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  • richardmitnick 11:11 am on September 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Anything But Black, , , ESO - European Southern Observatory   

    From ESO: “Anything But Black” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    1
    Credit: Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO

    ESO’s various observatory sites in Chile — Paranal, La Silla, Chajnantor — boast enviably low levels of light pollution. However, the skies overhead are rarely pitch-black!

    As shown in this image of Paranal Observatory, the skies regularly display a myriad of colours and astronomical sights, from the plane of the Milky Way shining brightly overhead to the orange-hued speck of Mars (left), the starry constellations of Scorpius and Orion, and the magenta splash of the Carina Nebula (upper middle). Despite the remote location there are also occasional signs of human activity, for example the sequence of lamps seen in the centre of the frame. These faint lights illuminate the route from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) where this image was taken.

    Due to the highly sensitive camera this photograph also showcases a mysterious phenomenon called airglow. The night sky is ablaze with deep red and eerie green hues, caused by the faint glow of Earth’s atmosphere. Because of airglow, no observatory site on Earth could ever be absolutely, completely dark — although ESO’s do come pretty close.

    This image was taken by talented astronomer and photographer Yuri Beletsky, a member of the 2016 ESO Fulldome Expedition team. This team visited Chile to gather spectacular images for use in the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre.

    See the full article here .

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 2:32 pm on September 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, The Messenger   

    For ESO: The Joy of “The Messenger” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    I was thrilled and delighted to see that my latest edition of The Messenger had arrived in my mail box from ESO.

    1
    Price €1.99.

    If you are as excited about Astronomy as I am, I urge you to visit ESOshop to get your copy.

    The Messenger is Available for free for educators and media.

    If you are not an educator or in the media, €1.99 is a really small price to pay for all of the knowledge and experience that ESO provides.

    In the current issue:

    Adaptive Optics Facility Status Report: When First Light Is Produced Rather Than Captured
    Solar Activity-driven Variability of Instrument Data Quality
    A Stellar Census in NGC 6397 with MUSE
    First Results from the XXL Survey and Associated Multi-wavelength Programmes
    ALMACAL: Exploiting ALMA Calibrator Scans to Carry Out a Deep and Wide (Sub)millimetre Survey,Free of Cosmic Variance
    Light Phenomena over the ESO Observatories III: Zodiacal Light

    You may also download The Messenger in .pdf here .

    Or visit The Messenger website to subscribe and receive a free printed copy.

    ESO does the best job of any organization in Astronomy in letting the public in on what is happening. Optical Astronomy has a lot to offer still in the current scheme of things which includes Radio Astronomy and space based telescopes. It takes the optics and resolving power of optical telescopes to either get the whole story or put the finishing touches on news finds made with other means.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    Visit ESO in Social Media-

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 1:16 pm on August 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ESO - European Southern Observatory, , ESOCast 87 video   

    From ESO: “ESOcast 87: Pale Red Dot Results” Video 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    Aug 24, 2016


    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    This is the ESOcast that no viewer will want to miss. We discuss the result of the quest to find a planet around the closest star to the Solar System.

    The Pale Red Dot campaign aimed to find a planet orbiting our nearest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri. Incredibly, the quest succeeded and the team did indeed find a planet. Even more excitingly, the planet, Proxima b, falls within the habitable zone of its host star. The newly discovered Proxima b is by far the closest potential abode for alien life.

    In this ESOcast, the results of this groundbreaking research are explained in detail, providing insights into the following points:

    • The extensive verification process the team went through to ensure this result was accurate.
    • The factors for and against the possibility of life on Proxima b.
    • The nature of a “habitable zone” around a star.

    The discovery of Proxima b is a major science result, making this ESOcast a must for those of you curious about one of the most intriguing questions in astronomy — “are we alone?”

    More information and download options: http://www.eso.org/public/videos/eso1…

    Subscribe to ESOcast in iTunes! https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/esoc…

    Receive future episodes on YouTube by pressing the Subscribe button above or follow us on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/esoastronomy

    Watch more ESOcast episodes: http://www.eso.org/public/videos/arch…

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    Visit ESO in Social Media-

    Facebook

    Twitter

    YouTube

    ESO Bloc Icon

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 12:53 pm on August 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, , ,   

    From ESO: “Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Nearest Star” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    24 August 2016
    Guillem Anglada-Escudé (Lead Scientist)
    Queen Mary University of London
    London, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3002
    Email: g.anglada@qmul.ac.uk

    Pedro J. Amado (Scientist)
    Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (IAA/CSIC)
    Granada, Spain
    Tel: +34 958 23 06 39
    Email: pja@iaa.csic.es

    Ansgar Reiners (Scientist)
    Institut für Astrophysik, Universität Göttingen
    Göttingen, Germany
    Tel: +49 551 3913825
    Email: ansgar.reiners@phys.uni-goettingen.de

    James S. Jenkins (Scientist)
    Departamento de Astronomia, Universidad de Chile
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 (2) 2 977 1125
    Email: jjenkins@das.uchile.cl

    Michael Endl (Scientist)
    McDonald Observatory, The University of Texas at Austin
    Austin, Texas, USA
    Tel: +1 512 471 8312
    Email: mike@astro.as.utexas.edu

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

    Martin Archer (Public Information Officer)
    Queen Mary University of London
    London, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 (0) 20 7882 6963
    Email: m.archer@qmul.ac.uk

    Silbia López de Lacalle (Public Information Officer)
    Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía
    Granada, Spain
    Tel: +34 958 23 05 32
    Email: silbialo@iaa.es

    Romas Bielke (Public Information Officer)
    Georg August Universität Göttingen
    Göttingen, Germany
    Tel: +49 551 39-12172
    Email: Romas.Bielke@zvw.uni-goettingen.de

    Natasha Metzler (Public Information Officer)
    Carnegie Institution for Science
    Washington DC, USA
    Tel: +1 (202) 939 1142
    Email: nmetzler@carnegiescience.edu

    David Azocar (Public Information Officer)
    Departamento de Astronomia, Universidad de Chile
    Santiago, Chile
    Email: dazocar@das.uchile.cl

    Rebecca Johnson (Public Information Officer)
    McDonald Observatory, The University of Texas at Austin
    Austin, Texas, USA
    Tel: +1 512 475 6763
    Email: rjohnson@astro.as.utexas.edu

    Hugh Jones (Scientist)
    University of Hertfordshire
    Hatfield, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 (0)1707 284426
    Email: h.r.a.jones@herts.ac.uk

    Jordan Kenny (Public Information Officer)
    University of Hertfordshire
    Hatfield, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 1707 286476
    Cell: +44 7730318371
    Email: j.kenny@herts.ac.uk

    Yiannis Tsapras (Scientist)
    Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg
    Heidelberg, Germany
    Tel: +49 6221 54-181
    Email: ytsapras@ari.uni-heidelberg.de

    1

    Pale Red Dot campaign reveals Earth-mass world in orbit around Proxima Centauri

    Pale Red Dot

    Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri.

