmology. The latter is true due to their striking lack of diversity. The shape of their light curves (the luminosity of the supernovae as a function of time) can be used to measure their maximum luminosity. This means that Type Ia SNe can be used as standard candles to measure distances. Ironically, the origin of these explosions is still uncertain. Type Ia supernovae are likely caused by the thermonuclear explosions of white dwarf stars; however,it’s currently unclear if these explosions are from single white dwarfs or merging white dwarf binaries. In our simple classification, Type Ia supernovae lack hydrogen and have a strong silicon absorption line near its maximum luminosity.

    Core-collapse Explosions:

    Type Ib: Type Ib supernovae are formed when a massive star collapses under its own gravity. This star must have its outer envelope of hydrogen stripped away, because we observe no hydrogen in these spectra of these objects. However, we do observe the second ‘onion layer’ of helium.

    Type Ic: Type Ic supernovae are also formed when a massive star collapses under its own gravity. The stars that produce these supernovae have both their hydrogen and helium layers stripped away over the course of their lives. Because of this, we do not see hydrogen or helium in the spectra of Type Ic SNe.

    Type Ic – Broad Lined (Type Ic – BL): Some Type Ic supernovae have very broad lines (a speed of 20,000 km/s for the bulk of the material!) compared to normal Type Ic SNe. As you might expect, these supernovae typically have higher kinetic energies than normal Ic SNe as well. The origin of the increased energy is unclear and a highly debated topic.

    GRB-SNe: Some Type Ic – BL supernovae are associated with another transient phenomenon: gamma-ray bursts. These events have been interpreted as the collapse of a massive star with the formation of a jet pointed in our direction. It’s possible that all Type Ic – BL SNe are associated with GRBs and some are just not pointed towards us, but we’re not sure yet!

    Superluminous Supernovae (Type I/II SLSNe): A subset of all supernovae are found to be 100 times or brighter than most supernovae. This class is therefore called “superluminous supernovae” — clever, right? SLSNe are, like normal SNe, divided into Type I (lacking hydrogen) and Type II (showing hydrogen). Type II SLSNe are typically spectroscopically similar to Type IIn SNe (see below), so they might be extreme versions of the same explosions. However, the mechanics behind Type I SLSNe is highly debated.

    Type IIn: Type IIn supernovae have very narrow (or slow) hydrogen lines in their spectra, superimposed on the typical broad lines. These narrow lines are interpreted as hydrogen which was blown off of the star before it exploded. To support this argument, a few of these Type IIn supernovae, like SN 2009ip, have had extreme outbursts before their final explosion.

    Type IIP/II L: Type IIP/IIL contain relatively broad hydrogen lines. These explosions are thought to be the deaths of red supergiant stars, which are enshrined by their hydrogen envelopes. The light curves of Type IIP and Type IIL supernovae have distinctive shapes, with a long plateau lasting for hundreds of days.

    Type IIb: Type IIb supernovae largely break our classification system, but we have included them to give you a glimpse of how funky this business is. Spectra of Type IIb SNe begin with strong hydrogen lines, putting them in the Type II category. However, at late times they lose this hydrogen emission and instead resemble Type Ib SNe (with helium features). These explosions are likely from stars which have lost part of their hydrogen envelopes.

    Below is a visual guide to classifying supernovae. To be clear: the real classifications of supernovae are a challenging business, and require a complex ruleset. This is especially true as the subclasses become more specialized. In the below image, for example, it is entirely possible for a SLSN to be associated with a long GRB, or a Type Ia to be cloaked in hydrogen.


    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 7:28 am on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, , Optical stabilising reference cavity   

    From ESA: “Optical stabilising reference cavity” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency


    Optical stabilising reference cavity. National Physical Laboratory.

    What looks like an abstract sculpture is actually the laser equivalent of a tuning fork – to serve a new generation of space instruments.

    “This is an ‘optical stabilising reference cavity’, through which laser light is contained between a pair of super-polished mirrors kept a precise distance apart,” explains ESA physicist Eamonn Murphy.

    ”This laser light is then used to lock the frequency of the laser – and prevent it drifting – in a similar principle to a tuning fork, as applied to musical instruments.”

    Such lasers will serve at the heart of next-generation ‘optical atomic clocks’, improving on current microwave atomic clocks used for timing and navigation, as well as enabling ultrasensitive gravity detectors.

    This 5 cm cube cavity was developed for ESA by the National Physical Laboratory, NPL, which is the national measurement institute of the UK, specialised in extremely precise measuring techniques.

    NPL used ultra-low expansion glass, resistant to changing size with temperature. A pathway was then drilled through the middle, with mirrors placed at either end.

