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  • richardmitnick 8:01 am on March 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Basic Research, Birkeland currents, , , Our atmosphere, U Calgary   

    From ESA: Supersonic Plasma Jets Discovered 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    23 March 2017
    No writer credit

    Information from ESA’s magnetic field Swarm mission has led to the discovery of supersonic plasma jets high up in our atmosphere that can push temperatures up to almost 10 000°C.

    Presenting these findings at this week’s Swarm Science Meeting in Canada, scientists from the University of Calgary explained how they used measurements from the trio of Swarm satellites to build on what was known about vast sheets of electric current in the upper atmosphere.

    The theory that there are huge electric currents, powered by solar wind and guided through the ionosphere by Earth’s magnetic field, was postulated more than a century ago by Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland.

    1
    Birkeland currents
    Released 23/03/2017 10:19 am
    Copyright University of Calgary/ESA
    Description

    ESA’s Swarm has been used to improve our understanding about vast sheets of electric current in the upper atmosphere. Birkeland currents carry up to 1 TW of electric power to the upper atmosphere – about 30 times the energy consumed in New York during a heatwave. They are also responsible for ‘aurora arcs’, the familiar, slow-moving green curtains of light that can extend from horizon to horizon.
    Recent observations by Swarm have revealed that they are associated with large electrical fields and occur where upwards and downwards Birkeland currents connect through the ionosphere. Scientists have also discovered that these strong electric fields drive supersonic plasma jets.

    2
    Upward and downward current sheets
    Released 23/03/2017 10:10 am
    Copyright University of Calgary/ESA
    Description
    Birkeland currents carry up to 1 TW of electric power to the upper atmosphere – about 30 times the energy consumed in New York during a heatwave. They are also responsible for ‘aurora arcs’, the familiar, slow-moving green curtains of light that can extend from horizon to horizon. Recent observations by Swarm have revealed that they are associated with large electrical fields and occur where upwards and downwards Birkeland currents connect through the ionosphere. Scientists have also discovered that these strong electric fields drive supersonic plasma jets.

    It wasn’t until the 1970s, after the advent of satellites, however, that these ‘Birkeland currents’ were confirmed by direct measurements in space. These currents carry up to 1 TW of electric power to the upper atmosphere – about 30 times the energy consumed in New York during a heatwave. They are also responsible for ‘aurora arcs’, the familiar, slow-moving green curtains of light that can extend from horizon to horizon. While much is known about these current systems, recent observations by Swarm have revealed that they are associated with large electrical fields.

    These fields, which are strongest in the winter, occur where upwards and downwards Birkeland currents connect through the ionosphere.

    Bill Archer from the University of Calgary explained, “Using data from the Swarm satellites’ electric field instruments, we discovered that these strong electric fields drive supersonic plasma jets.

    “The jets, which we call ‘Birkeland current boundary flows’, mark distinctly the boundary between current sheets moving in opposite direction and lead to extreme conditions in the upper atmosphere.

    “They can drive the ionosphere to temperatures approaching 10 000°C and change its chemical composition. They also cause the ionosphere to flow upwards to higher altitudes where additional energisation can lead to loss of atmospheric material to space.”

    4
    Magnetic field sources
    Released 31/10/2012 4:35 pm
    Copyright ESA/DTU Space
    The different sources that contribute to the magnetic field measured by Swarm. The coupling currents or field-aligned currents flow along magnetic field lines between the magnetosphere and ionosphere.

    David Knudsen, also from the University of Calgary, added, “These recent findings from Swarm add knowledge of electric potential, and therefore voltage, to our understanding of the Birkeland current circuit, perhaps the most widely recognised organising feature of the coupled magnetosphere–ionosphere system.”

    This discovery is just one of the new findings presented at the week-long science meeting dedicated to the Swarm mission. Also presented this week and focusing on Birkeland currents, for example, Swarm was used to confirm that these currents are stronger in the northern hemisphere and vary with the season.

    Since they were launched in 2013, the identical Swarm satellites have been measuring and untangling the different magnetic signals that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

    5
    Front of Swarm satellite
    Released 04/02/2014 5:07 pm
    Copyright ESA/ATG medialab
    Swarm is ESA’s first Earth observation constellation of satellites. The trio of identical satellites are designed to identify and measure precisely the different magnetic signals that make up Earth’s magnetic field. The electrical field instrument, positioned at the front of each satellite, measures plasma density, drift and acceleration in high resolution to characterise the electric field around Earth.

    As well as a package of instruments to do this, each satellite has an electric field instrument positioned at the front to measure plasma density, drift and velocity.

    Rune Floberghagen, ESA’s Swarm mission manager, said, “The electric field instrument is the first ionospheric imager in orbit so it’s very exciting to see such fantastic results that are thanks to this new instrument.

    “The dedication of scientists working with data from the mission never ceases to amaze me and we are seeing some brilliant results, such as this, discussed at this week’s meeting.

    “Swarm is really opening our eyes to the workings of the planet from deep down in Earth’s core to the highest part of our atmosphere.”

    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 7:42 am on March 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Basic Research, ,   

    From Goddard: “OSIRIS-REx asteroid search tests instruments, science team” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    March 24, 2017
    Erin Morton
    morton@orex.lpl.arizona.edu
    University of Arizona, Tucson

    Nancy Neal Jones
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    1
    The path of the Main Belt asteroid 12 Victoria, as imaged by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Feb. 11, 2017, during the mission’s Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search. This animation is made of a series of five images taken by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera that were then cropped and centered on Victoria. The images were taken about 51 minutes apart and each was exposed for 10 seconds. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona


    OSIRIS-REx spacecraft

    During an almost two-week search, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission team activated the spacecraft’s MapCam imager and scanned part of the surrounding space for elusive Earth-Trojan asteroids — objects that scientists believe may exist in one of the stable regions that co-orbits the sun with Earth. Although no Earth-Trojans were discovered, the spacecraft’s camera operated flawlessly and demonstrated that it could image objects two magnitudes dimmer than originally expected.

