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  • richardmitnick 2:32 pm on October 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new cutting-edge spectrographic instrument, , , , Blazars and cataclysmic binaries, Bursts of gravitational waves, , , Gamma Ray Bursts, One-off events like the close passage of newly discovered minor bodies, SOXS Instrument for the NTT at La Silla, SOXS will study transient sources following triggers and alerts from telescopes satellites and detectors worldwide, , Transients are astronomical events that — as the name suggests — are only visible for a short period of time   

    From European Southern Observatory: “ESO’s La Silla Observatory to gain cutting-edge SOXS instrument” 

    ESO 50 Large

    From European Southern Observatory

    8 October 2018

    Hans-Ulrich Käufl
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6414
    Email: hukaufl@eso.org

    Sergio Campana
    INAF – Osservatorio astronomico di Brera
    Via E. Bianchi 46
    Merate (LC) – I-23807, Italy
    Tel: +39 02 72320418
    Email: sergio.campana@brera.inaf.it

    Calum Turner
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: pio@eso.org

    ESO La Silla SOXS instrument for NTT preliminary

    ESO has signed an agreement with an international consortium led by INAF, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, to build and operate a cutting-edge spectrographic instrument known as Son Of X-shooter, SOXS [1]. Work on this innovative instrument’s design has been underway since 2017, meaning that SOXS could be installed at La Silla as early as 2020.

    SOXS will be installed on ESO’s 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) [see below] at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, replacing SOFI, a venerable and highly productive ESO instrument that has been operating for over 20 years.


    Designed as a unique spectroscopic facility, SOXS will study transient sources following triggers and alerts from telescopes, satellites, and detectors worldwide.

    SOXS will provide vital spectroscopic follow-up observations to many transient surveys, and is poised to become the foremost transient follow-up instrument in the Southern hemisphere. The novel, highly specialized design of the instrument will ensure that it will have almost the same sensitivity as its progenitor, X-shooter, despite being installed on a much smaller telescope.

    ESO X-shooter on VLT on UT2 at Cerro Paranal, Chile

    Transients are astronomical events that — as the name suggests — are only visible for a short period of time. This includes some of the most fascinating astrophysical phenomena, such as supernovae and bursts of gravitational waves. It is critical that these triggers are followed up within hours, if not minutes, by dedicated spectroscopic facilities such as SOXS. Transients are being discovered at an impressive rate that will only be increased by future survey telescopes, making the combination of SOXS and the NTT a much-needed astronomical tool for capturing these fleeting events in wavelengths ranging from ultraviolet to the near-infrared.

    From its new home on the NTT at the La Silla Observatory, SOXS will follow up a variety of astronomical transients at all distance scales and from all branches of astronomy. Its targets will include fast alerts from space telescopes (such as gamma-ray bursts) or gravitational wave detectors, mid-term alerts (such as supernovae and X-ray transients), long-term monitoring of variable sources (such as blazars, and cataclysmic binaries), transit spectroscopy of extrasolar planets or one-off events like the close passage of newly discovered minor bodies. As well as its impressive ability to study transients, SOXS will also be able to carry out routine observations of objects which are simply too bright for other instruments like X-shooter to observe.

    SOXS is expected to see first light in 2020 and to start operating in 2021. The contract foresees 5 years of operation with a possible extension of another 5 years.

    [1] SOXS (Son of X-shooter) is a development of the X-Shooter instrument installed on the VLT. The SOXS consortium consists of: INAF (Italy), the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), Universidad Andrés Bello & Millennium Institute of Astrophysics (Chile), University of Turku & FINCA (Finland), Queen’s University Belfast (UK), Tel Aviv University (Israel), and the Niels Bohr Institute (Denmark).

    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 EEuropean Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO La Silla HELIOS (HARPS Experiment for Light Integrated Over the Sun)

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at Cerro LaSilla, Chile, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    ESO/Cerro LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    ESO VLT Platform at Cerro Paranal elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft)

    ESO VLT 4 lasers on Yepun

    Glistening against the awesome backdrop of the night sky above ESO_s Paranal Observatory, four laser beams project out into the darkness from Unit Telescope 4 UT4 of the VLT.

    ESO/NTT at Cerro La Silla, Chile, at an altitude of 2400 metres

    ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

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

    ESO/APEX high on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, at an altitude of over 4,800 m (15,700 ft)

    Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO ExTrA telescopes at Cerro LaSilla at an altitude of 2400 metres

  • richardmitnick 2:51 pm on February 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , BurstCube, , , , Gamma Ray Bursts, ,   

    From Goddard: “NASA Technology to Help Locate Electromagnetic Counterparts of Gravitational Waves” 

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    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Feb. 6, 2018
    By Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Principal Investigator Jeremy Perkins and his co-investigator, Georgia de Nolfo, recently won funding to build a new CubeSat mission, called BurstCube. Respectively, Perkins and de Nolfo hold a crystal, or scintillator, and silicon photomultiplier array technology that will be used to detect and localize gamma-ray bursts for gravitational-wave science. The photomultiplier array shown here specifically was developed for another CubeSat mission called TRYAD, which will investigate gamma-ray bursts in high-altitude lightning clouds.
    Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    A compact detector technology applicable to all types of cross-disciplinary scientific investigations has found a home on a new CubeSat mission designed to find the electromagnetic counterparts of events that generate gravitational waves.

