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  • richardmitnick 10:56 am on November 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, , Heavy-ion beams, , ,   

    From CERN: “LHC Report: plumbing new heights” 

    Cern New Bloc

    Cern New Particle Event

    CERN New Masthead


    30 Nov 2015
    John Jowett for the LHC team

    The CCC team after stable heavy-ion beams are declared in the LHC

    Following the end of the arduous 2015 proton run on 4 November, the many teams working on the LHC and its injector complex are naturally entitled to a calmer period before the well-earned end-of-year break. But that is not the way things work.

    Instead, the subdued frenzy of setting up the accelerators for a physics run has started again, this time for heavy-ion beams, with a few additional twists of the time-pressure knob. In this year’s one-month run, the first week was devoted to colliding protons at 2.51 TeV per beam to provide reference data for the subsequent collisions of lead nuclei (the atomic number of lead is Z=82, compared to Z=1 for protons) at the unprecedented energy of 5.02 TeV in the centre of mass per nucleon pair.

    The chain of specialised heavy-ion injectors, comprising the ECR ion source, Linac3 and the LEIR ring, with its elaborate bunch-forming and cooling, were re-commissioned to provide intense and dense lead bunches in the preceding weeks. Through a series of exquisite RF gymnastics, the PS and SPS assemble these into 24-bunch trains for injection into the LHC. The beam intensity delivered by the injectors is a crucial determinant of the luminosity of the collider.

    Commissioning of the LHC’s 2.51 TeV proton cycle had to be interleaved with that of the new heavy-ion optics in the LHC, resulting in many adjustments to the schedule on the fly and specialist teams being summoned at short notice to the CCC.

    CCC. From Symmetry, Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago

    Besides the overall energy shift compared to the 6.5 TeV proton optics, there is an additional squeeze of the optics and manipulations of crossing angles and the interaction point position for the ALICE experiment. Rapid work by the LHC’s optics measurements and correction team allowed the new heavy-ion magnetic cycle to be implemented from scratch (using proton beams) over the weekend of 14-15 November. Members of the collimation team also spent many hours on careful aperture measurements. At every step, one must be mindful of the strict requirements of machine protection.

    The first lead-ion beams were injected on the evening of Monday, 16 November and brought into collision in all four experiments, by a bleary-eyed team, 10 hours later in the early morning.

    The proton reference run resumed that Tuesday evening. After some unnerving down time, its luminosity target was comfortably attained on Sunday morning and the ion commissioning resumed with more aperture measurements and the process of verifying the “loss maps” to confirm that errant beam particles fetch up where they can do the least harm. These are very different from those of protons because of the many ways in which the lead nuclei can fragment as they interact with thecollimators. A penultimate switch of particle species provided a bonus of proton reference data to the experiments overnight.

    Finally, on 23 November the lead ions had the LHC to themselves and commissioning resumed with tuning of injection, RF and feedback systems. And many more loss maps.

    Stable beams for physics with 10 bunches per beam was finally declared at 10:59 on 25 November and spectacular event displays started to flow from the experiments. Further fills should increase the number of bunches beyond 400.

    The remaining weeks of the run will continue to be eventful with physics production interrupted by ion-source oven refills, van der Meer scans, solenoid polarity reversals and studies of phenomena that may limit future performance. These include tests of magnet quench levels with collimation losses and the use of crystals as collimators. We also plan to test strategies for controlling the secondary beams emerging from the collision point due to ultraperipheral (“near miss”) interactions.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:00 am on November 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, Eta Carinae,   

    From New Scientist: “A threesome may explain behaviour of galaxy’s most bizarre star” 


    New Scientist

    27 November 2015
    Colin Stuart

    Image credit: ESA/NASA

    One of the biggest and most bizarre star systems in our galaxy has puzzled astronomers since the 1800s, but now an explanation of its origins might finally be in sight.

    The system, known as Eta Carinae, is made up of a pair of stars each considerably more massive than our own sun, but that’s only half the story. The stars are also surrounded by huge clouds of chaotic gas, part of which forms the Homunculus nebula.

    “It is flowing outwards in bubbles, knots and skirts – it’s a mess,” says Simon Portegies Zwart from the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands.

    Records from the 19th century deepen the mystery, detailing how the star rocketed in brightness in 1838 and again in 1843 when it dazzled as the second brightest star in the night sky before fading away. This strange behaviour earned Eta Carinae the label of supernova imposter, because it mimicked the sudden burst of light from exploding, dying stars but did not destroy itself in the process.

    Three’s a party

    None of these properties match any of our models of stellar evolution. “It is different to anything we’ve ever seen before,” says Portegies Zwart, but now he and Edward van den Heuvel from the University of Amsterdam believe they have a solution: the system started out with three stars, not two.