    The spacecraft, currently on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, flew through the center of Earth’s fourth Lagrangian area — a stable region 60 degrees in front of Earth in its orbit where scientists believe asteroids may be trapped, such as asteroid 2010 TK7 discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite in 2010. Though no new asteroids were discovered in the region that was scanned, the spacecraft’s cameras MapCam and PolyCam successfully acquired and imaged Jupiter and several of its moons, as well as Main Belt asteroids.

    “The Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search was a significant success for the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “In this first practical exercise of the mission’s science operations, the mission team learned so much about this spacecraft’s capabilities and flight operations that we are now ahead of the game for when we get to Bennu.”

    The Earth Trojan survey was designed primarily as an exercise for the mission team to rehearse the hazard search the spacecraft will perform as it approaches its target asteroid Bennu. This search will allow the mission team to avoid any natural satellites that may exist around the asteroid as the spacecraft prepares to collect a sample to return to Earth in 2023 for scientific study.

    The spacecraft’s MapCam imager, in particular, performed much better than expected during the exercise. Based on the camera’s design specifications, the team anticipated detecting four Main Belt asteroids. In practice, however, the camera was able to detect moving asteroids two magnitudes fainter than expected and imaged a total of 17 Main Belt asteroids. This indicates that the mission will be able to detect possible hazards around Bennu earlier and from a much greater distance that originally planned, further reducing mission risk.

    Scientists are still analyzing the implications of the search’s results for the potential population of Earth-Trojan asteroids and will publish conclusions after a thorough study of mission data.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information on OSIRIS-REx, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/osirisrex and http://www.asteroidmission.org

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 2:39 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Basic Research, , , , , ,   

    From WIRED: “Astronomers Don’t Point This Telescope—The Telescope Points Them” 

    Wired logo

    WIRED

    03.23.17
    Sarah Scoles

    1
    U Texas Austin McDonald Observatory Hobby-Eberly Telescope

    The hills of West Texas rise in waves around the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, a powerful instrument encased in a dome that looks like the Epcot ball. Soon, it will become more powerful still: Scientists recently primed the telescope to find evidence of dark energy in the early universe, prying open its eye so it can see and process a wide swath of sky. On April 8, scientists will dedicate the new telescope, capping off the $40 million upgrade and beginning the real work.

    The dark energy experiment, called Hetdex, isn’t how astronomy has traditionally been done. In the classical model, a lone astronomer goes to a mountaintop and solemnly points a telescope at one predetermined object. But Hetdex won’t look for any objects in particular; it will just scan the sky and churn petabytes of the resulting data through a silicon visual cortex. That’s only possible because of today’s steroidal computers, which let scientists analyze, store, and send such massive quantities of data.

    “Dark energy is not only terribly important for astronomy, it’s the central problem for physics. It’s been the bone in our throat for a long time.”

    Steven Weinberg
    Nobel Laureate
    University of Texas at Austin

    The hope is so-called blind surveys like this one will find stuff astronomers never even knew to look for. In this realm, computers take over curation of the sky, telling astronomers what is interesting and worthy of further study, rather than the other way around. These wide-eyed projects are becoming a standard part of astronomers’ arsenal, and the greatest part about them is that their best discoveries are still totally TBD.

    Big Sky Country

    To understand dark energy—that mysterious stuff that pulls the taffy of spacetime—the Hetdex team needed Hobby-Eberly to study one million galaxies 9-11 billion light-years away as they fly away from Earth. To get that many galaxies in a reasonable amount of time, they broadened the view of its 91 tessellated stop-sign-shaped mirrors by 100. They also created an instrument called Virus, with 35,000 optical fibers that send the light from the universe to a spectrograph, which splits it up into constituent wavelengths. All that data can determine both how far away a galaxy is and how fast it’s traveling away from Earth.

    But when a telescope takes a ton of data down from the sky, scientists can also uncover the unexpected. Hetdex’s astronomers will find more than just the stretch marks of dark energy. They’ll discover things about supermassive black holes, star formation, dark matter, and the ages of stars in nearby galaxies.

    The classical method still has advantages; if you know exactly what you want to look at, you write up a nice proposal to Hubble and explain why a fixed gaze at the Whirlpool Galaxy would yield significant results. “But what you see is what you get,” says astronomer Douglas Hudgins. “This is an object, and the science of that object is what you’re stuck with.”

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  • richardmitnick 2:09 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, , Fledgling stars try to prevent their neighbours from birthing planets, , IM Lup, Protoplanetary disc   

    From ICL: “Fledgling stars try to prevent their neighbours from birthing planets” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    22 March 2017
    Hayley Dunning

    1
    Artist’s impression of an evaporating protoplanetary
    disc. Image:NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

    Stars don’t have to be massive to evaporate material from around nearby stars and affect their ability to form planets, a new study [MNRAS] suggests.

    Newly formed stars are surrounded by a disc of dense gas and dust. This is called the protoplanetary disc, as material sticks together within it to form planets.

    Stars of different shapes and sizes are all born in huge star-forming regions. Scientists know that when a protoplanetary disc around a relatively small star is very close to a massive star, the larger star can evaporate parts of the protoplanetary disc.

    However, it was thought this was only the case where very large stars shone on the protoplanetary disc. Now, researchers led by Imperial College London have discovered that a protoplanetary disc shone on by only a relatively weak star is also losing material. The protoplanetary disc studied, called IM Lup, belongs to a star similar to our Sun.

    The researchers estimate that the disc will lose about 3,300 Earth’s worth of material over its 10-million-year lifetime, despite the light from the nearby star being 10,000 times weaker than stars usually caught stripping discs.

