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  • richardmitnick 11:11 am on December 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, First Light for Band 5 at ALMA   

    From ALMA and ESO: “First Light for Band 5 at ALMA” 

    ALMA Array

    ALMA

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    21 December 2016
    Leonardo Testi
    European ALMA Programme Scientist, ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6541
    Email: ltesti@eso.org

    Robert Laing
    ESO ALMA Scientist
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6625
    Email: rlaing@eso.org

    Nicolás Lira T.
    Education and Public Outreach Coordinator
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 24 67 65 19
    Cell: +56 9 94 45 77 26
    Email: nicolas.lira@alma.cl

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

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
    Observatory Tokyo, Japan
    Tel: +81 422 34 3630
    E-mail: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    Charles E. Blue
    Public Information Officer
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Tel: +1 434 296 0314
    Cell: +1 202 236 6324
    E-mail: cblue@nrao.edu

    With the First Light for Band 5, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has begun observing in a new range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This has been made possible thanks to new receivers installed at the telescope’s antennas, which can detect radio waves with wavelengths from 1.4 to 1.8 millimeters — a range previously untapped by ALMA. This upgrade allows astronomers to detect faint signals of water in the nearby Universe.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile has begun observing in a new range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This has been made possible thanks to new receivers installed at the telescope’s antennas, which can detect radio waves with wavelengths from 1.4 to 1.8 millimetres — a range previously untapped by ALMA. This upgrade allows astronomers to detect faint signals of water in the nearby Universe.

    ALMA observes radio waves from the Universe, at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. With the newly installed Band 5 receivers, ALMA has now opened its eyes to a whole new section of this radio spectrum, creating exciting new observational possibilities.

    The European ALMA Programme Scientist, Leonardo Testi, explains the significance: “The new receivers will make it much easier to detect water, a prerequisite for life as we know it, in our Solar System and in more distant regions of our galaxy and beyond. They will also allow ALMA to search for ionised carbon in the primordial Universe.”

    2
    The compound view shows a new ALMA Band 5 view of the colliding galaxy system Arp 220 (in red) on top of an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green). With the newly installed Band 5 receivers, ALMA has now opened its eyes to a whole new section of this radio spectrum, creating exciting new observational possibilities and improving the telescope’s ability to search for water in the Universe. This image is one of the first taken using Band 5 and was intended to verify the scientific capability of the new receivers. Credit: ALMA(ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

    It is ALMA’s unique location, 5000 metres up on the barren Chajnantor plateau in Chile, that makes such an observation possible in the first place. As water is also present in Earth’s atmosphere, observatories in less elevated and less arid environments have much more difficulty identifying the origin of the emission coming from space. ALMA’s great sensitivity and high angular resolution mean that even faint signals of water in the local Universe can now be imaged at this wavelength [1].

    The Band 5 receiver, which was developed by the Group for Advanced Receiver Development (GARD) at Onsala Space Observatory, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has already been tested at the APEX telescope in the SEPIA instrument. These observations were also vital to help select suitable targets for the first receiver tests with ALMA.

    The first production receivers were built and delivered to ALMA in the first half of 2015 by a consortium consisting of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and GARD in partnership with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which contributed the local oscillator to the project. The receivers are now installed and being prepared for use by the community of astronomers.

    6
    Band 5 receiver integrated with receivers for all the other current ALMA Bands (3 to 10). Credit: N. Tabilo – ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO).

    To test the newly installed receivers observations were made of several objects including the colliding galaxies Arp 220, a massive region of star formation close to the centre of the Milky Way, and also a dusty red supergiant star approaching the supernova explosion that will end its life [2].

    7
    This picture shows one of the Band 5 receiver cartridges built for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Extremely weak signals from space are collected by the ALMA antennas and focussed onto the receivers, which transform the faint radiation into an electrical signal. The Band 5 receivers detect electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between about 1.4 and 1.8 millimeters (211 and 163 gigahertz). The receivers were originally designed, developed, and prototyped by Onsala Space Observatory’s Advanced Receiver Development group, based at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, in collaboration with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK, and the European southern Observatory (ESO), under the European Commission (EC) supported Framework Programme FP6 (ALMA Enhancement). Band 5 of ALMA achieved first fringes in July 2015 and first science observations were made in late 2016. Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/Alexey Pavolotsky

    To process the data and check its quality, astronomers, along with technical specialists from ESO and the European ALMA Regional Centre (ARC) network, gathered at the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, for a “Band 5 Busy Week” hosted by the Nordic ARC node [3]. The final results have just been made freely available to the astronomical community worldwide.