    According to their model, the gravitational influence of an outer star caused two inner stars to merge. This not only caused the atmosphere of the newly merged star to bloat, it also pulled the outer star into a much tighter orbit, giving us the close pair we see today. “The 1838 event was caused by the merger and the 1843 event when the outer star grazed the bloated layers of the inner star,” says Portegies Zwart.

    As the merging stars squeezed together, the model shows them emitting a strong stellar wind which formed the Homunculus nebula, while the grazing event created distinctive skirt features like those observed today.

    “It’s an intriguing idea that certainly fires the imagination,” says Ian Bonnell from the University of St Andrews, UK. But the puzzle might not be entirely solved just yet, because the explanation relies on an unlikely series of events. “What they describe is quite a complicated process requiring many steps,” he says. “Individually all the steps are reasonable, but take any one of them away and it no longer works to explain this object.”

    Reference: arxiv arxiv.org/abs/1511.06889

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  • richardmitnick 8:49 am on November 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, ,   

    From Hawaii Blog via UH: “Astronomers to Explore ‘Extreme Solar Systems’” 

    U Hawaii

    University of Hawaii

    Institute for Astronomy

    U Hawaii Institute for Astonomy Mauna Kea
    IFA at Manua Kea

    Hawaii Blog bloc
    Hawaii Blog


    As solar systems go, the one we live in is pretty boring. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide by the great Douglas Adams, our neighborhood was described as being “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.” (Our planet was deemed “mostly harmless.”)

    But planets and stars can be found in some pretty remarkable configurations. And beginning this weekend, an international conference dedicated to “Extreme Solar Systems” will be held on Hawaii Island, with a complementary public talk scheduled for next Wednesday in Honolulu.

    What constitutes an “extreme” solar system? One with two stars, perhaps?

    “For those who are interested in science fiction, they might remember Luke Skywalker coming out of his den and walking toward the horizon and seeing two suns,” said Nader Haghighipour, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Institute for Astronomy, on tonight’s Bytemarks Cafe. “Well, that was science fiction many years ago, but a small group of us have been promoting the idea that science fiction is not entirely fiction and that there’s actually science behind it.”

    Haghighipour had been adamant for more than 20 years that circumbinary solar systems existed, but it wasn’t until observing instruments and scientific advances made it possible to find one. And the launch of the Kepler space observatory in 2009 was a major turning point.

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    Kepler scientists started discovering new exoplanets right out of the gate, and to date the space telescope has helped find over 1,000 exoplanets in about 440 star systems (with another 3,100 candidates waiting to be confirmed).

    Haghighipour was poring over the Kepler data as well.

    “We saw something very interesting about one specific binary star system: we saw that when the two stars go around each other, the light of each one of them dims for a very short amount of time and a very short amount of intensity,” he recalled. “Being promoters of planets with more than one sun, that was the first thing that occurred to us, that it may be a planet that was blocking the light coming from each one of the stars.”

    Still, astronomy is a field that demands lots of study and independent confirmation before declaring any discovery.

    “Three years, four years of data coming from Kepler helped us to get that model more and more solid, and eventually we could make predictions of when would be the next time the planet will go around those stars,” Haghighipour said. “When we discovered that, that was the proof.”

    The news made global headlines. Since then, he’s helped discover ten more planets that orbit two stars.


    Haghighipour explained how a circumbinary system would look.

    “In the context of our solar system, think of Mercury being another sun, and Jupiter and Earth going around both of them at the same time,” he said. “You wake up in the morning, you have two suns out there, you have two shadows when you walk, and just imagine one of the suns sets, the other stays up, or they both go down.”

    Of course, to see a two-sun sunset, the solar system needs to have planets that can support life. And with so many exoplanets now catalogued by astronomers, it was inevitable that some would be found in the Goldilocks Zone around their stars — an orbit not too cold and not too hot for life to exist.

    “So far we have discovered ten of them, and we are going to announce two new ones next week,” Haghighipour teased. “And among these ten, three of them are right in the habitable zone: they’re large, they’re as big as Jupiter, so they themselves cannot be habitable, but similar to our Jupiter, they may have moons that are big enough to be habitable.”


    The “Extreme Solar Systems” conference is only the third such international gathering, following meetings in Greece in 2007 and Wyoming in 2011. But the Hawaii meeting marks the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the first extra-solar planets. More than 300 “hardcore astronomers” will spend a week at the Waikoloa Marriott exploring hundreds of poster presentations, dozens of scientific sessions, and many talks.

    Fortunately, Honolulu residents will also have a chance to soak up stories about unusual star systems. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the UH Institute for Astronomy is hosting a “Frontiers of Astronomy” public talk at the UH Manoa Art Auditorium. Titled simply “Exoplanets,” the event will feature four planet hunters who are also presenting at the Big Island conference: Haghighipour, Andrew Howard, Paul Kalas from Berkeley and Josh Winn from MIT.