    The working version of the cavity is enclosed in a vacuum chamber to prevent any disturbance by air molecules, followed by a thermal shroud to maintain its temperature to within a tiny fraction of a degree. It can then be placed on an acoustic damping baseplate to further isolate it from any microvibrations.

    This effort began back in 2009 with three parallel projects within ESA’s Basic Technology Research Programme, working with the national measuring institutes France and Germany as well as the UK.

    Expertise and elements from all the resulting designs will soon be incorporated into a new working prototype, supported through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, which finalises hardware for space.

    “Our aim is to deliver a six order-of-magnitude improvement in laser linewidth from initial laser performance,” adds Eamonn, “to maintain a stable drift-free frequency, insensitive to even minute accelerations.”

    See the full article here .

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

    ESA50 Logo large

  • richardmitnick 7:00 am on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, , , In Practice: What do data analysts do all day?, , , , The appeal of the unknown   

    From CERN: “In Practice: What do data analysts do all day?” 

    Cern New Bloc

    Cern New Particle Event

    CERN New Masthead


    2 Dec 2016
    Kathryn Coldham
    Kate Kahle
    Harriet Jarlett

    CMS physicist Nadjieh Jafari switched from theoretical to experimental physics early on in her career. “It was an easy decision,” she says. “Once I saw CERN, it became my quest.” (Image: Sophia Bennett/ CERN)

    Another day, another mountain of data to analyse. In 2016, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider produced more collisions than in all previous years of operation put together. Experimental physicists spend much of their professional lives analysing collision data, working towards a potential discovery or to sharpen our picture of nature. But when the day-to-day findings become predictable, do physicists lose motivation?

    What if there’s nothing there?

    CERN has made headlines with its discoveries, but does this mean today’s researchers are just seeking fame and fortune? For most, being front-page news is not what stokes their physics passion, as they stare at their computer screens for hours. Instead, it’s the knowledge and excitement of understanding our universe at the most fundamental level.

    Siegfried Foertsch, run coordinator of the ALICE experiment, is motivated by “the completely new discoveries that lie around the corner. They’ve become ascertainable because of the new energies that the LHC machine is providing.”

    Sitting in the ALICE control room, Siegfried explains: “I think what motivates people in these experiments is that you are entering terra incognita, it’s completely new science. It drives most people in these big experiments, it’s about new discoveries.” (Image: Sophia Bennett/CERN)

    These headline-worthy discoveries are rare. Instead, researchers make small, incremental findings day-by-day. “It doesn’t bother me that it’s not going to make front-page news. I know that within the particle physics community the research is important and that’s enough,” says Sneha Malde of the LHCb experiment.

    For CMS physicist Anne-Marie Magnan, her colleagues provide the much-needed push.

    “We have deadlines, so if you are part of an analysis you have pressure to make progress and you put personal pressure on yourself because you want to see the result. If you’re on a review committee you have deadlines, you need to provide feedback, the same if you’re managing a subgroup, you’re responsible for the group to show results at conferences. So you push people and they push you back to try and make progress,” she explains.

    Magnan analyses data to search for Higgs bosons . She describes her daily work as “programming, mostly. A lot of interaction with people, I have students to Skype with and when they say ‘I’m stuck, I don’t know what to do’ we chat and find solutions. At some points I’ve been a subgroup convener. There you encourage people to make progress and provide feedback on their analyses.”

    “It’s an exercise of patience because, after time, the incremental findings lead to a result. And even if you’re just working towards a result, you still have to solve technical problems each day,” explains Leticia Cunqueiro Mendez, a senior postdoctoral researcher working with the ALICE detector.

    Building bonds: the road to success

    Each one of these incremental, small discoveries are documented by a research paper. At CERN, these papers are often authored by hundreds, even thousands of people, as was the case with the papers announcing the Higgs discovery. And they aren’t just experimental physicists; students, technicians, engineers and computer scientists are all often equally involved.

    Having a high level of motivation can only get a physicist so far, working with others is the route to success.

    “People need each other here,” says Siegfried Foertsch, “the idea of a physicist without an engineer at CERN is unthinkable, and similarly vice versa. It’s symbiotic.”

    “I think the work of the technicians is a major contribution to the applied physics that I’m involved in. They are the unsung heroes in most of what we do to some extent,” says David Francis, Project Leader of the ATLAS Trigger and Data Acquisition System.

    For Cunqueiro Mendez, “the main thing is to know the possibilities of your detector and to have an interesting idea of what physics might be observable. For this you need interaction with the theorists so, in principle, you have to be reading papers and attending conferences. Here at CERN, you can meet your theory colleagues for a coffee and discuss your possibilities.”