    NASA scientist Georgia de Nolfo and her collaborator, astrophysicist Jeremy Perkins, recently received funding from the agency’s Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program to develop a CubeSat mission called BurstCube. This mission, which will carry the compact sensor technology that de Nolfo developed, will detect and localize gamma-ray bursts caused by the collapse of massive stars and mergers of orbiting neutron stars. It also will detect solar flares and other high-energy transients once it’s deployed into low-Earth orbit in the early 2020s.

    The cataclysmic deaths of massive stars and mergers of neutron stars are of special interest to scientists because they produce gravitational waves — literally, ripples in the fabric of space-time that radiate out in all directions, much like what happens when a stone is thrown into a pond.

    Since the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, confirmed their existence a couple years ago, LIGO and the European Virgo detectors have detected other events, including the first-ever detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars announced in October 2017.

    Less than two seconds after LIGO detected the waves washing over Earth’s space-time, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected a weak burst of high-energy light — the first burst to be unambiguously connected to a gravitational-wave source.

    These detections have opened a new window on the universe, giving scientists a more complete view of these events that complements knowledge obtained through traditional observational techniques, which rely on detecting electromagnetic radiation — light — in all its forms.

    Complementary Capability

    Perkins and de Nolfo, both scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, see BurstCube as a companion to Fermi in this search for gravitational-wave sources. Though not as capable as the much larger Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, or GBM, on Fermi, BurstCube will increase coverage of the sky. Fermi-GBM observes the entire sky not blocked by the Earth. “But what happens if an event occurs and Fermi is on the other side of Earth, which is blocking its view,” Perkins said. “Fermi won’t see the burst.”

    BurstCube, which is expected to launch around the time additional ground-based LIGO-type observatories begin operations, will assist in detecting these fleeting, hard-to-capture high-energy photons and help determine where they originated. In addition to quickly reporting their locations to the ground so that other telescopes can find the event in other wavelengths and home in on its host galaxy, BurstCube’s other job is to study the sources themselves.

    Miniaturized Technology

    BurstCube will use the same detector technology as Fermi’s GBM; however, with important differences.

    Under the concept de Nolfo has advanced through Goddard’s Internal Research and Development program funding, the team will position four blocks of cesium-iodide crystals, operating as scintillators, in different orientations within the spacecraft. When an incoming gamma ray strikes one of the crystals, it will absorb the energy and luminesce, converting that energy into optical light.

    Four arrays of silicon photomultipliers and their associated read-out devices each sit behind the four crystals. The photomultipliers convert the light into an electrical pulse and then amplify this signal by creating an avalanche of electrons. This multiplying effect makes the detector far more sensitive to this faint and fleeting gamma rays.

    Unlike the photomultipliers on Fermi’s GBM, which are bulky and resemble old-fashioned television tubes, de Nolfo’s devices are made of silicon, a semiconductor material. “Compared with more conventional photomultiplier tubes, silicon photomultipliers significantly reduce mass, volume, power and cost,” Perkins said. “The combination of the crystals and new readout devices makes it possible to consider a compact, low-power instrument that is readily deployable on a CubeSat platform.”

    In another success for Goddard technology, the BurstCube team also has baselined the Dellingr 6U CubeSat bus that a small team of center scientists and engineers developed to show that CubeSat platforms could be more reliable and capable of gathering highly robust scientific data.

    “This is high-demand technology,” de Nolfo said. “There are applications everywhere.”

    For other Goddard technology news, go to https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/winter_2018_final_lowrez.pdf

    See the full article here.

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    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 1:58 pm on January 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Gamma Ray Bursts, , , , , , ,   

    From QUB via The Conversation: “How we created a mini ‘gamma ray burst’ in the lab for the first time” 

    QUB bloc

    Queens University Belfast (QUB)

    The Conversation

    January 15, 2018

    Gamma ray bursts, intense explosions of light, are the brightest events ever observed in the universe – lasting no longer than seconds or minutes. Some are so luminous that they can be observed with the naked eye, such as the burst “GRB 080319B” discovered by NASA’s Swift GRB Explorer mission on March 19, 2008.

    NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

    But despite the fact that they are so intense, scientists don’t really know what causes gamma ray bursts. There are even people who believe some of them might be messages sent from advanced alien civilisations. Now we have for the first time managed to recreate a mini version of a gamma ray burst in the laboratory – opening up a whole new way to investigate their properties. Our research is published in Physical Review Letters.