    The long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us — and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System. A paper describing this milestone finding will be published in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.

    Just over four light-years from the Solar System lies a red dwarf star that has been named Proxima Centauri as it is the closest star to Earth apart from the Sun. This cool star in the constellation of Centaurus is too faint to be seen with the unaided eye and lies near to the much brighter pair of stars known as Alpha Centauri AB.

    During the first half of 2016 Proxima Centauri was regularly observed with the HARPS spectrograph on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile and simultaneously monitored by other telescopes around the world [1]. This was the Pale Red Dot campaign, in which a team of astronomers led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé, from Queen Mary University of London, was looking for the tiny back and forth wobble of the star that would be caused by the gravitational pull of a possible orbiting planet [2].

    As this was a topic with very wide public interest, the progress of the campaign between mid-January and April 2016 was shared publicly as it happened on the Pale Red Dot website and via social media. The reports were accompanied by numerous outreach articles written by specialists around the world.

    Guillem Anglada-Escudé explains the background to this unique search: “The first hints of a possible planet were spotted back in 2013, but the detection was not convincing. Since then we have worked hard to get further observations off the ground with help from ESO and others. The recent Pale Red Dot campaign has been about two years in the planning.”

    The Pale Red Dot data, when combined with earlier observations made at ESO observatories and elsewhere, revealed the clear signal of a truly exciting result. At times Proxima Centauri is approaching Earth at about 5 kilometres per hour — normal human walking pace — and at times receding at the same speed. This regular pattern of changing radial velocities repeats with a period of 11.2 days. Careful analysis of the resulting tiny Doppler shifts showed that they indicated the presence of a planet with a mass at least 1.3 times that of the Earth, orbiting about 7 million kilometres from Proxima Centauri — only 5% of the Earth-Sun distance [3].

    Guillem Anglada-Escudé comments on the excitement of the last few months: “I kept checking the consistency of the signal every single day during the 60 nights of the Pale Red Dot campaign. The first 10 were promising, the first 20 were consistent with expectations, and at 30 days the result was pretty much definitive, so we started drafting the paper!”

    Red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri are active stars and can vary in ways that would mimic the presence of a planet. To exclude this possibility the team also monitored the changing brightness of the star very carefully during the campaign using the ASH2 telescope at the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory in Chile and the Las Cumbres Observatory telescope network. Radial velocity data taken when the star was flaring were excluded from the final analysis.

    2
    ASH2 telescope at the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory in Chile

    LCOGT Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Haleakala Hawaii, USA
    LCOGT Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Haleakala Hawaii, USA

    Although Proxima b orbits much closer to its star than Mercury does to the Sun in the Solar System, the star itself is far fainter than the Sun. As a result Proxima b lies well within the habitable zone around the star and has an estimated surface temperature that would allow the presence of liquid water. Despite the temperate orbit of Proxima b, the conditions on the surface may be strongly affected by the ultraviolet and X-ray flares from the star — far more intense than the Earth experiences from the Sun [4].

    Two separate papers discuss the habitability of Proxima b and its climate. They find that the existence of liquid water on the planet today cannot be ruled out and, in such case, it may be present over the surface of the planet only in the sunniest regions, either in an area in the hemisphere of the planet facing the star (synchronous rotation) or in a tropical belt (3:2 resonance rotation). Proxima b’s rotation, the strong radiation from its star and the formation history of the planet makes its climate quite different from that of the Earth, and it is unlikely that Proxima b has seasons.

    This discovery will be the beginning of extensive further observations, both with current instruments [5] and with the next generation of giant telescopes such as the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Proxima b will be a prime target for the hunt for evidence of life elsewhere in the Universe. Indeed, the Alpha Centauri system is also the target of humankind’s first attempt to travel to another star system, the StarShot project.

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker
    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    Guillem Anglada-Escudé concludes: “Many exoplanets have been found and many more will be found, but searching for the closest potential Earth-analogue and succeeding has been the experience of a lifetime for all of us. Many people’s stories and efforts have converged on this discovery. The result is also a tribute to all of them. The search for life on Proxima b comes next…”

    Note: We are aware that there have been rumours regarding this discovery. These rumours have never been confirmed and have not contained any research content. Whilst the rumours are in the public domain and can be reported, the information in this release, the paper itself and the associated visuals have been provided on an embargoed basis and therefore remain strictly under embargo until 19:00 CEST on 24 August 2016. We would be grateful if any questions or concerns are addressed to us before any action is taken. We thank you for your consideration in this matter.
    Notes

    [1] Besides data from the recent Pale Red Dot campaign, the paper incorporates contributions from scientists who have been observing Proxima Centauri for many years. These include members of the original UVES/ESO M-dwarf programme (Martin Kürster and Michael Endl), and exoplanet search pioneers such as R. Paul Butler. Public observations from the HARPS/Geneva team obtained over many years were also included.

    [2] The name Pale Red Dot reflects Carl Sagan’s famous reference to the Earth as a pale blue dot. As Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star it will bathe its orbiting planet in a pale red glow.

    [3] The detection reported today has been technically possible for the last 10 years. In fact, signals with smaller amplitudes have been detected previously. However, stars are not smooth balls of gas and Proxima Centauri is an active star. The robust detection of Proxima b has only been possible after reaching a detailed understanding of how the star changes on timescales from minutes to a decade, and monitoring its brightness with photometric telescopes.

    [4] The actual suitability of this kind of planet to support water and Earth-like life is a matter of intense but mostly theoretical debate. Major concerns that count against the presence of life are related to the closeness of the star. For example gravitational forces probably lock the same side of the planet in perpetual daylight, while the other side is in perpetual night. The planet’s atmosphere might also slowly be evaporating or have more complex chemistry than Earth’s due to stronger ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, especially during the first billion years of the star’s life. However, none of the arguments has been proven conclusively and they are unlikely to be settled without direct observational evidence and characterisation of the planet’s atmosphere. Similar factors apply to the planets recently found around TRAPPIST-1.