    Each researcher represents a different area of solar system research, and each will give a 10 minute talk. Then the floor will be opened to audience questions. The event is free and open to the public and starts at 7:30 p.m.

    For more information on the “Extreme Solar Systems” conference, visit the official website. For more information on the public talk on Wednesday, visit ifa.hawaii.edu. You can also follow @UHIfA on Twitter or connect with the institute on Facebook.

    See the full article here .

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    System Overview

    The University of Hawai‘i System includes 10 campuses and dozens of educational, training and research centers across the Hawaiian Islands. As the public system of higher education in Hawai‘i, UH offers opportunities as unique and diverse as our Island home.

    The 10 UH campuses and educational centers on six Hawaiian Islands provide unique opportunities for both learning and recreation.

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  • richardmitnick 8:12 am on November 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, ,   

    From ESA: “European payload selected for ExoMars 2018 surface platform” 

    European Space Agency

    27 November 2015
    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

    Jorge Vago
    ESA ExoMars 2018 project scientist
    Scientific Support Office

    Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration
    Tel: +31 71 565 5211 / +31 6 27 65 87 70
    Email: jorge.vago@esa.int

    Luigi Colangeli
    ESA Coordinator for the Scientific Programme
    Email: luigi.colangeli@esa.int

    Rolf de Groot
    ESA Coordinator for Robotic Exploration
    Email: Rolf.de.Groot@esa.int

    ExoMars 2018 surface platform

    Two European instruments and four European contributions on two Russian instruments have been selected for the Russian-led science platform that will land on Mars as part of the ESA–Roscosmos ExoMars 2018 mission.

    The first of the two ExoMars mission is in final preparation for launch next March. It consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter [TGO], which will investigate the possible biological or geological origins of important trace gases in the martian atmosphere, and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module.

    ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiterjpg

    ESA ExoMars Schiaparelli module

    Schiaparelli will test key landing technologies and provide atmospheric and environmental data important for ESA’s contributions to subsequent missions to Mars.

    The second ExoMars mission, planned for launch in May 2018, comprises a European-led rover that will be the first to combine driving across the martian surface with drilling two metres below the surface, and a stationary surface science platform.

    After landing on Mars in 2019, the rover will descend from the platform via a ramp. Then both will begin their scientific operations.

    The platform is expected to operate for at least one Earth year, imaging the landing site, monitoring the climate, investigating the atmosphere and analysing the radiation environment.

    It will also study the distribution of any subsurface water at the landing site, and perform geophysical investigations of the internal structure of Mars.

    Roscomos and the IKI Space Research Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences had already identified a preliminary payload of instrument packages to fulfil these goals, some of which anticipated the inclusion of European elements.

    Following a call to the European scientific community issued in March 2015, nine proposals were received and assessed. ESA has now approved the selection of six European elements. This includes two fully European-led instruments, and four sensor packages to be included in two Russian-led instruments.

    The two European-led instruments proposed are the Lander Radioscience experiment (LaRa) and the Habitability, Brine Irradiation and Temperature package (HABIT).

    LaRa will reveal details of the internal structure of Mars, and will make precise measurements of the rotation and orientation of the planet by monitoring two-way Doppler frequency shifts between the surface platform and Earth.

    It will also be able to detect variations in angular momentum due to the redistribution of masses, such as the migration of ice from the polar caps to the atmosphere.

    HABIT will investigate the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, daily and seasonal variations in ground and air temperatures, and the UV radiation environment.

    The four European sensor packages in the two Russian-led instruments will monitor pressure and humidity, UV radiation and dust, the local magnetic field and plasma environment.

    Oxia Planum

    “The surface science platform will serve as a long-lived stationary laboratory to monitor the local environment, which could include passing dust storms, lightning, and space weather effects,” says Jorge Vago, ESA’s ExoMars 2018 project scientist.

    “At the same time, the rover will travel several kilometres to search for traces of past life below the surface. It’s a very powerful combination of instruments.”

    Last month, the Landing Site Selection Working Group recommended the Oxia Planum region for further detailed evaluation for consideration as the primary landing site for the 2018 mission.

    A further recommendation was made to also consider Oxia Planum as one of the two candidate landing sites for the backup launch opportunity in 2020, with a second to be selected from Aram Dorsum and Mawrth Vallis.

    All three sites bear evidence of having been influenced by water in the past, and are likely representative of global processes operating in the Red Planet’s early history.

    ESA and Roscosmos will take a final decision on the landing site about six months before launch.

    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 8:50 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, Planet in the making,   

    From U Arizona: “Researchers Capture First Photo of Planet in the Making” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    A composite image of LkCa15 shows the MagAO data, in blue, and the LBT data, in green and red.