    One idea for the origin of gamma ray bursts [Science] is that they are somehow emitted during the emission of jets of particles released by massive astrophysical objects, such as black holes. This makes gamma ray bursts extremely interesting to astrophysicists – their detailed study can unveil some key properties of the black holes they originate from.

    The beams released by the black holes would be mostly composed of electrons and their “antimatter” companions, the positrons – all particle have antimatter counterparts that are exactly identical to themselves, only with opposite charge. These beams must have strong, self-generated magnetic fields. The rotation of these particles around the fields give off powerful bursts of gamma ray radiation. Or, at least, this is what our theories predict [MNRAS]. But we don’t actually know how the fields would be generated.

    Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems in studying these bursts. Not only do they last for short periods of time but, most problematically, they are originated in distant galaxies, sometimes even billion light years from Earth (imagine a one followed by 25 zeroes – this is basically what one billion light years is in metres).

    That means you rely on looking at something unbelievably far away that happens at random, and lasts only for few seconds. It is a bit like understanding what a candle is made of, by only having glimpses of candles being lit up from time to time thousands of kilometres from you.

    World’s most powerful laser

    It has been recently proposed that the best way to work out how gamma ray bursts are produced would be by mimicking them in small-scale reproductions in the laboratory – reproducing a little source of these electron-positron beams and look at how they evolve when left on their own. Our group and our collaborators from the US, France, UK, and Sweden, recently succeeded in creating the first small-scale replica of this phenomenon by using one of the most intense lasers on Earth, the Gemini laser, hosted by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

    The Gemini laser, hosted by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

    How intense is the most intense laser on Earth? Take all the solar power that hits the whole Earth and squeeze it into a few microns (basically the thickness of a human hair) and you have got the intensity of a typical laser shot in Gemini. Shooting this laser onto a complex target, we were able to release ultra-fast and dense copies of these astrophysical jets and make ultra-fast movies of how they behave. The scaling down of these experiments is dramatic: take a real jet that extends even for thousands of light years and compress it down to a few millimetres.

    In our experiment, we were able to observe, for the first time, some of the key phenomena that play a major role in the generation of gamma ray bursts, such as the self-generation of magnetic fields that lasted for a long time. These were able to confirm some major theoretical predictions of the strength and distribution of these fields. In short, our experiment independently confirms that the models currently used to understand gamma ray bursts are on the right track.

    The experiment is not only important for studying gamma ray bursts. Matter made only of electrons and positrons is an extremely peculiar state of matter. Normal matter on Earth is predominantly made of atoms: a heavy positive nucleus surrounded by clouds of light and negative electrons.

    Artist impression of gamma ray burst. NASA [no additional credit for which facility or which artist].

    Due to the incredible difference in weight between these two components (the lightest nucleus weighs 1836 times the electron) almost all the phenomena we experience in our everyday life comes from the dynamics of electrons, which are much quicker in responding to any external input (light, other particles, magnetic fields, you name it) than nuclei. But in an electron-positron beam, both particles have exactly the same mass, meaning that this disparity in reaction times is completely obliterated. This brings to a quantity of fascinating consequences. For example, sound would not exist in an electron-positron world.

    So far so good, but why should we care so much about events that are so distant? There are multiple reasons indeed. First, understanding how gamma ray bursts are formed will allow us to understand a lot more about black holes and thus open a big window on how our universe was born and how it will evolve.

    But there is a more subtle reason. SETI – Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence – looks for messages from alien civilisations by trying to capture electromagnetic signals from space that cannot be explained naturally (it focuses mainly on radio waves, but gamma ray bursts are associated with such radiation too).

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    U Manchester Jodrell Bank Lovell Telescope

    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    Of course, if you put your detector to look for emissions from space, you do get an awful lot of different signals. If you really want to isolate intelligent transmissions, you first need to make sure all the natural emissions are perfectly known so that they can excluded. Our study helps towards understanding black hole and pulsar emissions, so that, whenever we detect anything similar, we know that it is not coming from an alien civilisation.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:56 pm on March 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gamma Ray Bursts,   

    From phys.org: “Death by gamma-ray bursts may place first lower bound on the cosmological constant” 


    March 7, 2016
    Lisa Zyga

    Gamma ray burst artist depiction Credit NASA Swift Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones
    Artists’ depiction of a gamma-ray burst. Credit NASA/Swift Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones

    Sometimes when a star collapses into a supernova, it releases an intense, narrow beam of gamma rays. Gamma-ray bursts often last just a few seconds, but during that time they can release as much energy as the Sun will produce in its entire lifetime, making gamma-ray bursts the most powerful explosions ever observed in the universe. They are so intense that, if pointed at the Earth from even the most distant edge of our galaxy, they could easily cause a mass extinction, possibly obliterating all life on the planet. It’s thought that a gamma-ray burst may have caused the Ordovician extinction around 440 million years ago, which wiped out 85% of all species at the time.