    7
    This picture shows one of the Band 5 receiver cartridges built for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Extremely weak signals from space are collected by the ALMA antennas and focussed onto the receivers, which transform the faint radiation into an electrical signal. The Band 5 receivers detect electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between about 1.4 and 1.8 millimeters (211 and 163 gigahertz). The receivers were originally designed, developed, and prototyped by Onsala Space Observatory’s Advanced Receiver Development group, based at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, in collaboration with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK, and ESO, under the European Commission (EC) supported Framework Programme FP6 (ALMA Enhancement). Band 5 of ALMA achieved first fringes in July 2015 and the first science observations were made in late 2016. Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/B. Billade

    Team member Robert Laing at ESO is optimistic about the prospects for ALMA Band 5 observations: “It’s very exciting to see these first results from ALMA Band 5 using a limited set of antennas. In the future, the high sensitivity and angular resolution of the full ALMA array will allow us to make detailed studies of water in a wide range of objects including forming and evolved stars, the interstellar medium and regions close to supermassive black holes.”
    Notes

    [1] A key spectral signature of water lies in this expanded range — at a wavelength of 1.64 millimetres.

    [2] The observations were performed and made possible by the ALMA Extension of Capabilities team in Chile.

    [3] The ESO Band 5 Science Verification team includes: Elizabeth Humphreys, Tony Mroczkowski, Robert Laing, Katharina Immer, Hau-Yu (Baobab) Liu, Andy Biggs, Gianni Marconi and Leonardo Testi. The team working on processing the data included: Tobia Carozzi, Simon Casey, Sabine König, Ana Lopez-Sepulcre, Matthias Maercker, Iván Martí-Vidal, Lydia Moser, Sebastien Muller, Anita Richards, Daniel Tafoya and Wouter Vlemmings.

    See the full ESO article here .
    Seethe full CfA article here .
    See the full ALMA article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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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”.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

    NRAO Small

    ESO 50 Large

    NAOJ

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  • richardmitnick 11:22 am on December 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory,   

    From ESO: “3D Map of Distant Galaxies Completed” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    15 December 2016
    Luigi Guzzo
    Dipartimento di Fisica, Università Statale di Milano
    & INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera
    Milano, Italy
    Mobile: +39 366 773 9704
    Email: luigi.guzzo@unimi.it

    Peter Grimley
    ESO Assistant Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6383
    Email: pgrimley@partner.eso.org

    VLT survey shows distribution in space of 90 000 galaxies

    1

    For nearly eight years, the VIsible MultiObject Spectrograph (VIMOS) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile has been piecing together a three-dimensional map of galaxies in two patches of the southern sky. A total of 440 hours of observing time has gone into measuring the spectra of more than 90 000 distant galaxies, producing a map of a 24-square-degree region on the sky, out to a distance corresponding to when the Universe was around half its current age [1].

    ESO VIMOS
    ESO VIMOS

    In 2013, ESO reported that the international team of astronomers behind the VIMOS Public Extragalactic Survey (VIPERS) had collected data for around 60% of their target galaxies. With the full set of observations now completed, this is the largest redshift survey ever undertaken with ESO telescopes [2] and it provides a view of structures in the younger Universe with an unprecedented combination of detail and spatial extent. By surveying how galaxies were distributed in space several billion years ago, astronomers are able to learn more about the distribution of matter on the largest scales in the cosmos, as well as to further probe the effect that the mysterious dark energy had on the young Universe, when it acquired some of the properties we see today.

    Using these unique data, astronomers are already obtaining exciting new results concerning how galaxies have evolved since the Universe was much younger, and how this connects to the details of large-scale structures, such as filaments, clusters and voids. The full set of data from the survey was released to the public in November 2016 and is now available in standard form on the ESO archive.

    Notes

    [1] Light has a finite speed limit, so the more distant an object, the more time it has taken for the light from it to reach us. This means that we see distant objects as they were long in the past.

    [2] The light from each galaxy is spread out into its component colours within the VIMOS instrument. Careful analysis allows astronomers to work out how fast the galaxy is moving away from us — usually expressed as its redshift. This in turn reveals its distance from us and, when combined with its position on the sky, its location in the Universe.
    More information

    The team is composed of astronomers in Italy, France, Poland and the UK. Full details are available on the VIPERS website.