    [5] Some methods to study a planet’s atmosphere depend on it passing in front of its star and the starlight passing through the atmosphere on its way to Earth. Currently there is no evidence that Proxima b transits across the disc of its parent star, and the chances of this happening seem small, but further observations to check this possibility are in progress.

    More information

    The team is composed of Guillem Anglada-Escudé (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Pedro J. Amado (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – CSIC, Granada, Spain), John Barnes (Open University, Milton Keynes, UK), Zaira M. Berdiñas (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucia – CSIC, Granada, Spain), R. Paul Butler (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Washington, USA), Gavin A. L. Coleman (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Ignacio de la Cueva (Astroimagen, Ibiza, Spain), Stefan Dreizler (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Michael Endl (The University of Texas at Austin and McDonald Observatory, Austin, Texas, USA), Benjamin Giesers (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Sandra V. Jeffers (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), James S. Jenkins (Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile), Hugh R. A. Jones (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK), Marcin Kiraga (Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), Martin Kürster (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), María J. López-González (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – CSIC, Granada, Spain), Christopher J. Marvin (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Nicolás Morales (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – CSIC, Granada, Spain), Julien Morin (Laboratoire Univers et Particules de Montpellier, Université de Montpellier & CNRS, Montpellier, France), Richard P. Nelson (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), José L. Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – CSIC, Granada, Spain), Aviv Ofir (Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel), Sijme-Jan Paardekooper (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Ansgar Reiners (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Eloy Rodriguez (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – CSIC, Granada, Spain), Cristina Rodriguez-Lopez (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía – CSIC, Granada, Spain), Luis F. Sarmiento (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), John P. Strachan (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Yiannis Tsapras (Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Heidelberg, Germany), Mikko Tuomi (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK) and Mathias Zechmeister (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany).

    Links

    Research paper in Nature
    Two new papers on Habitability on Proxima b

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    Visit ESO in Social Media-

    Facebook

    Twitter

    YouTube

    ESO Bloc Icon

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 6:50 am on August 10, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, Messier 18   

    From ESO: “Stellar Lab in Sagittarius” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    10 August 2016
    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    rhook@eso.org

    1
    The small smattering of bright blue stars in the upper left of this vast new 615 megapixel ESO image is the perfect cosmic laboratory in which to study the life and death of stars. Known as Messier 18 this star cluster contains stars that formed together from the same massive cloud of gas and dust. This image, which also features red clouds of glowing hydrogen and dark filaments of dust, was captured by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

    Messier 18 was discovered and catalogued in 1764 by Charles Messier — for whom the Messier Objects are named — during his search for comet-like objects [1]. It lies within the Milky Way, approximately 4600 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius, and consists of many sibling stars loosely bound together in what is known as an open cluster.

    There are over 1000 known open star clusters within the Milky Way, with a wide range of properties, such as size and age, that provide astronomers with clues to how stars form, evolve and die. The main appeal of these clusters is that all of their stars are born together out of the same material.

    In Messier 18 the blue and white colours of the stellar population indicate that the cluster’s stars are very young, probably only around 30 million years old. Being siblings means that any differences between the stars will only be due to their masses, and not their distance from Earth or the composition of the material they formed from. This makes clusters very useful in refining theories of star formation and evolution.

    Astronomers now know that most stars do form in groups, forged from the same cloud of gas that collapsed in on itself due to the attractive force of gravity. The cloud of leftover gas and dust — or molecular cloud — that envelops the new stars is often blown away by their strong stellar winds, weakening the gravitational shackles that bind them. Over time, loosely bound stellar siblings like those pictured here will often go their separate ways as interactions with other neighbouring stars or massive gas clouds nudge, or pull, the stars apart. Our own star, the Sun, was most likely once part of a cluster very much like Messier 18 until its companions were gradually distributed across the Milky Way.

    The dark lanes that snake through this image are murky filaments of cosmic dust, blocking out the light from distant stars. The contrasting faint reddish clouds that seem to weave between the stars are composed of ionised hydrogen gas. The gas glows because young, extremely hot stars like these are emitting intense ultraviolet light which strips the surrounding gas of its electrons and causes it to emit the faint glow seen in this image. Given the right conditions, this material could one day collapse in on itself and provide the Milky Way with yet another brood of stars — a star formation process that may continue indefinitely (eso1535).

    This mammoth 30 577 x 20 108 pixel image was captured using the OmegaCAM camera, which is attached to the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

    ESO Omegacam on VST at ESO's Cerro Paranal observatory
    ESO Omegacam on VST at ESO’s Cerro Paranal observatory

    Notes

    [1] Messier 18 is also listed in the New General Catalogue as NGC 6613.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on July 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, SPHERE   

    From ESO: “SPHERE” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument

    First light 4 May 2014 [eso1417]
    Jean-Luc Beuzit
    Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble
    Grenoble, France
    Tel: +33 4 76 63 55 20
    Cell: +33 6 87 39 62 85
    Email: Jean-Luc.Beuzit@obs.ujf-grenoble.fr

    Markus Feldt
    Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie
    Heidelberg, Germany
    Tel: +49 6221 528 262
    Email: mfeldt@mpia.de

    Markus Kasper
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6359
    Email: mkasper@eso.org

    Norbert Hubin
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6517
    Email: nhubin@eso.org

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

    1

    One of the most challenging and exciting areas of astronomy is the subject of ongoing research at ESO’s Paranal Observatory: the search for exoplanets — new worlds orbiting other stars. To help in this task, an instrument was carefully planned and, after years of studies and construction, installed on Unit Telescope 3 of the Very Large Telescope (VLT): SPHERE or the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument.

    SPHERE is a powerful planet finder and its objective is to detect and study new giant exoplanets orbiting nearby stars using a method known as direct imaging — in other words, SPHERE is trying to capture images of the exoplanets directly, as though it were taking their photograph. SPHERE can also obtain images of discs of dust and debris around other stars, where planets may be forming. In either case, direct imaging is extremely hard to do.

