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  • richardmitnick 9:46 am on July 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Australia’s reputation for research integrity at the crossroads, Cosmos Magazine   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Australia’s reputation for research integrity at the crossroads” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    02 July 2018
    David Vaux
    Peter Brooks
    Simon Gandevia

    Changes to Australia’s code of research conduct endanger its reputation for world-standard output.

    Researchers are under pressure to deliver publications and win grants. Shutterstock

    In 2018, Australia still does not have appropriate measures in place to maintain research integrity. And recent changes to our code of research conduct have weakened our already inadequate position.

    In contrast, China’s recent move to crack down on academic misconduct moves it into line with more than twenty European countries, the UK, USA, Canada and others that have national offices for research integrity.

    Australia risks its reputation by turning in the opposite direction.

    Research integrity is vital

    Our confidence in science relies on its integrity – relating to both the research literature (its freedom from errors), and the researchers themselves (that they behave in a principled way).

    However, the pressures on scientists to publish and win grants can lead to misconduct. This can range from cherry-picking results that support a favoured hypothesis, to making up experimental, animal or patient results from thin air. A recent report found that around 1 in 25 papers contained duplicated images (inconsistent with good research practice), and about half of these had features suggesting deliberate manipulation.

    For science to progress efficiently, and to remain credible, we need good governance structures, and as transparent and open a system as possible. Measures are needed to identify and correct errors, and to rectify misbehaviour.

    In Australia, one such measure is the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. But recently published revisions of this code allow research integrity to be handled internally by institutions, and investigations to be kept secret. This puts at risk the hundreds of millions of dollars provided by the taxpayer to fund research.

    As a nation, we can and must do much better, before those who invest in and conduct research go elsewhere – to countries that are serious about the governance of research integrity.

    Learning from experience – the Hall affair

    Developed jointly by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Universities Australia, the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research has the stated goal of improving research integrity in Australia.

    The previous version of the Australian Code was written in 2007, partly in response to the “Hall affair”.

    In 2001, complaints of research misconduct were levelled at Professor Bruce Hall, an immunologist at University of New South Wales (UNSW). After multiple inquiries, UNSW Vice Chancellor Rory Hume concluded that Hall was not guilty of scientific misconduct but had “committed errors of judgement sufficiently serious in two instances to warrant censure.” All allegations were denied by Hall.

    Commenting on the incident in 2004, Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Journal of Australia Martin Van Der Weyden highlighted the importance of external and independent review in investigating research practice:

    “The initial inquiry by the UNSW’s Dean of Medicine [was] patently crippled by perceptions of conflicts of interest — including an institution investigating allegations of improprieties carried out in its own backyard!

    Herein lies lesson number one — once allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud have been made, these should be addressed from the beginning by an external and independent inquiry.”

    An external and independent panel

    Avoiding conflicts of interest – real or perceived – was one of the reasons the 2007 version of the Australian Code required “institutions to establish independent external research misconduct inquiries to evaluate allegations of serious research misconduct that are contested.”

    But it seems this lesson has been forgotten. With respect to establishing a panel to investigate alleged misconduct, the revised Code says meekly:

    “There will be occasions where some or all members should be external to the institution.”

    Institutions will now be able to decide for themselves the terms of reference for investigations, and the number and composition of inquiry panels.

    Reducing research misconduct in Australia

    The chief justification for revising the 2007 Australian Code was to reduce research misconduct.

    In its initial draft form in 2016, the committee charged with this task suggested simply removing the term “research misconduct” from the Code, meaning that research misconduct would no longer officially exist in Australia.

    Unsurprisingly, this created a backlash, and, in the final version of the revised Code, a definition of the term “research misconduct” has returned:

    “Research misconduct: a serious breach of the Code which is also intentional or reckless or negligent.”

    However, institutions now have the option of “whether and how to use the term ‘research misconduct’ in relation to serious breaches of the Code”.

    Principles not enough

    The new Code is split into a set of principles of responsible research conduct that lists the responsibilities of researchers and institutions, together with a set of guides. The first guide describes how potential breaches of the Code should be investigated and managed.

    The principles of responsible research conduct are fine, and exhort researchers to be honest and fair, rigorous and respectful. No one would have an issue with this.

    Similarly, no one would think it unreasonable that institutions also have responsibilities, such as to identify and comply with relevant laws, regulations, guidelines and policies related to the conduct of research.

    However, having a set of lofty principles alone is not sufficient; there also need to be mechanisms to ensure compliance, not just by researchers, but also by institutions.

    Transparency, accountability, and trust

    The new Code says that institutions must ensure that all investigations are confidential. There is no requirement to make the outcome public, but only to “consider whether a public statement is appropriate to communicate the outcome of an investigation”.

    Combining mandatory confidentiality with self-regulation is bound to undermine trust in the governance of research integrity.

    In the new Code there is no mechanism for oversight. The outcome of a misconduct investigation can be appealed to the Australian Research Integrity Committee (ARIC), but only on the grounds of improper process, and not based on evidence or facts.

    Given that the conduct of investigations as well as the findings are to be confidential, it will be difficult to make an appeal to ARIC on any grounds.

    We need a national office of research integrity

    It is not clear why Australia does not learn from the experience of countries with independent agencies for research integrity, and adopt one of the models that is already working elsewhere in the world.

    Those who care about research and careers in research should ask their politicians and university Vice Chancellors why a national office of research integrity is necessary in the nations of Europe, the UK, US, Canada and now China, but not in Australia.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 9:21 am on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Cosmos Magazine, Galactic Archaeology   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “‘Galactic archaeology’ provides clues to star formation, and origin of gold” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    12 June 2018
    Richard A Lovett

    Old stars in our own galaxy are yielding information that illuminates conditions in the early universe.

    Analysing ancient neighbourhood stars is a promising avenue of research. Image credit temniy/Getty Images

    Cosmologists looking for fingerprints of the early universe need look no further than old stars in our own galaxy and its neighbours, astronomers say.

    Not that these stars date back to the dawn of time, but a few were formed when the universe was only a fraction of its current age, and the composition of their atmospheres reveals much about how conditions have changed between then and the time, much later, when our own sun was formed. They can even reveal the origin of important elements such as silver and gold.

    It’s a type of study that Gina Duggan, a graduate student in astrophysics at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, in the US, calls galactic archaeology. “[It] uses elements in stars alive today to probe the galaxy’s history,” she says.

    In fact, adds Timothy Beers, an astrophysicist at The University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, US, it’s not just our own galaxy’s history that can be probed in this manner. Such stars provide clues to conditions throughout the early universe.

    Both researchers recently presented their ideas to the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Denver, US.

    The first stars, cosmologists believe, were composed entirely of hydrogen and helium — the only elements formed directly in the Big Bang. These elements still compose the bulk of today’s stars; the sun, for instance, is 98% hydrogen and helium.

    But there’s a big difference between 98% and 100%. Pure hydrogen and helium stars tend to be hot and big, burning bright and dying young in giant explosions. In the process, they spray other elements into the cosmos – elements that enrich the next generation of stars, building toward the 2% of them found in the sun.

