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  • richardmitnick 3:21 pm on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bezymianny volcano, Discover Magazine, , Sheveluch volcano, The Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia is one of the most active volcanic areas on Earth.,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Two Russian Volcanoes Erupting in Tandem” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    March 19, 2019
    Erik Klemetti

    1
    The long ash plume from Bezymianny seen stretching across the Pacific Ocean on March 17, 2019 by Terra’s MODIS imager. The smaller plume from Sheveluch can be seen just above the darker Bezymianny plume. NASA.

    NASA Terra MODIS schematic

    NASA Terra satellite

    The Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia is one of the most active volcanic areas on Earth. It isn’t surprising to find multiple volcanoes erupting each week and this week is no exception. Two side-by-side volcanoes — Bezymianny and Sheveluch — were simultaneously erupting over the weekend (above). The eruption at Bezymianny was big enough to cause some air travel over the peninsula to change their flight paths to avoid the ash, but that’s business-as-usual in Kamchatka.

    2
    Bezymianny volcano

    3
    Sheveluch volcano

    Kamchakta is remote and fairly sparsely populated. Only about 1600 people live within 30 kilometers of Sheveluch and only 47 within 30 kilometers of Bezymianny. The monitoring of the volcanoes in Kamchatka is done by KVERT (Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team) with help from the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The low hazard for people on the ground is balanced by higher hazard for people in aircraft that traverse the airspace over and near the peninsula.

    Most of this traffic is from the Americas and Europe to eastern Asia, so someone flying from Seattle to Hong Kong might be in the path of an erupting volcano even if their destinations are thousands of kilometers from the action. Ash is very bad for jet aircraft, so avoiding ash plumes is vital, which means the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers have to use satellite data and ground observations to warn airlines and air traffic controllers about potential ash plumes.

    That makes Kamchatka a real problem. Not only are the volcanoes remote and challenging to monitor, but they also tend towards explosive eruptions. Case in point the eruption of Bezymianny on March 16. That blast sent ash to 15 kilometers (50,000 feet), well above where commercial air traffic flies. The ash drifted east over the Pacific Ocean and ended up causing flights in the Aleutians as far east as Unalaska (2000 kilometers away!) to be cancelled. Trans-Pacific flights had to follow some different routes as well to avoid the ash.

    Although Kamchatka doesn’t have a lot of people to watch the volcanoes erupt, KVERT does operate a bunch of webcams to watch the eruptions. Bezymianny has three pointed at the volcano as does Sheveluch. This means you can see some of their giant explosions while sitting across the globe. Even at night you can spot activity, like a glowing lava dome on Sheveluch (below). Both the eruption at Bezymianny and Shiveluch are caused by lava domes forming and then getting destroyed as the pressure building underneath the dome gets to high, causing the dome to “pop” like a cork (if the cork also shattered into tiny pieces). The sticky lava erupted at these volcanoes leads to these explosive eruptions.

    There aren’t many truly “remote” places on Earth these days, so volcanoes in areas where people are rare can still be a big hazard. 100 years ago, we might not have even known eruptions like these at Bezymianny and Sheveluch were even happening unless someone happened to be nearby or notice ash falling on their town. Thanks to all the satellites watching the planet, we now know a lot more about how volcanically active the Earth is.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:02 am on March 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A moon’s gravitational forces aren’t strong enough to create tectonic plates but a nearby star could do the trick, , , , , Discover Magazine, new research indicates that spotting evidence of volcanic activity on a planet close to a red dwarf may be both a good sign of tectonic activity and a higher chance of extraterrestrial life, , The researchers argue that a planet orbiting close to its host star can experience stresses from that host’s gravitational pull. Those stresses then weaken the outer crust aiding or generating plate   

    From Discover Magazine: “How Plate Tectonics Could Make Harsh Alien Planets More Friendly to Life” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    March 1, 2019
    Ramin Skibba

    1
    Planets orbiting close to red dwarf stars risk getting hit by violent flares. (Credit: NASA, ESA and D. Player (STScI))

    Shifting, slipping and colliding tectonic plates played an essential role in the emergence and evolution of life on Earth.

    Such tectonic activity generated volcanoes that spewed carbon dioxide and other gases into the air. Rain brought the gases down to Earth, where they were pushed underground again by moving plates. For billions of years the cycle has regulated the climate and stabilized the temperature, which helped enable life to arise.

    Plate tectonics like what’s seen on Earth seems rare — no other world in our solar system has tectonic activity currently — but scientists now argue there could be a different way to generate an active crust on alien worlds.

    The tectonic plates of the world were mapped in 1996, USGS.

    The researchers argue that a planet orbiting close to its host star can experience stresses from that host’s gravitational pull. Those stresses then weaken the outer crust, aiding or generating plate tectonics similar to those seen on Earth. That process could increase the likelihood of life developing on these planets.

    “We’re the first people to actually apply this calculation to other planetary systems,” said J.J. Zanazzi, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto. Zanazzi and Amaury Triaud, an astronomer at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. are publishing their findings in the journal Icarus.

    The way a nearby star could stress a planet’s crust is similar to how the moon creates tides in the Earth’s oceans. A moon’s gravitational forces aren’t strong enough to create tectonic plates, but a nearby star could do the trick.

    “To get plate tectonics, we need these tidal forces to be acting for geologic times and to be strong enough to weaken the crust,” said Bradford Foley, a Penn State University geophysicist. If a world’s host star stretches, flexes and squeezes its crust enough for millions of years, plates could develop and start moving.

    Most stars burn so bright, however, that a planet close enough to experience tidal plate tectonics would get too hot for life. Fainter red dwarf stars provide a fruitful compromise, since the range of distances where a planet would have star-generated tides could overlap with that of the “habitable zone,” the region around a star that’s not too hot or too cold for life and allows for liquid water on the planet’s surface.

    But not just any closely orbiting planet will do. The tidal stresses need to cause some plates to gradually move beneath others — a process called subduction — and for that to happen, the stresses need to vary. This can happen if the orbit is a bit noncircular or if the same side of the planet doesn’t always face the star. Zanazzi and Triaud identified more than 40 potential planets with the necessary characteristics, many of them discovered by astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    The list also included planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool red dwarf star that astronomers recently discovered was surrounded by seven planets.