    Eeney meeney miney mo

    Working with others can be collaborative, but it can also be competitive. There is a point of pride for one experiment to beat the competition to a discovery.

    Sneha Malde standing in the corridor outside of her office (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

    While the ATLAS and CMS experiments perform similar searches, the LHCb and ALICE experiments have particular fields of study, and the work that the associated physicists do differs as a result.

    Bump searches are what physicists call it when they try to find statistically significant peaks in the data; the presence of a bump could indicate the existence of a new particle. Some of these searches are done at ATLAS and CMS, where new particles are the name of the game. At LHCb and ALICE they try to take precision measurements of phenomenon, more than particles.

    “I don’t think I would be very happy just looking at empty plots with nothing in them, which could happen in bump searches if they don’t find anything new,” muses Malde. “I like the precision measurement aspect of LHCb’s data.”

    Studying and searching for different things means the data plots for different experiments look very different.

    “I like having obvious things in my plots. I like nice bumps, big ones. We have lots of bumps that don’t disappear, and they are really big peaks. We don’t have bumps, we have mountains!” – Sneha Malde, LHCb data analyst

    ATLAS physicist Anatolli Romaniouk, marvels at this range of LHC experiments. They “embrace an incredible field of physics, they search for everything.”

    “This is physics; if we know what we are searching for, then we don’t need experiments. If you know what exactly you want to find, it’s already found, or will be found soon. That’s why our experiments are beautiful because these experiments embrace an incredible field of physics, the LHC, it searches for everything,” explains Romaniouk.

    The beauty of the unknown

    ATLAS physicist Anatolli Romaniouk has worked at CERN since 1990. The students he sees in the collaboration “know a bit of electronics, data acquisition and data analysis, very often they do it from second year of university and this is interesting. I find this brilliant, that they practice real physics at an early stage of their education.” (Image: Sophia Bennett/CERN)

    The appeal of the unknown, the as yet undiscovered, ignites the curiosity in the physicists and fuels them in their analyses.

    “When you have something in theory and think that it could be real – that it could exist – then you start to really think how you can look for it and try to find it,” says CMS physicist Nadjieh Jafari. “You build your experiment based on the theories. The CMS’s muon system was perfectly designed to discover the Higgs boson but at the moment of designing it, it was just an idea that we might find it. For me, that’s the most beautiful part of what we do.”

    See the full article here.

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    Meet CERN in a variety of places:

    Cern Courier




    CERN CMS New

    CERN LHCb New II


    CERN LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    Quantum Diaries

  • richardmitnick 6:12 am on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Basic Research, , , Germany awards approximately two billion euro to space projects   

    From DLR: “ESA Council meeting at ministerial level in Lucerne – Germany awards approximately two billion euro to space projects” 

    DLR Bloc

    German Aerospace Center

    02 December 2016

    Sabine Hoffmann
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Corporate Communications, Head of Department
    Tel.: +49 2203 601-2116
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249

    Andreas Schütz
    Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) – German Aerospace Center
    Tel.: +49 2203 601-2474
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249


    The highest decision-making body of the European Space Agency (ESA) met this year on 1 and 2 December at the Culture and Convention Centre (KKL) in Lucerne, Switzerland, to set the financial and programme-based course for European space travel for the coming years. Ministers in charge of space in Europe last came together exactly two years ago on 2 December 2014 in Luxembourg.

    ESA Icon II

    The German Federal Government was represented by Brigitte Zypries, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Brigitte Zypries, who is also aerospace coordinator, was supported by Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Executive Board and Gerd Gruppe, Member of the DLR Executive Board responsible for the Space Administration, which, in close collaboration with the BMWi, prepared the German position for the ESA Council meeting at ministerial level.

    “Our commitment to the application programmes, in particular, leads to concrete benefits for people. Satellite-based Earth observation is the basis for improved climate protection. In addition, innovative business models are created for German companies through the use of satellite data,” emphasised Brigitte Zypries. “We have also succeeded in supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in space investment.” At the same time, from a German perspective, the focus was on the ESA programmes, which, with excellent research, fundamentally expand the understanding of the Universe and Earth and are the basis for strategic international cooperation. The International Space Station (ISS) also wants to make further use of Germany: “We are taking responsibility for a central global project at the ISS, and the Space Station offers excellent opportunities for research under space conditions, and the German industry is also benefiting from results, for example in the field of materials research. And we are looking forward to Alexander Gerst’s mission in 2018,” added Zypries.