    Such chemically enriched stars, Beers says, don’t necessarily burn as brightly or die as young. Some can be smaller, with lifetimes of 10 billion or more years. “These low-mass stars we can still see today,” he says.

    Spectroscopic analysis can determine how much “pollution” these stars picked up from materials ejected by their predecessors. This allows astronomers to pick out early second-generation stars from other stars populating the Milky Way galaxy and its neighbours, allowing them to be used as cosmological time capsules.

    “We can learn about the chemistry of the very early universe right in our own backyard, not just from studying faint sources more than 10 billion light years away,” Beers says.

    In fact, one of these stars, known as BD+44:493, is only 600 light years away.

    “It’s visible with binoculars,” Beers exclaims. “But it’s preserving stuff from the early universe!”

    Kris Youakim of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, Germany, adds that such stars can also be used to study the way large galaxies like our own were formed by mergers of numerous smaller ones. Such mergers, he says, tore the smaller galaxies apart, producing long “spaghettified” streamers.

    But by using old stars similar to those studied by Beers as markers, he adds, it’s possible find these streamers and trace the history of how our galaxy came together.

    Other researchers believe that nearby dwarf galaxies that have not yet merged into larger galaxies are good laboratories for understanding processes in the early universe, where dwarf galaxies dominated.

    Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA/ESA Hubble and ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone December 2003

    Magellanic Bridge ESA Gaia satellite. Image credit V. Belokurov D. Erkal A. Mellinger.

    “This is an under-utilised but important way to get at where and how the first stars might have formed and the kind of galaxies that helped,” says Aparna Venkatesan of the University of San Francisco, California, US.

    But the most exciting find involves the origin of the Earth’s gold.

    Geologically, of course, we know it comes from gold mines. But before the Earth was formed there had to have been gold in the dust cloud that created the solar system, and there are two theories for how that gold could have been made.

    One, says Duggan, is that it was formed in the heart of giant stellar explosions called magnetorotational supernovae. Another is that it was made in an equally titanic process: the collision of the remnants of dead stars known as neutron stars.

    The former tended to occur early in the universe’s history, when giant stars met their catastrophic ends. The latter mostly came later, following the deaths of later-generation stars.

    To figure out which it was, Duggan’s team looked at the concentration of a related element, barium, in stars of a variety of ages. By comparing the amount of barium to that of iron, which is known to build up steadily with each new generation of stars, she was able to determine if it, acting as a proxy for gold, appeared on the scene early – a sign that they were produced by magnetorotational supernovae – or more recently, a sign that they came from neutron star collisions.

    Evan Kirby, a researcher on the project, calls it another example of galactic archaeology in operation.

    “This study … used elements present in stars today to ‘dig up’ evidence of the history of element production in galaxies,” he says.

    “By measuring the ratio of elements in stars with different ages, we are able to say when these elements were created.”

    The conclusion: gold and related elements were largely formed later on, in neutron star collisions.

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz


    A UC Santa Cruz special report

    Tim Stephens

    Astronomer Ryan Foley says “observing the explosion of two colliding neutron stars” [see https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/from-ucsc-first-observations-of-merging-neutron-stars-mark-a-new-era-in-astronomy ]–the first visible event ever linked to gravitational waves–is probably the biggest discovery he’ll make in his lifetime. That’s saying a lot for a young assistant professor who presumably has a long career still ahead of him.

    The first optical image of a gravitational wave source was taken by a team led by Ryan Foley of UC Santa Cruz using the Swope Telescope at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. This image of Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a, indicated by arrow) shows the light emitted from the cataclysmic merger of two neutron stars. (Image credit: 1M2H Team/UC Santa Cruz & Carnegie Observatories/Ryan Foley)

    Carnegie Institution Swope telescope at Las Campanas, Chile, 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of the city of La Serena. near the north end of a 7 km (4.3 mi) long mountain ridge. Cerro Las Campanas, near the southern end and over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high, at Las Campanas, Chile

    A neutron star forms when a massive star runs out of fuel and explodes as a supernova, throwing off its outer layers and leaving behind a collapsed core composed almost entirely of neutrons. Neutrons are the uncharged particles in the nucleus of an atom, where they are bound together with positively charged protons. In a neutron star, they are packed together just as densely as in the nucleus of an atom, resulting in an object with one to three times the mass of our sun but only about 12 miles wide.

    “Basically, a neutron star is a gigantic atom with the mass of the sun and the size of a city like San Francisco or Manhattan,” said Foley, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    These objects are so dense, a cup of neutron star material would weigh as much as Mount Everest, and a teaspoon would weigh a billion tons. It’s as dense as matter can get without collapsing into a black hole.


    Like other stars, neutron stars sometimes occur in pairs, orbiting each other and gradually spiraling inward. Eventually, they come together in a catastrophic merger that distorts space and time (creating gravitational waves) and emits a brilliant flare of electromagnetic radiation, including visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma rays, and radio waves. Merging black holes also create gravitational waves, but there’s nothing to be seen because no light can escape from a black hole.

    Foley’s team was the first to observe the light from a neutron star merger that took place on August 17, 2017, and was detected by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    Now, for the first time, scientists can study both the gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of space-time), and the radiation emitted from the violent merger of the densest objects in the universe.

    The UC Santa Cruz team found SSS17a by comparing a new image of the galaxy N4993 (right) with images taken four months earlier by the Hubble Space Telescope (left). The arrows indicate where SSS17a was absent from the Hubble image and visible in the new image from the Swope Telescope. (Image credits: Left, Hubble/STScI; Right, 1M2H Team/UC Santa Cruz & Carnegie Observatories/Ryan Foley)

    It’s that combination of data, and all that can be learned from it, that has astronomers and physicists so excited. The observations of this one event are keeping hundreds of scientists busy exploring its implications for everything from fundamental physics and cosmology to the origins of gold and other heavy elements.

    A small team of UC Santa Cruz astronomers were the first team to observe light from two neutron stars merging in August. The implications are huge.


    It turns out that the origins of the heaviest elements, such as gold, platinum, uranium—pretty much everything heavier than iron—has been an enduring conundrum. All the lighter elements have well-explained origins in the nuclear fusion reactions that make stars shine or in the explosions of stars (supernovae). Initially, astrophysicists thought supernovae could account for the heavy elements, too, but there have always been problems with that theory, says Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    The violent merger of two neutron stars is thought to involve three main energy-transfer processes, shown in this diagram, that give rise to the different types of radiation seen by astronomers, including a gamma-ray burst and a kilonova explosion seen in visible light. (Image credit: Murguia-Berthier et al., Science)

    A theoretical astrophysicist, Ramirez-Ruiz has been a leading proponent of the idea that neutron star mergers are the source of the heavy elements. Building a heavy atomic nucleus means adding a lot of neutrons to it. This process is called rapid neutron capture, or the r-process, and it requires some of the most extreme conditions in the universe: extreme temperatures, extreme densities, and a massive flow of neutrons. A neutron star merger fits the bill.

    Ramirez-Ruiz and other theoretical astrophysicists use supercomputers to simulate the physics of extreme events like supernovae and neutron star mergers. This work always goes hand in hand with observational astronomy. Theoretical predictions tell observers what signatures to look for to identify these events, and observations tell theorists if they got the physics right or if they need to tweak their models. The observations by Foley and others of the neutron star merger now known as SSS17a are giving theorists, for the first time, a full set of observational data to compare with their theoretical models.