    More than a thousand exoplanets have been discovered since the 1990s, but only a very few have been detected directly. For example, HARPS, another successful planet finder, uses indirect techniques to find planets by determining radial velocity variations.

    One major obstacle to directly imaging a distant exoplanet is that the light of any star is so powerful from our point of view that something close to it, like a planet orbiting the star, is swamped by the starlight. SPHERE blocks out the central region of the star to reduce its contribution — this type of instrument is called a coronagraph, and is used (as the name suggests!) to study the outer layers of the Sun. But have you ever tried to block the sunlight with your thumb? If you have, then you will probably have noticed a blinding ring of light around your shadowed finger.

    SPHERE is designed to exploit a clever way of suppressing the stellar light contribution. It turns out that the light emitted naturally by stars (including the Sun) is unpolarised, meaning that the electromagnetic waves oscillate randomly in different directions. But when light is reflected by a surface (such as a planet or a dusty disc), the reflected waves are partially polarised, which means that they now oscillate in a well-defined plane. Polarised sunglasses exploit this property: they block the polarised light reflected from the surfaces around us, yielding a crystal-clear view with high contrast and much reduced glare. But SPHERE is looking to pick out the polarised signal — and it’s also possible to isolate this using special filters. “The polarimetric differential imaging mode of SPHERE works on this principle: the light emitted by the central star is unpolarised, but the light scattered by the dusty disc is polarised, so we can use this difference to isolate one from the other and get a very sharp view of the disc itself,” says Juan Carlos Muñoz, ESO astronomer at the VLT.

    So there are three important stages in extracting the direct image of a planet. First, a state-of-the-art adaptive optics system has been incorporated into the instrument to correct for the turbulent effects of the Earth’s atmosphere with the aim of delivering images as sharp as if the telescope were floating in space. Secondly, a coronagraph is used to block out the light from the star itself and increase the contrast still further. Finally, a technique called differential imaging is applied that exploits differences (the filters) between planetary and stellar light in terms of colour or polarisation. The light from the star is blocked out, leaving only the planet — although in practice the process is not so straightforward as this overview suggests!

    The instrument is equipped with 3 subsystems:

    ZIMPOL is a special purpose camera, that can both make very sharp images and measure polarisation in visible light and the near infrared (from 600 to 900 nanometres). Its role is to detect the reflected polarised light of gaseous planets orbiting very close to their host stars, and detect the scattered light from the dusty discs around young stars. It uses a unique trick to detect very faint objects around very bright stars.

    3
    Layout of the SPHERE Common Path Infrastructure

    IRDIS is a camera working at near-infrared wavelengths, from 900nm to 2.3 microns, whose main goal is to image young self-luminous giant planets thanks to advanced observational strategies based on a technique called differential imaging.

    5
    Inside the IFS. Note that the IFS optical bench is not cold, and that it has its own Lyot stop and internal calibration sources.

    IFS is a near-infrared integral field spectrograph that can work simultaneously with IRDIS to provide a spectrum at each given location of the field of view. This enables astronomers to characterise the composition of the atmosphere of giant planets.

    See the full article here .

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    ESO LaSilla
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  • richardmitnick 1:02 pm on July 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, Search announced to fill vacancy when Tim de Zeeuw's second 5-year term as Director General ends   

    From ESO: “ESO Council Launches Search for Next Director General” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    1 July 2016
    ESO Council President
    Patrick Roche
    University of Oxford
    Department of Physics
    Denys Wilkinson Building
    Keble Road
    Oxford OX1 3RH, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 1865 273338
    Email: ESOPresident@physics.ox.ac.uk

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

    [This is going to be interesting.]

    1
    Prof. Tim de Zeeuw visiting Paranal Observatory

    The current ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, will complete his second 5-year term as Director General at the end of August 2017. The ESO Council has decided to establish a search committee to help in the selection of the next Director General.

    Tim de Zeeuw has led ESO during a period of outstanding scientific, technical and organisational success. He has overseen ESO’s contributions to the completion of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory, the selection and acquisition of the site and the approval and start of construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) together with its first light instruments, the continuing operation and development of the La Silla and Paranal observatories including the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX) telescope, the completion of the second generation Very Large Telescope array (VLT) instruments, and the completion of the extension of the Headquarters building in Garching and the donation of the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre. The rich scientific harvest from these activities has led to ESO’s position as the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. Council wishes to build on this record of success by appointing an outstanding Director General via an open international search.

    Under the current Director General, the number of Member States has increased to fifteen and a number of other countries are presently at different levels of engagement regarding potential membership. The ESO Council also agreed to gradually increase the Member State contributions over a decade to provide the funding for construction and operations of the E-ELT, whilst supporting continuing exploitation and development of ESO’s La Silla, Paranal, and ALMA facilities. As ESO has grown, it has been restructured to manage these activities.

    The main tasks for the Director General are to manage the ESO programme, and to work with Council to develop and implement the strategies they define, to maintain ESO’s leadership and excellence in astronomical science and oversee the construction of the E-ELT, whilst maintaining the world-leading productivity of the other facilities.

    The ESO Council has approved the construction of the first phase of the E-ELT, and a major role for the Director General will be to keep the E-ELT on track for first light in 2024 and bring it towards full operations. Completion of the full E-ELT capabilities will require additional funds, and the Director General will need to work with Council to secure them and develop a strategy for further developments. This will require balancing ESO’s investments in the most important programmes and projects within strict budgetary constraints.

    The Director General should meet the following requirements:

    Representing ESO with the ambition of leadership in astronomical research: The Director General should have internationally recognised scientific excellence in astronomical research and must be able to project a long-term strategic view of the science to a wide audience. The Director General must be enthusiastic, energetic and committed with excellent communication and leadership skills.
    ESO’s internal management requirements: The Director General should have the ability to lead, direct and manage a team of senior staff in order to execute and implement three large programmes in very different settings (La Silla – Paranal operations, upgrades and evolution, ALMA operations and development in cooperation with ESO’s partners in North America and East Asia, and E-ELT construction, planning and development). They must maintain close links between the different ESO sites and ensure effective deployment and usage of resources. The Director General must ensure a positive work environment with a structure that ensures a highly motivated, responsive and productive staff.
    The need to define ESO’s role in global astronomical research: The Director General should be able to work with the ESO Council in the development and evolution of ESO’s strategy, in developing ESO further as the organisation for astronomical collaboration in the global arena, and in defining the route to full implementation of the E-ELT. The Director General is responsible for implementing the strategy agreed by ESO Council.
    ESO’s international relations requirements: The Director General should understand the political dimension of ESO and be able to maintain and develop good relationships with international partners, both inside and outside Europe; the scientific user community, astronomical expert institutes, international scientific bodies and agencies, governments and the European Union. The maintenance of excellent relations with the Republic of Chile and the Member States is a key requirement.