    A size comparison of the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, lined up in order of increasing distance from their host star. The planetary surfaces are portrayed with an artist’s impression of their potential surface features, including water, ice, and atmospheres. NASA


    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile


    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    Most of the more than 40 worlds that the researchers identified orbit red dwarf stars more closely than Mercury orbits our sun and make a complete trip around their stars in less than 10 days.

    “If these planets have plate tectonics, it offers a way to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere and not have the planet undergo a runaway greenhouse effect,” Zanazzi said, referring to Venus, whose atmosphere became clogged with carbon dioxide, eventually causing its oceans to boil away.

    Telescopes scheduled to become operational in the 2020s, like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope in northern Chile, are designed to probe distant planets’ atmospheres for a variety of life-friendly signatures, including indicators of volcanoes, like sulfur dioxide.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    But just because volcanoes are there doesn’t mean astronomers will be able to notice. “Sulfur dioxide gets washed out efficiently from the atmosphere, so you need explosive volcanoes to shoot it up high enough,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

    After an eruption, sulfur dioxide usually dissipates and disappears from the atmosphere in a matter of months — a tiny window of time. To belch out sulfur dioxide at levels that astronomers could detect, she argues, a planet would have to have numerous simultaneously or frequently erupting volcanoes, like on early Earth, or one 10 times more powerful than the massive 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

    The worlds that host life, especially the kind that might be detectable from this solar system, likely make up just a fraction of all the inhabited planets. “We are limited to finding gases in the atmosphere, but life could develop underground or in an ocean,” Kaltenegger said. Such aliens would give few, weak signs of their existence to Earthling astronomers so far away.

    Nonetheless, the new research indicates that spotting evidence of volcanic activity on a planet close to a red dwarf may be both a good sign of tectonic activity and a higher chance of extraterrestrial life.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:53 pm on February 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Discover Magazine, M31N 2008-12a-GK Persei is a prime example of a nova remnant, , White dwarf   

    From Discover Magazine: “This Star Has Exploded Annually For Millions of Years” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    February 20, 2019
    Jake Parks

    1
    GK Persei, seen above, is a prime example of a nova remnant. Unlike supernovae, which blow stars apart from within, novae explosions occur on the surfaces of accreting white dwarfs. Though the previous record for largest nova remnant is about 3.5 light-years wide, researchers recently discovered M31N 2008-12a, a nova remnant that spans over 400 light-years.
    (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN/D.Takei et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NRAO/VLA)

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded Very Large Array, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    Astronomers have discovered a star in the Andromeda galaxy that has been regularly erupting for the past million years, leaving behind one of the biggest shells of ejected material scientists have ever seen.

    Andromeda Galaxy Adam Evans

    Andromeda Nebula Clean by Rah2005 on DeviantArt

    The new research, which was published last month in the journal Nature, not only marks the first discovery of such a super-remnant in another galaxy, it also paves the way for detecting a potentially massive population of repeatedly exploding stars, called recurrent novae, which may help shed light on how the universe has changed over time.

    Swing Your Partner

    The star responsible for this expansive remnant, which stretches over 400 light-years across, is actually from one of the most diminutive types of star: a white dwarf. These stellar corpses are left behind after a smallish star dies and blows off its outer layers, leaving behind only its dense core.

    But in the case of this remnant, catchily named M31N 2008-12a, the culprit is not your ordinary white dwarf. This tiny star has a dance partner.

    As the white dwarf and its nearby companion star orbit each other, the white dwarf rapidly siphons hydrogen from its buddy. As this unspent hydrogen fuels reaches the surface, it’s heated and compressed thanks to the white dwarf’s intense gravitational pull. Eventually, the hydrogen reaches a breaking point and spontaneously fuses to create helium, resulting in a powerful surface explosion we call a nova.

    This burst of fusion causes the white dwarf to temporarily brighten up to a millionfold as it ejects material outward at about 3 percent the speed of light. In the case of M31N 2008-12a, over time, these repeated explosions have created an extensive and ever-expanding cocoon of gas and dust around the white dwarf.

    According to the study, “Larger than almost all known remnant of even supernova explosions, the existence of this shell demonstrates that the nova M31N 2008-12a has erupted with high frequency for millions of years.”

    It Keeps Going, and Going…

    The massive size of the remnant is not its only claim to fame. Indeed, M31N 2008-12a also now holds the title of most frequently recurring nova, as it erupts at least once a year. “When we first discovered that M31N 2008-12a erupted every year, we were very surprised,” said co-author Allen Shafter of San Diego State University in a press release. This is because most recurrent novae only explode about once a decade.

    But despite the fact that the white dwarf has spent the past million years or so exploding annually, researchers don’t think it will last forever. Once the white dwarf surpasses the Chandrasekhar limit — which is about 1.4 times the mass of the sun — it will irreparably blow itself apart as a supernova or collapse down into a neutron star.

    According to theory, white dwarfs that are approaching the Chandrasekhar limit should undergo frequent novae explosions, resulting in gigantic remnants. And because that’s exactly what astronomers see happening around M31N 2008-12a, they think this star may be priming up for a supernova explosion itself. However, you and I likely will not be around to witness it.

    “In less than 40,000 years,” the study says, “the underlying composition of the white dwarf will be revealed incontrovertibly when either a type Ia supernova or an accretion-induced collapse of the white dwarf to a neutron star is observed.”

    If the researchers are able to find other examples of huge remnants around different novae, they think they may learn a bit about type Ia supernovae. Because type Ia supernovae have very predictable brightnesses (which is why they’re called standard candles), by studying them, researchers can pin down cosmic distances with extreme accuracy. Ultimately, this helps them better understand how the universe grows and evolves over time.

    “They are, in effect, the measuring rods that allow us to map the visible universe,” said Shafter. “Despite their importance, we don’t fully understand where they come from.”