    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 1:10 pm on December 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 57, ESO - European Southern Observatory, the next Director General of ESO, Xavier Barcons   

    From ESO: “Xavier Barcons Appointed as Next ESO Director General” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

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

    1

    The ESO Council has appointed Xavier Barcons, 57, as the next Director General of ESO. He will take up his position on 1 September 2017, when Tim de Zeeuw, the current Director General, completes his mandate.

    On behalf of Council, I am delighted to appoint Xavier Barcons as Tim de Zeeuw’s successor as Director General,” says Patrick Roche, President of ESO Council. “Xavier is ideally placed to lead the further development of the organisation in the next phase of its programme, including the construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope, the most powerful and ambitious telescope of its kind. We thank Tim for his exemplary leadership of ESO through a remarkably successful decade, which has firmly established ESO as the leading astronomical observatory on Earth.”

    Professor Xavier Barcons is Spanish and has had a distinguished career both in the academic world and also as an expert in science policy. He is also well known at ESO after his active and successful term as Council President between 2012 and 2014, a period that included the approval of the E-ELT Programme and the start of Phase 1 of the telescope’s construction. He has also served as an active member and chair of many other ESO committees, most recently being chair of the Observing Programmes Committee.

    Tim de Zeeuw comments: “I am very pleased to hand the baton to Xavier, who I have had the great pleasure of working closely with for many years. The scope of ESO’s programme has expanded a lot and the future looks bright — ALMA is producing fascinating science, the E-ELT is under construction and new projects and Member States are on the horizon. But there are also undoubtedly many challenges to come, and I can’t think of a better captain to steer the ship than Xavier!”

    Xavier Barcons adds: “I feel very honoured to take on the leadership of ESO at this exciting time. During Tim’s leadership the organisation has flourished and grown. I look forward to seeing the E-ELT come to fruition and overseeing the further development of the Very Large Telescope, ALMA and many other projects at ESO. I also look forward to working with ESO’s world-class staff.”

    Xavier Barcons began his career as a physicist and completed his PhD at the University of Cantabria in 1985 on the subject of hot plasmas and the intergalactic medium. This led to an interest in X-ray astronomy and the study of the spectra of distant quasars. After a period working in Cambridge, UK, he returned to Spain and was instrumental in establishing the first X-ray astronomy group in his country. Since 2002 has has been Research Professor at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

    Xavier’s subsequent research has focussed on X-ray astronomy and he has used data from many space observatories, including Einstein, ROSAT and XMM-Newton, as well as arranging many coordinated ground-based observing campaigns at ESO and elsewhere. During the last 15 years he has been promoting a next generation European X-ray observatory, now selected by ESA as the Athena mission. A particular area of scientific interest is the nature of active galactic nuclei in the distant Universe and how observing both from space and the ground can lead to a better understanding of their properties and evolution.

    Xavier Barcons is married and has two children.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    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 2:52 pm on October 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alpha Centauri A, , , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, Gravitational lensing event, The Future of Alpha Centauri   

    From ESO: “The Future of Alpha Centauri” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

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

    Pierre Kervella
    Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile
    Camino El Observatorio 1515
    Las Condes
    Santiago, Chile
    Email: pkervell@das.uchile.cl

    Frédéric Thévenin
    Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur
    Boulevard de l’Observatoire
    Nice, France
    Email: Frederic.Thevenin@oca.eu
    Tel: +33 4 92 00 30 26

    A rare opportunity for planet hunting in Alpha Centauri A predicted for 2028

    1

    A very rare gravitational lensing event, set to occur in 2028, has been predicted by a team of French astronomers led by Pierre Kervella of the CNRS/Universidad de Chile. It will provide an ideal opportunity to look for evidence of a planet around a nearby star.

    Using both new and archive data obtained with a range of ESO telescopes [1], the team has predicted the trajectories of the fast-moving stellar duo known as the Alpha Centauri A and B, with negligible error. That has allowed them to predict every close alignment until 2050 between the Alpha Centauri pair and the stars which lie close to them on the sky — but which are in fact a great deal further away in space [2].

    Whilst it is satisfying to see into the future with such impressive accuracy, that is not the real prize in these results; they provide a unique opportunity for planet hunting in the Alpha Centauri system, by allowing us to search for secondary gravitational lensing events. Gravitational lensing occurs because a massive object, such as a star, warps the very fabric of the space around it. Light — coming from a distant object — that passes close to the star on its way to us follows a curved path through the warped space. The nearer star acts like a lens, bending the light from the distant object. In the most impressive cases, this can generate an Einstein ring, a circle of light around the foreground star. Because the amount of mass in this nearby star determines exactly how the light deflection occurs, deviations from the expected gravitational lensing effect can be used to determine the presence, and the masses, of planets.