    A proven record of strong leadership of a well-known and internationally oriented astronomical institute or international organisation is essential. Frequent travel between the ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany, the observatory sites and Santiago office in Chile and to institutes, agencies and other organisations around the world will be needed. Excellent communication skills and a very good knowledge of English are essential and knowledge of German and/or Spanish is an asset.

    The position of Director General is a full time post, with an initial appointment for a five year term, with the possibility of renewal. Benefits and allowances are in accordance with ESO’s staff rules and regulations.

    Persons wishing to express an interest in this position should contact the ESO Council President, Patrick Roche, including a brief CV and letter of motivation.

    Vacancy notice on ESO job portal

    See the full article here .

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    ESO LaSilla
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  • richardmitnick 8:45 am on June 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, Unexpected Excess of Giant Planets in Star Cluster   

    From ESO: “Unexpected Excess of Giant Planets in Star Cluster” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    17 June 2016
    Anna Brucalassi
    Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 30000 3022
    Email: abrucala@mpe.mpg.de

    Luca Pasquini
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6792
    Email: lpasquin@eso.org

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

    Hannelore Hämmerle
    Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 30 000 3980
    Email: hhaemmerle@mpa-garching.mpg.de

    1
    Artist’s impression of a hot Jupiter exoplanet in the star cluster Messier 67. No image credit.

    An international team of astronomers have found that there are far more planets of the hot Jupiter type than expected in a cluster of stars called Messier 67. This surprising result was obtained using a number of telescopes and instruments, among them the HARPS spectrograph at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The denser environment in a cluster will cause more frequent interactions between planets and nearby stars, which may explain the excess of hot Jupiters.

    ESO/HARPS
    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla

    A Chilean, Brazilian and European team led by Roberto Saglia at the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, in Garching, Germany, and Luca Pasquini at ESO, has spent several years collecting high-precision measurements of 88 stars in Messier 67 [1]. This open star cluster is about the same age as the Sun and it is thought that the Solar System arose in a similarly dense environment [2].

    The team used HARPS, along with other instruments [3], to look for the signatures of giant planets on short-period orbits, hoping to see the tell-tale “wobble” of a star caused by the presence of a massive object in a close orbit, a kind of planet known as a hot Jupiters. This hot Jupiter signature has now been found for a total of three stars in the cluster alongside earlier evidence for several other planets.

    A hot Jupiter is a giant exoplanet with a mass of more than about a third of Jupiter’s mass. They are “hot” because they are orbiting close to their parent stars, as indicated by an orbital period (their “year”) that is less than ten days in duration. That is very different from the Jupiter we are familiar with in our own Solar System, which has a year lasting around 12 Earth- years and is much colder than the Earth [4].

    “We want to use an open star cluster as laboratory to explore the properties of exoplanets and theories of planet formation”, explains Roberto Saglia. “Here we have not only many stars possibly hosting planets, but also a dense environment, in which they must have formed.”

    The study found that hot Jupiters are more common around stars in Messier 67 than is the case for stars outside of clusters. “This is really a striking result,” marvels Anna Brucalassi, who carried out the analysis. “The new results mean that there are hot Jupiters around some 5% of the Messier 67 stars studied — far more than in comparable studies of stars not in clusters, where the rate is more like 1%.”

    Astronomers think it highly unlikely that these exotic giants actually formed where we now find them, as conditions so close to the parent star would not initially have been suitable for the formation of Jupiter-like planets. Rather, it is thought that they formed further out, as Jupiter probably did, and then moved closer to the parent star. What were once distant, cold, giant planets are now a good deal hotter. The question then is: what caused them to migrate inwards towards the star?

    There are a number of possible answers to that question, but the authors conclude that this is most likely the result of close encounters with neighbouring stars, or even with the planets in neighbouring solar systems, and that the immediate environment around a solar system can have a significant impact on how it evolves.

    In a cluster like Messier 67, where stars are much closer together than the average, such encounters would be much more common, which would explain the larger numbers of hot Jupiters found there.

    Co-author and co-lead Luca Pasquini from ESO looks back on the remarkable recent history of studying planets in clusters: “No hot Jupiters at all had been detected in open clusters until a few years ago. In three years the paradigm has shifted from a total absence of such planets — to an excess!”
    Notes

    [1] Some of the original sample of 88 were found to be binary stars, or unsuitable for other reasons for this study. This new paper concentrates on a sub-group of 66 stars.

    [2] Although the cluster Messier 67 is still holding together, the cluster that may have surrounded the Sun in its early years would have dissipated long ago, leaving the Sun on its own.

    [3] Spectra from the High Resolution Spectrograph on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas, USA, were also used, as well as from the SOPHIE spectrograph at the Observatoire de Haute Provence, in France.

    McDonald Observatory Hobby-Eberly Telescope
    U Texas Austin McDonald Observatory Hobby-Eberly Telescope

    L'Observatoire de Haute-Provence
    L’Observatoire de Haute-Provence

    [4] The first exoplanet found around a star similar to the Sun, 51 Pegasi b, was also a hot Jupiter. This was a surprise at the time, as many astronomers had assumed that other planetary systems would probably be like the Solar System and have their more massive planets further from the parent star.

    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled Search for giant planets in M67 III: excess of Hot Jupiters in dense open clusters, by A. Brucalassi et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    The team consists of: A. Brucalassi (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany; University Observatory Munich, Germany), L. Pasquini (ESO, Garching, Germany), R. Saglia (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany; University Observatory Munich, Germany), M.T. Ruiz (Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile), P. Bonifacio (GEPI, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Univ. Paris Diderot, Meudon, France), I. Leão (ESO, Garching, Germany; Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil), B.L. Canto Martins (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil), J.R. de Medeiros (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil), L. R. Bedin (INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, Padova, Italy) , K. Biazzo (INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Catania, Catania, Italy), C. Melo (ESO, Santiago, Chile), C. Lovis (Observatoire de Geneve, Sauverny, Switzerland) and S. Randich (INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Firenze, Italy).

