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  • richardmitnick 8:47 am on October 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: LSST, Maximizing Science in the Era of LSST: Study Report Posted,   

    From NOAO: “Maximizing Science in the Era of LSST: Study Report Posted” 

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    The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be a discovery machine for the astronomy and physics communities, revealing astrophysical phenomena from the Solar System to the outer reaches of the observable Universe.

    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC

    LSST Interior
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile

    While many discoveries will be made using LSST data alone, taking full scientific advantage of LSST will require ground-based optical-infrared (OIR) supporting capabilities, e.g., observing time on telescopes, instrumentation, computing resources, and other infrastructure.

    A recent community-based study identifies, from a science-driven perspective, capabilities that are needed to maximize LSST science. Expanding on the initial steps taken in the 2015 OIR System Report (Optimizing the U.S. Optical and Infrared System in the Era of LSST, Elmegreen et al. 2015), the study takes a detailed, quantitative look at the capabilities needed to accomplish six representative LSST-enabled science programs that connect closely with scientific priorities from the 2010 decadal surveys (New Worlds, New Horizons and Vision and Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013–2022). The , led by NOAO and LSST, is funded by the Kavli Foundation and the study concept endorsed by NSF/AST.

    The <a href="http://study“>study report [6.9 MB PDF], recently published on arXiv and at the study website, (1) quantifies and prioritizes the resources needed to accomplish the science programs and (2) highlights ways that existing, planned, and future resources could be positioned to accomplish the science goals. The results overlap closely with and expand on those of the OIR System Report. The study recommendations, reproduced below, relate to the capabilities that were found to have particularly high priority and high demand from multiple communities.

    Study Recommendations:

    Develop or obtain access to a highly multiplexed, wide-field optical multi-object spectroscopic capability on an 8m-class telescope, preferably in the Southern Hemisphere. This high priority, high-demand capability is not currently available to the broad US community. Given the long lead time to develop any new capability, there is an urgent need to investigate possible development pathways now, so that the needed capabilities can be available in the LSST era. Possibilities include implementing a new wide-field, massively multiplexed optical spectrograph on a Southern Hemisphere 6-8m telescope, e.g., as in the Southern Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, a project recommended for consideration by the DOE’s Cosmic Visions panel (arxiv.org/abs/1604.07626 and arxiv.org/abs/1604.07821); open access to the PFS instrument on the Subaru telescope in order to propose and execute new large surveys; and alternatively, joining an international effort to implement a wide-field spectroscopic survey telescope (e.g., the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer at CFHT or a future ESO wide-field spectroscopic facility) if the facility will deliver data well before the end of the LSST survey.

    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Deploy a broad wavelength coverage, moderate-resolution (R = 2000 or larger) OIR spectrograph on Gemini South.

    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile
    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile

    The Gen 4#3 instrument is an ideal opportunity. It is critical that development plans for these capabilities proceed in a timely way so that the capabilities are available when LSST operations begin. A basic, workhorse instrument, deployed early in the LSST mission, is greatly preferred to a multi-mode instrument that arrives later in the mission. A wavelength range of at least 0.36–2.5 microns would provide the highest scientific impact.

    Ensure the development and early deployment of an alert broker, scalable to LSST. Public broker(s), and supporting community data and filtering resources, are essential to select priority targets for follow-up. The development of an alert broker that can process the LSST alert stream has challenges beyond the field of astronomy alone. The key questions can be best addressed by computer scientists working with astronomers on this multi-disciplinary problem, and support is needed to enable effective collaboration across the relevant fields.

    Support into the LSST era high-priority capabilities that are currently available. Wide-field optical imaging (e.g., DECam on the Blanco 4m at CTIO) is one valuable, but relatively uncommon, capability, as is AO-fed diffraction limited imaging (e.g., NIFS on the 8m Gemini telescope). Other important capabilities are standard on many facilities. Those called out in this report include

    single-object, multi-color imaging on < 5m facilities
    single-object R = 100–5000 spectroscopy on 3–5m facilities

    Support costs for these capabilities include those associated with routine operations as well as timely repair and refurbishment.

    Support OIR system infrastructure developments that enable efficient follow-up programs. Two of LSST’s strengths are the large statistical samples it will produce and LSST’s ability to provide rapid alerts for a wide variety of time domain phenomena. An efficient OIR system can capitalize on these strengths by (i) developing target and observation management software and increasing the availability of (ii) follow-up telescopes accessible in queue-scheduled modes, as well as (iii) data reduction pipelines that provide rapid access to data products. Following up large samples will be time and cost prohibitive if on-site observing is required and/or large programs and triage observations are not part of the time allocation infrastructure. To develop and prioritize community needs along these lines, we recommend a study aimed at developing a follow-up system for real-time, large-volume, time domain observations. As part of this study, discussions with the operators of observing facilities (e.g., through targeted workshops) are important in developing workable, cost-efficient procedures.

    Study and prioritize needs for computing, software, and data resources. LSST is the most data-intensive project in the history of optical astronomy. To maximize the science from LSST, support is needed for (i) the development and deployment of data analysis and exploration tools that work at the scale of LSST; (ii) training for scientists at all career stages in LSST-related analysis techniques and computing technologies; (iii) cross-disciplinary workshops that facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas and tools between astronomy and other fields. We recommend a follow-on systematic study to prioritize community needs for computing, software, and data resources. The study should account for the capabilities that will be delivered by the LSST project and other efforts, the demands of forefront LSST-enabled research, and the opportunities presented by new technology.