    Lead author Dr Thomas Haworth from the Department of Physics at Imperial said: “Because the light shining on this disc is so much weaker than that shining on known evaporating discs, it was expected that there would be no evaporation. We have shown that actually these stars can evaporate a significant amount of material.

    “This result has consequences if we want to understand the diversity of exoplanet systems that are being discovered. This phenomenon could significantly affect the planets that can form around different stars. For example, light from nearby stars could limit the maximum size a solar system can be.”

    2
    IM Lup’s ‘fuzzy halo’

    The IM Lup system was studied recently by Dr Ilse Cleeves at Harvard, who discovered an unexplained ‘halo’ of material around it.

    Working with Dr Cleeves, and researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Cambridge, Dr Haworth modelled the flow and chemistry of the system to determine if the halo was the result of a nearby weak star heating up the system and evaporating away material.

    They found that the halo is the result of evaporation, as material streams away and is lost to space. The team think the reason this disc is being strongly evaporated is that it is very wide.

    When talking about solar systems or discs, distances are usually measured in astronomical units (AU), with one astronomical unit being the distance from the Sun to the Earth. The distance out to Pluto is about 40AU, whereas IM Lup’s disc reaches out to about 400AU.

    This means the star cannot hold on to the disc’s outer parts so strongly, as its gravity would be much weaker that far out, leaving the fringes at the mercy of evaporation.

    Dr Haworth said: “Our calculations show that if the disc started at 700AU in size, it would halve in size in the first million years of its life. Since IM Lup is less than a million years old, we’ve caught it in the act of rapid shrinking.”

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:20 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Basic Research, Challenging the Model for Galactic Bulges, , Galactic bulges   

    From AAS NOVA: “Challenging the Model for Galactic Bulges” 

    AASNOVA

    American Astronomical Society

    24 March 2017
    Susanna Kohler

    1
    The Sombrero Galaxy (Messier 104), an example of a galaxy with a large, classical central bulge. A recent study examines how bulges might grow in the centers of galaxies similar to our own. [ESO]

    Galaxies of similar stellar mass to our own don’t all have the same bulge and black hole masses. So what determines how much mass will end up in the bulge and the black hole at the center of a Milky-Way-like galaxy?

    The Role of Mergers

    One theory is that major and minor mergers build up the bulge and black-hole masses for some galaxies. It’s often argued that massive, centrally concentrated “classical” bulges are caused by merger activity, whereas less massive, more disk-like “pseudobulges” might be caused by other means, such as violent disk instabilities in early gas-rich disks, or misaligned infall of gas throughout cosmic time.

    2
    Bulge mass (top) and BH mass (bottom) as a function of stellar halo mass. Red denotes galaxies with low-mass pseudobulges, black shows galaxies with higher-mass classical bulges. The grey shaded area in the bottom plot shows what would be expected if there were a 1:1 correlation between bulge mass and stellar halo mass. [Bell et al. 2017]

    A team of scientists led by Eric Bell (University of Michigan) set out to test the role of major and minor mergers in bulge formation by examining the stellar halos of a sample of 18 Milky-Way-mass galaxies — six with classical bulges expected to have grown through mergers and 12 with pseudobulges expected to have grown through a variety of other mechanisms.

    Halos as Historical Record

    Stellar halos offer a useful way of tracking the merger history of a galaxy. It’s believed that as major mergers with larger satellites occur, a galaxy’s stellar halo will increase in both mass and metallicity as it retains the stars of the satellite.

    Bell and collaborators first verify this picture in their sample by plotting the stellar halo metallicities against the stellar halo masses. This check reveals a strong correlation between the two properties that’s consistent with the outcomes from simulations — so the stellar halos indeed encode the merger history of the galaxies. This means that from their halos, we can infer the masses of the largest satellites accreted by these galaxies.

    Laboratories for Quiet Accretion

    The authors then search for any indication of correlation between the stellar halo mass and the galaxy’s bulge mass or black hole mass. They find that their galaxy sample has a wide range in stellar halo masses that don’t correlate significantly with the bulge-to-total ratio, bulge mass, or black hole mass of the galaxy. This is true not only for the pseudobulges, but also for the classical bulges.

    4
    The galaxy Messier 81 has a massive classical bulge but an anemic stellar halo containing only 2% of its total stellar mass. This galaxy may be a useful laboratory for studying quiet accretion events. [Subaru Telescope (NAOJ)/HST/R. Colombari/R. Gendler]


    NAOJ/Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Hawaii, USA

    This outcome suggests that not even the classical bulges form primarily via minor and major merging activity. Instead, the bulges all form from a variety of mechanisms: a few are likely created by mergers, but the remainder are probably caused by quieter means like secular evolution, disk instabilities or misaligned gas accretion.

    These findings challenge the classical models of massive bulge formation and suggest that more detailed simulations and observations are necessary to unravel how the bulges and black holes at the centers of Milky-Way-like galaxies are grown. In particular, the galaxies with massive classical bulges but without massive stellar halos (the galaxy M81 is suggested as an example) may be ideal laboratories for studying quiet growth mechanisms.

    Citation

    Eric F. Bell et al 2017 ApJL 837 L8. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa6158

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  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, Can our grid withstand a solar storm?, Geomagnetic storms, HuffPost, ,   

    From LANL via HuffPost: “Can our grid withstand a solar storm?” 

    LANL bloc

    Los Alamos National Laboratory

    HuffPost

    03/21/2017
    Jesse Woodroffe
    Michael Rivera

    1
    NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.
    A composite image of North and South America at night assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.