    So for now, Shafter and his colleagues are working hard to determine whether super-remnants like M31N 2008-12a are the exception, or the rule. And if they’re as common as some think, then the next step becomes improving our ability to spot them.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:28 pm on February 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Extreme Radiation Could Strip Exoplanets of their Atmospheres", , , , , Discover Magazine, , The exoplanet WASP-69b   

    From IAC via Discover Magazine: “Extreme Radiation Could Strip Exoplanets of their Atmospheres” 

    IAC

    From Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – IAC

    via

    DiscoverMag

    Discover Magazine

    December 6, 2018
    Amber Jorgenson

    1
    This artist illustration shows WASP-69b, which sits about 163 light years from Earth, orbiting its host star. (Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz, SMM (IAC))

    If orbiting just 4 million miles from your fiery host star wasn’t bad enough, things might have just gotten even worse.

    New research shows that stars emitting high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation could strip the atmospheres of their ultra-close exoplanets. While observing gas giants that orbit exceptionally close to their host stars, astronomers found that those bombarded with radiation were losing helium from their atmospheres. These results, which were published in multiple studies today in the journals Science and and Astronomy & Astrophysics, could help researchers understand the evolution of planetary atmospheres, and also determine if extreme radiation could be peeling gas giants’ layers of clouds away to leave them as barren, rocky objects.

    Follow the Trail

    Astronomers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in the Canary Islands came across this strange phenomenon when they observed the exoplanet WASP-69b pass in front of its host star. During its transit, which takes just 3.9 days, the Jupiter-sized planet caused the star’s light to briefly dim, allowing researchers to home in on the orbiting object.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    They used the CARMENES instrument at Spain’s Calar Alto Observatory to break down the planet’s light into visible and near infrared wavelengths — revealing the chemical elements that make up its atmosphere. It was then that they noticed a strange, comet-like tail of particles escaping from the planet.

    CARMENES spectrograph, mounted on the Calar Alto 3.5 meter Telescope, located in Almería province in Spain on Calar Alto, a 2,168-meter-high (7,113 ft) mountain in Sierra de Los Filabres


    Calar Alto 3.5 meter Telescope, located in Almería province in Spain on Calar Alto, a 2,168-meter-high (7,113 ft) mountain in Sierra de Los Filabres

    “We observed a stronger and longer-lasting dimming of the starlight in a region of the spectrum where helium gas absorbs light,” said the WASP-69b study’s lead author, Lisa Nortmann of the IAC, in a news release. “The longer duration of this absorption allows us to infer the presence of a tail.”

    This loss of helium, the second-most abundant element in gas giants, wasn’t an isolated incident, either. Using similar methods, the team studied four other planets that orbit extremely close to their host stars: gas giant KELT-9b, Neptune-sized GJ 436b, and hot Jupiter’s HD 189733b and HD 209458b.

    While helium wasn’t seen leaving the atmospheres of KELT-9b, GJ 436b or HD 209458b, the group did see a balloon of helium surrounding, and escaping from, HD 189733b.

    Wondering why these two planets were losing parts of their outer atmospheres, they turned to ESA’s Multi-Mirror X-Ray Mission (ESA XMM-Newton) for data about their host stars.

    ESA/XMM Newton

    The results showed that both HD 189733b and WASP-69b’s host stars were dangerously active — expelling much more UV radiation than the other host stars.

    And in yet another instance, astronomers from the University of Geneva detected a balloon of helium escaping the atmosphere of HAT-P-11b, whose nearby host star also emits high amounts of UV radiation. Their results were published today in the journal Science.

    Gas Giant Annihilation?

    These correlations lead researchers to believe that massive amounts of UV radiation are energizing helium particles, causing them to escape from the atmosphere and fly out into space. And once these gaseous envelopes have been completely stripped, all that’s left are the dense, rocky corpses of former gas giants. Follow-up studies will be needed to verify this theory, but thankfully, infrared spectrographs like CARMENES are making atmospheric observations a bit easier.

    “In the past, studies of atmospheric escape, like the one we have seen in WASP-69b, were based on space-borne observations of hydrogen in the far ultraviolet, a spectral region of very limited access and strongly affected by interstellar absorption,” said University of Hamburg researcher Michael Salz, who authored the Astronomy & Astrophysics paper about HD 189733b. “Our results show that helium is a very promising new tracer to study atmospheric escape in exoplanets.”

    And if this theory proves true, astronomers could use it to further compare the atmospheres of exoplanets, gain insight into their evolutions and shed light on the peculiar planets that sit a little too close to their host stars.

    See the full article here .

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    The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias(IAC) is an international research centre in Spain which comprises:

    The Instituto de Astrofísica, the headquarters, which is in La Laguna (Tenerife).
    The Centro de Astrofísica en La Palma (CALP)
    The Observatorio del Teide (OT), in Izaña (Tenerife).

    These centres, with all the facilities they bring together, make up the European Northern Observatory(ENO).

    The IAC is constituted administratively as a Public Consortium, created by statute in 1982, with involvement from the Spanish Government, the Government of the Canary Islands, the University of La Laguna and Spain’s Science Research Council (CSIC).

    The International Scientific Committee (CCI) manages participation in the observatories by institutions from other countries. A Time Allocation Committee (CAT) allocates the observing time reserved for Spain at the telescopes in the IAC’s observatories.

    The exceptional quality of the sky over the Canaries for astronomical observations is protected by law. The IAC’s Sky Quality Protection Office (OTPC) regulates the application of the law and its Sky Quality Group continuously monitors the parameters that define observing quality at the IAC Observatories.

    The IAC’s research programme includes astrophysical research and technological development projects.

    The IAC is also involved in researcher training, university teaching and outreachactivities.

    The IAC has devoted much energy to developing technology for the design and construction of a large 10.4 metre diameter telescope, the ( Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, GTC), which is sited at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos.

    Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain, sited on a volcanic peak 2,267 metres (7,438 ft) above sea level

     
  • richardmitnick 1:29 pm on February 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "First Evidence of a Giant Exoplanet Collision", , , , , Discover Magazine, , Kepler-107 system, Kepler-107b and Kepler-107c, The innermost planet Kepler-107b is about 3.5 times as massive as Earth while Kepler-107c which sits farther out is a whopping 9.4 times as massive as Earth, The researchers argue that the denser planet Kepler-107c likely experienced a massive collision with a third unknown planet at some point in its past, Though astronomers have never confirmed a collision between exoplanets in another star system before there is evidence that a similar cosmic crash occurred in our own solar system [Earth and Thea whic   

    From Discover Magazine: “First Evidence of a Giant Exoplanet Collision” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    February 18, 2019
    Jake Parks

    1
    A planetary collision is exactly as bad as you would imagine. Unlike an asteroid impact, there’s not just a crater left behind. Instead, such a massive crash causes the surviving world to be stripped of much of its lighter elements, leaving behind an overly dense core. [Thea crashes into Earth] (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    For the first time ever, astronomers think they’ve discovered an exoplanet that survived a catastrophic collision with another planet. And according to the new research, which was published Feb. 4, in the journal Nature Astronomy, the evidence for the impact comes from two twin exoplanets that seem to be more fraternal than identical.

    Mass Matters

    The pair of planets in question orbit a Sun-like star (along with two other planets) in the Kepler-107 system, which is located roughly 1,700 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

    Known as Kepler-107b and Kepler-107c, these planets have nearly identical sizes (both have a radius of roughly 1.5 times that of Earth), yet one planet is nearly three times as massive as the other. The innermost planet, Kepler-107b, is about 3.5 times as massive as Earth, while Kepler-107c, which sits farther out, is a whopping 9.4 times as massive as Earth.

    This means the inner planet, Kepler-107b, has an Earth-like density of around 5.3 grams per cubic centimeter, while the more distant Kepler-107c has a density of around 12.6 grams per cubic centimeter — which is extremely dense, even for an alien world. (For reference, water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter.)

    This perplexing density discrepancy left researchers scratching their heads. How could two equally sized exoplanets in the same system (and at nearly the same orbital distance) have such different compositions?

    The Cause

    To determine exactly why Kepler-107c is so dense, first the researchers considered what they already knew. Previous research has shown that intense stellar radiation can strip the atmosphere from a planet that sits too near its host star. But if the innermost planet lost its lighter atmospheric elements, it should be more dense than its twin, not less. According to the study, this would “make the more-irradiated and less-massive planet Kepler-107b denser than Kepler-107c,” which is clearly not the case.

    However, there is another way that a planet can lose a lot of mass: by getting smacked with another planet. And this is exactly what the researchers think happened to Kepler-107c.

    The researchers argue that the denser planet, Kepler-107c, likely experienced a massive collision with a third, unknown planet at some point in its past. Such a gigantic impact, the study says, would have stripped the lighter silicate mantle from Kepler-107c, leaving behind an extremely dense, iron-rich core. According to the study, Kepler-107c could be as much as 70 percent iron.

    Because the mass and radius of Kepler-107c matches what would be expected from a giant planetary impact, the researchers are fairly confident that the collisional scenario they’ve outlined in their paper is accurate; however, they still need to confirm their hypothesis. If proven correct, this new find would become the first-ever evidence of a planetary collision outside our solar system.

    Closer to Home

    Though astronomers have never confirmed a collision between exoplanets in another star system before, there is evidence that a similar cosmic crash occurred in our own solar system. In fact, a leading theory about the formation of the Moon is that it formed when a small protoplanet [Thea, roughly the size of Mars] rammed into early Earth.

    By analyzing lunar samples returned by the Apollo missions, scientists learned that the composition of Moon rocks is very similar to that of Earth’s mantle. Furthermore, the Moon is severely lacking in volatile elements, which boil away at high temperatures. Taken together, along with a few other lines of evidence, this indicates the Moon may have formed when a very large object (roughly the size of Mars) struck Earth with a glancing blow early in the solar system’s history, some 4.6 billion years ago.

    This mash-up melted and tore off some of the outer layers of Earth, which may have temporarily formed Saturn-like rings around our planet. Over time, much of this ejected material drifted back to Earth’s surface, but there was still enough debris left in orbit that it eventually coagulated and formed the Moon.

    With the discovery of Kepler-107c, it seems planet-shattering impacts are not just a sci-fi trope, but instead may occur much more frequently than we once thought. And with the long-anticipated launch of the James Webb Space Telescope coming up in March 2021, it may only be a few more years until they start to reveal themselves en masse, so be sure to stay tuned.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:51 pm on November 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Discover Magazine, Magnitude 7 Earthquakes Hits Near Anchorage   

    From Discover Magazine: “Magnitude 7 Earthquakes Hits Near Anchorage” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    November 30, 2018
    Erik Klemetti

    1
    Shake map for the M7 earthquake that struck near Anchorage on November 30, 2018. USGS.

    Earlier today a M7 earthquake struck only 13 kilometers from Anchorage, Alaska. The earthquake was relatively deep, located ~40 kilometers beneath the surface. However, the city of Anchorage has experienced damage from the shaking. Anchorage airport has seen disruptions as the control tower was evacuated (and is apparently running out of a truck right now).

    More importantly, a tsunami warning was declared for the coast of Alaska, so people are trying to evacuate the area. However, a Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:52 pm on November 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Dark matter hurricane, Discover Magazine, S1 stream,   

    From Discover Magazine: “A ‘Dark Matter Hurricane’ is Storming Past Earth. It Could Help Scientists Detect the Strange Substance” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    November 12, 2018
    Chelsea Gohd

    1
    The Milky Way is shown on a collision course with a smaller galaxy in this simulation. (Credit: Koppelman, Villalobos; Helmi, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen, The Netherlands)

    There’s a “dark matter hurricane” blowing through our corner of the Milky Way galaxy. Right this second, it’s passing over Earth. And this fast-moving stream could reveal major details about dark matter, a new study finds.

    The dark matter is traveling in what is known as the S1 stream. Scientists think that streams like this one are the cosmic debris leftover when small galaxies stray too close to the Milky Way. Our gravitational forces tear the smaller galaxy apart, leaving behind a traveling, elliptical stream of stars, dark matter and other debris.

    Dark Matter Hurricane

    Dark matter is an elusive material that scientists think, if the Standard Model is correct, exists in large quantities throughout space. Scientists still don’t know what dark matter actually is — there are a number of leading theories, but no one knows for sure.