    One of the most exciting alignments predicted by this study is between the more massive star in the Alpha Centauri pair, named Alpha Centauri A, and a distant background star — probably a red giant — nicknamed S5. In May 2028, there is a strong chance that the light from S5 will create an Einstein ring around Alpha Centauri A, observable with ESO’s telescopes [3]. This would provide a unique opportunity to look for planetary or low-mass objects in our nearest star system. This is particularly exciting in the light of the recent discovery of the planet Proxima b, which orbits the third star in the same star system, known as Proxima Centauri.

    Notes

    [1] Because of the vast distances involved, measuring the true motions of most stars is extremely difficult and requires incredibly precise measurements and extensive observations. The team of astronomers used data collected in 2007 from the New Technology Telescope (NTT) and new observations from the NACO instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT). This was complemented with data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to obtain high-precision measurement of the relative positions of Alpha Centauri A and B.

    [2] Because of the Alpha Centauri system’s proximity to the plane of the Milky Way, the distant star field is very densely populated; this gave the team a good chance of finding a background star which would almost perfectly align with one of the Alpha Centauri binary pair.

    [3] The event will be observable by the GRAVITY instrument on the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), and the forthcoming European-Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), providing a good chance of ascertaining the mass of any planet to a high degree of accuracy.

    ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.

    More Information

    This research was presented in a paper to appear on 19 October 2016 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics (Kervella et al. 2016, A&A, 594, A107)

    The team is composed of: P. Kervella, CNRS UMI 3386, University of Chile and LESIA, Paris Observatory; F. Mignard, Côte d’Azur Observatory, France; A. Mérand, ESO; and F. Thévenin, Côte d’Azur Observatory, France.

    Links

    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 7:25 am on October 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, , The Milky Way’s Ancient Heart, VISTA telescope   

    From ESO: “The Milky Way’s Ancient Heart” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    12 October 2016
    Dante Minniti
    Universidad Andrés Bello
    Santiago, Chile
    Email: dante@astrofisica.cl

    Rodrigo Contreras Ramos
    Instituto Milenio de Astrofísica
    Santiago, Chile
    Email: rcontrer@astro.puc.cl

    Mathias Jäger
    Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Cell: +49 176 62397500
    Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

    1
    Ancient stars, of a type known as RR Lyrae, have been discovered in the centre of the Milky Way for the first time, using ESO’s infrared VISTA telescope. RR Lyrae stars typically reside in ancient stellar populations over 10 billion years old. Their discovery suggests that the bulging centre of the Milky Way likely grew through the merging of primordial star clusters. These stars may even be the remains of the most massive and oldest surviving star cluster of the entire Milky Way.

    A team led by Dante Minniti (Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile) and Rodrigo Contreras Ramos (Instituto Milenio de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile) used observations from the VISTA infrared survey telescope, as part of the Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) ESO public survey, to carefully search the central part of the Milky Way. By observing infrared light, which is less affected by cosmic dust than visible light, and exploiting the excellent conditions at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, the team was able to get a clearer view of this region than ever before. They found a dozen ancient RR Lyrae stars at the heart of the Milky Way that were previously unknown.

    Our Milky Way has a densely populated centre — a feature common to many galaxies, but unique in that it is close enough to study in depth. This discovery of RR Lyrae stars provides compelling evidence that helps astronomers decide between two main competing theories for how these bulges form.

    RR Lyrae stars are typically found in dense globular clusters. They are variable stars, and the brightness of each RR Lyrae star fluctuates regularly. By observing the length of each cycle of brightening and dimming in an RR Lyrae, and also measuring the star’s brightness, astronomers can calculate its distance [1].

    Unfortunately, these excellent distance-indicator stars are frequently outshone by younger, brighter stars and in some regions they are hidden by dust. Therefore, locating RR Lyrae stars right in the extremely crowded heart of the Milky Way was not possible until the public VVV survey was carried out using infrared light. Even so, the team described the task of locating the RR Lyrae stars in amongst the crowded throng of brighter stars as “daunting”.

    Their hard work was rewarded, however, with the identification of a dozen RR Lyrae stars. Their discovery indicate that remnants of ancient globular clusters are scattered within the centre of the Milky Way’s bulge.

    Rodrigo Contreras Ramos elaborates: “This discovery of RR Lyrae Stars in the centre of the Milky Way has important implications for the formation of galactic nuclei. The evidence supports the scenario in which the bulge was originally made out of a few globular clusters that merged.”