    When the last really big solar storm hit Earth in 1921, the Sun ejected a burst of plasma and magnetic structures like Zeus hurling a thunderbolt from Mount Olympus. Earth’s magnetic field funneled a wave of electrically charged particles toward the ground, where they induced a current along telegraph lines and railroad tracks that set fire to telegraph offices and burned down train stations. As ghostly curtains of Northern Lights danced far south over the eastern United States, the fledgling electric grid flickered and went dark.

    Almost a century later, today’s grid is bigger, more interconnected, and even more susceptible to a solar storm disaster. No one knows exactly how susceptible, but one recent peer-reviewed study found that an epic solar, or geomagnetic, storm could cost the United States more than $40 billion in damages and lost productivity.

    Most geomagnetic storms are harmless. They regularly lash across Earth after a coronal mass ejection sprays electrons, protons, and other charged particles from the Sun. If they’re aimed just right, a few days later Earth’s magnetic field snares them. They accelerate and light up in another brilliant—and harmless—display of Northern Lights (or Southern Lights below the equator).

    But the less frequent, more severe kind of space weather—call it a 100-year storm—can fry technology and cripple the energy infrastructure. In 1921, it was lights-out across town. Today, heavy dependence on electric-powered technology makes society more vulnerable. In a scant few minutes, a major storm could blow out key components in the electric grid across wide swathes of the United States. Cascading failures could wreak havoc on the water supply, life-saving medical activities, communications, the internet, air travel, and any other grid-dependent sector.

    Mindful of the danger, the nation has developed a plan to support electric utilities in defending against these storms. As part of that plan, we’re researching the credible scenarios that could lead to large impacts. Los Alamos National Laboratory has been studying space weather for more than 50 years as part of our national security mission to monitor nuclear testing around the globe, and part of that work includes studying how the radiation-saturated environment of near space can affect technology and people.

    Now Los Alamos is mining decades’ worth of data from a global network of ground-based geomagnetic sensors, running statistical analyses, and generating computer simulations that model the magnitude, electrical and magnetic characteristics, and location of geomagnetic storms. Just like thunderstorms, solar storms vary, from the orientation of their traveling magnetic field to the kind of particles hurtling our way. The data shows that weaker storms tend to flare up closer to the planet’s poles. In the Northern Hemisphere, stronger storms dip farther south, so they’re more likely to threaten population centers, such as New York City or Chicago. But our models predict that the biggest solar storms don’t necessarily cause the greatest damage—location can trump storm intensity.

    Knowing what might happen, and where, is crucial for government and industry to assess the threats and weigh the risks. Then they can establish the procedures, practices, and regulations needed to withstand the worst solar storms. To support that work, Los Alamos will incorporate its space weather research into new software tools for suggesting industry investments in greater grid resilience and informing government requirements for utilities, such as where to site stations and what kind of transformers to install.

    Space weather scientists have a saying: When you’ve seen one solar storm, you’ve seen one solar storm. The key to grid resilience is knowing something about all possible storms. Armed with scientific analysis from Los Alamos about how frequently a major geomagnetic storm might strike, which regions of the country are most vulnerable, and how bad it might be, electric utility companies and government regulators can take the necessary steps to spare us all from the nightmare of days, weeks, or even months without power. That way, we can all keep the lights on the next time the Sun decides to toss an extra few billion trillion trillion charged particles our way.


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    Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission is to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.

    LANL campus
    Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

    Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

    Operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC for the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s NNSA

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  • richardmitnick 11:33 am on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new gem inside the CMS detector, , Basic Research, , , , , ,   

    From Symmetry: “A new gem inside the CMS detector” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    03/24/17
    Sarah Charley

    1
    Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    This month scientists embedded sophisticated new instruments in the heart of a Large Hadron Collider experiment.

    Sometimes big questions require big tools. That’s why a global community of scientists designed and built gigantic detectors to monitor the high-energy particle collisions generated by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. From these collisions, scientists can retrace the footsteps of the Big Bang and search for new properties of nature.

    The CMS experiment is one such detector. In 2012, it co-discovered the elusive Higgs boson with its sister experiment, ATLAS. Now, scientists want CMS to push beyond the known laws of physics and search for new phenomena that could help answer fundamental questions about our universe. But to do this, the CMS detector needed an upgrade.

    “Just like any other electronic device, over time parts of our detector wear down,” says Steve Nahn, a researcher in the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the US project manager for the CMS detector upgrades. “We’ve been planning and designing this upgrade since shortly after our experiment first started collecting data in 2010.”

    The CMS detector is built like a giant onion. It contains layers of instruments that track the trajectory, energy and momentum of particles produced in the LHC’s collisions. The vast majority of the sensors in the massive detector are packed into its center, within what is called the pixel detector. The CMS pixel detector uses sensors like those inside digital cameras but with a lightning fast shutter speed: In three dimensions, they take 40 million pictures every second.

    For the last several years, scientists and engineers at Fermilab and 21 US universities have been assembling and testing a new pixel detector to replace the current one as part of the CMS upgrade, with funding provided by the Department of Energy Office of Science and National Science Foundation.

    2
    Maral Alyari of SUNY Buffalo and Stephanie Timpone of Fermilab measure the thermal properties of a forward pixel detector disk at Fermilab. Almost all of the construction and testing of the forward pixel detectors occurred in the United States before the components were shipped to CERN for installation inside the CMS detector. Photo by Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

    3
    Stephanie Timpone consults a cabling map while fellow engineers Greg Derylo and Otto Alvarez inspect a completed forward pixel disk. The cabling map guides their task of routing the the thin, flexible cables that connect the disk’s 672 silicon sensors to electronics boards. Maximilien Brice, CERN

    4
    The CMS detector, located in a cavern 100 meters underground, is open for the pixel detector installation. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    5
    Postdoctoral researcher Stefanos Leontsinis and colleague Roland Horisberger work with a mock-up of one side of the barrel pixel detector next to the LHC’s beampipe.
    Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    6
    Leontsinis watches the clearance as engineers slide the first part of the barrel pixel just millimeters from the LHC’s beampipe. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    7
    Scientists and engineers lift and guide the components by hand as they prepare to insert them into the CMS detector. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    8
    Scientists and engineers connect the cooling pipes of the forward pixel detector. The pixel detector is flushed with liquid carbon dioxide to keep the silicon sensors protected from the LHC’s high-energy collisions. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    The pixel detector consists of three sections: the innermost barrel section and two end caps called the forward pixel detectors. The tiered and can-like structure gives scientists a near-complete sphere of coverage around the collision point. Because the three pixel detectors fit on the beam pipe like three bulky bracelets, engineers designed each component as two half-moons, which latch together to form a ring around the beam pipe during the insertion process.