    November 18, 2015
    Robin Tricoles

    There are 450 light-years between Earth and LkCa15, a young star with a transition disk around it, a cosmic whirling dervish, a birthplace for planets.

    Despite the disk’s considerable distance from Earth and its gaseous, dusty atmosphere, University of Arizona researchers captured the first photo of a planet in the making, a planet residing in a gap in LkCa15’s disk.

    Of the roughly 2,000 known exoplanets — planets that orbit a star other than our sun — only about 10 have been imaged, and that was long after they had formed, not when they were in the making.

    “This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,” says Stephanie Sallum, a UA graduate student, who with Kate Follette, a former UA graduate student now doing postdoctoral work at Stanford University, led the research.

    “No one has successfully and unambiguously detected a forming planet before,” Follette says. “There have always been alternate explanations, but in this case we’ve taken a direct picture, and it’s hard to dispute that.”

    The researchers’ results were published in the Nov. 19 issue of Nature.

    Only months ago, Sallum and Follette were working independently, each on her own Ph.D. project. But serendipitously they had set their sights on the same star. Both were observing LkCa15, which is surrounded by a special kind of protoplanetary disk that contains an inner clearing, or gap.

    Protoplanetary disks form around young stars using the debris left over from the star’s formation. It is suspected that planets then form inside the disk, sweeping up dust and debris as the material falls onto the planets instead of staying in the disk or falling onto the star. A gap is then cleared in which planets can reside.

    The researchers’ new observations support that view.

    “The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” Follette says. “It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of disks that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”

    Sallum says researchers are just now being able to image objects that are close to and much fainter than a nearby star. “That’s because of researchers at the University of Arizona who have developed the instruments and techniques that make that difficult observation possible,” she says.

    Those instruments include the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, the world’s largest telescope, located on Arizona’s Mount Graham, and the UA’s Magellan Telescope and its adaptive optics system, or MagAO, located in Chile.

    Large Binocular telescope

    Magellan 6.5 meter telescopes
    CTIO Magellan telescope

    Capturing sharp images of distant objects is difficult thanks in large part to atmospheric turbulence, the mixing of hot and cold air.

    “When you look through the Earth’s atmosphere, what you’re seeing is cold and hot air mixing in a turbulent way that makes stars shimmer,” says Laird Close, UA astronomy professor and Follette’s graduate adviser.

    “To a big telescope, it’s a fairly dramatic thing. You see a horrible-looking image, but it’s the same phenomenon that makes city lights and stars twinkle.”

    Josh Eisner, UA astronomy professor and Sallum’s graduate adviser, says big telescopes “always suffer from this type of thing.” But by using the LBT adaptive optics system and a novel imaging technique, he and Sallum succeeded in getting the crispest infrared images yet of LkCa15.

    Meanwhile, Close and Follette used Magellan’s adaptive optics system MagAO to independently corroborate Eisner and Sallum’s planetary findings. That is, using MagAO’s unique ability to work in visible wavelengths, they captured the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” spectral fingerprint, the specific wavelength of light that LkCa 15 and its planets emit as they grow. In fact, almost all young stars are identified by their hydrogen alpha light, says Close, principal investigator of MagAO.

    When cosmic objects are forming, they get extremely hot, Close says. And because they’re forming from hydrogen, those objects all glow a dark red, which astronomers refer to as H-alpha, a particular wavelength of light. “It’s just like a neon sign, the way neon gas glows when it gets energized,” he says.

    “That single dark shade of red light is emitted by both the planet and the star as they undergo the same growing process,” Follette says. “We were able to separate the light of the faint planet from the light of the much brighter star and to see that they were both growing and glowing in this very distinct shade of red.”

    A color so distinct, Close says, that it’s proof positive a planet is forming — something never seen before now.

    “Results like this have only been made possible with the application of a lot of very advanced new technology to the business of imaging the stars,” says professor Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney, one of the study’s co-authors, “and it’s really great to see them yielding such impressive results.”

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    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

  • richardmitnick 8:29 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Basic Research, , Sounding rockets   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Plans Twin Sounding Rocket Launches over Norway this Winter” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    Nov. 24, 2015
    Sarah Frazier
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    An aurora is seen over Greenland on April 2, 2011. Two NASA sounding rockets will launch into a particular type of aurora called a cusp aurora this winter to study different processes related to the particle acceleration that causes cusp auroras. The cusp is a region near the North Pole where Earth’s magnetic field is directly connected to the solar wind, allowing daytime auroras to form.
    Credits: NASA/University of Maryland, College Park/Robert Michell

    Part of CAPER, short for Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket, is suspended from the rail that will carry the rocket out to the launch pad. CAPER’s launch window will open Nov. 27, 2015, and scientists will have to wait for good weather conditions and a daytime cusp aurora before they can send their payload flying through the aurora borealis. CAPER will study the electromagnetic waves that both create the cusp aurora and send electrons flying out into space. Credits: NASA/Nate Empson