    Women in STEM – Vera Rubin
    Fritz Zwicky discovered Dark Matter when observing the movement of the Coma Cluster

    Coma cluster via NASA/ESA Hubble

    But most of the real work was done by Vera Rubin

    Fritz Zwicky from http:// palomarskies.blogspot.com


    Astronomer Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory in 1965, worked on Dark Matter (The Carnegie Institution for Science)


    Vera Rubin measuring spectra, worked on Dark Matter (Emilio Segre Visual Archives AIP SPL)


    Vera Rubin, with Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) image tube spectrograph attached to the Kitt Peak 84-inch telescope, 1970. https://home.dtm.ciw.edu

    But the S1 stream is predicted to be blowing dark matter past us at about 310 miles per second (500 km/s) right this moment, and that could provide an opportunity for detection.

    Galactic Streams

    Dozens of such streams have been found in the Milky Way. And like the galaxies they’re stripped from, these streams are typically made of stars and dark matter all traveling along together at the same velocity. “(There are) tons of these streams all over the galaxy, some of them are really huge and you can see them in the sky,” said Ciaran O’Hare of the University of Zaragoza in Spain.

    The European Space Agency’s billion-star survey using the Gaia spacecraft is reaching far out into our galaxy to discover and observe stars.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    And Gaia picked out the S1 stream because its some 30,000 stars have a different chemical composition than those native to our galaxy. And they’re traveling along a similar, elliptical path.

    And, while there are over 30 such streams known in our galaxy, S1 still surprised astronomers because our solar system is actually inside this stream. And our paths will intersect for millions of more years. Now, this will not affect our lives or planet in any physical way – there is still only one star (the sun) in our solar system.

    But O’Hare and his colleagues calculated the affect of the S1 stream in our part of the galaxy and predicted possible signatures of the dark matter, which could help inform and support efforts to locate and study the elusive substance.

    “What we want to do is add the stream as part of our kind of main prediction for the types of signal that should show up in a dark matter experiment,” O’Hare said. According to a statement, current detectors searching for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) (one popular idea of what dark matter might be) probably won’t see anything from S1, but future tech might.

    Their study was published in the journal Physical Review D.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:17 am on November 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Discover Magazine, , , ,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Meet the Biochemist Engineering Proteins From Scratch” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    October 30, 2018
    Jonathon Keats

    1
    David Baker. Brian Dalbalcon/UW Medicine

    U Washington Dr. David Baker

    In a sleek biochemistry laboratory at the University of Washington, postdoctoral fellow Yang Hsia is watching yellowish goo — the liquefied remains of E. coli — ooze through what looks like a gob of white marshmallow. “This isn’t super exciting,” he says.

    While growing proteins in bacteria and then purifying them, using blobby white resin as a filter, doesn’t make for riveting viewing, the end product is extraordinary. Accumulating in Hsia’s resin is a totally artificial protein, unlike anything seen in nature, that might just be the ideal chassis for the first universal flu vaccine.

    David Baker, Hsia’s adviser, calls this designer protein a “Death Star.” Imaged on his computer, its structure shows some resemblance to the notorious Star Wars superweapon. Though microscopic, by protein standards it’s enormous: a sphere made out of many interlocking pieces.

    2
    The Death Star artificial protein. Institute for Protein Design

    “We’ve figured out a way to put these building blocks together at the right angles to form these very complex nanostructures,” Baker explains. He plans to stud the exterior with proteins from a whole suite of flu strains so that the immune system will learn to recognize them and be prepared to fend off future invaders. A single Death Star will carry 20 different strains of the influenza virus.

    Baker hopes this collection will cover the entire range of possible influenza mutation combinations. This all-in-one preview of present and future flu strains could replace annual shots: Get the Death Star vaccination, and you’ll already have the requisite antibodies in your bloodstream.

    As Baker bets on designer proteins to defeat influenza, others are betting on David Baker.

    After revolutionizing the study of proteins — molecules that perform crucial tasks in every cell of every natural organism — Baker is now engineering them from scratch to improve on nature. In late 2017, the Open Philanthropy Project gave his University of Washington Institute for Protein Design more than $10 million to develop the Death Star and support Rosetta, the software platform he conceived in the 1990s to discover how proteins are assembled. Rosetta has allowed Baker’s lab not only to advance basic science and pioneer new kinds of vaccines, but also to create drugs for genetic disorders, biosensors to detect toxins and enzymes to convert waste into biofuels.

    His team currently numbers about 80 grad students and postdocs, and Baker is in constant contact with all of them. He challenges their assumptions and tweaks their experiments while maintaining an egalitarian environment in which ideas may come from anyone. He calls his operation a “communal brain.” Over the past quarter-century, this brain has generated nearly 450 scientific papers.

    “David is literally creating a new field of chemistry right in front of our eyes,” says Raymond Deshaies, senior vice president for discovery research at the biotech company Amgen and former professor of biology at Caltech. “He’s had one first after another.”

    Nature’s Origami

    When Baker was studying philosophy at Harvard University, he took a biology class that taught him about the so-called “protein folding problem.” The year was 1983, and scientists were still trying to make sense of an experiment, carried out in the early ’60s by biochemist Christian Anfinsen, that revealed the fundamental building blocks of all life on Earth were more complex than anyone imagined.

    The experiment was relatively straightforward. Anfinsen mixed a sample of the protein ribonuclease — which breaks down RNA — with a denaturant, a chemical that deactivated it. Then he allowed the denaturant to evaporate. The protein started to function again as if nothing ever happened.

    What made this simple experiment so striking was the fact that the amino acids in protein molecules are folded in three-dimensional forms that make origami look like child’s play. When the denaturant unfolded Anfinsen’s ribonuclease, there were myriad ways it could refold, resulting in structures as different as an origami crane and a paper airplane. Much as the folds determine whether a piece of paper can fly across a room, only one fold pattern would result in functioning ribonuclease. So the puzzle was this: How do proteins “know” how to refold properly?