    According to Ramirez-Ruiz, the observations support the theory that neutron star mergers can account for all the gold in the universe, as well as about half of all the other elements heavier than iron.


    Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity, but until recently they were impossible to observe. LIGO’s extraordinarily sensitive detectors achieved the first direct detection of gravitational waves, from the collision of two black holes, in 2015. Gravitational waves are created by any massive accelerating object, but the strongest waves (and the only ones we have any chance of detecting) are produced by the most extreme phenomena.

    Two massive compact objects—such as black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs—orbiting around each other faster and faster as they draw closer together are just the kind of system that should radiate strong gravitational waves. Like ripples spreading in a pond, the waves get smaller as they spread outward from the source. By the time they reached Earth, the ripples detected by LIGO caused distortions of space-time thousands of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom.

    The rarefied signals recorded by LIGO’s detectors not only prove the existence of gravitational waves, they also provide crucial information about the events that produced them. Combined with the telescope observations of the neutron star merger, it’s an incredibly rich set of data.

    LIGO can tell scientists the masses of the merging objects and the mass of the new object created in the merger, which reveals whether the merger produced another neutron star or a more massive object that collapsed into a black hole. To calculate how much mass was ejected in the explosion, and how much mass was converted to energy, scientists also need the optical observations from telescopes. That’s especially important for quantifying the nucleosynthesis of heavy elements during the merger.

    LIGO can also provide a measure of the distance to the merging neutron stars, which can now be compared with the distance measurement based on the light from the merger. That’s important to cosmologists studying the expansion of the universe, because the two measurements are based on different fundamental forces (gravity and electromagnetism), giving completely independent results.

    “This is a huge step forward in astronomy,” Foley said. “Having done it once, we now know we can do it again, and it opens up a whole new world of what we call ‘multi-messenger’ astronomy, viewing the universe through different fundamental forces.”


    Neutron stars
    A team from UC Santa Cruz was the first to observe the light from a neutron star merger that took place on August 17, 2017 and was detected by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)

    Graduate students and post-doctoral scholars at UC Santa Cruz played key roles in the dramatic discovery and analysis of colliding neutron stars.Astronomer Ryan Foley leads a team of young graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who have pulled off an extraordinary coup. Following up on the detection of gravitational waves from the violent merger of two neutron stars, Foley’s team was the first to find the source with a telescope and take images of the light from this cataclysmic event. In so doing, they beat much larger and more senior teams with much more powerful telescopes at their disposal.

    “We’re sort of the scrappy young upstarts who worked hard and got the job done,” said Foley, an untenured assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    David Coulter, graduate student

    The discovery on August 17, 2017, has been a scientific bonanza, yielding over 100 scientific papers from numerous teams investigating the new observations. Foley’s team is publishing seven papers, each of which has a graduate student or postdoc as the first author.

    “I think it speaks to Ryan’s generosity and how seriously he takes his role as a mentor that he is not putting himself front and center, but has gone out of his way to highlight the roles played by his students and postdocs,” said Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and the most senior member of Foley’s team.

    “Our team is by far the youngest and most diverse of all of the teams involved in the follow-up observations of this neutron star merger,” Ramirez-Ruiz added.

    Charles Kilpatrick, postdoctoral scholar

    Charles Kilpatrick, a 29-year-old postdoctoral scholar, was the first person in the world to see an image of the light from colliding neutron stars. He was sitting in an office at UC Santa Cruz, working with first-year graduate student Cesar Rojas-Bravo to process image data as it came in from the Swope Telescope in Chile. To see if the Swope images showed anything new, he had also downloaded “template” images taken in the past of the same galaxies the team was searching.

    Ariadna Murguia-Berthier, graduate student

    “In one image I saw something there that was not in the template image,” Kilpatrick said. “It took me a while to realize the ramifications of what I was seeing. This opens up so much new science, it really marks the beginning of something that will continue to be studied for years down the road.”

    At the time, Foley and most of the others in his team were at a meeting in Copenhagen. When they found out about the gravitational wave detection, they quickly got together to plan their search strategy. From Copenhagen, the team sent instructions to the telescope operators in Chile telling them where to point the telescope. Graduate student David Coulter played a key role in prioritizing the galaxies they would search to find the source, and he is the first author of the discovery paper published in Science.

    Matthew Siebert, graduate student

    “It’s still a little unreal when I think about what we’ve accomplished,” Coulter said. “For me, despite the euphoria of recognizing what we were seeing at the moment, we were all incredibly focused on the task at hand. Only afterward did the significance really sink in.”

    Just as Coulter finished writing his paper about the discovery, his wife went into labor, giving birth to a baby girl on September 30. “I was doing revisions to the paper at the hospital,” he said.

    It’s been a wild ride for the whole team, first in the rush to find the source, and then under pressure to quickly analyze the data and write up their findings for publication. “It was really an all-hands-on-deck moment when we all had to pull together and work quickly to exploit this opportunity,” said Kilpatrick, who is first author of a paper comparing the observations with theoretical models.

    César Rojas Bravo, graduate student

    Graduate student Matthew Siebert led a paper analyzing the unusual properties of the light emitted by the merger. Astronomers have observed thousands of supernovae (exploding stars) and other “transients” that appear suddenly in the sky and then fade away, but never before have they observed anything that looks like this neutron star merger. Siebert’s paper concluded that there is only a one in 100,000 chance that the transient they observed is not related to the gravitational waves.

    Ariadna Murguia-Berthier, a graduate student working with Ramirez-Ruiz, is first author of a paper synthesizing data from a range of sources to provide a coherent theoretical framework for understanding the observations.

    Another aspect of the discovery of great interest to astronomers is the nature of the galaxy and the galactic environment in which the merger occurred. Postdoctoral scholar Yen-Chen Pan led a paper analyzing the properties of the host galaxy. Enia Xhakaj, a new graduate student who had just joined the group in August, got the opportunity to help with the analysis and be a coauthor on the paper.

    Yen-Chen Pan, postdoctoral scholar

    “There are so many interesting things to learn from this,” Foley said. “It’s a great experience for all of us to be part of such an important discovery.”

    Enia Xhakaj, graduate student


    Scientific Papers from the 1M2H Collaboration

    Coulter et al., Science, Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a), the Optical Counterpart to a Gravitational Wave Source

    Drout et al., Science, Light Curves of the Neutron Star Merger GW170817/SSS17a: Implications for R-Process Nucleosynthesis

    Shappee et al., Science, Early Spectra of the Gravitational Wave Source GW170817: Evolution of a Neutron Star Merger

    Kilpatrick et al., Science, Electromagnetic Evidence that SSS17a is the Result of a Binary Neutron Star Merger

    Siebert et al., ApJL, The Unprecedented Properties of the First Electromagnetic Counterpart to a Gravitational-wave Source

    Pan et al., ApJL, The Old Host-galaxy Environment of SSS17a, the First Electromagnetic Counterpart to a Gravitational-wave Source

    Murguia-Berthier et al., ApJL, A Neutron Star Binary Merger Model for GW170817/GRB170817a/SSS17a

    Kasen et al., Nature, Origin of the heavy elements in binary neutron star mergers from a gravitational wave event

    Abbott et al., Nature, A gravitational-wave standard siren measurement of the Hubble constant (The LIGO Scientific Collaboration and The Virgo Collaboration, The 1M2H Collaboration, The Dark Energy Camera GW-EM Collaboration and the DES Collaboration, The DLT40 Collaboration, The Las Cumbres Observatory Collaboration, The VINROUGE Collaboration & The MASTER Collaboration)

    Abbott et al., ApJL, Multi-messenger Observations of a Binary Neutron Star Merger


    Watch Ryan Foley tell the story of how his team found the neutron star merger in the video below. 2.5 HOURS.