    Continue community planning and development. It is critical to continue the community-wide planning process, begun here, to motivate and review the development of the ground-based OIR System capabilities that will be needed to maximize LSST science. The current study focused primarily on instrumentation. Further work is needed to define the needs for observing infrastructure and computing, as described above. Regular review of progress (and lack thereof) in all of these areas is important to ensure the development of an OIR System that does maximize LSST science. Studies like these form the basis for a development roadmap and take a step in the direction envisioned by the Elmegreen committee that “a system organizing committee, chosen to represent all segments of the community … would produce the prioritized plan. NSF would then solicit, review, and select proposals to meet those capabilities, within available funding.”

    See the full article here .

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    NOAO News
    NOAO is the US national research & development center for ground-based night time astronomy. In particular, NOAO is enabling the development of the US optical-infrared (O/IR) System, an alliance of public and private observatories allied for excellence in scientific research, education and public outreach.

    Our core mission is to provide public access to qualified professional researchers via peer-review to forefront scientific capabilities on telescopes operated by NOAO as well as other telescopes throughout the O/IR System. Today, these telescopes range in aperture size from 2-m to 10-m. NOAO is participating in the development of telescopes with aperture sizes of 20-m and larger as well as a unique 8-m telescope that will make a 10-year movie of the Southern sky.

    In support of this mission, NOAO is engaged in programs to develop the next generation of telescopes, instruments, and software tools necessary to enable exploration and investigation through the observable Universe, from planets orbiting other stars to the most distant galaxies in the Universe.

    To communicate the excitement of such world-class scientific research and technology development, NOAO has developed a nationally recognized Education and Public Outreach program. The main goals of the NOAO EPO program are to inspire young people to become explorers in science and research-based technology, and to reach out to groups and individuals who have been historically under-represented in the physics and astronomy science enterprise.

    The National Optical Astronomy Observatory is proud to be a US National Node in the International Year of Astronomy, 2009.

    About Our Observatories:
    Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO)

    Kitt Peak

    Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) has its headquarters in Tucson and operates the Mayall 4-meter, the 3.5-meter WIYN , the 2.1-meter and Coudé Feed, and the 0.9-meter telescopes on Kitt Peak Mountain, about 55 miles southwest of the city.

    Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO)

    NOAO Cerro Tolo

    The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) is located in northern Chile. CTIO operates the 4-meter, 1.5-meter, 0.9-meter, and Curtis Schmidt telescopes at this site.

    The NOAO System Science Center (NSSC)

    Gemini North
    Gemini North

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South

    The NOAO System Science Center (NSSC) at NOAO is the gateway for the U.S. astronomical community to the International Gemini Project: twin 8.1 meter telescopes in Hawaii and Chile that provide unprecendented coverage (northern and southern skies) and details of our universe.

    NOAO is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a Cooperative Agreement with the National Science Foundation.

  • richardmitnick 2:58 pm on October 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , LSST, , The Space between Stars and Galaxies,   

    From Cornell: Women in STEM – “The Space between Stars and Galaxies” Rachel E. Bean 

    Cornell Bloc

    Cornell University

    Jackie Swift

    Rachel E. Bean

    Mystery shrouds the birth of our universe. In a fraction of a second, the universe transformed from a size smaller than a subatomic proton through expanding exponentially faster than the speed of light, according to the Big Bang theory. At the heart of this event lies the explanation for all the constituents of the cosmos today. If the moment of the Big Bang can be understood, we may finally have the theory of everything that can reconcile the quantum Standard Model of particle physics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which holds that gravity is a result of the curvature of space and time.

    Even the most powerful particle physics experiments on Earth don’t have enough clout to recreate the conditions in the early universe. We can find evidence of them, however, in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which functions like a fossil remnant of that very early universe, says Rachel E. Bean, Astronomy.

    CMB per ESA/Planck
    CMB per ESA/Planck

    “The CMB was made about 400 thousand years after the start of the universe,” she says. “It’s a pristine glimpse of what the universe was like at that instant, and buried inside that signal is a signature of what happened a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.”

    The Early Universe and the Cosmic Microwave Background

    The CMB is a faint glow in the microwave wavelength that can be seen with telescopes that detect microwave radiation in the space between stars and galaxies. It has been traveling toward us for 13 billion years carrying information about those early moments. “At that time the universe was governed by quantum physics at a level that we don’t think we fully understand,” Bean says. “As we go back in time, the universe gets smaller, hotter and denser. At its very earliest instances, it was at temperatures and densities that we can never recreate on earth.”

    In an effort to understand physics at those extreme properties, Bean looks for tiny temperature fluctuations in the CMB. These were generated a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang during a process called primordial inflation when the universe is thought to have expanded faster than the speed of light for a brief time. “We have to describe how quantum properties behave with gravity and space and time,” says Bean. “We don’t know how to do that. The only way we can try to figure this out is to look at these very early moments.” Bean hopes to connect these temperature fluctuations in the CMB to one of the potential theories—especially string theory—that are candidates to reconcile quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity.

    The CMB can also tell scientists about the effects of gravity on objects through time.

    “The CMB has essentially seen everything that has been created since it was formed,” says Bean. “It traveled through the universe as it evolved, and as it did that it had the signatures of that history imbued upon it.”