    “Anfinsen showed that the information for both structure and activity resided in the sequence of amino acids,” says University of California, Los Angeles, biochemist David Eisenberg, who has been researching protein folding since the 1960s. “There was a hope that it would be possible to use sequence information to get three-dimensional structural information. Well, that proved much more difficult than anticipated.”

    2
    Protein molecules play critical roles in every aspect of life. The way each protein folds determines its function, and the ways to fold are virtually limitless, as shown in this small selection of proteins visualized through the software platform Rosetta, born in Baker’s lab. Institute for Protein Design.

    Baker was interested enough in protein folding and other unsolved mysteries of biology to switch majors and apply to grad school. “I’d never worked in a lab before,” he recalls. He had only a vague notion of what biologists did on a daily basis, but he also sensed that the big questions in science, unlike philosophy, could actually be answered.

    Grad school plunged Baker into the tediousness and frustrations of benchwork, while also nurturing some of the qualities that would later distinguish him. He pursued his Ph.D. under Randy Schekman, who was studying how molecules move within cells, at the University of California, Berkeley. To aid in this research, students were assigned the task of dismantling living cells to observe their internal molecular traffic. Nearly half a dozen of them, frustrated by the assignment’s difficulty, had given up by the time Baker got the job.

    Baker decided to follow his instincts even though it meant going against Schekman’s instructions. Instead of attempting to keep the processes within a cell still functioning as he dissected it under his microscope, Baker concentrated on preserving cell structure. If the cell were a wristwatch, his approach would be equivalent to focusing on the relationship between gears, rather than trying to keep it ticking, while taking it apart.

    “He was completely obsessed,” recalls Deshaies, who was his labmate at the time (and one of the students who’d surrendered). Nobody could stop Baker, or dissuade him. He worked for months until he proved his approach was correct: Cell structure drove function, so maintaining its anatomy preserved the internal transportation network. Deshaies believes Baker’s methodological breakthrough was “at the core of Randy’s Nobel Prize,” awarded in 2013 for working out one of the fundamentals of cellular machinery.

    But Baker didn’t dwell on his achievement, or cell biology for that matter. By 1989, Ph.D. in hand, he’d headed across the Bay to the University of California, San Francisco, where he switched his focus to structural biology and biochemistry. There he built computer models to study the physical properties of the proteins he worked with at the bench. Anfinsen’s puzzle remained unsolved, and when Baker got his first faculty appointment at the University of Washington, he took up the protein-folding problem full time.

    From Baker’s perspective, this progression was perfectly natural: “I was getting to more and more fundamental problems.” Deshaies believes Baker’s tortuous path, from cells to atoms and from test tubes to computers, has been a factor in his success. “He just has greater breadth than most people. And you couldn’t do what he’s done without being somewhat of a polymath.”

    3
    Illustration above: National Science foundation. Illustrations below: Jay Smith

    Rosetta Milestone

    Every summer for more than a decade, scores of protein-folding experts convene at a resort in Washington’s Cascade Mountains for four days of hiking and shop talk. The only subject on the agenda: how to advance the software platform known as Rosetta.

    David Baker’s Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley


    Rosetta@home BOINC project



    They call it Rosettacon.

    Rosetta has been the single most important tool in the quest to understand how proteins fold, and to design new proteins based on that knowledge. It is the link between Anfinsen’s ribonuclease experiment and Baker’s Death Star vaccine.

    When Baker arrived at the University of Washington in 1993, researchers knew that a protein’s function was determined by its structure, which was determined by the sequence of its amino acids. Just 20 different amino acids were known to provide all the raw ingredients. (Their particular order — specified by DNA — makes one protein fold into, say, a muscle fiber and another fold into a hormone.) Advances in X-ray crystallography, a technique for imaging molecular structure, had provided images of many proteins in all their folded splendor. Sequencing techniques had also improved, benefitting from the Human Genome Project as well as the exponential increase in raw computing power.

    “There’s a right time for things,” Baker says in retrospect. “To some extent, it’s just luck and historical circumstance. This was definitely the right time for this field.”

    Which is not to say that modeling proteins on a computer was a simple matter of plugging in the data. Proteins fold to their lowest free energy state: All of their amino acids must align in equilibrium. The trouble is that the equilibrium state is just one of hundreds of thousands of options — or millions, if the amino acid sequence is long. That’s far too many possibilities to test one at a time. Nature must have another way of operating, given that folding is almost instantaneous.

    Baker’s initial approach was to study what nature was doing. He broke apart proteins to see how individual pieces behaved, and he found that each fragment was fluctuating among many possible structures. “And then folding would occur when they all happened to be in the right geometry at the same time,” he says. Baker designed Rosetta to simulate this dance for any amino acid sequence.

    Baker wasn’t alone in trying to predict how proteins fold. In 1994, the protein research community organized a biennial competition called CASP (Critical Assessment of Protein Structure Prediction). Competitors were given the amino acid sequences of proteins and challenged to anticipate how they would fold.

    The first two contests were a flop. Structures that competitors number-crunched looked nothing like folded proteins, let alone the specific proteins they were meant to predict. Then everything changed in 1998.

    3
    Rosetta’s impressive computational power allows researchers to predict how proteins — long, complex chains of amino acids — will fold; the platform also helps them reverse engineer synthetic proteins to perform specific tasks in medicine and other fields. Brian Dalbalcon/UW Medicine.

    Function Follows Form

    That summer, Baker’s team received 20 sequences from CASP, a considerable number of proteins to model. But Baker was optimistic: Rosetta would transform protein-folding prediction from a parlor game into legitimate science.

    In addition to incorporating fresh insights from the bench, team members — using a janky collection of computers made of spare parts — found a way to run rough simulations tens of thousands of times to determine which fold combinations were most likely.

    They successfully predicted structures for 12 out of the 20 proteins. The predictions were the best yet, but still approximations of actual proteins. In essence, the picture was correct, but blurry.

    Improvements followed rapidly, with increased computing power contributing to higher-resolution models, as well as improved ability to predict the folding of longer amino acid chains. One major leap was the 2005 launch of Rosetta@Home, a screensaver that runs Rosetta on hundreds of thousands of networked personal computers whenever they’re not being used by their owners.