    Press releases:

    UC Santa Cruz Press Release

    UC Berkeley Press Release

    Carnegie Institution of Science Press Release

    LIGO Collaboration Press Release

    National Science Foundation Press Release

    Media coverage:

    The Atlantic – The Slack Chat That Changed Astronomy

    Washington Post – Scientists detect gravitational waves from a new kind of nova, sparking a new era in astronomy

    New York Times – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time

    Science – Merging neutron stars generate gravitational waves and a celestial light show

    CBS News – Gravitational waves – and light – seen in neutron star collision

    CBC News – Astronomers see source of gravitational waves for 1st time

    San Jose Mercury News – A bright light seen across the universe, proving Einstein right

    Popular Science – Gravitational waves just showed us something even cooler than black holes

    Scientific American – Gravitational Wave Astronomers Hit Mother Lode

    Nature – Colliding stars spark rush to solve cosmic mysteries

    National Geographic – In a First, Gravitational Waves Linked to Neutron Star Crash

    Associated Press – Astronomers witness huge cosmic crash, find origins of gold

    Science News – Neutron star collision showers the universe with a wealth of discoveries

    UCSC press release
    First observations of merging neutron stars mark a new era in astronomy


    Writing: Tim Stephens
    Video: Nick Gonzales
    Photos: Carolyn Lagattuta
    Header image: Illustration by Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science
    Design and development: Rob Knight
    Project managers: Sherry Main, Scott Hernandez-Jason, Tim Stephens

    Dark Energy Survey

    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL

    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Noted in the video but not in the article:

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    Prompt telescope CTIO Chile

    NASA NuSTAR X-ray telescope

    See the full UCSC article here

    Without such impacts, perhaps everything from gold rushes to the history of precious coins might have been entirely different.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 10:18 am on May 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Cosmos Magazine, , Durham University, , University of Sidney   

    From University of Sidney and Durham University via COSMOS: “Multiverse theory cops a blow after dark energy findings” 


    U Sidney bloc

    University of Sidney


    Durham U bloc

    Durham University



    14 May 2018
    Andrew Masterson

    Each universe in a multiverse contains different levels of dark energy, according to the dominant theory. Credit: Stolk/Getty Images

    The question of dark energy in one universe does not require others to provide an answer.

    A hypothetical multiverse seems less likely after modelling by researchers in Australia and the UK threw one of its key assumptions into doubt.

    The multiverse concept suggests that our universe is but one of many. It finds support among some of the world’s most accomplished physicists, including Brian Greene, Max Tegmark, Neil deGrasse Tyson and the late Stephen Hawking.

    One of the prime attractions of the idea is that it potentially accounts for an anomaly in calculations for dark energy.

    The mysterious force is thought to be responsible for the accelerating expansion of our own universe. Current theories, however, predict there should be rather more of it around than there appears to be. This throws up another set of problems: if the amount of dark energy around was as much as equations require – and that is many trillions of times the level that seems to exist – the universe would expand so rapidly that stars and planets would not form – and life, thus, would not be possible.

    The multiverse idea to an extent accounts for and accommodates this oddly small – but life-permitting – dark energy quotient. Essentially it permits a curiously self-serving explanation: there are a vast number of universes all with differing amounts of dark energy. We exist in one that has an amount low enough to permit stars and so on to form, and thus life to exist. (And we find ourselves here, runs the logic, because we couldn’t find ourselves anywhere else.)

    So far, so anthropic. But now a group of astronomers, including Luke Barnes from the University of Sydney in Australia and Jaime Salcido from Durham University in the UK, has published two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society [Galaxy formation efficiency and the multiverse explanation of the cosmological constant with EAGLE simulations and The impact of dark energy on galaxy formation. What does the future of our Universe hold? that show the dark energy and star formation balance isn’t quite as fine as previous estimates have suggested.

    The team created simulations of the universe using the supercomputer architecture contained within the Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments (EAGLE) project. This is a UK-based collaboration that models some 10,000 galaxies over a distance of 300 million-light years, and compares the results with actual observations from the Hubble Telescope and other observatories.

    The simulations allowed the researchers to adjust the amount of dark energy in the universe and watch what happened.

    The results were a surprise. The research revealed that the amount of dark energy could be increased a couple of hundred times – or reduced equally drastically – without substantially affecting anything else.

    “For many physicists, the unexplained but seemingly special amount of dark energy in our universe is a frustrating puzzle,” says Salcido.

    “Our simulations show that even if there was much more dark energy or even very little in the universe then it would only have a minimal effect on star and planet formation.”

    And this, he suggests, implies that life could potentially exist in many multiverse universes – ironically enough, an uncomfortable conclusion.

    “The multiverse was previously thought to explain the observed value of dark energy as a lottery – we have a lucky ticket and live in the universe that forms beautiful galaxies which permit life as we know it,” says Barnes.

    “Our work shows that our ticket seems a little too lucky, so to speak. It’s more special than it needs to be for life. This is a problem for the multiverse; a puzzle remains.”

    It is a puzzle that goes right to the heart of the matter: if the dark energy assumptions are flawed, does a multiverse even exist? The researchers acknowledge that their results do not preclude it – but they do diminish the likelihood.

    “The formation of stars in a universe is a battle between the attraction of gravity, and the repulsion of dark energy,” says co-author Richard Bower, also from Durham University.

    “We have found in our simulations that universes with much more dark energy than ours can happily form stars. So why such a paltry amount of dark energy in our universe?

    “I think we should be looking for a new law of physics to explain this strange property of our universe, and the multiverse theory does little to rescue physicists’ discomfort.”

    See the full article here .

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    Durham U campus

    Durham University is distinctive – a residential collegiate university with long traditions and modern values. We seek the highest distinction in research and scholarship and are committed to excellence in all aspects of education and transmission of knowledge. Our research and scholarship affect every continent. We are proud to be an international scholarly community which reflects the ambitions of cultures from around the world. We promote individual participation, providing a rounded education in which students, staff and alumni gain both the academic and the personal skills required to flourish.

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    Our founding principle as Australia’s first university was that we would be a modern and progressive institution. It’s an ideal we still hold dear today.

    When Charles William Wentworth proposed the idea of Australia’s first university, University of Sidney, in 1850, he imagined “the opportunity for the child of every class to become great and useful in the destinies of this country”.