    Clearly, the farther away a planet is from gamma-ray bursts, the better its chances of harboring advanced forms of life. In a new paper, scientists have shown that the gamma-ray burst risk to life favors a universe where all objects (like planets and gamma-ray bursts) are relatively far apart. And the main factor that tells how far apart everything is in the universe—or in other words, how things are spreading out and moving away from each other—is dark energy or the cosmological constant.

    One of the biggest unanswered questions in cosmology is why does the cosmological constant have the particular value that scientists observe? Einstein initially devised the cosmological constant to be like an “anti-gravity” force, so that a larger value means that the universe is expanding very rapidly and objects are being pushed farther apart from each other. A smaller value means that the universe itself is smaller and objects are somewhat closer together.

    Currently, the value of the cosmological constant is estimated to be about 10^-123. Researchers have placed upper bounds on this value (it can’t be more than 10^-120 or else galaxies and other structures could not form because their matter could not have gotten close enough together). But so far, no research has been able to place a lower bound on the value.

    By showing that the chances of advanced life existing is extremely small when planets are close to gamma-ray bursts, the new study makes an argument for placing the first lower bounds on the value of the cosmological constant. The scientists estimate that, when the value gets below 10^-124, the number of protective “halos” of space (regions where planets stand a chance of avoiding gamma-ray bursts for long periods of time) sharply decreases. In other words, it would be pretty unlikely for humans to exist if the value were smaller than this number.

    “We have found a lower limit on the cosmological constant,” coauthor Tsvi Piran at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem told Phys.org. “As you know it is very small, 10^-123. If it is so small, then why not zero? Zero is a ’round’ number and one can look for a basic law of physics that will force the cosmological constant to vanish. Additionally, why not a negative value?”

    By showing that the cosmological constant is very unlikely to be zero or negative, and much more likely to be close to its observed value, the results may help explain where this value comes from.

    “This is important as it gives clues to the question of what is the origin of this constant,” Piran said. “It is generally believed that the value of the cosmological constant is determined by some quantum process, and understanding its relevant range is important to have a clue on its origin.”

    The full analysis is more complicated, as the researchers had to account for other factors, such as the age of the universe—it can’t be too young nor too old for advanced life. It can’t be too old because planets need to orbit around a hydrogen-burning star like our Sun, which is young enough that it has not yet reached the end of its lifetime. But the universe also can’t be too young because a galaxy (where protective halos reside) must have time to undergo chemical evolution to produce metal elements. A high metallicity decreases the odds of having a nearby gamma-ray burst, since the stars that cause these bursts have relatively low metal concentrations.

    It’s not surprising that Earth seems to occupy a favorable point in the researchers’ simulations: a place with minimal exposure to gamma-ray bursts, and at a time with many hydrogen-burning stars like the Sun, along with a high average metallicity. This special place and time may help researchers search for other possible locations of life in the universe.

    “We would like to further refine this limit and extend the range of parameters (beyond just the cosmological constant) that influence the rate of gamma-ray bursts, and investigate their implications for the possible locations of planets that can harbor life,” Piran said.

    See the full article here .

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    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 9:59 pm on February 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From CfA: “LIGO’s Twin Black Holes Might Have Been Born Inside a Single Star” 

    Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    Center For Astrophysics

    February 23, 2016
    Christine Pulliam
    Media Relations Manager
    Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    Black holes merging Astronomy.com
    An artist’s impression of two black holes orbiting each other, generating gravitational waves. Swinburne Astronomy Productions

    On September 14, 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes 29 and 36 times the mass of the Sun.

    Caltech Ligo
    MIT/Caltech Advanced aLIGO

    Such an event is expected to be dark, but the Fermi Space Telescope detected a gamma-ray burst just a fraction of a second after LIGO’s signal. New research suggests that the two black holes might have resided inside a single, massive star whose death generated the gamma-ray burst.

    NASA Fermi Telescope

    “It’s the cosmic equivalent of a pregnant woman carrying twins inside her belly,” says Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

    Normally, when a massive star reaches the end of its life, its core collapses into a single black hole. But if the star was spinning very rapidly, its core might stretch into a dumbbell shape and fragment into two clumps, each forming its own black hole.

    A very massive star as needed here often forms out of the merger of two smaller stars. And since the stars would have revolved around each other faster and faster as they spiraled together, the resulting merged star would be expected to spin very quickly.

    After the black hole pair formed, the star’s outer envelope rushed inward toward them. In order to power both the gravitational wave event and the gamma-ray burst, the twin black holes must have been born close together, with an initial separation of order the size of the Earth, and merged within minutes.

    Cornell SXS teamTwo merging black holes simulation
    Merging black holes. Cornell SxS team

    The newly formed single black hole then fed on the infalling matter, consuming up to a Sun’s worth of material every second and powering jets of matter that blasted outward to create the burst.

    Fermi detected the burst just 0.4 seconds after LIGO detected gravitational waves, and from the same general area of the sky. However, the [ESA] INTEGRAL gamma-ray satellite did not confirm the signal.