    Massive Galaxy Clusters, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy

    Bean is interested in the information the CMB carries about its travels through the most massive objects in the universe: galaxy clusters. These are about a thousand times larger than our galaxy. As the CMB passes through a cluster, the heat of the cluster and its movement leaves a sort of Doppler shift on the frequency of the light from the CMB. “We can use the CMB as a motion detector for these clusters,” Bean explains. “We can see how fast they were moving when the CMB passed through them. This is useful because those clusters were moving because of the properties of gravity at that time.”

    Bean will also be looking for evidence of the effects of dark matter and dark energy—two components of the universe that we cannot see. They do not emit light or absorb it, and none of our instruments can detect them. Scientists think that 95 percent of the matter in the universe is dark matter and dark energy, which change the properties of how gravity behaves. The only way to learn about the properties of these components is to look at their impact on astrophysical bodies such as galaxy clusters, Bean says. “By looking at how fast the galaxy clusters were moving in the past, we can test the properties of gravity and dark matter.”

    Big Bold Telescopes, Up Soon

    Astronomers will be able to do that in unparalleled detail over the next decade when four new telescopic surveys come online. These large-scale structure surveys will look at millions to billions of galaxies. They will either take multicolor images of them, revealing through color different physical properties, or they will record the galaxies’ spectra, the emission or absorption lines of light of particular wavelengths, which pinpoint the galaxies’ positions in space. “We’re going to be able to survey out billions of light years to be able to understand the structure of our universe with unprecedented precision,” Bean says.

    Two of the telescopes will be ground-based and two will be space-based. Bean is the leader of an international collaboration of approximately 500 scientists—the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration—that will be using the data from one of the ground-based photometric imaging telescopes, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is an international venture led by two United States agencies, the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Energy.

    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
    LSST Interior
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile

    The LSST will be commissioned in 2019 with the first surveys coming online in 2021. Bean is scrambling to prepare for the challenge of analyzing all the anticipated data. “It’s going to be like a massive gush,” Bean says. “If we’re able to analyze it properly, we will get orders of magnitude improvement in our understanding of the properties of the cosmos.”

    The LSST will share the ground-based spotlight with another state-of-the-art telescope, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), a United States Department of Energy initiative, which will come online in 2019.

    LBL/DESI spectroscopic instrument on the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory starting in 2018
    “LBL/DESI spectroscopic instrument on the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory starting in 2018

    The final two telescopes, both space-based, will be launched in the next decade: the European Space Agency’s Euclid in 2021 and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) in the mid-twenties.

    ESA/Euclid spacecraft
    ESA/Euclid spacecraft


    Bean plans to take the new information on the nature of galaxies provided by the four surveys and combine it with data on the motions of galaxy clusters gleaned from the CMB. Altogether they should help her and other cosmologists uncover the true properties of dark matter and dark energy, “We’ll be able to test whether general relativity holds on a cosmic scale,” Bean says. “That’s really exciting!”

    See the full article here .

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    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

  • richardmitnick 2:31 pm on September 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , LSST,   

    From tuscon.com via LSST: “Tucson has a major piece of the action on giant telescope” 


    Large Synoptic Survey Telescope



    Tom Beal, Arizona Daily Star


    The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the next big thing in astronomy, is a worldwide effort, with a telescope mount from Spain, a dome from Italy, a coating chamber from Germany and a site in the Andean foothills of Chile.

    The heart of the project remains in Tucson.

    The project, known by its initials LSST, was dreamed up in Tucson and retains its headquarters here.

    A variety of local vendors, from the heavy-metal experts at CAID Industries to the electronics assemblers at Beacon Group, have a piece of the financial action.

    The project began with an idea for a novel mirror that contains the primary and tertiary surfaces of the light path on a single surface. That task, conceived and perfected by the astronomical mirror builders and polishers at Steward Observatory and the College of Optical Sciences, is the $20 million heart of a plan to take a 10-year movie of the cosmos.

    Coupled with the largest camera in the world — a $165-million, 3.2-billion-pixel marvel being developed at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California — it will spend 10 years imaging the entire night sky visible from Chile every three nights and recording all that moves, brightens, darkens, changes or remains constant.

    It will track the orbits of asteroids and watch explosions of supernovae. It will provide a map of the galaxies and clues to the mysterious phenomena of dark matter and dark energy. It will find some things we’ve never seen before.

    Its giant (27.6-foot diameter) mirror, cast in what is now known as the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab beneath the bleachers of Arizona Stadium, needs to be handled with care and for that, LSST turned to Tucson’s CAID Industries.

    At first, LSST asked CAID to build a box for it — a metal box that would delicately support the mirror’s size and weight without breaking it, as it makes its way from Tucson to a mountaintop in Chile by crane, truck and ship.

    CAID had experience in building shipping boxes for similar-sized mirrors manufactured at the University of Arizona’s mirror lab.

    LSST decided to add to its CAID contract and have it build a mirror cell that will become a permanent part of the telescope. It is currently milling and machining that 57,000-pound piece of weathering steel.

    Fabricating large metal structures is no big challenge for CAID, but working within the precision tolerances demanded by astronomy is, said Keath Beifus, CAID project engineer.

    “We work within these tolerances all the time on things you can lift,” he said.

    The top surface of the cell, a 7-foot-tall square that is 30 feet on each side, can’t vary by more than the width of a piece of paper, he said.