    We’ve stayed true to that original value and purpose by promoting inclusion and diversity for the past 160 years.

    It’s the reason that, as early as 1881, we admitted women on an equal footing to male students. Oxford University didn’t follow suit until 30 years later, and Jesus College at Cambridge University did not begin admitting female students until 1974.

    It’s also why, from the very start, talented students of all backgrounds were given the chance to access further education through bursaries and scholarships.

    Today we offer hundreds of scholarships to support and encourage talented students, and a range of grants and bursaries to those who need a financial helping hand.

  • richardmitnick 9:41 am on May 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biography, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Cosmos Magazine   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “This week in science history: The “Wizard of Schenectady” is born” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    09 April 2018
    Jeff Glorfeld

    Einstein’s pal Charles Proteus Steinmetz transformed the electric power industry.


    Charles Steinmetz taking time out from General Electric to relax with an ostrich. Credit:Bettmann/Getty Images

    He was called the Wizard of Schenectady, and counted as friends Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. He stood little more than 120 centimetres tall, his body contorted by a hump caused by a congenital deformity known as abnormal kyphosis, an extreme curvature of the upper spine. He was one of the greatest mathematicians and electrical engineers of his time, whose discoveries continue to resonate today.

    Charles Proteus Steinmetz was born Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz on April 9, 1865. He Americanised his name when he emigrated to the United States in 1889. He chose Proteus as his middle name, derived from a nickname bestowed him in Germany.

    Steinmetz went to work for a small electrical firm in New York, and his experiments on power losses in the magnetic materials used in machinery led to his first important work, the law of hysteresis [IEEE EXPLORE DIGITAL LIBRARY], which deals with the power loss that occurs in electrical devices when magnetic action is converted to unusable heat. His discovery, published in 1892, allowed engineers to calculate and minimise losses of electric power owing to magnetism and change their designs accordingly.

    More important was his development of a practical method for making mathematical calculations when dealing with alternating-current circuits. Steinmetz formulated a symbolic method of calculating alternating-current phenomena, which simplified an extremely complicated field so that average engineers could work in it.

    This development was largely responsible for the rapid progress made in the commercial introduction of alternating-current apparatus.

    In 1893, the newly formed General Electric Company, based in Schenectady, New York, bought Steinmetz’s employer, primarily for its patents, but Steinmetz was considered one of its major assets.

    There is a story about Steinmetz which first appeared in Life Magazine in 1965. Jack B. Scott wrote to tell of his father’s encounter with the Wizard of Schenectady at Henry Ford’s factory in Dearborn, Michigan.

    Ford’s engineers couldn’t solve the problems they were having with a gigantic generator, so Scott Senior asked GE to send Steinmetz to the plant. Upon arriving, Steinmetz asked for a notebook, pencil and cot. He listened to the generator and made notes for two days and nights.

    On the second night, he asked for a ladder, climbed up the generator, and made a chalk mark on its side. Then he told Ford’s engineers to remove a plate at the mark and replace sixteen windings from the field coil. They did, and the generator performed to perfection.

    Ford was thrilled, until he got an invoice from GE for $10,000. He asked for an itemised bill.

    Steinmetz responded personally to Ford’s request with the following:

    “Making chalk mark on generator: $1.

    “Knowing where to make mark $9,999.”

    Ford paid the bill.

    Steinmetz died on October 26, 1923.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:08 pm on March 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cosmos Magazine, , , , National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University in Canberra, SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, SN KSN 2015K,   

    From Space Science Telescope Institute via COSMOS: “Gone in a flash: supernova burns up in just 25 days” 

    Space Science Telescope Institute


    27 March 2018
    Lauren Fuge

    Huge, bright and incredibly violent, a new supernova provides new challenges for astronomers.

    An artists impression of how the explosive light of the supernova was hidden for a while behind a cocoon of ejected dust. Nature Astronomy.

    Astronomers have witnessed a blazing supernova explosion that faded away 10 times faster than expected.

    A supernova is the violent death of a massive star, typically occurring when it exhausts its fuel supply and collapses under its own weight, generating a powerful shockwave that blasts light and material out into space.

    Supernovae often blaze so brightly that they briefly outshine all the other stars in their host galaxy. They show off for months on end — in 1054, a supernova could be seen during the day for three weeks and only disappeared completely after two years. Its remnants are known as the Crab Nebula.

    The Crab Nebula in all its glory. NASA, ESA, NRAO/AUI/NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires).

    Now an international team of astronomers, led by Armin Rest from the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore, US, has observed a supernova that rapidly soared to its peak brightness in 2.2 days then faded away in just 25.

    “When I first saw the Kepler data, and realised how short this transient is, my jaw dropped,” recalls Rest.

    The supernova, dubbed KSN 2015K, is part of a puzzling class of rare events called Fast-Evolving Luminous Transients (FELTs).

    KSN 2015K’s host is the star-forming spiral galaxy 2MASX-J13315109-1044061. Image credit: Rest et al: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-018-0423-2.

    FELTs don’t fit into existing supernova models and astronomers are still debating their sources. Previous suggestions include the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst, a supernova turbo-boosted by a magnetically-powerful neutron star, or a failed example of special type of binary star supernova known as a type 1a. KSN 2015K is the most extreme example found so far.

    In a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the team says that KSN 2015K’s behaviour can most likely be explained by its surroundings: the star was swathed in dense gas and dust that it ejected in its old age, like a caterpillar spinning a cocoon. When the supernova detonated, it took some time for the resulting shock wave to slam into the shell of material and produce a burst of light, becoming visible to astronomers.

    KSN 2015K was captured by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which is designed to hunt for planets by noticing the tiny, temporary dips in light from far-away stars when planets pass in front of them.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    This exact skill is also useful in studying supernovae and other brief, explosive events.

    “Using Kepler’s high-speed light-measuring capabilities, we’ve been able to see this exotic star explosion in incredible detail,” says team member Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University.

    Co-author David Khatami from the University of California, Berkeley, US, adds that this is the first time astronomers can test FELT models to a high degree of accuracy. “The fact that Kepler completely captured the rapid evolution really constrains the exotic ways in which stars die,” he says.

    Australian researchers and facilities were also key to this discovery. Follow-up observations were made with the SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, and then processed by the National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University in Canberra.

    ANU Skymapper telescope, a fully automated 1.35 m (4.4 ft) wide-angle optical telescope, at Siding Spring Observatory , near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia, Altitude 1,165 m (3,822 ft)

    Siding Spring Observatory, near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia, Altitude 1,165 m (3,822 ft)

    The National Computational Infrastructure building at the Australian National University

    Tucker says that by learning more about how stars live and die, astronomers can better understand solar systems as a whole, including the potential life on orbiting planets.

    He concludes: “With the imminent launch of NASA’s new space telescope, TESS, we hope to find even more of these rare and violent explosions.”


    See the full article here . Other articles here and here and here.

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    We are the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. We help humanity explore the universe with advanced space telescopes and ever-growing data archives.

    Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

    Founded in 1982, we have helped guide the most famous observatory in history, the Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Since its launch in 1990, we have performed the science operations for Hubble. We also lead the science and mission operations for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled for launch in 2019.