    ESA Integral

    “Even if the Fermi detection is a false alarm, future LIGO events should be monitored for accompanying light irrespective of whether they originate from black hole mergers. Nature can always surprise us,” says Loeb.

    If more gamma-ray bursts are detected from gravitational wave events, they will offer a promising new method of measuring cosmic distances and the expansion of the universe. By spotting the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst and measuring its redshift, then comparing it to the independent distance measurement from LIGO, astronomers can precisely constrain the cosmological parameters. “Astrophysical black holes are much simpler than other distance indicators, such as supernovae, since they are fully defined just by their mass and spin,” says Loeb.

    “This is an agenda-setting paper that will likely stimulate vigorous follow-up work, in the crucial period after the initial LIGO discovery, where the challenge is to fathom its full implications. If history is any guide, the ‘multi-messenger’ approach advocated by Loeb, using both gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation, again promises deeper insight into the physical nature of the remarkable LIGO source,” says Volker Bromm of the University of Texas at Austin, commenting independently.

    This research has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available online.

    See the full article here .

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    The Center for Astrophysics combines the resources and research facilities of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a single director to pursue studies of those basic physical processes that determine the nature and evolution of the universe. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1890. The Harvard College Observatory (HCO), founded in 1839, is a research institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, and provides facilities and substantial other support for teaching activities of the Department of Astronomy.

  • richardmitnick 8:18 am on November 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Gamma Ray Bursts,   

    From NASA Swift: “NASA’s Swift Spots its Thousandth Gamma-ray Burst” 

    NASA Swift Banner

    NASA SWIFT Telescope

    NASA Swift

    Nov. 6, 2015
    Francis Reddy
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    GRB 151027B, Swift’s 1,000th burst (center), is shown in this composite X-ray, ultraviolet and optical image. X-rays were captured by Swift’s X-Ray Telescope, which began observing the field 3.4 minutes after the Burst Alert Telescope detected the blast. Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) began observations seven seconds later and faintly detected the burst in visible light. The image includes X-rays with energies from 300 to 6,000 electron volts, primarily from the burst, and lower-energy light seen through the UVOT’s visible, blue and ultraviolet filters (shown, respectively, in red, green and blue). The image has a cumulative exposure of 10.4 hours. Credits: NASA/Swift/Phil Evans, Univ. of Leicester

    NASA’s Swift spacecraft has detected its 1,000th gamma-ray burst (GRB). GRBs are the most powerful explosions in the universe, typically associated with the collapse of a massive star and the birth of a black hole.

    “Detecting GRBs is Swift’s bread and butter, and we’re now at 1,000 and counting,” said Neil Gehrels, the Swift principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The spacecraft remains in great shape after nearly 11 years in space, and we expect to see many more GRBs to come.”

    A GRB is a fleeting blast of high-energy light, often lasting a minute or less, occurring somewhere in the sky every couple of days. Scientists are looking for exceptional bursts that offer the deepest insights into the extreme physical processes at work.

    This illustration shows the ingredients of the most common type of gamma-ray burst. The core of a massive star (left) has collapsed, forming a black hole that sends a jet moving through the collapsing star and out into space at near the speed of light. Radiation across the spectrum arises from hot ionized gas in the vicinity of the newborn black hole, collisions among shells of fast-moving gas within the jet, and from the leading edge of the jet as it sweeps up and interacts with its surroundings. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Shortly before 6:41 p.m. EDT on Oct. 27, Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope detected the 1,000th GRB as a sudden pulse of gamma rays arising from a location toward the constellation Eridanus. Astronomers dubbed the event GRB 151027B, after the detection date and the fact that it was the second burst of the day. Swift automatically determined its location, broadcast the position to astronomers around the world, and turned to investigate the source with its own sensitive X-ray, ultraviolet and optical telescopes.

    Astronomers classify GRBs by their duration. Like GRB 151027B, roughly 90 percent of bursts are of the “long” variety, where the gamma-ray pulse lasts more than two seconds. They are believed to occur in a massive star whose core has run out of fuel and collapsed into a black hole. As matter falls toward the newly formed black hole, it launches jets of subatomic particles that move out through the star’s outer layers at nearly the speed of light. When the particle jets reach the stellar surface, they emit gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. In many cases, the star is later seen to explode as a supernova.

    “Short” bursts last less than two seconds — and sometimes just thousandths of a second. Swift observations provide strong evidence these events are caused by mergers of orbiting neutron stars or black holes.

    Once a GRB is identified, the race is on to observe its fading light with as many instruments as possible. Based on alerts from Swift, robotic observatories and human-operated telescopes turn to the blast site to measure its rapidly fading afterglow, which emits X-rays, ultraviolet, visible and infrared light, and radio waves. While optical afterglows are generally faint, they can briefly become bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye.