    Over time, scientists have increased the rate of particle collisions at the LHC. In 2016 alone, the LHC produced about as many collisions as it had in the three years of its first run together. To be able to differentiate between dozens of simultaneous collisions, CMS needed a brand new pixel detector.

    The upgrade packs even more sensors into the heart of the CMS detector. It’s as if CMS graduated from a 66-megapixel camera to a 124-megapixel camera.

    Each of the two forward pixel detectors is a mosaic of 672 silicon sensors, robust electronics and bundles of cables and optical fibers that feed electricity and instructions in and carry raw data out, according to Marco Verzocchi, a Fermilab researcher on the CMS experiment.

    The multipart, 6.5-meter-long pixel detector is as delicate as raw spaghetti. Installing the new components into a gap the size of a manhole required more than just finesse. It required months of planning and extreme coordination.

    “We practiced this installation on mock-ups of our detector many times,” says Greg Derylo, an engineer at Fermilab. “By the time we got to the actual installation, we knew exactly how we needed to slide this new component into the heart of CMS.”

    The most difficult part was maneuvering the delicate components around the pre-existing structures inside the CMS experiment.

    “In total, the full three-part pixel detector consists of six separate segments, which fit together like a three-dimensional cylindrical puzzle around the beam pipe,” says Stephanie Timpone, a Fermilab engineer. “Inserting the pieces in the right positions and right order without touching any of the pre-existing supports and protections was a well-choreographed dance.”

    For engineers like Timpone and Derylo, installing the pixel detector was the last step of a six-year process. But for the scientists working on the CMS experiment, it was just the beginning.

    “Now we have to make it work,” says Stefanos Leontsinis, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “We’ll spend the next several weeks testing the components and preparing for the LHC restart.”

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Basic Research, , , From NASA: "NASA Embraces Small Satellites" Video and text,   

    From NASA: “NASA Embraces Small Satellites” Video and text 

    NASA image
    NASA


    Access mp4 video here .

    The earliest satellites of the Space Age were small. Sputnik, for instance, weighed just 184.3 lbs. America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, was even smaller at only about 30 lbs.

    Over time, satellites grew to accommodate more sensors with greater capabilities, but thanks to miniaturization and new technology capabilities, small is back in vogue.

    NASA is one of many government agencies, universities, and commercial organizations embracing small satellite designs, from tiny CubeSats to micro-satellites. A basic CubeSat has 4 inch sides and weighs just a few pounds!

    A CubeSat can be put into place a number of different ways. It can be a hitchhiker, flying to space onboard a rocket whose main purpose is to launch a full-sized satellite. Or it can be put into orbit from the International Space Station. Astronauts recently used this technique when they deployed the Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), a CubeSat that studies solar flares.

    2
    On Feb. 2, 2016, NASA announced which CubeSats will fly on the inaugural flight of the agency’s Space Launch System in late 2018. CubeSats are small satellites, about the size of a cereal box, which provide an inexpensive way to access space. This file photo shows a set of NanoRacks CubeSats in space after their deployment in 2014.
    Credits: NASA

    In 2018, NASA plans to launch the CubeSat to study Solar Particles (CuSP). It will hitch a ride out of Earth orbit during an uncrewed test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System.

    CuSP could serve as a small “space weather buoy.”

    Eric Christian, CuSP’s lead scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says, “Right now, with our current fleet of large satellites, it’s like we’re trying to understand weather for the entire Pacific Ocean with just a handful of weather stations. We need to collect data from more locations.”

    For certain areas of science, having a larger number of less expensive missions will provide a powerful opportunity to really understand a given environment. Christian says, “If you had, say, 20 CubeSats in different orbits, you could really start to understand the space environment in three dimensions.”

    NASA scientists are taking this approach of using a constellation of sensors to probe the details of a large area with a number of recently launched and upcoming missions.

    The Cyclone Global Navigation Satallite System, or CYGNSS, launched in December 2016. CYGNSS uses eight micro-satellites to measure ocean surface winds in and near the eyes of tropical cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes to learn about their rapid intensification. These micro-satellites each weigh about 65 lbs, larger than a CubeSat but still very small compared to traditional satellite designs.

    Additionally, the first four selections from the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program recently began launching. The goal of the InVEST program is to validate new technologies in space prior to use in a science mission.

    RAVAN, the first of the InVEST CubeSats, was launched in November 2016 to demonstrate a new way to measure radiation reflected by Earth. The next three InVEST missions to launch, HARP, IceCube, and MiRaTA, will demonstrate technologies that may pave the way for future satellites to measure clouds and aerosols suspended in Earth’s atmosphere, probe the role of icy clouds in climate change, and collect atmospheric temperature, water vapor, and cloud ice data through remote sensing, respectively.

    NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is looking to develop scientific CubeSats that cut across all NASA Science through the SMD CubeSat Initiative Program.

    Andrea Martin, communications specialist for NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office, believes this is just the beginning. She says, “CubeSats could be flown in formation, known as constellations, with quick revisit times to better capture the dynamic processes of Earth. Multiple CubeSats can also take complementary measurements unachievable by a single larger mission.” She envisions big things ahead for these little satellites.