    “With our investments in the programme, we are ensuring the necessary continuity, but are also placing new emphasis on particularly future-oriented topics. The German contribution has succeeded in establishing the European participation in the ISS reliably and in the long term by 2024. With 29 million euro for ExoMars, Germany has maintained its commitments and is thus a strong partner in this international cooperation with the US and Russia,” adds DLR Chair Pascale Ehrenfreund, and emphasises: “With our scientific and technological expertise and our stakeholders in programmes such as Earth observation, we can make a decisive contribution to international development assistance and the implementation of the global sustainability and environmental targets of the United Nations.”


    At the ESA Council meeting at ministerial level, financial resources totalling around 10.3 billion euro were awarded. Germany provided two billion euro and is thus one of the largest ESA contributors. More specifically, Germany accounted for around 903 million euro for the ESA compulsory programmes, which in addition to the general budget, include the science programme and the European spaceport in French Guiana. Around 1.2 billion euro of the German contribution was allocated to the so-called optional programmes: more specifically, around 300 million euro to Earth observation, some 160 million euro to telecommunications, around 63 million euro to technology programmes and around 346 million euro to continuing operation of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2019 and about 88 million for research under space conditions. In addition, Germany is supporting the extension of ISS operation until 2024 in the form of a political declaration.

    German financial contributions in detail:

    E3P – new framework programme for research and exploration

    All robotic and astronautical activities for exploration are combined in the new European Exploration Envelope (framework) Programme (E3P). This combines the European science and technology programme for use of near-Earth orbit for space research with exploration of the Moon and Mars. Subprogrammes here include the ISS (German share: 346 million euro) and its utilisation programme SciSpacE (German share: 88 million euro) in low Earth orbit. Germany is thereby taking on the leading role. For the continuation of the ExoMars mission the member countries contributed a further 339 million euro, of which Germany;s share was about 28 million. In addition, Germany is investing 21 million euro in ExPeRT (exploration, preparation, research and technology), a programme for mission studies and technology development for further exploration, including a commercial approach.


    In terms of launchers, the central decisions lay with the ‘Launchers Exploitation Accompaniment’ (LEAP) and Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) operating programmes. Germany contributed 155 million euro here and is the strongest partner after France.

    From 2020, Ariane 6 will be the new launcher to transport payloads into space. Germany is contributing with a share of around 23 percent in the total costs of Ariane 6 development; the principal industrial contractors are Airbus Safran Launchers (in Germany with sites in Bremen and Ottobrunn) and MT Aerospace in Augsburg and Bremen.

    To remain competitive over the long term, too, innovative technologies, processes and system concepts need to be developed and made market ready. These New Economic Opportunities (NEOs) are set to drastically reduce development and subsequent production costs while at the same time decreasing the development risk. Germany has contributed 52 million euro to this Future Launchers Preparation Programme (FLPP).


    By 2035, seven average-sized and three large-scale exploration missions, along with further analyses of the Solar System and galaxies, are set to begin within the ESA science programme. Financing of this programme depends on the economic power of the Member States. At 20 percent, Germany is the largest contributor to this programme, contributing 542 million euro.

    Of particular German interest is the PLATO mission, which is set to survey large portions of the sky for exoplanets and bright stars from 2025.


    The DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin is taking the scientific lead here and also developing the payload for the mission. The German aerospace industry, and in particular OHB and Airbus Defence & Space, are playing a particularly decisive role. The data centre is being built to a significant degree at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen. The DLR Space Administration has primary responsibility to ESA for delivery of the payload.

    Germany is contributing to six out of a total of 11 instruments for the Jupiter moon mission JUICE (planned launch date: 2022), two of which are being managed by Germany.

    ESA/Juice spacecraft
    ESA/Juice spacecraft

    BepiColombo, the European–Japanese mission to the closest planet to the sun, Mercury, is set to launch in April 2018, bringing new insights into the formation of the Solar System. German research institutes are contributing to the mission with six instruments.


    At the end of 2020, the Euclid mission is set to explore the question of ‘dark matter’ and dark energy in the Universe.

    ESA/Euclid spacecraft
    ESA/Euclid spacecraft

    German partners include the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, the University Observatory Munich and the University of Bonn

    Earth observation

    From climate research and global environmental monitoring to increasingly precise weather forecasts and satellite-based disaster relief, Germany, together with the UK, is the largest contributor to Earth observation programmes, contributing 300 million euro, and wants to retain its leading international position in this field. German industry and research groups have been and are to a large extent involved in successful missions such as GOCE, Cryosat 2, SWARM and SMOS as well as in the future missions ADM / Aeolus, BIOMASS, FLEX and EarthCARE. The ESA Climate Initiative (GMECV +) is currently providing 12 essential climate variables and was extended at the ESA Council meeting at ministerial level.