    See the full article here .

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    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

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  • richardmitnick 11:39 am on January 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory,   

    From Pale Red Dot: “Pale Blue Dot, Pale Red Dot, Pale Green Dot, …” 

    Pale Red Dot

    Pale Red Dot

    1.14.16
    Alan Boss, Carnegie Institution for Science

    Even Carl Sagan would be astonished by what has transpired in the 20 years since the first reproducible evidence for a giant planet in orbit around a sun-like star was announced in October 1995. The announcement of the discovery of a giant planet in orbit around the near-solar twin 51 Pegasus by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, followed by its confirmation a few weeks later by Geoff Marcy and Paul Butler, was completely unexpected, not because 51 Peg b has a mass of about half that of Jupiter, or a circular orbit, but because 51 Peg b orbits its star at a distance just 1/100 that of Jupiter, twenty times closer to 51 Peg than the Earth is to the Sun. Theorists such as myself could not imagine forming a presumably gas giant planet that close to a star, a confined space lacking in the raw materials necessary for forming any giant planet. We also feared that if a giant planet formed at a more reasonable distance, similar to Jupiter’s present orbit, subsequent gravitational interactions between the giant planet and the residual planet-forming disk of gas and dust might result in unchecked inward orbital migration of the giant planet toward the growing central protostar that could only result in the planet being swallowed by the voracious youngster. 51 Peg b proved planet formation theorists to be wrong, and we have been playing catch-up ever since.

    Temp 1
    Changes in the velocity of the Sun-like star 51 Peg were used by M. Mayor and D. Queloz to infer the presence of a planet in a short period orbit around the star. Source : arXiv:astro-ph/0310261

    Two months after the announcement of 51 Peg b, Carl Sagan sent letters to George Wetherill and me regarding his claim to have predicted theoretically the formation of a planet similar to 51 Peg b. Sagan had published a paper with a colleague in 1977 that used a simple model of the planet formation process to predict that if a protoplanetary disk happened to have all of its mass concentrated close to the protostar, then a single, massive planet orbiting at 10 times the distance of 51 Peg b might form. Their 1977 paper concluded, however, that such a formation mechanism was “highly questionable”. With the discovery of 51 Peg b, Sagan was ready to drop the “highly questionable” qualifier, and take credit for the first theoretical prediction of an extrasolar planet. Wetherill and I discussed Sagan’s claim, but had several objections of our own: first, whether the initial conditions assumed for the disk by Sagan were at all feasible, and, second, whether the simple model used was up to the task. Detailed computational models of planet formation were Wetherill’s specialty, building on the firm analytical foundation built by Victor Safronov and his colleagues, and Wetherill considered the simple model used in the 1977 paper to be closer to numerology than to proper physics. We politely refrained from supporting Sagan’s claim to theoretical ownership of 51 Peg b.

    One year later, Carl Sagan died at the untimely age of 62 of a rare bone marrow disease, a shock to all of us who knew him as the prophet of the search for life beyond Earth. Just as I remember my seventh-grade classroom where I first heard about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, I remember the traffic light I was stopped at when a radio news show reported the death of Carl. By the time of his death, the roster of exoplanets discovered by Doppler spectroscopy (see http://home.dtm.ciw.edu/users/boss/planets.html/) had grown from one to seven, five of which were discovered by Butler and Marcy. The list of exoplanet candidates was now growing at the rate of a planet every month. Carl was a visionary prophet who lived long enough to catch a glimpse of the Promised Land beyond Earth, but not long enough to fully comprehend the prevalence of extrasolar planets.

    51 Peg b was not in any way the first claimed discovery of an exoplanet. The most famous of these was the gas giant planet thought to orbit around Barnard’s Star, a red dwarf star similar to Proxima Centauri that is our nearest neighbour after the Alpha Centauri AB/Proxima Centauri triple system.

    Temp 5
    Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbour: Proxima Centauri.
    Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. Its average luminosity is very low, and it is quite small compared to other stars, at only about an eighth of the mass of the Sun.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Hubble WFPC2
    WFPC2 [no longer in service]

    However, on occasion, its brightness increases. Proxima is what is known as a “flare star”, meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life. Astronomers predict that this star will remain middle-aged — or a “main sequence” star in astronomical terms — for another four trillion years, some 300 times the age of the current Universe.
    These observations were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Proxima Centauri is actually part of a triple star system — its two companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, lie out of frame.
    Although by cosmic standards it is a close neighbour, Proxima Centauri remains a point-like object even using Hubble’s eagle-eyed vision, hinting at the vast scale of the Universe around us.
    Date 28 October 2013

    Temp 6
    The two bright stars are (left) Alpha Centauri and (right) Beta Centauri. The faint red star in the center of the red circle is Proxima Centauri. Taken with Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens with 11 frames stacked, each frame exposed 30 seconds.
    2012-02-27
    Skatebiker

    Peter van de Kamp announced in 1963 the discovery of this planet, 60% more massive than Jupiter, and with an orbital period twice that of Jupiter’s twelve years. This planet made a lot more sense to the theorists than 51 Peg b, and it was accepted as a real detection. Van de Kamp used the astrometric method to search for the wobbles of the central star caused by an unseen planet, where multiple images are taken over a decade or longer. Ten years later, in 1973 George Gatewood published an independent set of astronomical plates that showed that the wobbles that van de Kamp thought were caused by a planet around Barnard’s star were caused instead by changes in the 24-inch refractor used by van de Kamp and in the photographic emulsions used for the exposures. As of 1973, there were no good examples of planets outside our solar system, leaving theorists to continue to concentrate solely on the puzzles associated with the formation of the our own collection of rocky planets, gas giants, and ice giants.

    There were other claims for exoplanet discoveries in the two decades between 1973 and 1995. Gordon Walker and Bruce Campbell started one of the first Doppler spectroscopy searches in 1983, and after twelve years of observing, published their final paper in early 1995, concluding that they had found no firm evidence of planets with masses greater than that of Jupiter. In 1988, they thought they had found evidence for a Jupiter in orbit around Gamma Cephei, but after taking more data, in 1992 they published a retraction of the claim. The case for an exoplanet around Gamma Cephei is still debated (see http://exoplanet.eu/catalog/gamma_cephei_b/).