    For more news about CubeSats and other cutting edge technologies both big and small, stay tuned to science.nasa.gov.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ALMA Observes Galaxies Embedded in Super-Halos, , , Basic Research, , ,   

    From ALMA: “ALMA Observes Galaxies Embedded in Super-Halos” 

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

    23 March 2017
    Nicolás Lira T.
    Press Coordinator
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 24 67 65 19
    Cell: +56 9 94 45 77 26
    Email: nicolas.lira@alma.cl

    Charles E. Blue
    Public Information Officer
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Tel: +1 434 296 0314
    Cell: +1 202 236 6324
    E-mail: cblue@nrao.edu

    Masaaki Hiramatsu

    Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
    Observatory
Tokyo, Japan

    Tel: +81 422 34 3630

    E-mail: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    Richard Hook
    Public Information Officer, ESO

    Garching bei München, Germany

    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655

    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1
    Artist impression of a progenitor of Milky Way-like galaxy in the early Universe with a background quasar shining through a ‘super halo’ of hydrogen gas surrounding the galaxy. New ALMA observations of two such galaxies reveal that those large halos extend well beyond the galaxies’ dusty, star-forming disks. The galaxies were initially found by the absorption of background quasar light passing through the galaxies. ALMA was able to image the ionized carbon in the galaxies’ disks, revealing crucial details about their structures. Credit: A. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF).

    By harnessing the extreme sensitivity of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have directly observed a pair of Milky Way-like galaxies seen when the Universe was only eight percent of its current age. These progenitors of today’s giant spiral galaxies are surrounded by “super halos” of hydrogen gas that extend many tens of thousands of light-years beyond their dusty, star-filled disks.

    Astronomers initially detected these galaxies by studying the intense light from even-more-distant quasars. As this light travels through an intervening galaxy on its way to Earth, it can pick up the unique spectral signature from the galaxy’s gas. This technique, however, generally prevents astronomers from seeing the actual light emitted by the galaxy, which is overwhelmed by the much brighter emission from the background quasar.

    “Imagine a tiny firefly next to a high-power searchlight. That’s what astronomers are up against when it comes to observing these young versions of our home galaxy,” said Marcel Neeleman a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author on a paper appearing in the journal Science. “We can now see the galaxies themselves, which gives us a fantastic opportunity to learn about the earliest history of our galaxy and others like it.”

    With ALMA, the astronomers were finally able to observe the natural millimeter-wavelength “glow” emitted by ionized carbon in the dense and dusty star-forming regions of the galaxies. This carbon signature, however, is considerably offset from the gas first detected by quasar absorption. This extreme separation indicates that the galaxies’ gas content extends well beyond their star-filled disks, suggesting that each galaxy is embedded in a massive halo of hydrogen gas.

    “We had expected we would see faint emission right on top of the quasar, and instead we saw bright galaxies at large separations from the quasar,” said J. Xavier Prochaska, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and co-author of the paper. The separation from the quasar to the observed galaxy is about 137,000 light-years for one galaxy and about 59,000 light-years for the other.

    According to the researchers, the neutral hydrogen gas revealed by its absorption of quasar light is most likely part of a large halo or perhaps an extended disk of gas around the galaxy. “It’s not where the star formation is, and to see so much gas that far from the star-forming region means there is a large amount of neutral hydrogen around the galaxy,” Neeleman said.

    2
    Composite ALMA and optical image of a young Milky Way-like galaxy 12 billion light-years away and a background quasar 12.5 billion light-years away. Light from the quasar passed through the galaxy’s gas on its way to Earth, revealing the presence of the galaxy to astronomers. New ALMA observations of the galaxy’s ionized carbon (green) and dust continuum (blue) emission show that the dusty, star-forming disk of the galaxy is vastly offset from the gas detected by quasar absorption at optical wavelengths (red). This indicates that a massive halo of gas surrounds the galaxy. The optical data are from the Keck I Telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), M. Neeleman & J. Xavier Prochaska; Keck Observatory.


    Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    The new ALMA data show that these young galaxies are already rotating, which is one of the hallmarks of the massive spiral galaxies we see in the Universe today. The ALMA observations further reveal that both galaxies are forming stars at moderately high rates: more than 100 solar masses per year in one galaxy and about 25 solar masses per year in the other.

    “These galaxies appear to be massive, dusty, and rapidly star-forming systems, with large, extended layers of gas,” Prochaska said.

    “ALMA has solved a decades-old question on galaxy formation,” said Chris Carilli, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, N.M., and co-author on the paper. “We now know that at least some very early galaxies have halos that are much more extended than previously considered, which may represent the future material for galaxy growth.”

    The galaxies, which are officially designated ALMA J081740.86+135138.2 and ALMA J120110.26+211756.2, are each about 12 billion light-years from Earth. The background quasars are each roughly 12.5 billion light-years from Earth.

    This research is presented in a paper titled “[C II] 158-μm emission from the host galaxies of damped Lyman alpha systems,” by M. Neeleman et al., scheduled for publication in the journal Science on 24 March 2017. [Link is above.]

    See the full article here .