    “Over the years, astronomers have constantly refined their techniques to get their telescopes onto the burst site in the shortest possible time,” said John Nousek, Swift’s director of mission operations and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. “In fact, the process to follow up Swift GRB alerts is as productive as ever.”

    GRB 151027B provides a perfect example. Five hours after the Swift alert, the burst location first became visible from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Paranal, Chile. There a team led by Dong Xu of the Chinese National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing captured the afterglow’s visible light using the Very Large Telescope’s X-shooter spectrograph. The ESO observations show that light from the burst had been traveling to us for more than 12 billion years, placing it in the most distant few percent of GRBs Swift has recorded.

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    ESO X-shooter
    Very Large Telescope’s X-shooter spectrograph

    Astronomers now have distance measurements for about 30 percent of Swift GRBs, which makes it possible to investigate how these powerful events are distributed across space and time. The distance record is held by GRB 090429B, which exploded at the dawn of star formation in the universe. Its light took more than 13 billion years to reach Earth.

    See the full article here .

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    The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission consists of a robotic spacecraft called Swift, which was launched into orbit on November 20, 2004, at 17:16:00 UTC on a Delta II 7320-10C expendable launch vehicle. Swift is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. It is part of NASA’s Medium Explorer Program (MIDEX).

  • richardmitnick 8:15 am on October 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Blueshift: “Back to School with GRB 101” 

    NASA Blueshift
    NASA Blueshift

    October 30, 2015
    Barb Mattson

    Up until a few years ago, gamma-ray bursts (or GRBs, for short) were arguably the biggest mystery in high-energy astronomy. Basically, gamma-ray bursts are brief, extremely bright bursts of gamma-rays (as the name implies). They appeared at random across the sky. But what are they? What causes that burst? And what can we learn from them?

    I find it hard to talk about gamma-ray bursts without going into the history, because it’s such a recently solved mystery. The mystery is so recent that I had a professor in grad school who mused that watching gamma-ray burst scientists was a bit like watching 6-year-olds play soccer. Just as the 6-year-olds run in a clump following the ball from one side of the field to another, the scientists would follow each new piece of evidence, which took them in a new direction.

    I’ll keep the history to a minimum, but you can read more on the Swift education site. Gamma-ray bursts were first discovered by the Vela satellites in the late 1960s. The primary job of the Vela satellites was to monitor the sky for gamma rays from Earth, which would be evidence of a nation testing nuclear weapons. The satellites started seeing bursts of gamma-rays, but they were instantly recognizable as coming from beyond Earth. Since those events weren’t Vela’s primary mission, the data for those bursts results sat in someone’s desk drawer for years until he had time to look back at them.

    The Vela 5 satellites in the cleanroom. These were the first satellites to detect gamma-ray bursts. Image courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    The biggest challenge of studying GRBs is that the burst of gamma-rays lasts for only a few seconds up to a couple minutes before disappearing completely. Early on, it was difficult to tell exactly where in the sky they were. In part, because they happened so quickly, but also because we needed better gamma-ray detectors. Before there was a single gamma-ray detector that could localize a GRB, astronomers used a variety of detectors with poor localization, but widely separated. Doing that, they could triangulate positions. The more detectors, the better they could localize the GRB.

    The next challenge was figuring out where the GRBs originated. Were they part of our galaxy? Or did they come from much further away? These were very bright bursts for a very short amount of time — putting out more energy than our entire sun will emit in its lifetime, but in just a few seconds! And at first, scientists couldn’t image that these powerful explosions could be from outside our galaxy. Such a bright burst would have to be come from extraordinary explosions to be seen that far away.

    GRBs appear randomly across the sky as this all-sky map of the locations of over 2700 bursts detected by the BATSE instrument aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory shows. Credit: NASA

    In 1997 when a satellite called BeppoSAX detected the first X-ray “afterglow” from a gamma-ray burst.

    BeppoSAX satellite

    Afterglow is emission that lingers after the initial burst of gamma-rays. For the first time, astronomers were able to study a burst site after the GRB faded AND, even better, they could take a spectrum of the X-ray emission to find the distance. It turns out GRBs are distant. Very distant. Gamma-ray bursts are one of the most distant things we can detect.

    Since then, gamma-ray burst observations have focused on seeing the afterglow as soon as possible. It can be seen in X-ray, optical, ultraviolet, and radio wavelengths. Based on these observations, it started to become clear that most GRBs are associated with supernova explosions. Not all supernovae explosions create GRBs, and understanding the conditions that create a GRB are part of current research.

    In the most common type of gamma-ray burst, illustrated here, a dying massive star forms a black hole (left), which drives a particle jet into space. Light across the spectrum arises from hot gas near the black hole, collisions within the jet, and from the jet’s interaction with its surroundings. Credit: NASA

    Our division at Goddard has two of the premiere satellites that are currently used for the study of GRBs – Swift and Fermi – so Blueshift has talked about GRBs a few times in the past.