    In 1988 another Doppler detection appeared, that of an object orbiting the star HD114762, discovered by David Latham and Michel Mayor. This object, however, had a minimum mass of about 11 Jupiter masses, perilously close to the critical value of 13.5 Jupiter masses, which separates Brown dwarfs from Jupiters. Brown dwarfs are massive enough to burn deuterium during their early evolution, whereas planets are forbidden to enjoy the energy generated by hydrogen fusion reactions (see http://home.dtm.ciw.edu/users/boss/definition.html/). Alexander Wolszczan and Dale Frail used the most exotic method of all to discover planetary-mass objects: in 1992 they published evidence from precise timing of the radio wave pulses emitted by the pulsar PSR1257+12 of the presence of not one, but two planets with masses of several times that of the Earth. The fact that these objects orbited in the deadly radiation field of a neutron star that presumably resulted from a supernova explosion made for a fascinating discovery, but one that held little interest for those of us who were fixated on searching for potentially habitable Earth-mass planets around solar-type stars.

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    Artists impression of extrasolar planets in the pulsar, PSR B1257+12.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC) – http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08042

    In 2004, Butler and his colleagues announced the discovery of the first example of a new class of exoplanets: super-Earths. They showed that the M dwarf star Gliese 436 was orbited by a planet with a mass as small as 21 times that of the Earth, a mass that suggested a composition lacking in gas but rich in rock and ice. Doppler spectroscopy surveys have found hundreds of exoplanets and super-Earths in the intervening years, enough so that by 2009, the prediction could be made that roughly 1/3 of all M dwarf stars were orbited by super-Earths. M dwarfs are at most about 1/2 the mass of the Sun, with much lower luminosities, leading to their having habitable zones much closer to their stars than Earth is to the Sun, but this remarkably high estimate of M dwarf exoplanets was a strong encouragement that the same high abundances would turn out to be the case for G dwarf stars like the Sun.

    Proving this point would fall to NASA’s first space telescope designed specifically for exoplanet detection, the Kepler Space Telescope (see http://kepler.nasa.gov/).

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    Kepler was the brainchild of William Borucki, who struggled for decades to convince his colleagues (and NASA) of the incredible power of a space telescope for discovering exoplanets by the transit photometry technique. Launched in March 2009, Kepler has more than repaid the America taxpayers who funded its development and operations, having discovered nearly 5,000 exoplanet candidates (at a cost of roughly $100K each) and over 1,000 confirmed planets. Kepler has proven that exoplanets are everywhere, even around G dwarf stars, in startling abundances. Estimates range as high as there being one habitable Earth-like planet for every star in our galaxy.

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    Kepler Objects of Interest (many of them are most likely planets) as of July 23, 2015. Credits : NASA Ames/W. Stenzel – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

    As someone who has lived through the ups and downs of the history of the field of planet formation and detection, this revelation never fails to amaze me, and often chokes me up when giving public lectures. I cannot imagine that Carl Sagan would feel otherwise were he to have survived long enough to survey the entirety of this Promised Land. We now dream not just of pale blue dots, but of pale green dots indicative of chlorophyll worlds, of not-too-distant future space telescopes capable of the direct imaging of nearby habitable worlds, telescopes powerful enough to sample the compositions of the atmospheres of these worlds in search of molecules associated with habitable and even inhabited planets. Proxima Centauri is a sterling example of such a nearby star that we will continue to scrutinize in the coming years.

    Carl Sagan lived at a time when the optimists among us hoped that maybe one out of a hundred stars might have a planet of some sort in orbit around it. His famous reference to the Earth as a pale blue dot hinted at the likely fragility of life in the Milky Way galaxy, life quite possibly confined to a single refuge in the immense void of an otherwise uncaring and oblivious universe. We now know that nearly every star we can see in the night sky has at least one planet, and that a goodly fraction of those are likely to be rocky worlds orbiting close enough to their suns to be warm and perhaps inhabitable. The search for a habitable world around Proxima Centauri is the natural outgrowth of the explosion in knowledge about exoplanets that human beings have achieved in just the last two decades of the million-odd years of our existence as a unique species on Earth. If Pale Red Dots are in orbit around Proxima, we are confident we will find them, whether they are habitable or not.

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    Dr. Alan Boss explains science results during the NASA Science update. Tuesday, March 22, 2005. Photo Credit: “NASA/Bill Ingalls”

    About the author. Dr. Alan Boss is a Research Scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. He is an internationally recognized theoretical astrophysicist, whose research interests include the study of star formation, evolution of the solar nebula and other protoplanetary disks, and the formation and search for extrasolar planets. Dr. Boss has served on manifold NASA review panels, and has led both NASA and community working groups on extrasolar planet studies, including Chair of the NASA Astrophysics Subcommittee, Chair of NASA Planetary Systems Science Working Group, Chair of NASA Origins of Solar Systems MOWG, Chair of the IAU Working Group on Extrasolar Planets, President of IAU Commissions 51 and 53, and Chair of the AAAS Section on Astronomy. He received a NASA Group Achievement award in 2008 for his role in the Astrobiology Roadmap and another in 2010 for his role in the SIM Planet Finding Capability Study Team. He is a member and Fellow of several professional organizations including the American Astronomical Society, AGU, AAAS, Meteoritical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received numerous NASA and NSF grants, served on many professional committees, and is a Series Editor of the Cambridge Astrobiology Series. He has published two books about the search for planets outside the Solar System, “Looking for Earths: The Race to Find New Solar Systems” in 1998, and “The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets” in 2009. Boss is currently the Chair of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group, as well as Chair of NASA’s Exoplanet Technology Assessment Committee and WFIRST/AFTA Coronagraph and Infrared Detectors Technology Assessment Committees.

    See the full article here.

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    What is PALE RED DOT?

    It is an outreach project to show to the public how scientists are working to address a major question that could affect us all, namely are there Earth-like planets around the nearest stars?

    Why we call it PALE RED DOT?

    In 1990, Voyager 1, on its trek towards interstellar space, sent back a picture of the Inner Solar System on which the Earth occupied less than a pixel. This image of Earth was called Pale Blue Dot, and inspired the late Carl Sagan’s essay ‘Pale Blue Dot : A vision of the human future in Space’, which in turn has been the source of inspiration for a generation of exoplanet hunters. Given that Proxima Centauri — or just Proxima — is a red dwarf star, such a planet would show reddish tints. Even if successful, we will only obtain information about its orbital period and mass — even less than Voyager 1’s pale blue pixel… at least for now!