    The theory that galactic bulges form through the merging of globular clusters is contested by the competing hypothesis that these bulges are actually due to the rapid accretion of gas. The unearthing of these RR Lyrae stars — almost always found in globular clusters — is very strong evidence that the Milky Way bulge did in fact form through merging. By extension, all other similar galactic bulges may have formed the same way.

    Not only are these stars powerful evidence for an important theory of galactic evolution, they are also likely to be over 10 billion years old — the dim, but dogged survivors of perhaps the oldest and most massive star cluster within the Milky Way.
    Notes

    [1] RR Lyrae stars, like some other regular variables such as Cepheids, show a simple relationship between how quickly they change in brightness and how luminous they are. Longer periods mean brighter stars. This period-luminosity relationship can be used to deduce the distance of a star from its period of variation and its apparent brightness.
    More information

    This research was presented in a paper to appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    The team is composed of D. Minniti (Instituto Milenio de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile; Departamento de Física, Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile; Vatican Observatory, Vatican City State; Centro de Astrofisica y Tecnologias Afines – CATA), R. Contreras Ramos (Instituto Milenio de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Instituto de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile), M. Zoccali (Instituto Milenio de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Instituto de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile), M. Rejkuba (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany; Excellence Cluster Universe, Garching, Germany), O.A. Gonzalez (UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, UK), E. Valenti (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany), F. Gran (Instituto Milenio de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Instituto de Astrofísica, Santiago, Chile)

    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

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

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  • richardmitnick 9:55 am on October 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO - European Southern Observatory, Messier 78   

    From ESO: “ESO’s Dustbuster Reveals Hidden Stars” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

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

    1
    In this new image of the nebula Messier 78, young stars cast a bluish pall over their surroundings, while red fledgling stars peer out from their cocoons of cosmic dust. To our eyes, most of these stars would be hidden behind the dust, but ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) sees near-infrared light, which passes right through dust. The telescope is like a giant dustbuster that lets astronomers probe deep into the heart of the stellar environment.

    Messier 78, or M78, is a well-studied example of a reflection nebula. It is located approximately 1600 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter), just to the upper left of the three stars that make up the belt of this familiar landmark in the sky.

    Orion Nebula M. Robberto NASA ESA Space Telescope Science Institute Hubble
    Orion Nebula M. Robberto NASA ESA Space Telescope Science Institute Hubble

    In this image, Messier 78 is the central, bluish haze in the centre; the other reflection nebula towards the right goes by the name of NGC 2071. The French astronomer Pierre Méchain is credited with discovering Messier 78 in 1780. However, it is today more commonly known as the 78th entry in French astronomer Charles Messier’s catalogue, added to it in December of 1780.

    When observed with visible light instruments, like ESO’s Wide Field Imager at the La Silla Observatory, Messier 78 appears as a glowing, azure expanse surrounded by dark ribbons (see eso1105).

    ESO WFI LaSilla 2.2-m MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla
    ESO WFI LaSilla 2.2-m MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla

    Cosmic dust reflects and scatters the light streaming from the young, bluish stars in Messier 78’s heart, the reason it is known as a reflection nebula.

    The dark ribbons are thick clouds of dust that block the visible light originating behind them. These dense, cold regions are prime locations for the formation of new stars. When Messier 78 and its neighbours are observed in the submillimetre light between radio waves and infrared light, for example with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, they reveal the glow of dust grains in pockets just barely warmer than their extremely cold surroundings (see eso1219). Eventually new stars will form out of these pockets as gravity causes them to shrink and heat up.

    In between visible and submillimetre light lies the near-infrared part of the spectrum, where the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) provides astronomers with crucial information. Beyond dusty reflections and through thinner portions of obscuring material, the luminous stellar sources within Messier 78 are visible to VISTA’s eyes. In the centre of this image, two blue supergiant stars, called HD 38563A and HD 38563B, shine brightly. Towards the right of the image, the supergiant star illuminating NGC 2071, called HD 290861, is also seen.

    Besides big, blue, hot stars, VISTA can also see many stars that are just forming within the cosmic dust strewn about this region, their reddish and yellow colours shown clearly in this image. These colourful fledgling stars can be found in the dust bands around NGC 2071 and along the trail of dust running towards the left of the image. Some of these are T Tauri stars. Although relatively bright, they are not yet hot enough for nuclear fusion reactions to have commenced in their cores. In several tens of millions of years, they will attain full “starhood”, and will take their place alongside their stellar brethren lighting up the Messier 78 region.

    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

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    E-ELT

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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.
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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 .

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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 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 .

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