    Yet the most significant source of progress has been RosettaCommons, the community that has formed around Rosetta. Originating in Baker’s laboratory and growing with the ever-increasing number of University of Washington graduates — as well as their students and colleagues — it is Baker’s communal brain writ large.

    Dozens of labs continue to refine the software, adding insights from genetics and methods from machine learning. New ideas and applications are constantly emerging.

    4
    Protein (in green) enveloping fentanyl molecule. Bick et al. eLife 2017.

    The communal brain has answered Anfinsen’s big question — a protein’s specific amino acid alignment creates its unique folding structure — and is now posing even bigger ones.

    “I think the protein-folding problem is effectively solved,” Baker says. “We can’t necessarily predict every protein structure accurately, but we understand the principles.

    “There are so many things that proteins do in nature: light harvesting, energy storage, motion, computation,” he adds. “Proteins that just evolved by pure, blind chance can do all these amazing things. What happens if you actually design proteins intelligently?”

    De Novo Design

    Matthew Bick is trying to coax a protein into giving up its sugar habit for a full-blown fentanyl addiction. His computer screen shows a colorful image of ribbons and swirls representing the protein’s molecular structure. A sort of Technicolor Tinkertoy floats near the center, representing the opioid. “You see how it has really good packing?” he asks me, tracing the ribbons with his finger. “The protein kind of envelops the whole fentanyl molecule like a hot dog bun.”

    A postdoctoral fellow in Baker’s lab, Bick engineers protein biosensors using Rosetta. The project originated with the U.S. Department of Defense. “Back in 2002, Chechen rebels took a bunch of people hostage, and there was a standoff with the Russian government,” he says. The Russians released a gas, widely believed to contain a fentanyl derivative, that killed more than a hundred people. Since then, the Defense Department has been interested in simple ways to detect fentanyl in the environment in case it’s used for chemical warfare in the future.

    Proteins are ideal molecular sensors. In the natural world, they’ve evolved to bind to specific molecules like a lock and key. The body uses this system to identify substances in its environment. Scent is one example; specific volatiles from nutrients and toxins fit into dedicated proteins lining the nose, the first step in alerting the brain to their presence. With protein design, the lock can be engineered to order.

    For the fentanyl project, Bick instructed Rosetta to modify a protein with a natural affinity for the sugar xylotetraose. The software generated hundreds of thousands of designs, each representing a modification of the amino acid sequence predicted to envelop fentanyl instead of sugar molecules. An algorithm then selected the best several hundred options, which Bick evaluated by eye, eventually choosing 62 promising candidates. The protein on Bick’s screen was one of his favorites.

    “After this, we do the arduous work of testing designs in the lab,” Bick says.

    5
    Cassie Bryan, a senior fellow at Baker’s Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, checks on a tube of synthetic proteins. The proteins, not seen in nature, are in the process of thawing and being prepped to test how they perform. Brian Dalbalcon/UW Medicine.

    With another image, he reveals his results. All 62 contenders have been grown in yeast cells infused with synthetic genes that spur the yeasts’ own amino acids to produce the foreign proteins. The transgenic yeast cells have been exposed to fentanyl molecules tagged with a fluorescing chemical. By measuring the fluorescence — essentially shining ultraviolet light on the yeast cells to see how many glow with fentanyl — Bick can determine which candidates bind to the opioid with the greatest strength and consistency.

    Baker’s lab has already leveraged this research to make a practical environmental sensor. Modified to glow when fentanyl binds to the receptor site, Bick’s customized protein can now be grown in a common plant called thale cress. This transgenic weed can cover terrain where chemical weapons might get deployed, and then glow if the dangerous substances are present, providing an early warning system for soldiers and health workers.

    The concept can also be applied to other biohazards. For instance, Bick is now developing a sensor for aflatoxin, a residue of fungus that grows on grain, causing liver cancer when consumed by humans. He wants the sensor to be expressed in the grain itself, letting people know when their food is unsafe.

    But he’s going about things differently this time around. Instead of modifying an existing protein, he’s starting from scratch. “That way, we can control a lot of things better than in natural proteins,” he explains. His de novo protein can be much simpler, and have more predictable behavior, because it doesn’t carry many million years of evolutionary baggage.

    For Baker, de novo design represents the summit of his quarter-century quest. The latest advances in Rosetta allow him to work backward from a desired function to an appropriate structure to a suitable amino acid sequence. And he can use any amino acids at all — thousands of options, some already synthesized and others waiting to be designed — not only the 20 that are standard in nature for building proteins.

    Without the freedom of de novo protein design, Baker’s Death Star would never have gotten off the ground. His group is now also designing artificial viruses. Like natural viruses, these protein shells can inject genetic material into cells. But instead of infecting you with a pathogen, their imported DNA would patch dangerous inherited mutations. Other projects aim to take on diseases ranging from malaria to Alzheimer’s.

    In Baker’s presence, protein design no longer seems so extraordinary. Coming out of a brainstorming session — his third or fourth of the day — he pulls me aside and makes the case that his calling is essentially the destiny of our species.

    “All the proteins in the world today are the product of natural selection,” he tells me. “But the current world is quite a bit different than the world in which we evolved. We live much longer, so we have a whole new class of diseases. We put all these nasty chemicals into the environment. We have new needs for capturing energy.

    “Novel proteins could solve a lot of the problems that we face today,” he says, already moving to his next meeting. “The goal of protein design is to bring those into existence.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 3:20 pm on October 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Blazar PG 1553+113, , , Discover Magazine   

    From Discover Magazine: “In a First, Astronomers Find a Blazar That Cycles Every Two Years” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    October 19, 2018
    Chelsea Gohd

    1
    A visualization of the blazar being observed while emitting gamma rays. (Credit: Stefano Ciprini)

    Blazar Brightness

    After 10 years of observations, scientists have confirmed a two-year cycle in the gamma-ray brightness of a blazar, or a galaxy with supermassive black holes that consume mass and produce high-energy jets as a result. Blazars are the most energetic and luminous objects that we have identified so far in the known universe.