    Team members work on the RENU 2 sounding rocket weeks before its launch window opens Nov. 27, 2015. Scientists will have to wait for favorable weather conditions and the presence of a daytime aurora before they can launch. RENU 2, short for Rocket Experiment for Neutral Upwelling, will study the relationship between the flowing electrons that create the cusp aurora and dense columns of neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/University of New Hampshire/Bruce Fritz

    This winter, two sounding rockets will launch through the aurora borealis over Norway to study how particles move in a region near the North Pole where Earth’s magnetic field is directly connected to the solar wind. After the launch window opens on Nov. 27, 2015, the CAPER and RENU 2 rockets will have to wait for low winds and a daytime aurora before they can send their instrument payloads soaring through the Northern Lights.

    Both instrument packages are studying phenomena related to the cusp aurora, a particular subset of the Northern Lights in which energetic particles are accelerated downward into the atmosphere directly from the solar wind – that is, the constant outward flow of solar material from the sun. Though cusp auroras are not particularly rare, they are often difficult to spot because they only happen during the day, when sunlight usually drowns out what would otherwise be a spectacular light show. However, because the magnetic North Pole is offset from the geographic North Pole, it’s often possible to see cusp auroras in Northern Europe near the winter solstice.

    “The magnetic pole is tilted towards North America, putting this magnetic opening—the cusp—at a higher latitude on the European side,” said Jim LaBelle, principal investigator on the CAPER sounding rocket at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “Combine that extra-high latitude with the winter solstice—when nights are longest, especially as you go farther north—and you can sometimes see this daytime aurora with the naked eye.”

    The two sounding rocket teams will also employ data from ground-based radars to detect the cusp aurora even in the case of clouds.


    CAPER, short for Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket, will be first in the queue to launch. CAPER is investigating the electromagnetic, or EM, waves that can accelerate electrons down into Earth’s atmosphere or up out to space. The electrons that are accelerated downward collide with particles in the atmosphere, releasing light and creating the cusp aurora—so spotting aurora activity at the cusp alerts the scientists that the EM wave motions they’re interested in must also be present.

    CAPER, flying on a four-stage Oriole IV sounding rocket, carries three instruments—one to measure low-frequency EM waves, one to measure high-frequency EM waves, and one to measure the number of particles at different energy levels. LaBelle’s team will compare these observations to get a better idea of how the EM waves accelerate the particles.

    “The difficulty is measuring the high-frequency waves and their associated particles,” said LaBelle. “They’re moving at up to a million cycles per second, so the instruments have to be able to detect changes in the waves and collect enough particles to match up.”

    RENU 2

    The other sounding rocket to launch, a four-stage Black Brant XII-A, is the second iteration of the Rocket Experiment for Neutral Upwelling, or RENU 2, which will study the relationship between the inflow of electrons that creates the cusp aurora, electric currents flowing along magnetic field lines, and dense columns of heated neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere.

    Though scientists have long known that the density of neutral atoms within the atmosphere can change throughout the day because of heating by sunlight, the original understanding was that the heating—and the extra-dense layers of neutral particles—was driven horizontally. However, some satellites have hit speed bumps as they have orbited through Earth’s magnetic cusp—their acceleration briefly slowed, which indicates a small vertical slice of higher-density neutral atoms that are harder to travel through.

    “When solar wind electrons collide with atmospheric electrons, they transfer some of their energy, heating the atmospheric electrons,” said Marc Lessard, principal investigator for RENU 2 at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “The higher heat means the electron populations expand upward along the magnetic field lines.”

    This upward flow of negatively-charged particles creates a vertical electric field, which in turn pulls up the positively-charged and neutral particles, increasing the atmospheric density in columns rather than horizontal layers. To study the phenomenon, RENU 2 will carry several instruments, including instruments to measure the electric and magnetic fields, neutral and charged particle flows, and temperatures.

    Though CAPER and RENU 2 will collect data for only a few minutes each, suborbital sounding rockets are a valuable way to study space and the upper atmosphere at relatively low cost.

    The CAPER and RENU 2 launches are supported through NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program.

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    NASA heliophysics sounding rocket program

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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

  • richardmitnick 12:39 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Basic Research, , , , ,   

    From CERN: “Test racetrack dipole magnet produces record 16 tesla field” 

    Cern New Bloc

    Cern New Particle Event

    CERN New Masthead


    27 Nov 2015
    Harriet Kim Jarlett

    The Racetrack Model Coil test magnet (Image: CERN)

    A new world record has been broken by the CERN magnet group when their racetrack test magnet produced a 16.2 tesla (16.2T) peak field – nearly twice that produced by the current LHC dipoles and the highest ever for a dipole magnet of this configuration.