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    We will perform parts of the science operations for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), in formulation for launch in the mid-2020s, and we are partners on several other NASA missions.


    Our staff conducts world-class scientific research; our Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) curates and disseminates data from over 20 astronomical missions;

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  • richardmitnick 8:27 am on February 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cosmos Magazine, Meteotsunami,   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Prevalence and danger of little known tsunami type revealed” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS Magazine

    19 February 2018
    Richard A Lovett


    On 4 July 2003, beachgoers at Warren Dunes State Park, in the US state of Michigan, were enjoying America’s Independence Day holiday when a fast-moving line of thunderstorms blew in from Lake Michigan. They scurried for shelter, but the event passed so quickly it didn’t appear that their holiday was ruined.

    “In 15 minutes it was gone,” says civil engineer Alvaro Linares of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    But when swimmers re-entered the water, rip currents appeared seemingly from nowhere, pulling eight people out into the lake, where seven drowned.

    What these people had encountered, Linares says, was a meteotsunami — an aquatic hazard of which few people, including scientists, were aware of until recently.

    Few scientists have researched the phenomenon. May of those who have gathered recently at the annual American Geophysical Union Ocean Sciences meeting, held in Portland, Oregon, US, to compare notes.

    Conventional tsunamis are caused by underwater processes such as earthquakes and submarine landslides. Meteotsunamis, as the name indicates, are caused by weather. But while the catalysts are different, the effects are not.

    “The wave characteristics are very similar,” says Eric Anderson of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    To create a meteotsunami, what’s required is a combination of a strong, fast-moving storm and relatively shallow water. The sudden increase in winds along the storm front, possibly combined with changes in air pressure, starts the process by kicking up a tsunami-style wave that runs ahead of it. But the process would quickly fizzle out if the water was too deep, because in deep water, such waves propagate very quickly and would soon outrun the storm.

    What’s needed to produce a meteotsunami is a water depth at which the storm’s speed and the wave’s speed match, allowing the wave to build as it and the storm move in tandem. “The storm puts all its energy into that wave,” Anderson says.

    Furthermore, the wave can magnify even more when it hits shallower water or shoals. “That is when these become destructive,” Anderson says.

    In 2004, for example, a storm front 300 kilometres wide sped across the East China Sea at a speed of 31 metres per second, 112 kilometres per hour, says Katsutoshi Fukuzawa of the University of Tokyo.

    Water there is shallow, he adds, with depths mostly under 100 metres. This limits wave speed to about 30 metres per second — a near-perfect match to the storm’s. As a result, parts of the island of Kyushu were hit with a tsunami as big as 1.6-metres.

    Not that meteotsunamis have to be that big to be dangerous. The one at Warren Dunes was probably no more than 30 centimeters, says Linares — small enough not even to be visible in the lake’s normal chop.

    But unlike normal surf, meteotsunamis produce a sustained slosh that lasts several minutes between run-up and retreat. That means that even low-height waves carry a lot of water, creating the potential for strong rip currents when they withdraw. According to Linares’ models [Journal of Geophysical Research], these currents would have persisted for about an hour — plenty long enough to drag unwary swimmers far out into the lake, long after the storm had passed.

    It’s also possible for meteotsunamis to become “detached” from the storm front that created them, striking shores far away. Researchers reviewing records in the Great Lakes have concluded that that is what happened when such a wave hit Chicago in 1954, killing 10 people.

    “The wave came out of nowhere,” Anderson says. “It was a calm, sunny day.”

    It’s not just Japan and America’s Great Lakes that have seen such events. In May 2017, a storm raced up the English Channel, kicking up a metre-high wave that swept beaches in The Netherlands as bystanders looked on with awe, says Ap van Dongeren of the Deltares research institute in Delft, The Netherlands.

    Quirks of topography can magnify the effects of such tsunamis. On 13 June 2013, a group of spearfishermen in New Jersey were stunned when a surge of water threw them across a breakwater into the open ocean [nj.com]. A few minutes later, another surge threw them back where they’d come from. And that came from a meteotsunami that measured at well less than a metre on local tide gauges, says Gregory Dusek, a NOAA oceanographer at Camp Springs, Maryland.

    Meteotsunamis have occurred on all inhabited continents, including one that hit the port of Fremantle, near the Australian city of Perth, in 2014, causing a ship to break free from its moorings and crash into a railroad bridge in 2014, Sarath Wijeratne of the University of Western Australia reported in a conference abstract. In fact, Wijeratne concluded, a look back at historical water level records indicates that Western Australia may have seen more than 15 such events each year between 2008 and 2016.

    Other researchers are also finding these events to be surprisingly frequent. By studying tide gauge records back to 1996, Dusek has concluded that they occur on America’s eastern seaboard at a rate of 23 per year — though most are small enough nobody would ever notice. In Holland, Van Dongeren says that a quick check of historical tide gauge records revealed at least three such events in the past decade that had gone unnoticed because they happened at low tide. “They’re not that rare,” he says.

    Fukuzawa says that Japan saw 37 meteotsunamis exceeding one metre from 1961 to 2005.

    Furthermore, bigger ones are possible. In June 2014, Croatia was hit by a two-to-three metre tsunami sweeping in from the Adriatic Sea, says Clea Denamiel, of the Croatian Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

    But the mother of all meteotsunamis came in 1978, when Vela Luka, at the southern end of Croatia’s scenic Dalmatian coast, was smashed by a meteotsunami measuring a full six metres, with giant waves surging and retreating about every 17 minutes, just as might have occurred in the aftermath of a large offshore earthquake.

    As of now, scientists don’t know enough about meteotsunamis to be able to predict them, though efforts are under way to create models that can do just that. But as they dig back through old records, they are increasingly realising that meteotsunamis might have been with us for a long time.

    Or as Linares puts it with typical scientific understatement, “meteotsunamis are a beach hazard that has been overlooked”.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on February 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Cosmos Magazine, , ,   

    From ANU via COSMOS: “40-year cosmic theory confirmed” 

    ANU Australian National University Bloc

    Australian National University


    09 February 2018
    Andrew Masterson

    A stellar reaction long predicted but never seen has been demonstrated in the lab.

    After four decades of research, a theory is finally confirmed. CONEYL JAY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images.

    An abundant new energy supply could be derived from controlling a quantum reaction that takes place in stars, according to research from the Australian National University (ANU).

    The possibility arises because the ANU scientists plus others from institutions including the US Army Research laboratory and Poland’s National Centre for Nuclear Research have succeeded in confirming the existence of a reaction first predicted four decades ago but unmeasured until now.

    In a paper published in the journal Nature, ANU physicist Greg Lane and colleagues report the confirmation of a phenomenon known as Nuclear Excitation by Electron Capture (NEEC). Confirming that NEEC actually happens supplies a key mechanism for understanding how evolving stars produce elements such as gold and platinum.

    NEEC can occur when an atom captures an electron. If the electron’s kinetic energy and the energy required to capture it add up to just the right amount, the atom’s nucleus is pushed to a higher state of excitation.

    The energy increase, however, comes at the cost of a shorter life. What was a long-lived stable nucleus must now decay, either through an electromagnetic process known as internal conversion which spits out an electron, or by emitting a photon.