    The design requires “4,440 machined features,” said Beifus — precision-drilled holes for wiring and plumbing to accommodate actuators that perfect the mirror’s shape and the fans and coolant-filled tubes that keep its temperature constant. Those are currently being drilled.

    The entire cell must also be airtight. It has a round metal rim that, when mated with the coating-chamber dome being fabricated in Dresden, Germany, will create a vacuum needed for coating the glass with a reflective surface.

    That meant extra attention paid to all the welded joints to prevent air pockets and installation of a submarine-style access door, Beifus said.

    CAID is also building the cart that will hold the mirror and cell when it needs to be detached from the mirror mount and rolled on rails to the mirror-coating chamber.

    It is also building a surrogate mirror made of metal that will be used to test the cell’s ability to mold the mirror into shape before it trusts it with the fragile glass surface.

    CAID’s current contracts with LSST total more than $3.4 million, and it has been asked to do another phase of the project — the integration of the parts that will turn the “big empty behemoth” of a cell into a functioning platform for the mirror, said Bill Gressler, telescope and site manager for LSST.

    About a dozen other local vendors are contributing $600,000 worth of parts and pieces to the telescope, with assembly of a variety of components being done in Tucson, where 72 LSST employees now work in the North Cherry Avenue building that also houses the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

    The $400,000 contract for remodeling the space to accommodate LSST went to Tucson-based Division II Construction Co.

    LSST is managed for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).

    NSF has committed $473 million for construction of the telescope, scheduled for completion by the end of 2019.

    The $165 million camera is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Arizona Optical Systems is building mirrors for the camera, and sensors are being provided by the UA’s Imaging Technology Lab.

    Some of the assembly work being done at the AURA center on North Cherry has been subcontracted to the Beacon Group, a Tucson nonprofit that provides work for people with significant disabilities.

    Greg Natvig, vice president for business operations at Beacon, said it does a lot of assembly work for local hi-tech companies. “We do that sort of thing every day,” he said.

    Gressler said LSST has used the Beacon Group for most of its Inner Loop Controller work.

    “It’s been a great relationship where many times we’ve had critical orders that needed short response times,” he said.

    Gressler said he enjoys working with local companies and the project benefits from that proximity. A lot of Gressler’s site visits involve long airline flights.

    “The nicest thing, aside from our really good relationship with CAID, is going there in your car and coming home to your office the same day,” he said.

    Contracting locally also saves a lot in shipping costs, he said. LSST has already had to move its main mirror from the UA’s mirror lab to a hangar near the airport. It will bring it to CAID, just a few blocks away, for integration with the cell built there.

    It will be tested again back at the mirror lab before the cell and mirror are shipped in separate containers to Chile, where an observatory is under construction on a peak called Cerro Pachón, near the NOAO-managed Cerro Tololo Observatory, 50 miles east of the port of La Serena.

    When the cell, mirror, camera and mount are all put together, the telescope will weigh 350 tons and will move more quickly and more often on its axes than any telescope ever built.

    CAID’s cell will look a lot nicer before then, said Beifus.

    It oxidized to a rusting tanker color after being heated and water-cooled to prevent any “relaxation” of its shape. It will be painted teal blue before it is shipped to Chile, said Beifus.

    See the full article here .

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    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile
    LSST Interior
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile.

    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC

    The LSST is a new kind of telescope. Currently under construction in Chile, it is being built to rapidly survey the night-time sky. Compact and nimble, the LSST will move quickly between images, yet its large mirror and large field of view—almost 10 square degrees of sky, or 40 times the size of the full moon—work together to deliver more light from faint astronomical objects than any optical telescope in the world.

    From its mountaintop site in the foothills of the Andes, the LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images each night with its 3.2 billion-pixel camera, recording the entire visible sky twice each week. Each patch of sky it images will be visited 1000 times during the survey. With a light-gathering power equal to a 6.7-m diameter primary mirror, each of its 30-second observations will be able to detect objects 10 million times fainter than visible with the human eye. A powerful data system will compare new with previous images to detect changes in brightness and position of objects as big as far-distant galaxy clusters and as small as near-by asteroids.

    The LSST’s combination of telescope, mirror, camera, data processing, and survey will capture changes in billions of faint objects and the data it provides will be used to create an animated, three-dimensional cosmic map with unprecedented depth and detail , giving us an entirely new way to look at the Universe. This map will serve a myriad of purposes, from locating that mysterious substance called dark matter and characterizing the properties of the even more mysterious dark energy, to tracking transient objects, to studying our own Milky Way Galaxy in depth. It will even be used to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids—asteroids that might impact the Earth and cause significant damage.

    As with past technological advances that opened new windows of discovery, such a powerful system for exploring the faint and transient Universe will undoubtedly serve up surprises.

    Plans for sharing the data from LSST with the public are as ambitious as the telescope itself. Anyone with a computer will be able to view the moving map of the Universe created by the LSST, including objects a hundred million times fainter than can be observed with the unaided eye. The LSST project will provide analysis tools to enable both students and the public to participate in the process of scientific discovery. We invite you to learn more about LSST science.

    The LSST will be unique: no existing telescope or proposed camera could be retrofitted or re-designed to cover ten square degrees of sky with a collecting area of forty square meters. Named the highest priority for ground-based astronomy in the 2010 Decadal Survey, the LSST project formally began construction in July 2014.