    The Racetrack Model Coil (RMC) is one of several demonstration test magnets being built by the group to understand and develop new technologies, which are vital for future accelerators.

    The shorter magnets are just 1 to 2 metres in length, compared to the 5-7 metre long ones needed for the High-Luminosity LHC.

    The tests are needed to prove the feasibility of creating magnetic fields of up to 16 tesla, which are built into the designs of future accelerators.

    “The present LHC dipoles have a nominal field of 8.3T and we are designing accelerators which need magnets to produce a field of around 16T – almost twice as much,” says Juan Carlos Perez, an engineer at CERN and the project leader for the RMC.

    High-field magnets are crucial to building higher energy particle accelerators. High magnetic fields are needed to steer a beam in its orbit – in the case of dipoles – or to squeeze the beams before they collide within the experiments, which is the case for high-gradient quadrupoles.

    The LHC uses niobium-titanium superconducting magnets to both bend and focus proton beams as they race around the LHC. But the RMC uses a different superconducting material, niobium-tin, which can reach much higher magnetic fields, despite its brittle nature.

    The world record is a step forward in the demonstration of the technology for the High-Luminosity LHC project, and a major milestone for the Future Circular Collider design study.

    “It is an excellent result, although we should not forget that this is a relatively small magnet, a technology demonstrator with no bore through the centre for the beam,” says Luca Bottura, Head of CERN’s Magnet Group. “There is still a way to go before 16 Tesla magnets can be used in an accelerator. Still, this is a very important step towards them.”

    The RMC is also using wires and cables of the same class as those being used to build FRESCA2, a 13T dipole magnet with a 100mm aperture that will be used to upgrade the CERN cable test facility FRESCA. FRESCA2 coils are currently under construction and will be ready for testing by summer 2016.

    Such fields are only possible thanks to new materials and technologies, and also close relationships between several physics communities. The team worked closely with other European and overseas research and development programmes to break the technology barriers.

    Learn more about the technologies and the Racetrack Model Coil read this month’s Accelerating News.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 12:13 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, ,   

    From ESO: “Laser Guide Star Units Accepted and Shipped to Chile” 

    European Southern Observatory

    27 November 2015
    Domenico Bonaccini Calia
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6567
    Email: dbonacci@eso.org

    Wolfgang Hackenberg
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6782
    Email: whackenb@eso.org

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

    One of the units of the Four Laser Guide Star Facility for the VLT

    All four laser guide star units that form the Four Laser Guide Star Facility — a core part of the Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) for ESO’s Very Large Telescope — have now been accepted and are being shipped to Chile. This is a major step towards establishing VLT Unit Telescope 4 as a fully adaptive telescope with much enhanced image quality.

    ESO 4LGSF Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF)
    The 4LGSF is to be installed as a subsystem of the Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) on UT4 of the VLT, to provide the AO systems GALACSI/MUSE and GRAAL/HAWK-I with four sodium laser guide stars (LGSs), as artificial reference sources for the high-order AO corrections.

    The 4LGSF will deploy four modular LGS Units (see below) at the UT4 Centrepiece, as shown in Figure 1. Each LGS Unit consists of the Launch Telescope System incl. 20W Laser Head and two close-by cabinets, one hosting the Laser Unit electronics (incl. the pump fibre laser unit) and the other containing the local control electronics. Two additional 4LGSF cabinets are installed on a new 4LGSF Platform underneath the Nasmyth B platform and contain the computers for independently controlling the four LGS Units. The 4LGSF Platform also hosts the heat exchanger for the laser cooling system.

    An adaptive optics system uses sensors to analyse the atmospheric turbulence and a deformable mirror integrated in the telescope to correct for the image distortions caused by the atmosphere. But a bright point-like star very close in the sky to the object being studied is essential, so that the turbulence can be accurately characterised.

    Finding a natural star in the right place for this role is unlikely. So, to make the correction of the atmospheric turbulence possible everywhere in the sky, for all possible science targets, an artificial star is needed. Such stars can be created by projecting a powerful laser beam into the sky onto the sodium layer, where it creates a bright glow that appears star-like from the ground.

    By measuring the atmospherically induced motions and distortions of this artificial star, and making tiny adjustments to the deformable secondary mirror one thousand times per second, the telescope can produce images with much greater sharpness than is possible without adaptive optics.

    The first Adaptive Optics Facility laser guide star unit was installed on the VLT and successfully tested in situ earlier this year. These tests have confirmed the sound design implemented by ESO, in collaboration with European industry and scientific institutes [1]. Tests on VLT Unit Telescope 4 in Chile showed high optical quality, providing an almost perfect artificial star image, and high efficiency of the sodium layer excitation. These successes mean that the team can proceed with preliminary tests with GRAAL, the adaptive optics module feeding HAWK-I, the wide-field imager on Unit Telescope 4; all further steps towards the full commissioning of the Adaptive Optics Facility at Paranal.