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

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

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  • richardmitnick 12:31 pm on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Basic Research, , Hubble detects supermassive black hole kicked out of galactic core, ,   

    From ESA/Hubble: “Hubble detects supermassive black hole kicked out of galactic core”and from NASA/HubbleSite “Gravitational Wave Kicks Monster Black Hole Out Of Galactic Core “ 

    NASA Hubble Banner

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    From ESA/Hubble

    “Hubble detects supermassive black hole kicked out of galactic core”

    23 March 2017
    Marco Chiaberge
    Space Telescope Science Institute
    Baltimore, USA
    Tel: +1 410 338 4980
    Email: chiab@stsci.edu

    Stefano Bianchi
    Roma Tre University
    Rome, Italy
    Tel: +39 657337241
    Email: bianchi@fis.uniroma3.it

    Mathias Jäger
    ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Cell: +49 17662397500
    Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

    1
    The galaxy 3C186, located about 8 billion years from Earth, is most likely the result of a merger of two galaxies. This is supported by arc-shaped tidal tails, usually produced by a gravitational tug between two colliding galaxies, identified by the scientists. The merger of the galaxies also led to a merger of the two supermassive black holes in their centres, and the resultant black hole was then kicked out of its parent galaxy by the gravitational waves created by the merger. The bright, star-like looking quasar can be seen in the centre of the image. Its former host galaxy is the faint, extended object behind it. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Chiaberge (STScI/ESA)

    2
    An international team of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered a supermassive black hole that has been propelled out of the centre of the distant galaxy 3C186. The black hole was most likely ejected by the power of gravitational waves. This is the first time that astronomers found a supermassive black hole at such a large distance from its host galaxy centre.

    Though several other suspected runaway black holes have been seen elsewhere, none has so far been confirmed. Now astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have detected a supermassive black hole, with a mass of one billion times the Sun’s, being kicked out of its parent galaxy. “We estimate that it took the equivalent energy of 100 million supernovae exploding simultaneously to jettison the black hole,” describes Stefano Bianchi, co-author of the study, from the Roma Tre University, Italy.

    The images taken by Hubble provided the first clue that the galaxy, named 3C186, was unusual. The images of the galaxy, located 8 billion light-years away, revealed a bright quasar, the energetic signature of an active black hole, located far from the galactic core. “Black holes reside in the centres of galaxies, so it’s unusual to see a quasar not in the centre,” recalls team leader Marco Chiaberge, ESA-AURA researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute, USA.

    The team calculated that the black hole has already travelled about 35 000 light-years from the centre, which is more than the distance between the Sun and the centre of the Milky Way. And it continues its flight at a speed of 7.5 million kilometres per hour [1]. At this speed the black hole could travel from Earth to the Moon in three minutes.

    Although other scenarios to explain the observations cannot be excluded, the most plausible source of the propulsive energy is that this supermassive black hole was given a kick by gravitational waves [2] unleashed by the merger of two massive black holes at the centre of its host galaxy. This theory is supported by arc-shaped tidal tails identified by the scientists, produced by a gravitational tug between two colliding galaxies.

    According to the theory presented by the scientists, 1-2 billion years ago two galaxies — each with central, massive black holes — merged. The black holes whirled around each other at the centre of the newly-formed elliptical galaxy, creating gravitational waves that were flung out like water from a lawn sprinkler [3]. As the two black holes did not have the same mass and rotation rate, they emitted gravitational waves more strongly along one direction. When the two black holes finally merged, the anisotropic emission of gravitational waves generated a kick that shot the resulting black hole out of the galactic centre.

    “If our theory is correct, the observations provide strong evidence that supermassive black holes can actually merge,” explains Stefano Bianchi on the importance of the discovery. “There is already evidence of black hole collisions for stellar-mass black holes, but the process regulating supermassive black holes is more complex and not yet completely understood.”

    The researchers are lucky to have caught this unique event because not every black hole merger produces imbalanced gravitational waves that propel a black hole out of the galaxy. The team now wants to secure further observation time with Hubble, in combination with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and other facilities, to more accurately measure the speed of the black hole and its surrounding gas disc, which may yield further insights into the nature of this rare object.
    Notes

    [1] As the black hole cannot be observed directly, the mass and the speed of the supermassive black holes were determined via spectroscopic analysis of its surrounding gas.

    [2] First predicted by Albert Einstein, gravitational waves are ripples in space that are created by accelerating massive objects. The ripples are similar to the concentric circles produced when a rock is thrown into a pond. In 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) helped astronomers prove that gravitational waves exist by detecting them emanating from the union of two stellar-mass black holes, which are several times more massive than the Sun.

    [3] The black holes get closer over time as they radiate away gravitational energy.

    The international team of astronomers in this study consists of Marco Chiaberge (STScI, USA; Johns Hopkins University, USA), Justin C. Ely (STScI, USA), Eileen Meyer (University of Maryland Baltimore County, USA), Markos Georganopoulos (University of Maryland Baltimore County, USA; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA), Andrea Marinucci (Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Italy), Stefano Bianchi (Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Italy), Grant R. Tremblay (Yale University, USA), Brian Hilbert (STScI, USA), John Paul Kotyla (STScI, USA), Alessandro Capetti (INAF – Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino, Italy), Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba, Canada), F. Duccio Macchetto (STScI, USA), George Miley (University of Leiden, Netherlands), Christopher O’Dea (University of Manitoba, Canada), Eric S. Perlman (Florida Institute of Technology, USA), William B. Sparks (STScI, USA) and Colin Norman (STScI, USA; Johns Hopkins University, USA)

    Image credit: NASA, ESA, M. Chiaberge (STScI/ESA)

    Science paper:
    The puzzling case of the radio-loud QSO 3C 186: a gravitational wave recoiling black hole in a young radio source?

    From NASA HubbleSite

    “Gravitational Wave Kicks Monster Black Hole Out Of Galactic Core “

    Mar 23, 2017

    Donna Weaver
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4493
    dweaver@stsci.edu

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    Marco Chiaberge
    Space Telescope Science Institute and
    The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4980
    marcoc@stsci.edu

    3
    Runaway black hole is the most massive ever detected far from its central home
    Normally, hefty black holes anchor the centers of galaxies. So researchers were surprised to discover a supermassive black hole speeding through the galactic suburbs. Black holes cannot be observed directly, but they are the energy source at the heart of quasars — intense, compact gushers of radiation that can outshine an entire galaxy. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope made the discovery by finding a bright quasar located far from the center of the host galaxy.