  • richardmitnick 12:07 pm on April 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , LSST, U Portsmouth   

    From U Portsmouth via AURA: “University of Portsmouth support groundbreaking telescope” 

    AURA Icon
    Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

    U Portsmouth bloc

    28th Apr 2016
    Jeeves Williams

    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile
    LSST Interior
    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile; LSST/Camera, built at SLAC

    The University of Portsmouth have become one of the latest supporters of a new telescope which is being built to produce movies of the sky.

    The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will produce the widest, deepest, and fastest views of the night sky ever observed when it launches in 2021.

    Currently under construction in Chile, the LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images each night with its 3.2billion pixel camera, recording the entire southern sky twice each week.

    Professor Bob Nichol, Director of the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG), said: “This new telescope will be located on a mountain-top site in the foothills of the Andes and over a 10-year time frame will capture tens of billions of objects in unprecedented detail.

    “It will allow us to find hundreds of thousands more supernova than have ever been detected to date, and millions of asteroids. It’s a pioneering project which will produce data like we’ve never seen before, so I’m delighted that Portsmouth is on board.”

    The El Peñón summit, site for the LSST, at dusk

    The universities of Portsmouth and Oxford are the only two UK institutional members of the LSST Corporation, which is primarily supported by the US National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

    Academics from the ICG are involved with the preparation of the telescope at this stage, locating where in the sky it should observe and how often.

    Professor Nichol said: “What’s so awesome about this project is its ability to access — for the first time — moving images of the night sky. In the past you could miss a supernova if you weren’t looking in the right direction at the right time. This survey will offer 100 times the amount of data we’ve had access to previously.

    “It’s the next big thing in astronomy and the challenge will be sieving through all the data and finding out about the things we already know we don’t know — the known unknowns — but also finding the unknown unknowns — the things we don’t know we don’t know.”

    The LSST will be able to image 10 square degrees of sky in one shot, or 40 times the size of the full moon. Each of its 30-second observations will be able to detect objects ten-million times fainter than visible with the human eye.

    The LSST data will be used to locate the baffling substance of dark matter and explore the mysterious force of dark energy, which makes up the bulk of the universe and is causing its expansion to speed up.

    U Portsmouth campus
    U Portsmouth campus

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:34 pm on December 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Drexel U, LSST   

    From Drexel: “A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Drexel Professor to Use New Telescope to Map Beyond Milky Way” 

    Drexel U bloc

    Drexel University

    December 15, 2015
    Frank Otto

    The LSST in its facility building with the night sky. Courtesy of the LSST Corporation.

    In astronomy’s modern history, large-scale work was almost exclusively done at institutions with giant observatories and the most expensive computers and equipment.

    But a new approach to work in the field now has Drexel faculty playing a key role in what could be the most expansive approach to mapping the universe.

    “Astronomy has kind of undergone a significant shift in the last 20 years or so,” said Gordon Richards, PhD, a professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Before, everything was done by the top five institutions because they were the only ones who had the money for the big toys. The advent of collaborative projects has changed that.”

    In a joint project between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Education (DOE) that will also feature dozens of higher learning institutions — like Drexel — a giant telescope featuring an 8.4-meter mirror will be constructed in the Cerro Penchón ridge in Chile.

    Called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), it will have the capability of taking a full survey of the entire night sky in a matter of three days.

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera
    LSST home and the camera being built at SLAC

    In addition to conducting an active and continual survey of the universe for 10 years, the LSST will be used to track the movement of potentially hazardous asteroids (a directive from Congress), confirm the identity of previously unclassified objects, and to get a better idea of how the universe is put together.

    Artist’s conception of the optical elements of the LSST with people superimposed to show the scale. By Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. Courtesy of LSST Corporation.

    Construction began on the telescope site earlier this year and science operations will begin in 2022.

    Richards was involved in an earlier “mapping” project called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which created a comprehensive digital image of the night sky by taking images between 1998 and 2009.

    SDSS Telescope
    SDSS telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA

    In astronomy’s past, such sky “maps” were only available on glass plates at the site of the telescope.

    “You can put the whole thing on a disk and share it with all your friends,” Richards said of the Sloan map. “That was the 800-pound gorilla in the room for the longest time. That [survey] was the great leveling thing.”

    Because of his involvement with the Sloan Survey, Richards has become one of the team members shaping the way the study will be conducted when it begins in 2022. Richards is specifically a leader of the team that will analyze the data that comes from outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.

    With a particular interest in quasars — super bright discs of light that result from the intense gravitational pull of black holes — checking out the “extragalactic” portions of the data is a perfect fit for Richards.

    “Quasars are really great tools for all sorts of science,” he said. “You can use them to see all the way back to the time of the Big Bang.”

    Speed will be a hallmark of the LSST.

    “The Sloan Digital Sky Survey was a project to make a single ‘map’ of the sky. It took many years to complete,” Richards said. “LSST will completely redo the work of the Sloane project every three days. So instead of a picture, you have a movie of the sky.”

    Taking multiple images of the entire sky over a decade allows for the team involved to track the movement of objects, among other astral occurrences.

    “Lots of things in space change over time,” Richards explained. “Stars explode, asteroids move, things get brighter.”

    In preparation for the project, Richards is among those running simulations of data. They have a good idea of what they will likely see in the sky, so that knowledge allows them to construct code to use in processing the huge amount of data the telescope will bring in. With codes in place, the scientists will be ready to measure what they’re interested in and not get lose in the torrent of information.