    NASA SWIFT Telescope

    NASA Fermi Telescope

    Blueshift interviewed the Principal Investigator of the Swift mission on the occasion of its 10th anniversary
    Blueshift talks about the other type of gamma-ray burst in their Awesomeness Round-up from April 11, 2011
    Listen to the podcast “We’re Back” to learn more about how Fermi studies GRBs
    Listen to the podcast “Life and Death” to hear about how Swift helped solve the mystery of GRBs

    See the full article here .

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    Blueshift is produced by a team of contributors in the Astrophysics Science Division at Goddard. Started in 2007, Blueshift came from our desire to make the fascinating stuff going on here every day accessible to the outside world.

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  • richardmitnick 2:55 pm on September 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAS NOVA: ” Collapsing Enormous Stars” 


    Amercan Astronomical Society

    23 September 2015
    Susanna Kohler

    A scene from a computer animation of a star collapsing to form a gamma-ray burst. A recent study suggests such events could happen on a much larger scale in the distant universe. [NASA / SkyWorks Digital]

    One of the big puzzles in astrophysics is how supermassive black holes (SMBHs) managed to grow to the large sizes we’ve observed in the very early universe. In a recent study, a team of researchers examines the possibility that they were formed by the direct collapse of supermassive stars.

    Formation Mystery

    SMBHs billions of times as massive as the Sun have been observed at a time when the universe was less than a billion years old. But that’s not enough time for a stellar-mass black hole to grow to SMBH-size by accreting material — so another theory is needed to explain the presence of these monsters so early in the universe’s history. A new study, led by Tatsuya Matsumoto (Kyoto University, Japan), poses the following question: what if supermassive stars in the early universe collapsed directly into black holes?

    Previous studies of star formation in the early universe have suggested that, in the hot environment of these primordial times, stars might have been able to build up mass much faster than they can today. This could result in early supermassive stars roughly 100,000 times more massive than the Sun. But if these early stars end their lives by collapsing to become massive black holes — in the same way that we believe massive stars can collapse to form stellar-mass black holes today — this should result in enormously violent explosions. Matusmoto and collaborators set out to model this process, to determine what we would expect to see when it happens!

    Energetic Bursts

    The authors modeled the supermassive stars prior to collapse and then calculated whether a jet, created as the black hole grows at the center of the collapsing star, would be able to punch out of the stellar envelope. They demonstrated that the process would work much like the widely-accepted collapsar model of massive-star death, in which a jet successfully punches out of a collapsing star, violently releasing energy in the form of a long gamma-ray burst (GRB).

    Because the length of a long GRB is thought to be proportional to the free-fall timescale of the collapsing star, the collapse of these supermassive stars would create much longer GRBs than are typical of massive stars today. Instead of the typical long-GRB length of ~30 seconds, these ultra-long GRBs would be 104–106 seconds.

    Interestingly, we have already detected a small number of ultralong GRBs; they make up the tail end of the long GRB duration distribution. Could these detections be signals of collapsing supermassive stars in the early universe? According to the authors’ estimates, we could optimistically expect to detect roughly one of these events per year — so it’s entirely possible!

    Tatsuya Matsumoto et al 2015 ApJ 810 64. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/810/1/64

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:35 pm on September 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gamma Ray Bursts   

    From CfA: “Shocks in a Distant Gamma-Ray Burst” 

    Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
    Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

    September 11, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    Gamma ray bursts (GRBs)–flashes of high-energy light occur about once a day, randomly, from around the sky–are the brightest events in the known universe. While a burst is underway, it is many millions of times brighter than an entire galaxy. Astronomers are anxious to decipher their nature not only because of their dramatic energetics, but also because their tremendous brightness enables them to be seen across cosmological distances and times, providing windows into the young universe.

    This all-sky map shows the locations of Swift’s 500 gamma-ray bursts, color coded by the year in which they occurred. In the background, an infrared image shows the location of our galaxy and its largest satellites. Credit: NASA/Swift/Francis Reddy

    NASA SWIFT Telescope

    There appear to be two general types of GRBs: those associated with the deaths of massive stars, and ones believed to originate from the coalescence of two extreme objects (neutron stars or black holes) that had been orbiting each other in a binary system. In general the two types can be distinguished by the lengths of their bursts, the former lasting longer than a few seconds, while the latter are briefer. Astronomers think that, despite the differences, both kinds of GRBs have hot discs accreting material leading to the production of bipolar jets of charged particles moving at relativistic speeds. In the standard model, shocks internal to the fireball produce the gamma-rays in the first (longer duration) case, while shocks from the jets’ interactions with the external medium produce the initial burst of gamma-rays in the second case. Many details are similar in both scenarios, however, while some others vary according to the type, and astronomers have been trying to constrain these various parameters so that they can trace the origin of each GRB more precisely.