    Researchers estimate that it took the equivalent energy of 100 million supernovas exploding simultaneously to jettison the black hole. What could pry this giant monster from its central home? The most plausible explanation for this propulsive energy is that the monster object was given a kick by gravitational waves unleashed by the merger of two black holes as a result of a collision between two galaxies. First predicted by Albert Einstein, gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space that are created when two massive objects collide.

    The Full [HubbleSite] Story

    Astronomers have uncovered a supermassive black hole that has been propelled out of the center of a distant galaxy by what could be the awesome power of gravitational waves.

    Though there have been several other suspected, similarly booted black holes elsewhere, none has been confirmed so far. Astronomers think this object, detected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, is a very strong case. Weighing more than 1 billion suns, the rogue black hole is the most massive black hole ever detected to have been kicked out of its central home.

    Researchers estimate that it took the equivalent energy of 100 million supernovas exploding simultaneously to jettison the black hole. The most plausible explanation for this propulsive energy is that the monster object was given a kick by gravitational waves unleashed by the merger of two hefty black holes at the center of the host galaxy.

    First predicted by Albert Einstein, gravitational waves are ripples in space that are created when two massive objects collide. The ripples are similar to the concentric circles produced when a hefty rock is thrown into a pond. Last year, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) helped astronomers prove that gravitational waves exist by detecting them emanating from the union of two stellar-mass black holes, which are several times more massive than the sun.

    Hubble’s observations of the wayward black hole surprised the research team. “When I first saw this, I thought we were seeing something very peculiar,” said team leader Marco Chiaberge of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland. “When we combined observations from Hubble, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, it all pointed towards the same scenario. The amount of data we collected, from X-rays to ultraviolet to near-infrared light, is definitely larger than for any of the other candidate rogue black holes.”

    Chiaberge’s paper will appear in the March 30 issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Hubble images taken in visible and near-infrared light provided the first clue that the galaxy was unusual. The images revealed a bright quasar, the energetic signature of a black hole, residing far from the galactic core. Black holes cannot be observed directly, but they are the energy source at the heart of quasars – intense, compact gushers of radiation that can outshine an entire galaxy. The quasar, named 3C 186, and its host galaxy reside 8 billion light-years away in a galaxy cluster. The team discovered the galaxy’s peculiar features while conducting a Hubble survey of distant galaxies unleashing powerful blasts of radiation in the throes of galaxy mergers.

    “I was anticipating seeing a lot of merging galaxies, and I was expecting to see messy host galaxies around the quasars, but I wasn’t really expecting to see a quasar that was clearly offset from the core of a regularly shaped galaxy,” Chiaberge recalled. “Black holes reside in the center of galaxies, so it’s unusual to see a quasar not in the center.”

    The team calculated the black hole’s distance from the core by comparing the distribution of starlight in the host galaxy with that of a normal elliptical galaxy from a computer model. The black hole had traveled more than 35,000 light-years from the center, which is more than the distance between the sun and the center of the Milky Way.

    Based on spectroscopic observations taken by Hubble and the Sloan survey, the researchers estimated the black hole’s mass and measured the speed of gas trapped near the behemoth object. Spectroscopy divides light into its component colors, which can be used to measure velocities in space. “To our surprise, we discovered that the gas around the black hole was flying away from the galaxy’s center at 4.7 million miles an hour,” said team member Justin Ely of STScI. This measurement is also a gauge of the black hole’s velocity, because the gas is gravitationally locked to the monster object.

    The astronomers calculated that the black hole is moving so fast it would travel from Earth to the moon in three minutes. That’s fast enough for the black hole to escape the galaxy in 20 million years and roam through the universe forever.

    The Hubble image revealed an interesting clue that helped explain the black hole’s wayward location. The host galaxy has faint arc-shaped features called tidal tails, produced by a gravitational tug between two colliding galaxies. This evidence suggests a possible union between the 3C 186 system and another galaxy, each with central, massive black holes that may have eventually merged.

    Based on this visible evidence, along with theoretical work, the researchers developed a scenario to describe how the behemoth black hole could be expelled from its central home. According to their theory, two galaxies merge, and their black holes settle into the center of the newly formed elliptical galaxy. As the black holes whirl around each other, gravity waves are flung out like water from a lawn sprinkler. The hefty objects move closer to each other over time as they radiate away gravitational energy. If the two black holes do not have the same mass and rotation rate, they emit gravitational waves more strongly along one direction. When the two black holes collide, they stop producing gravitational waves. The newly merged black hole then recoils in the opposite direction of the strongest gravitational waves and shoots off like a rocket.

    The researchers are lucky to have caught this unique event because not every black-hole merger produces imbalanced gravitational waves that propel a black hole in the opposite direction. “This asymmetry depends on properties such as the mass and the relative orientation of the back holes’ rotation axes before the merger,” said team member Colin Norman of STScI and Johns Hopkins University. “That’s why these objects are so rare.”

    An alternative explanation for the offset quasar, although unlikely, proposes that the bright object does not reside within the galaxy. Instead, the quasar is located behind the galaxy, but the Hubble image gives the illusion that it is at the same distance as the galaxy. If this were the case, the researchers should have detected a galaxy in the background hosting the quasar.

    If the researchers’ interpretation is correct, the observations may provide strong evidence that supermassive black holes can actually merge. Astronomers have evidence of black-hole collisions for stellar-mass black holes, but the process regulating supermassive black holes is more complex and not completely understood.

    The team hopes to use Hubble again, in combination with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and other facilities, to more accurately measure the speed of the black hole and its gas disk, which may yield more insight into the nature of this bizarre object.

    See the full ESA article here .

    See the full NASA HubbleSite story here .

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

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