    “You have to be ready when the camera turns on,” Richards said.

    Saying that the LSST is “the definition of big data,” Richards hopes to get other Drexel faculty members involved. With so much raw data, Richards believe others might be able to dig in and pick up on something an astronomer might miss.

    Slated to begin roughly a decade after his work with the Sloan project concluded, Richards sees the LSST as an opportunity to wrap up unanswered questions.

    “There’s stuff that we wanted to do in the first project that we just ran out of time for,” Richards said. “We want to find out how galaxies form. Some are like ours, the Milky Way, and some look like big, red footballs. We think some of it has to do with black holes, but with more of the sky visible to us, there’s so much more we can find out.”

    Until the end of January, Charles Simonyi and Bill Gates will match up to $500,000 in donations to the LSST. Find out more here.

    See the full article here .

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    Drexel campus

    Global Research University, Experiential Learning Leader

    Drexel is a comprehensive global research university ranked among the top 100 in the nation. With approximately 26,000 students, Drexel is one of America’s 15 largest private universities.

    Drexel has built its global reputation on core achievements that include:

    Leadership in experiential learning through Drexel Co-op.
    A history of academic technology firsts.
    Recognition as a model of best practices in translational, use-inspired research.

    Founded in 1891 in Philadelphia, Drexel now engages with students and communities around the world via:

    Three Philadelphia campuses and other regional sites.
    The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the nation’s oldest major natural science museum and research organization.
    International research partnerships including China and Israel.
    Drexel Online, one of the oldest and most successful providers of online degree programs.

    Drexel is one of Philadelphia’s top 10 private employers, and a major engine for economic development in the region. Drexel has committed to being the nation’s most civically engaged university, with community partnerships integrated into every aspect of service and academics.

  • richardmitnick 10:42 am on August 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , LSST,   

    From SLAC: “World’s Most Powerful Digital Camera Sees Construction Green Light” 

    SLAC Lab

    August 31, 2015

    The LSST’s camera will include a filter-changing mechanism and shutter. This animation shows that mechanism at work, which allows the camera to view different wavelengths; the camera is capable of viewing light from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared (0.3-1 μm) wavelengths. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

    The Department of Energy has approved the start of construction for a 3.2-gigapixel digital camera – the world’s largest – at the heart of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). Assembled at the DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the camera will be the eye of LSST, revealing unprecedented details of the universe and helping unravel some of its greatest mysteries.

    The construction milestone, known as Critical Decision 3, is the last major approval decision before the acceptance of the finished camera, said LSST Director Steven Kahn: “Now we can go ahead and procure components and start building it.”

    Starting in 2022, LSST will take digital images of the entire visible southern sky every few nights from atop a mountain called Cerro Pachón in Chile. It will produce a wide, deep and fast survey of the night sky, cataloguing by far the largest number of stars and galaxies ever observed. During a 10-year time frame, LSST will detect tens of billions of objects—the first time a telescope will observe more galaxies than there are people on Earth – and will create movies of the sky with unprecedented details. Funding for the camera comes from the DOE, while financial support for the telescope and site facilities, the data management system, and the education and public outreach infrastructure of LSST comes primarily from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    The telescope’s camera – the size of a small car and weighing more than three tons – will capture full-sky images at such high resolution that it would take 1,500 high-definition television screens to display just one of them.

    Rendering of the LSST camera. SLAC is leading the construction of the 3.2-gigapixel camera, which will be the size of a small car and weigh more than 3 tons. The digital camera will be the largest ever built, allowing LSST to create an unprecedented archive of astronomical data that will help researchers study the formation of galaxies, track potentially hazardous asteroids, observe exploding stars and better understand mysterious dark matter and dark energy, which make up 95 percent of the universe. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

    In one shot, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope’s 3.2-gigapixel camera will capture an area of the sky 40 times the size of the full moon (or almost 10 square degrees of sky). LSST’s large mirror and large field of view work together to deliver more light from faint astronomical objects than any optical telescope in the world. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

    This has already been a busy year for the LSST Project. Its dual-surface primary/tertiary mirror – the first of its kind for a major telescope – was completed; a traditional stone-laying ceremony in northern Chile marked the beginning of on-site construction of the facility; and a nearly 2,000-square-foot, 2-story-tall clean room was completed at SLAC to accommodate fabrication of the camera.

    “We are very gratified to see everyone’s hard work appreciated and acknowledged by this DOE approval,” said SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao. “SLAC is honored to be partnering with the National Science Foundation and other DOE labs on this groundbreaking endeavor. We’re also excited about the wide range of scientific opportunities offered by LSST, in particular increasing our understanding of dark energy.”

    Components of the camera are being built by an international collaboration of universities and labs, including DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and SLAC. SLAC is responsible for overall project management and systems engineering, camera body design and fabrication, data acquisition and camera control software, cryostat design and fabrication, and integration and testing of the entire camera. Building and testing the camera will take approximately five years.

    SLAC is also designing and constructing the NSF-funded database for the telescope’s data management system. LSST will generate a vast public archive of data—approximately 6 million gigabytes per year, or the equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular 8-megapixel digital camera every night, albeit of much higher quality and scientific value. This data will help researchers study the formation of galaxies, track potentially hazardous asteroids, observe exploding stars and better understand dark matter and dark energy, which together make up 95 percent of the universe but whose natures remain unknown.

