From Brigham Young University : “Brigham Young University scientists collaborate with astronomers around the world to understand distant galaxy” 

From Brigham Young University

10.4.22
Tyler Stahle

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Artistic rendering of the BL Lac jet with a spiral magnetic field. Photo by Iris Nieh.

A team of 86 scientists from 13 countries recently carried out extensive high-time resolution optical monitoring of a distant active galaxy, BL Lacertae (BL Lac). Mike Joner, BYU research professor of physics and astronomy, was one of the astronomers contributing to the project.

Dr. Joner and BYU undergraduate student Gilvan Apolonio secured over 200 observations of the galaxy using the 0.9-meter reflecting telescope at the BYU West Mountain Observatory. Their measurements were combined with observations made by other scientists around the world in a collaboration known as the Whole Earth Blazar Telescope (WEBT). The WEBT network makes it possible to monitor objects around the clock from different locations during times of high variability.

Using the WEBT observations made in the summer of 2020, astronomers discovered surprisingly rapid oscillations of brightness in the central jet of the galaxy BL Lac. The scientists attribute these cycles of brightness change to twists in the jet’s magnetic field. Their study was recently published in the scientific journal Nature [below].

BYU’s West Mountain Observatory was one of 37 ground-based telescopes throughout the world monitoring the optical variations of BL Lac – an active galaxy classified as a blazar that is roughly 1 billion light years away. Joner and Apolonio alternated working different groups of nights at the observatory throughout the spring and summer of 2020 – a task that was extra burdensome during the height of the pandemic. This atypical work schedule was necessary since observations were needed on every clear night and there were no other trained student observers remaining in the Provo area.

An analysis of the high-cadence optical observations was critical to understanding the high-energy observations from the space-based Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope.

“You need to combine data from high-energy space observatories with optical ground-based monitoring data. The billion-dollar space telescopes that are used on projects like this often need to compare results with optical ground-based observations,” said Joner. “Correlating what was seen in the high energy observations with the ground-based light curves helped confirm the rapid periodic oscillations that were observed in the high-energy data from space.”

Although he’s an established expert in astrophysical research, Joner says he continues to be amazed at the level of detail scientists are capturing through such observations. And he’s grateful for the chance to explore the far reaches of the cosmos with his students at BYU.

“On a galactic scale, the central jet of a blazar is quite small. It is amazing to be able to see the variations of the jet so clearly. The variability of the jet is easily seen even though it is combined with the light from the hundreds of billions of stars in the host galaxy,” he said.

“It is noteworthy that in this age of giant telescopes and space-based research, it is still necessary to rely on modest sized and well-equipped facilities like we have available at BYU to explore the unknown reaches of the Universe.”

Boston University doctoral student Melissa Hallum, a BYU graduate and former student of Dr. Joner’s, was also a co-author of the paper.

Science paper:
Nature

See the full article here.

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Brigham Young University is a private research university in Provo, Utah. It was founded in 1875 by religious leader Brigham Young, and is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Brigham Young University offers a variety of academic programs, including liberal arts, engineering, agriculture, management, physical and mathematical sciences, nursing, and law. It has 186 undergraduate majors, 64 master’s programs, and 26 doctoral programs. It is broadly organized into 11 colleges or schools at its main Provo campus, with certain colleges and divisions defining their own admission standards. The university also administers two satellite campuses, one in Jerusalem and one in Salt Lake City, while its parent organization the Church Educational System (CES) sponsors sister schools in Hawaii and Idaho. The university is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Almost all Brigham Young University students are members of the LDS Church. Students attending BYU agree to follow an honor code, which mandates behavior in line with teachings of the church, such as academic honesty, adherence to dress and grooming standards, abstinence from extramarital sex, from same-sex romantic behavior, and from the consumption of drugs and alcohol. Undergraduate students are also required to complete curriculum in LDS religious education for graduation regardless of their course of study. Due in part to the church’s emphasis on missionary service, nearly 50% of BYU students have lived outside the United States, 65% speak a second language, and 63 languages are taught at the university regularly.

BYU’s athletic teams compete in Division I of the NCAA and are collectively known as the BYU Cougars. Their football team is a D1 Independent, while their other sports teams compete in either the West Coast Conference or Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. BYU’s sports teams have won a total of 12 NCAA championships and 26 non-NCAA championships. On September 10, 2021, BYU formally accepted an invitation to the Big 12 Conference and will start participating in the conference in the 2023–24 school year.

According to the National Science Foundation, Brigham Young University spent $40.7 million on research and development in 2018. Scientists associated with Brigham Young University have created some notable inventions. Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor and pioneer of the electronic television, began college at Brigham Young University, and later returned to do fusion research, receiving an honorary degree from the university in 1967. Alumnus Harvey Fletcher, inventor of stereophonic sound, went on to carry out the now famous oil-drop experiment with Robert Millikan, and was later Founding Dean of the Brigham Young University College of Engineering. H. Tracy Hall, inventor of the man-made diamond, left General Electric in 1955 and became a full professor of chemistry and Director of Research at Brigham Young University. While there, he invented a new type of diamond press, the tetrahedral press. In student achievements, Brigham Young University Ad Lab teams won both the 2007 and 2008 L’Oréal National Brandstorm Competition, and students developed the Magnetic Lasso algorithm found in Adobe Photoshop. In prestigious scholarships, Brigham Young University has produced 10 Rhodes Scholars, four Gates Scholars in the last six years, and in the last decade has claimed 41 Fulbright scholars and 3 Jack Kent Cooke scholars.