    ESO Graal


    The Adaptive Optics Facility will use four lasers simultaneously, which will allow better characterisation of the atmosphere’s properties — and hence a larger field of view where the image is corrected — than is possible with just one laser.

    When fully installed, the Adaptive Optics Facility will feed light into two instruments, HAWK-I (in conjunction with GRAAL) and the integral field spectrograph, MUSE, (in conjunction with GALACSI).




    [1] The companies involved include: TOPTICA, Germany; TNO, The Netherlands; MPB Communications, Canada; Optec, Italy; Astrel, Italy; and Laseroptik, Germany. In addition INAF–Osservatorio di Roma, Italy has made significant contributions to the project.


    More information about the laser
    More information about the deformable secondary mirror
    More information about the laser launch telescope

    See the full article here .

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

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  • richardmitnick 11:32 am on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, ,   

    From ESA: “Flight teams prepare for LISA Pathfinder liftoff” 

    European Space Agency

    27 November 2015

    ESA LISA Pathfinder

    Following months of intensive training, mission controllers for the LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave detection testbed will complete a final rehearsal tomorrow, ensuring that all is ready for the journey to space.

    Next week, a Vega rocket will lift LISA Pathfinder into space on a mission that will test-drive the hardware for detecting gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime, the very fabric of the Universe.

    Vega is expected to lift off at 04:15 GMT on 2 December from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, beginning a 105-minute ride to space.

    LISA Pathfinder will separate from the final stage at around 06:00 GMT, moments before transmitting its first signals to the ground.

    For engineers at ESA’s ESOC control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, separation is a crucial moment in the demanding first days in orbit.

    Teams will establish control, start switching on the control systems and begin taking the craft through a series of health checks.

    LISA Pathfinder’s journey from launch to its final destination, around the L1 Sun–Earth Lagrangian point some 1.5 million km away from Earth towards the Sun

    Insert: LISA Pathfinder will be launched in December 2015 on a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Vega will place LISA Pathfinder into an elliptical orbit, with a perigee (closest approach) of 200 km, apogee (furthest approach) of 1540 km, and inclination of about 6.5º. Then, when Vega’s final stage is jettisoned, LISA Pathfinder will continue under its own power, beginning a series of six apogee-raising manoeuvres. These manoeuvres will be completed two weeks after launch.

    After this, LISA Pathfinder will cruise towards its final orbiting location. A month after its final burn, it will jettison its propulsion module and continue its journey before settling into an orbit around the L1. The entire journey, from launch to arrival at the operational orbit around L1, will take about eight weeks.

    Experts spanning a range of specialities, including mission operations, flight dynamics, software and ground stations, will work 24 hours a day for the first dozen days to ensure LISA Pathfinder is operating as it should and to send it towards its final destination.

    It will conduct its mission circling the ‘L1 Lagrange point’, a virtual position in space some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction of the Sun.

    “LISA Pathfinder is a complex mission,” notes flight director Andreas Rudolph. “Even after we’re safely in space, we will have to make seven or eight thruster burns in the first 10 days to take it as safely as possible through Earth’s radiation belts and get it onto the correct trajectory.

    “We won’t arrive at around L1 until late in January, and until then teams will be working intensively to ensure that the thruster burns go as planned, that our navigation is correct and that we ensure the instruments and all flight systems are working normally.”

    LISA Pathfinder’s science mission is expected to last 180 days (updates and details on the science and technology objectives).

    Team training

    By launch day, the 80-plus people on the mission teams will have completed many months of training, including a lengthy series of simulations using the Main Control Room at ESOC.

    “Throughout 2015, the mission team have spent many hours sitting ‘on console’, using simulation software and real flight hardware to practise all stages of the mission,” says spacecraft operations manager Ian Harrison.

    “We’ve practised routine situations as well as contingencies, so that everyone knows what to do if something goes wrong.”

    Several of the trainings were ‘live’, with mission control systems at ESOC connected to LISA Pathfinder as it was being completed at a test centre near Munich. Many simulations also included the science operations teams responsible for the instruments.

    The mission will initially be followed by ESA ground stations at Kourou in French Guiana, Perth in Australia, and Maspalomas in Spain, as well as by a dedicated antenna at Italy’s Malindi station in Kenya.

    Kourou tracking station

    On launch day, grabbing the first signal from LISA Pathfinder will be particularly complicated because the spacecraft uses higher-frequency X-band radio signals for its communications. This produces a much narrower beam than the traditional lower-frequency S-band radio waves normally used for missions to low Earth orbit.

    “X-band is typical for a craft that will voyage 1.5 million kilometres from Earth,” says ground operations engineer Fabienne Delhaise, “but is not common for satellites in low orbit, which is where LISA Pathfinder starts out.”