    ESA/GOCE Spacecraft
    ESA/GOCE Spacecraft

    ESA/CryoSat 2
    ESA/CryoSat 2



    Satellite communications

    In the field of satellite communications (ARTES programme), the main goal is to support innovative technologies and products for the global commercial market. Germany contributed around 160 million euro. Here, German industry has made a several-year head start with the development of laser communication terminals. Germany has therefore contributed 26 million euro to the new Skylight programme to further develop optical technologies. Furthermore, Germany is financing commercially focused integrated applications (‘NewSpace’ activities) with around 18 million euro. A further 64 million euro have been awarded to develop ‘Electra’, one of the small satellite buses with electric motors led by Bremen-based company OHB. The SmallGEO platform built in Germany for the smaller telecommunications satellites market segment is being further developed. On 27 January 2017, the first SmallGEO satellite will be launched from French Guiana.

    Space situational awareness

    Germany awarded 16 million euro to the ‘Space Situational Awareness’ (SSA) programme, with a focus on space weather. Better knowledge of space weather makes a valuable contribution to the preservation and sustainable use of space-based and terrestrial infrastructures, such as in the case of global navigation satellite systems and for science. It also represents important data for the German Space Situational Awareness Centre.

    Technological development

    The German programme contribution to the so-called General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) aims in particular to maintain, expand and strengthen the industrial competitiveness of German SMEs, particularly start-ups. The German contribution is around 63 million euro.

    See the full article here .

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    DLR Center

    DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

    DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

  • richardmitnick 5:50 am on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 7 Among World’s Leading Scientific Minds, , Basic Research,   

    From UMass Amherst: “Seven UMass Amherst Researchers Named among ‘World’s Leading Scientific Minds,’ Survey Says” 

    U Mass Amherst

    University of Massachusetts

    December 1, 2016
    Janet Lathrop


    Once again, seven University of Massachusetts Amherst faculty members are among “the world’s leading scientific minds,” whose publications are among the most influential in their fields, according to a survey by leading multinational media and information firm Thomson Reuters.

    Thomson Reuters compilers who set out to identify “some of the best and brightest scientific minds of our time” recently recognized UMass Amherst food scientists Eric Decker and David Julian McClements, polymer scientist Thomas Russell, soil chemist Baoshan Xing of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, biostatistician and epidemiologist Susan Hankinson of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, microbiologist Derek Lovley and astronomer Mauro Giavaliso in its recent Highly Cited Researchers 2016 list.

    Thomson Reuters says, “The 2016 list focuses on contemporary research achievement: only Highly Cited Papers in science and social sciences journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection during the 11-year period 2004-14 were surveyed.” These papers are defined as those that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science.

    Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement for the campus, says, “The results of this citation study demonstrate the terrific impact of the research done by this distinguished group of UMass Amherst faculty and their students.”

    The UMass Amherst researchers are among more than 3,000 researchers in 21 fields who earned this distinction “by writing the greatest numbers of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as highly cited papers, ranking among the top 1 percent most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact,” the compilers explain.

    To focus on “more contemporary research achievement” and “recognize early and mid-career as well as senior researchers,” for this year’s list they survey only articles and reviews in science and social sciences journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection during the period 2004-14. Next, as an impact measure they consider only Highly Cited Papers, those ranked in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year, instead of total citations.

    “Relatively younger researchers are more apt to emerge in such an analysis than in one dependent on total citations over many years,” compilers note. Data used in the analysis and selection came from Essential Science Indicators, 2002-12, which included 113,092 Highly Cited Papers.

    The Thomson Reuters group determined how many researchers to include in the list for each field based on the population of each field. The analysis does not include letters to the editor, correction notices and other marginalia.

    The ranking team notes that “there are many highly accomplished and influential researchers who are not recognized by the method described above and whose names do not appear in the new list,” and “the only reasonable approach to interpreting a list of top researchers such as ours is to fully understand the method behind the data and results, and why the method was used.”

    See the full article here .

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    U Mass Amherst campus

    UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth’s flagship campus, is a nationally ranked public research university offering a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.

    As the flagship campus of America’s education state, the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the leader of the public higher education system of the Commonwealth, making a profound, transformative impact to the common good. Founded in 1863, we are the largest public research university in New England, distinguished by the excellence and breadth of our academic, research and community outreach programs. We rank 29th among the nation’s top public universities, moving up 11 spots in the past two years in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual college guide.

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