    CfA astronomer Raffaella Margutti and her colleagues used several ground-based telescopes to follow-up a GRB event that went off in June of 2014, examining the afterglow from about three days after the detection to about one hundred and twenty days later. They conclude that the burst is associated with a massive star’s death (a supernova), but find that some of its emission apparently results from shocks external to the fireball as are seen in the less luminous class of GRBs. The results are consistent with the predictions of supernova modeling, but the fact that this object spans both classes highlights the complexity of the sometimes-overlapping physical processes at work and the importance of observations at multiple wavelengths.

    “GRB 140606B/iPTF14bfu: Detection of Shock-Breakout Emission from a Cosmological γ-Ray Burst,” Zach Cano, A. de Ugarte Postigo, D. Perley, T. Kruhler, R. Margutti, M. Friis, D. Malesani, P. Jakobsson, J. P. U. Fynbo, J. Gorosabel, J. Hjorth, R. Sanchez-Ramırez, S. Schulze, N. R. Tanvir, C. C. Thone, and D. Xu, MNRAS 452, 1535, 2015.

    See the full article here .

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    About CfA

    The Center for Astrophysics combines the resources and research facilities of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a single director to pursue studies of those basic physical processes that determine the nature and evolution of the universe. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1890. The Harvard College Observatory (HCO), founded in 1839, is a research institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, and provides facilities and substantial other support for teaching activities of the Department of Astronomy. The long relationship between the two organizations, which began when the SAO moved its headquarters to Cambridge in 1955, was formalized by the establishment of a joint center in 1973. The CfA’s history of accomplishments in astronomy and astrophysics is reflected in a wide range of awards and prizes received by individual CfA scientists.

    Today, some 300 Smithsonian and Harvard scientists cooperate in broad programs of astrophysical research supported by Federal appropriations and University funds as well as contracts and grants from government agencies. These scientific investigations, touching on almost all major topics in astronomy, are organized into the following divisions, scientific departments and service groups.

  • richardmitnick 9:56 am on September 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gamma Ray Bursts,   

    From phys.org: “Surprising giant ring-like structure in the universe” 


    September 7, 2015
    Tomasz Nowakowski

    An image of the distribution of GRBs on the sky at a distance of 7 billion light years, centred on the newly discovered ring. The positions of the GRBs are marked by blue dots and the Milky Way is indicated for reference, running from left to right across the image. Credit: L. Balazs.

    Five billion light years is a distance almost inconceivable, even on a cosmic scale. To better illustrate the extent of this physical quantity, it’s enough to say that 35,000 galaxies the size of our Milky Way are needed to cover that distance. Thanks to a surprising discovery made by a Hungarian-U.S. team of astronomers, now we know that a structure this big really exists in the observable universe.

    The researchers found a ring of nine gamma ray bursts (GRBs)—the most luminous events in the universe—about 5 billion light years in diameter, and having a nearly regular circular shape, noting that there is a one in 20,000 probability of the GRBs being in this distribution by chance. They published their findings on July 27 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Lajos Balazs of Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary who led the team of astronomers, cannot hide how surprise he was when a feature so large was discovered.

    “Until now GRBs are the only objects for which we know the spatial distribution in the whole observable universe. All other objects are complete only in a restricted part of the sky. Our discovery has revealed a large-scale regular feature not known before. Large scale objects like GRB groups have been known already, but such a regular circular structure was a surprise,” Balazs told Phys.org.

    The newly-found ring-shaped feature is large enough to contradict the cosmological principle (CP), which sets a theoretical limit of 1.2 billion light years for the largest structures. The researchers assume that the ring could be a projection of a spheroidal structure and we see it nearly face-on because of the small variations of GRB distances around the object’s center.

    Although they claim to have found evidence for a regular structure, the apparent shape of this ring is based only on a visual impression.

    The astronomers conclude that the ring is probably not a real physical structure. But further studies are needed to reveal whether or not the structure could have been produced by a low-frequency spatial harmonic of the large-scale matter density distribution or of universal star-forming activity.

    “It would be important to increase the number of GRBs with known redshift, consequently with known distances, and to study the distribution of galaxies potentially hosting GRBs in more detail,” Balazs said.

    GRBs are the brightest electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe. They release as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun does over its 10-billion-year lifetime. GRBs are believed to be the result of massive stars collapsing into black holes. But the problem of forming GRBs is still not completely settled.

    “According to the widely accepted view, the GRBs have two basic types. The short duration ones, less than a couple of seconds, are formed by two coalescing neutron stars, while the longer ones resulted in collapsing stars of 20 to 40 solar masses,” Balazs revealed.

    The majority of the observed GRBs are resulted in collapsing high-mass stars. GRBs are very rare transient phenomena. Consequently, the observed spatial distribution is a serious under-sampling of the space distribution of galaxies in general. Furthermore, the high-mass stars have short lifetimes; thus, GRBs prefer those galaxy hosts having considerable star-forming activity.

    The known number of GRBs now exceeds a couple of thousand and is steadily increasing with ongoing observations.

    See the full article here .

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

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