    “This means our ground stations must point especially accurately and use a special adapter to catch signals just after separation, when the craft is still near Earth.”

    Later, once its orbit rises above about 45 000 km, mission controllers will use ESA’s powerful deep-space radio dishes in Australia, Spain and Argentina, which are designed just for such distant signalling.

    “Our mission teams are ready, the tracking stations are ready and our carefully developed ground systems are ready,” says Paolo Ferri, who heads ESA’s mission operations.

    “We’re excited about the technology on board and we’re looking forward to a smooth launch and an excellent start to this fantastic mission.”

    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 10:59 am on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Basic Research, , ,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds” 


    February 19, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast radiation and ultra-fast winds outward, as illustrated in this artist’s conception. New data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, which contain gases of highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion, emanating in every direction, as shown in the artwork. The findings rule out the possibility that the winds blow in narrow beams.


    ESA XMM Newton

    With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers were able to determine the winds’ strength. The high-speed winds are powerful enough to shut down star formation throughout a galaxy.

    The artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel galaxy (Messier 101) taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    The galaxy Messier 101 (M101, also known as NGC 5457 and also nicknamed the Pinwheel Galaxy) lies in the northern circumpolar constellation, Ursa Major (The Great Bear), at a distance of about 21 million light-years from Earth. This is one of the largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy that has been released from Hubble. The galaxy’s portrait is actually composed of 51 individual Hubble exposures, in addition to elements from images from ground-based photos [CFHT image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/J.-C. Cuillandre/Coelum NOAO image: George Jacoby, Bruce Bohannan, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

    NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

    This plot of data from two space telescopes, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton determines for the first time the shape of ultra-fast winds from supermassive black holes, or quasars. The winds blow in every direction, in a nearly spherical fashion, coming from both sides of a galaxy (only one side is shown here).

    The plot shows the brightness of X-ray light from an extremely luminous quasar called PDS 456, with the highest-energy rays on the right. XMM-Newton sees lower-energy X-rays, and NuSTAR, higher. XMM Newton had previously observed the extremely luminous quasar, called PDS 456, on its own in 2001. At that time, it had measured the X-rays up to an energy level of 11 kiloelectron volts. From those data, researchers detected a dip in the X-ray light, called an absorption feature (see dip in plot). The dip is caused by iron atoms — which are carried by the winds along with other matter — absorbing the X-ray light of a particular energy. What’s more, the absorption feature is ‘blueshifted,” meaning that the winds are speeding toward us (like a train’s whistle shifting to higher frequencies as it races toward you).

    In other words, the 2001 XMM-Newton data had told researchers that at least some of the winds were blowing toward us — but they didn’t reveal whether those winds were confined to a narrow beam along our line of sight, or were blowing in all directions. That’s because XMM-Newton had only detected absorption features, which by definition occur in front of a light source, in this case, the quasar. To probe what was happening to at sides of the quasar, the astronomers needed to find a different type of feature called an emission feature. These occur when iron scatters X-ray light at a particular energy in all directions, not only toward the observer.

    Enter NuSTAR to the X-ray astronomy scene, a high-energy X-ray telescope that was launched in 2012. NuSTAR and XMM-Newton teamed up to observe PDS 456 simultaneously in 2013 and 2014. The results are shown in this plot. NuSTAR data are represented as orange circles and XMM-Newton as blue squares. The NuSTAR data reveal the baseline of the “continuum” quasar light (see gray line) — or what the quasar would look like without any winds. What stands out is the bump to the left of the dips. That’s an iron emission signature, the telltale sign that the black hole winds blow to the sides and in all directions.

    XMM-Newton might have seen the emission feature before, but the feature couldn’t be identified until NuSTAR’s elucidated the baseline quasar light. For example, had the X-ray winds been confined to a beam, then NuSTAR would have seen more brightness at the higher end of the X-ray spectrum, and there would have been no iron emission feature.

    The results demonstrate that, in some cases, two telescopes are better than one at solving tricky problems. By observing the entire X-ray energy range, the astronomers were able to get a more complete picture of what is happening around the quasar.

    “We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies,” said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Harrison is the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. “Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are.”

    Supermassive black holes blast matter into their host galaxies, with X-ray-emitting winds traveling at up to one-third the speed of light. In the new study, astronomers determined PDS 456, an extremely bright black hole known as a quasar more than 2 billion light-years away, sustains winds that carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns.

    “Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation,” said the study’s lead author, Emanuele Nardini of Keele University in England.

    “This is a great example of the synergy between XMM-Newton and NuSTAR,” said Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA. “The complementarity of these two X-ray observatories is enabling us to unveil previously hidden details about the powerful side of the universe.”

    “For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study,” said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the ‘Age of Quasars.'”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nustar and http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/.

    See the full article here .

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    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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