    “We have a busy agenda for the rest of 2015 and 2016,” said Kahn. “Construction of the telescope on the mountain is well underway. The contracts for fabrication of the telescope mount and the dome enclosure have been awarded and the vendors are at full steam.”

    This exploded view of the LSST’s digital camera highlights its various components, including lenses, shutter and filters. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

    Nadine Kurita, camera project manager at SLAC, said fabrication of the state-of-the-art sensors for the camera has already begun, and contracts are being awarded for optical elements and other major components. “After several years of focusing on designs and prototypes, we are excited to start construction of key parts of the camera. The coming year will be crucial as we assemble and test the sensors for the focal plane.”

    The National Research Council’s Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey, Astro2010, ranked the LSST as the top ground-based priority for the field for the current decade. The recent report of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel of the federal High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, setting forth the strategic plan for U.S. particle physics, also recommended completion of the LSST.

    “We’ve been working hard for years to get to this point,” said Kurita. “Everyone is very excited to start building the camera and take a big step toward conducting a deep survey of the Southern night sky.”

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    Housing the LSST in Chile at Cerro Pachón

    See the full article here.

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    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.

  • richardmitnick 9:27 am on May 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , LSST   

    From BNL: “Galaxy-Gazing Telescope Sensors Pass Important Vision Tests” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    April 28, 2015
    Karen McNulty Walsh

    Brookhaven physicist Morgan May and Yuki Okura, a postdoctoral fellow from Japan’s RIKEN laboratory stationed at the RIKEN-Brookhaven Research Center, holding Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) sensor components. Screens show an image of the sensors’ “tree ring” defects and a rendering of the telescope design.

    When you’re building a massive telescope designed to detect subtle shapes in the light emitted by distant galaxies, you’d like to know that the shapes you are seeing are accurate and not the result of defects in your telescope’s sensors. Fortunately sensors for the camera of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), expected to see “first light” from atop a mountain in Chile in 2020, just received very promising “vision” test results from physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

    LSST Camera
    LSST Interior
    LSST Exterior
    Top, LSST Camera, Balance LSST building and interior

    That’s exciting, said Brookhaven physicist Morgan May, who led the tests, because the galaxy shapes the LSST seeks to see will offer insight into the most mysterious components of our universe: invisible dark matter, which makes up a quarter of the cosmos, and the dark energy scientists suspect has driven the accelerating expansion of the universe and affected the clumpiness of its structure as we see it today.

    “We’ll be looking at 10 billion galaxies to create an unparalleled wide-field astronomical survey of our universe—wider and deeper than all previous telescopes combined. So we’ll have tremendous statistical power to explore the distribution of dark matter and the nature of dark energy, two of the greatest puzzles in physics. We don’t want to be limited by systematic errors in our detectors,” he said.

    Brookhaven scientists are in a unique position to do the testing because, in addition to collaborating on the cosmological mission of the LSST, the Lab is leading the design and fabrication of the sensors for the telescope’s 3.2-gigapixel camera. “We have access to the detectors and can measure their properties; we can simulate the evolution of the universe as a function of the properties of dark energy; and we can determine how the properties of the detector will affect our determination of the properties of dark energy,” May said.

    Working with May, Yuki Okura, a postdoctoral fellow from Japan’s RIKEN laboratory stationed at the RIKEN-Brookhaven Research Center, performed precision studies of micron-sized defects and pixel-by-pixel variations in the silicon sensors, and then modeled their potential impact on the telescope’s ability to detect the effects of dark matter. Their results will be described in a series of publications, including one soon to appear in the Journal of Instrumentation, with former Brookhaven postdoc Andrés Plazas (now at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Toru Tamagawa, head of RIKEN Astrophysics in Japan, as co-authors.

    “What we found is that, although there are still subtle defects and minor variations in the sensors, they are far, far better than those on previous sky survey telescopes, and better even than early prototypes that were built for the LSST,” said May. “Based on these tests, we now know that the primary measurements of the LSST will not be affected by these structural defects.”

    Setting the stage

    The LSST, originally known as the Dark Matter Telescope, will detect the distribution of dark matter throughout the cosmos. The telescope won’t see dark matter directly, but will detect its gravitational interaction with visible forms of matter, namely galaxies.

    “The gravity of dark matter can bend light,” explained May. “So concentrations of dark matter in the universe act as ‘gravitational lenses’ that can change the brightness and shape of background objects, altering their appearance in a way that creates arcs around central mass distributions.”

    The LSST will look at billions of background galaxies and use gravitational lensing to map where the dark matter concentrations are and how much dark matter there is. By looking at galaxies at varying distances from Earth, the LSST collaboration will be able to explore how the distribution of dark matter (and the sprinkling of visible matter) has changed over time.

    “The light is coming to us from very far away, say a billion light years*. That means we are seeing those objects as they were a billion years ago; we are looking at the distant past. When we look at the distribution of dark matter and how it has changed over billions of years, we get insight into the force that shaped the expansion and uneven distribution of matter in the universe today,” said May.

    That “force,” given the name dark energy, makes up 70 percent of the cosmos. By measuring both the growth of structure and the expansion rate of the universe over time, the LSST will help scientists put the idea of dark energy to the test, and uncover its mysterious properties.