    Although discussed since the 1970s, experimental proof for NEEC has remained elusive.

    The new work, however, has now provided the necessary evidence. The researchers did so by creating an exotic isotope – molybdenum-93 – by firing a beam of zirconium atoms at lithium targets, using the ANU’s Heavy Ion Accelerator and the ATLAS Accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory in the United States.

    ANU’s Heavy Ion Accelerator

    ATLAS Accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory

    The resulting molybdenum atoms zipped around at as much as 10% of the speed of light, smashing into the remaining lithium, stripping off electrons and leaving highly charged ions behind.

    As the interactions continued, the molybdenum ions lost kinetic energy until they reached a state where they could capture an electron with just the right energy to push the molybdenum nuclei from their long-duration “isomer” states into higher level but shorter-lived intermediate ones. These intermediate states decayed, giving off a unique gamma-ray signature that proved NEEC had occurred.

    The research now provides a model against which other theoretical calculations for the NEEC effect in different elements can be tested, illuminating further the process by which nuclear interactions in stars produce certain metals.

    “The abundance of the different elements in a star depends primarily on the structure and behaviour of atomic nuclei,” says Lane.

    “The NEEC phenomenon modifies the nucleus lifetime so that it survives for a shorter amount of time in a star.”

    As well cosmological implications, the confirmation of the NEEC effect opens the door to potentially accessing energy stored in longer-lived isomer nuclei. Lane suggests the technique could create energy sources 100,000 times more powerful than chemical batteries.

    It is a possible outcome that has not gone unnoticed by at least one of the ANU’s research partners.

    “Our study demonstrated a new way to release the energy stored in a long-lived nuclear state, which the US Army Research Laboratory is interested to explore further,” says Lane.

    See the full article here .

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    ANU is a world-leading university in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Our location points to our unique history, ties to the Australian Government and special standing as a resource for the Australian people.

    Our focus on research as an asset, and an approach to education, ensures our graduates are in demand the world-over for their abilities to understand, and apply vision and creativity to addressing complex contemporary challenges.

  • richardmitnick 10:59 am on December 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Australia seems on the brink of embracing space in a coordinated manner but how should we do it?, Australian universities made cubesats for an international research project, Cosmos Magazine, , It is encouraging that Australian organisations have anticipated the growth areas, There are also emerging Australian capabilities in small satellites and potentially disruptive technologies with space applications, Three new reports add clarity to Australia’s space sector a ‘crowded and valuable high ground’,   

    From COSMOS: “Three new reports add clarity to Australia’s space sector, a ‘crowded and valuable high ground’” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS Magazine

    02 December 2017
    Anthony Wicht

    Three new reports examine Australia’s existing space capabilities, set them in the light of international developments, and identify growth areas and models for Australia to pursue. 136319147@N08/flickr. Telescope is not identified. Bad journalism.

    Australia seems on the brink of embracing space in a coordinated manner, but how should we do it?

    This week, the Australian government released three reports to help chart the future of Australia’s space industry. Their conclusions will feed into the review of Australia’s space industry underway by former CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark.

    The reports examine Australia’s existing space capabilities, set them in the light of international developments, and identify growth areas and models for Australia to pursue. The promise is there:

    Australia has scattered globally competitive capabilities in areas from space weather to deep-space communication but “by far the strongest areas” are applications of satellite data on Earth to industries like agriculture, communications and mining
    Australian research in other sectors like 3D printing and VR is being translated to space with potentially high payoffs
    global trends, including the demand for more space traffic management, play to our emerging strengths
    the prize for success is real – the UK currently has an A$8 billion space export industry, and anticipates further growth.

    While it is not the first time the government has commissioned this type of research, the updates are welcome given the fast pace of space innovation. Taken together they paint a picture of potential for the future of Australian space and a firm foundation for a space agency.

    The rules of the game

    The Global Space Industry Dynamics report from Bryce Space and Technology, a US-based space specialist consulting firm, sets out the “rules of the game” in the US$344 billion (A$450 billion) space sector.

    The global space economy at a glance. Figures are from 2016, and shown in US$.
    Marcella Cheng for The Conversation, adapted from Global Space Industry Dynamics Research Paper by Bryce Space and Technology

    It highlights that:

    three quarters of global revenues are made commercially, despite the prevailing perception that space is a government concern
    most commercial revenue is made from space-enabled services and applications (like satellite TV or GPS receivers) rather than the construction and launch of space hardware itself
    commercial launch and satellite manufacturing industries are still small in relative terms, at about US$20.5 billion (A$27 billion) of revenues, but show strong growth, particularly for smaller satellites and launch vehicles.

    The report also looks at the emerging trends that a smart space industry in Australia will try and run ahead of. Space is becoming cheaper, more attractive to investors and increasingly important in our data-rich economy. These trends have not gone unnoticed by global competitors, though, and the report describes space as an increasingly “crowded and valuable high ground”.

    What is particularly useful about the report is its sharp focus on the three numbers that determine commercial attractiveness:

    market size

    The magic comes through matching these attractive sectors against areas where Australia can compete strongly because of existing capability or geographic advantage.

    The report suggests growth opportunities across traditional and emerging space sectors. In traditional sectors, it calls out satellite services, particularly commercial satellite radio and broadband, and ground infrastructure as prime opportunities. In emerging sectors, earth observation data analytics, space traffic management, and small satellite manufacturing are all tipped as potentially profitable growth areas where Australia could compete.

    The report adds the speculative area of space mining as an additional sector worth considering given Australia’s existing terrestrial capability.

    It is encouraging that Australian organisations have anticipated the growth areas, from UNSW’s off-earth mining research, to Geoscience Australia’s integrated satellite data to Mt Stromlo’s debris tracking capability.

    Australian capabilities

    Australian capabilities are the focus of a second report, by ACIL Allen consulting, Australian Space Industry Capability. The review highlights a smattering of world class Australian capabilities, particularly in the application of space data to activities on Earth like agriculture, transport and financial services.

    There are also emerging Australian capabilities in small satellites and potentially disruptive technologies with space applications, like 3D printing, AI and quantum computing. The report notes that basic research is strong, but challenges remain in “industrialising and commercialising the resulting products”.

    Australian universities made cubesats for an international research project.

    The concern about commercialisation prompts questions about the policies that will help Australian companies succeed.

    Should we embrace recent trends and rely wholly on market mechanisms and venture capital Darwinism, or buy into traditional international space projects?

    Do we send our brightest overseas for a few years’ training, or spin up a full suite of research and development programs domestically?

    Are there regulations that need to change to level the playing field for Australian space exports?
    Learning from the world

    Part of the answer is to be found in the third report, Global Space Strategies and Best Practices, which looks at global approaches to funding, capability development, and governance arrangements. The case studies illustrate a range of styles.

    The UK’s pragmatic approach developed a £5 billion (A$8 billion) export industry by focusing primarily on competitive commercial applications, including a satellite Australia recently bought a time-share on.

    A longer-term play is Luxembourg’s use of tax breaks and legal changes to attract space mining ventures. Before laughing, remember that Luxembourg has space clout: satellite giants SES and Intelsat are headquartered there thanks to similar forward thinking in the 1980s. Those two companies pulled in about A$3 billion of profit between them last year.