    “This is the first time that a gamma-ray period has been confirmed in an active galaxy,” Stefano Ciprini, a researcher at the INFN Tor Vergata division of the Italian Space Agency’s Space Science Data Center in Rome, said in a press statement. Gamma rays are some of the most energetic electromagnetic emissions, and powerful objects like blazars produce them in large quantities.

    Finding that the emissions increase and decrease in a predictable cycle, though, hints to researchers that there might be more than one supermassive black hole at the center of this galaxy.

    The confirmation, the first of its kind, could help to support new investigations and provide new insight into what really happens close to supermassive black holes.

    2
    An animation of emissions from the blazar showing how they vary predictably. (Credit: NASA)

    Exploring Black Holes

    One of the most exciting things about this work and this blazar, named PG 1553+113, is that scientists think that the galaxy may have a pair of supermassive black holes in its center, instead of just one. This could explain the cyclical nature of the blazar, the researchers say. One black hole would be emitting a jet of gamma rays and other material, and the other might be interfering with the stream as it orbits, causing the jet to wobble.

    In 2015, this research team found hints of this gamma-ray cycle inPG 1553+113. They suspected that this distant blazar might be producing the first observed years-long gamma-ray emission cycle. And, after a few more years of observations, the team has confirmed these previous inklings.

    “This result has been achieved after 10 years of continuous monitoring by Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT),” Sara Cutini, a researcher at the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Perugia, said in the statement.

    A paper detailing this analysis and conclusions is in the works and the findings were announced yesterday (Oct. 17) at the Eighth International Fermi Symposium meeting in Baltimore.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 2:29 pm on October 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Discover Magazine, , Scientists Map Out 21 New Constellations, Using Gamma Rays   

    From Discover Magazine: “Using Gamma Rays, Scientists Map Out 21 New Constellations” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    October 19, 2018
    Chelsea Gohd

    1
    The Godzilla constellation in the gamma-ray sky — a new set of constellations based off of gamma-ray emissions observed with NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA)

    NASA/Fermi LAT


    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    Gamma-Ray Sky

    For countless years, humans have gazed up at the sky and made sense of the stars by finding shapes in them — constellations of heroes, animals, and well-worn tales. Now, to celebrate the 10th mission year of NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, scientists have used the telescope to develop a new set of constellations that correspond with gamma-ray emissions [Future post].

    Gamma rays are the most powerful in the electromagnetic spectrum, and they’re typically only produced by very powerful objects. Supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies emit gamma rays, and gamma rays can also spring from explosive gamma-ray bursts, pulsars, the debris of supernova explosions, and more. The Fermi telescope has spent the last decade scanning the sky to compile list of gamma ray sources in the observable universe. That’s given them an array of points, similar to the stars we see shining in the visible spectrum.

    In what is known as the “gamma-ray sky,” scientists have devised constellations inspired by many of the same things that inspired the starlight constellations our ancestors gazed at.

    The “original” constellations primarily fall into three categories: myths and legends, meaningful topics and common creatures and items, NASA Goddard’s Elizabeth Ferrara, who led the constellation project, explained in a teleconference. The Fermi constellations from the gamma-ray sky are also derived from three categories: modern legends, team partners, and Fermi science. To make sure they didn’t look too much like stars, the team behind these constellations used artificial color to distinguish them.

    Familiar Shapes

    There are 21 Fermi constellations, including the Hulk (created from a gamma-ray mishap), Godzilla, the Starship Enterprise from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the TARDIS from “Doctor Who”, gamma-ray bursts, dark lightning, spider pulsars. Important landmarks from partner nations show up as well: Mt. Fuji for Japan, the Colosseum to represent Italy and more. The constellations even include a Saturn V rocket to represent Huntsville, Alabama where the gamma-ray burst monitor team is centered.

    2
    (Credit: NASA)
    The Godzilla constellation in the gamma-ray sky — a new set of constellations based off of gamma-ray emissions observed with NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA)
    Gamma-Ray Sky

    For countless years, humans have gazed up at the sky and made sense of the stars by finding shapes in them — constellations of heroes, animals, and well-worn tales. Now, to celebrate the 10th mission year of NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, scientists have used the telescope to develop a new set of constellations that correspond with gamma-ray emissions.

    Gamma rays are the most powerful in the electromagnetic spectrum, and they’re typically only produced by very powerful objects. Supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies emit gamma rays, and gamma rays can also spring from explosive gamma-ray bursts, pulsars, the debris of supernova explosions, and more. The Fermi telescope has spent the last decade scanning the sky to compile list of gamma ray sources in the observable universe. That’s given them an array of points, similar to the stars we see shining in the visible spectrum.

    In what is known as the “gamma-ray sky,” scientists have devised constellations inspired by many of the same things that inspired the starlight constellations our ancestors gazed at.

    The “original” constellations primarily fall into three categories: myths and legends, meaningful topics and common creatures and items, NASA Goddard’s Elizabeth Ferrara, who led the constellation project, explained in a teleconference. The Fermi constellations from the gamma-ray sky are also derived from three categories: modern legends, team partners, and Fermi science. To make sure they didn’t look too much like stars, the team behind these constellations used artificial color to distinguish them.

    Familiar Shapes

    There are 21 Fermi constellations, including the Hulk (created from a gamma-ray mishap), Godzilla, the Starship Enterprise from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the TARDIS from “Doctor Who”, gamma-ray bursts, dark lightning, spider pulsars. Important landmarks from partner nations show up as well: Mt. Fuji for Japan, the Colosseum to represent Italy and more. The constellations even include a Saturn V rocket to represent Huntsville, Alabama where the gamma-ray burst monitor team is centered.

    “The hope, of course, is to make the gamma-ray sky more acceptable,” Ferrara said. “By creating constellations that tie into themes that people already know and think about, we hope to bring gamma-ray science into their thoughts.”

    Ferrara and Daniel Kocevski, from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, have developed an interactive webpage so that the public can easily engage with these constellations. The interactive site uses a map of the gamma-ray sky from Fermi and artwork from Aurore Simonnet, an illustrator at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California.

    Users on the site can explore the gamma-ray sky themselves and learn about the name, artwork, and details behind each constellation.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
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