    What is special about the project?

    Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to the Sun. The discovery of a planet with some characteristics like Earth in our immediate vicinity would be momentous. After years of data acquisition by many researchers and teams, a signal has been identified which may indicate the presence of an Earth-like planet. The Pale Red Dot project will carry out further detailed observations with the aim to confirm or refute the presence of the planet. By broadcasting the progress and results of the observations through all media channels available e.g. press, website, and social media, the Pale Red Dot project aims to promote Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the broader society, inform the public and hopefully inspire a new generation of scientists.

    How such a scientific program is organized?

    The planned observation campaign is based on a proposal submitted by the involved scientists to ESO, LCOGT and BOOTES observatories. The proposals, in turn, are based on the analysis of data accumulated and obtained over the years by ourselves or by other researchers abroad. Observatories and other advanced research facilities are mostly supported by public resources, large international consortia and private foundations.

    How the results will be reported?

    As in any professional scientific work, final results need to be reviewed by the community before being announced. After the campaign is finished by April 1st, the really tough process of analyzing the data, drawing conclusions and presenting them in a credible manner will begin. After that, the analysis will be summarized in an article and submitted to a scientific journal. At that point, one or more scientists NOT involved in the project will critically revise the work, suggest modifications and even reject its publication if fundamental flaws are spotted. This last step of peer-review can take any time between a few months to a year or two. Hopefully, the data will prove to be high quality and the observations will have a straightforward interpretation, but that is just a hope. A few key milestones of the peer-review process will also be reported on the website, which might remain active at a lower activity level after the observing campaign has finished.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:49 pm on January 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, Tarantula Nebula   

    From ESO: “Portrait of a Dramatic Stellar Crib” ESO brings forward now this 2006 article, Very Worthwhile 


    European Southern Observatory

    Temp 1

    ESO Releases 256 Million Pixel Image of Immense Stellar Factory

    21 December 2006
    No writer credit found

    A new, stunning image of the cosmic spider, the Tarantula Nebula and its surroundings, finally pays tribute to this amazing, vast and intricately sculpted web of stars and gas. The newly released image, made with ESO’s Wide Field Imager [WFI] on the 2.2-m ESO/MPG Telescope at La Silla, covers 1 square degree on the sky and could therefore contain four times the full Moon.

    ESO WFI LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    2.2-m ESO/MPG Telescope at La Silla

    Known as the Tarantula Nebula for its spidery appearance, the 30 Doradus complex is a monstrous stellar factory. It is the largest emission nebula in the sky, and can be seen far down in the southern sky at a distance of about 170,000 light-years, in the southern constellation Dorado (The Swordfish or the Goldfish). It is part of one of the Milky Way’s neighbouring galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

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    The Large Magellanic Cloud. NASA

    The Tarantula Nebula is thought to contain more than half a million times the mass of the Sun in gas and this vast, blazing labyrinth hosts some of the most massive stars known. The nebula owes its name to the arrangement of its brightest patches of nebulosity, that somewhat resemble the legs of a spider. They extend from a central ‘body’ where a cluster of hot stars (designated ‘R136’) illuminates and shapes the nebula. This name, of the biggest spiders on the Earth, is also very fitting in view of the gigantic proportions of the celestial nebula – it measures nearly 1,000 light-years across and extends over more than one third of a degree: almost, but not quite, the size of the full Moon. If it were in our own Galaxy, at the distance of another stellar nursery, the Orion Nebula (1,500 light-years away), it would cover one quarter of the sky and even be visible in daylight.

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    In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. … This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

    Because astronomers believe that most of the stars in the Universe were formed in large and hectic nurseries such as the 30 Doradus region, its study is fundamental. Early this year, astronomers took a new, wide look at the spider and its web of filaments, using the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-m MPG/ESO telescope located at La Silla, Chile, while studying the dark clouds in the region. Dark clouds are enormous clouds of gas and dust, with a mass surpassing a million times that of the Sun. They are very cold, with temperatures about -260 degrees Celsius, and are difficult to study because of the heavy walls of dust behind which they hide. Their study is however essential, as it is in their freezing wombs that stars are born.

    Observing in four different bands, the astronomers made a mosaic of the half-degree field of view of the instrument to obtain an image covering one square degree. With each individual image containing 64 million pixels, the resultant mosaic thus contained 4 times as many, or 256 million pixels! The observations were made in very good image quality, the ‘seeing’ being typically below 1 arcsecond.

    The image is based on data collected through four filters, including two narrow-band filters that trace hydrogen (red) and oxygen (green). The predominance of green in the Tarantula is a result of the younger, hotter stars in this region of the complex.

    It would be easy to get lost in the meanderings of the filamentary structures or get stuck in the web of the giant arachnid, as is easily experienced with the zoom-in feature provided on the associated photo page, and it is therefore difficult to mention all the unique objects to be discovered. Deserving closer attention perhaps is the area at the right-hand border of the Tarantula. It contains the remains of a star that exploded and was seen with the unaided eye in February 1987, i.e. almost 20 years ago. Supernova SN 1987A, as it is known, is the brightest supernova since the one observed by the German astronomer Kepler in 1604. The supernova is known to be surrounded by a ring, which can be distinguished in the image.

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    Remnant of SN 1987A seen in light overlays of different spectra. ALMA data (radio, in red) shows newly formed dust in the center of the remnant. Hubble (visible, in green) and Chandra (X-ray, in blue) data show the expanding shock wave.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    A little to the left of SN 1987A, another distinctive feature is apparent: the Honeycomb Nebula. This characteristic bubble-like structure results apparently from the interaction of a supernova explosion with an existing giant shell, which was itself generated by the combined action of strong winds from young, massive stars and supernova explosions.

    The image is based on observations carried out by João Alves (Calar Alto, Spain), Benoit Vandame and Yuri Bialetski (ESO) with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) at the 2.2-m telescope on La Silla. The colour composite was made by Bob Fosbury (ST-EcF).

    The reduced data used to make this image are released as Advanced Data Products (ADP) by the Virtual Observatory Systems Department of ESO. More detail on how to access the data are available from the 30 Doradus ADP page.

    See the full article here .

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

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