    Norway and Canada show a middle ground, combining international partnerships with clear focus areas that benefit research and the economy. Norway has taken advantage of its geography to build satellite ground stations for polar-orbiting satellites, in an interesting parallel with Australia’s longstanding ground capabilities. Canada used its relationship with the United States to build the robotic “Canadarm” for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, developing a space robotics capability for the country.

    Canadarm played an important role in Canada-USA relations.

    The only caution is that confining the possible role models to the space sector is unnecessarily limiting. Commercialisation in technology fields is a broader policy question, and there is much to learn from recent innovations including CSIRO’s venture fund and the broader Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) program.

    As well as the three reports, the government recently released 140 public submissions to the panel.

    There is no shortage of advice for Dr Clark and the expert reference group; appropriate given it seems an industry of remarkable potential rests in their hands.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:05 am on December 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Can the Great Barrier Reef regenerate?, Cosmos Magazine,   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Can the Great Barrier Reef regenerate?” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS Magazine

    02 December 2017
    No writer credit

    Well-positioned “robust reefs” may provide coral larvae to help the Great Barrier Reef regenerate after catastrophic bleaching.
    Peter Mumby

    The Great Barrier Reef’s health could be boosted by just 3 per cent of its reefs, according to an Australian-led study.

    The authors found around 100 reefs that should have healthy adult corals, and be well connected enough to supply larvae to almost half of the Great Barrier Reef in a single year.

    By simulating the dispersal of larvae, the researchers could pinpoint which smaller reefs were best connected by ocean currents to the rest of the Great Barrier Reef and could top it up.

    They then used ocean and climate system models to show which reefs were less likely to be exposed to coral bleaching and the crown-of-thorns starfish – a pest that eats coral – and crosschecked that list against the first to come up with a ‘robust’ 3% of reefs.

    The authors of the PLOS Biology paper say these 100 reefs could help desirable species recover – suggesting a level of widespread resilience for the Great Barrier Reef – and that these reefs are unlikely to spread crown-of-thorns starfish.

    “Finding these 100 reefs is a little like revealing the cardiovascular system of the Great Barrier Reef,” explained study author Professor Peter Mumby of the University of Queensland.

    “These refugia are critical as they maintain the healthy populations and diversity required to rebuild coral populations, and have the ability to repopulate other reefs,” Dr Andrew Lenton of CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere told the Australian Science Media Centre.

    However, there’s reason to be sceptical, according to Associate Professor John Alroy of Macquarie University: “I think [the paper] makes a good case that corals will persist for a while on a fair number of reefs. But I think it’s optimistic.”

    Given the paper shows most of the robust reefs are in the south, Alroy said it made him wonder “whether reefs in the far north can really be kept alive by being replenished from the south.”

    He also pointed out that many of the species of animals living on the Great Barrier Reef are likely to be absent from the ‘robust’ reefs.

    Dr Karlo Hock, of the University of Queensland and also an author of the paper, suggested more does need to be done at different scales to rescue the reef.

    “Identifying only 100 reefs with this potential across the length of the entire 2300 km Great Barrier Reef emphasises the need for effective local protection of critical locations, and carbon emission reductions to support this ecosystem,” Hock said.

    Lenton explained that just protecting these robust reefs likely isn’t enough to ensure the long-term survival of the whole Great Barrier Reef.

    “[This] will need to be coupled with climate mitigation, local management and active management such as coral re-seeding,” he suggested.

    However, Alroy warned “the paper doesn’t really address the fact that global warming is just going to get worse and worse over the next few decades and centuries.”

    “So, even the ‘robust reefs’ might be wiped out in the not-too-distant future – unless we really get serious right now about mitigating global warming.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:10 am on November 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cosmos Magazine,   

    From COSMOS: “Need a better microscope? Add mirrors” 

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    COSMOS Magazine

    15 November 2017
    Andrew Masterson

    Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek’s first microscope, from the seventeenth century, looks nothing like a modern SPIM microscope, but both are products of a quest to improve optics. Stegerphoto.

    From pre-classical times onwards, it could be argued, lens-makers have been the unsung heroes of science.

    As early as 750 BCE the Assyrians were shaping lenses from quartz. From there, the history of optics both underpins and enables discovery in both the macro and micro worlds.

    Where would science be today had it not been for the patient work of myriad lens grinders and optics theorists, including Francis Bacon, Galileo, van Leeuwenhoek, right up to Roberts and Young – inventors in 1951 of photon scanning microscopy – and beyond?

    Even today, the quest for better, clearer, more detailed images from lenses continues apace, with the latest advance, declared in the journal Nature Communications, coming from the US National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago.

    The images obtained by the combination of the new coverslip and computer algorithms show clearer views of small structures. Credit: Yicong Wu, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

    In this diagram, you can see how the mirrored coverslip allows for four simultaneous views. Credit: Yicong Wu, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

    A team of researchers, led by Hari Shroff, head of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s lab section on High Resolution Optical Imaging (HROI), report the solution to a mechanical problem in microscope optics that was, in a way, of their own making.

    Several years ago, Shroff and colleagues developed a new type of microscope that performed “selective plane illumination microscopy” or SPIM. These microscopes use light sheets to illuminate only sections of specimens being examined, thereby doing less damage and better preserving the sample.

    In 2013, Shroff’s team created a SPIM microscope that used two lenses instead of one, which improved image quality and depth perception, In 2016, a third lens was added, allowing improved resolution and 3D-imagery.

    A fourth lens would have boosted matters even more, but at this point van Leeuwenhoek’s twenty-first century heirs hit a snag.

    “Once we incorporated three lenses, we found it became increasingly difficult to add more,” says Shroff. “Not because we reached the limit of our computational abilities, but because we ran out of physical space.”

    Proximity was a real issue. Not only were the three lenses crowded together, but all had to be positioned extremely close to the sample being examined to allow the imaging goal – detailed views of structures within a single cell, say – to be achieved.

    In their new paper, Shroff and his colleagues reveal a solution to the problem that is nothing if not elegant. Rather than try to cram an extra lens in, they have put mirrors on the coverslip – the thin piece of glass that sits on top of the sample.

    The result – especially when coupled with new algorithms in the computerised back-end of a SPIM microscope – is better speed, efficiency and resolution.

    “It’s a lot like looking into a mirror,” Shroff explains. “If you look at a scene in a mirror, you can view perspectives that are otherwise hidden. We used this same principle with the microscope.

    “We can see the sample conventionally using the usual views enabled by the lenses themselves, while at the same time recording the reflected images of the sample provided by the mirror.”

    The addition of the tiny mirrors was not without its own problems. Every microscope raw image contains unwanted data from the source of illumination used to light up the sample. With three lenses, there are three sources of this interference; with mirrors added, these too are multiplied.

    Shroff, however, took this problem to computational imaging researcher Patrick La Riviere at the University of Chicago, who, with his team, was able to modify the processing software to eliminate the extra noise and further improve the signal.

    Francis Bacon, one thinks, would have approved.

    See the full article here .

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