    *i light year = about 6 trillion miles

    Testing detectors

    “Spurious shear” is the calculated distortion that would be caused by “tree ring” defects in an LSST sensor. Images of galaxies falling on the bright arcs would be elongated in the direction tangential to the arcs; those falling on the dark arcs would be elongated perpendicular to the arcs (in the radial direction). The grey scale at right gives the fractional elongation, which is much smaller than in previous sensors, and much smaller than the elongation caused by dark matter’s gravitational lensing—the effect the LSST scientists seek to measure. The sensor contains 4000 x 4000 pixels.

    Detecting the light-bending effects of dark matter requires extreme precision and a high degree of uniformity in the 200 individual silicon sensors that make up the “film” of the LSST’s 3.2-gigapixel digital camera. But growing solid-state silicon sensors from a molten mass is an imperfect process. Even with the best quality control, variation creeps in.

    “The crystals of silicon grow cylindrically from the center outward,” explained May. “If there are tiny variations of impurities in the silicon or the temperature, you can get radial variations in the properties of the silicon that look like concentric tree rings. Those ‘tree rings’ make electric fields that distort the image. The concern is whether this distortion of the image will be confused with the distortion caused by the effects of dark matter.”

    To find out, Okura and May used high-resolution images of the sensor surfaces produced with a uniform light source in Brookhaven Lab’s Instrumentation Division, and image correction software to reveal the barely perceptible presence of tree rings. Then they calculated the electric fields those tree rings would produce and the effect those fields would have on their astronomical images.

    To see whether those effects would distort the LSST’s key measurements, they turned to a two-way process using cosmological simulations.

    “First we program in certain values for the properties of dark energy and run the simulation to see how those properties drive the structure and rate of expansion of the universe,” said Okura. “Then we model how the resulting distribution of dark matter would bend the light picked up in the LSST detectors. Finally, we add the distortion that would be caused by the defects we measured in the sensors, and run the simulation backward to calculate the dark energy properties. If we get essentially the same values we started with, then we know that the distortion caused by the crystal defects is small enough that we don’t have to worry about it.”

    Repeating this process with many different starting values and always coming back to essentially the same starting values, even with the subtle distortion of the detectors added in, has given the team confidence that the tree rings won’t cloud their LSST results.

    “The LSST is going to be able to distinguish very fine differences in dark energy properties,” May said.

    Pixel by pixel

    Working with Columbia University graduate student Andrea Petri, May and Okura conducted another LSST sensor test, this one looking for size variation pixel-by-pixel.

    “The LSST camera is a giant digital camera with over 3 billion pixels. If the pixels are not all the same size, that will also produce something that looks like the lensing effect at a very low level,” May explained.

    So Okura and May undertook a painstaking study to measure pixel size variation. They measured how much light each pixel picks up when light shines on the detector. “Bigger pixels get more light, and smaller ones pick up less,” Okura said, “so you can use the light absorbed as a stand in for pixel size.” The variation they measured is extremely small, but is it small enough to be negligible to the LSST’s measurements?

    Again the team turned to the cosmological simulations. They used calculations to convert the pixel size variation into a virtual lensing effect. Then they added that effect to the gravitational lensing measurements LSST would make when observing simulated universes created from different dark energy starting properties. Again, the calculations worked equally well in reverse, even with the virtual lensing effect added in. These results will soon be submitted for publication in a journal devoted to astrophysics research.

    “We can conclude that the pixel size variation in the LSST sensors we have studied will not confuse our measurement of dark energy properties,” said May.

    With LSST taking pictures of the universe using “film” of unparalleled quality—and capturing images over the widest and deepest expanse of space with enough frequency to create a 3-D map and even a 3-D movie—researchers and the public can look forward to amazing discoveries and surprises.

    Brookhaven’s work on the LSST is funded by the DOE Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

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    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world.Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

  • richardmitnick 3:35 pm on April 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Symmetry: “LSST construction begins” 


    April 14, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera
    LSST, exterior, interior, and camera

    The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will take the most thorough survey ever of the Southern sky

    Today a group will gather in northern Chile to participate in a traditional stone-laying ceremony. The ceremony marks the beginning of construction for a telescope that will use the world’s largest digital camera to take the most thorough survey ever of the Southern sky.

    The 8-meter Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will image the entire visible sky a few times each week for 10 years. It is expected to see first light in 2019 and begin full operation in 2022.

    Collaborators from the US National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Technológica, along with several other international public-private partners will participate in the ceremony.

    “Today, we embark on an exciting moment in astronomical history,” says NSF Director France A. Córdova, an astrophysicist, in a press release. “NSF is thrilled to lead the way in funding a unique facility that has the potential to transform our knowledge of the universe.”

    Equipped with a 3-billion-pixel digital camera, LSST will observe objects as they change or move, providing insight into short-lived transient events such as astronomical explosions and the orbital paths of potentially hazardous asteroids. LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images of the sky each night, allowing for detailed maps of the Milky Way and of our own solar system and charting billions of remote galaxies. Its observations will also probe the imprints of dark matter and dark energy on the evolution of the universe.

    “We are very excited to see the start of the summit construction of the LSST facility,” says James Siegrist, DOE associate director of science for high-energy physics. “By collecting a unique dataset of billions of galaxies, LSST will provide multiple probes of dark energy, helping to tackle one of science’s greatest mysteries.”

    NSF and DOE will share responsibilities over the lifetime of the project. The NSF, through its partnership with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, will develop the site and telescope, along with the extensive data management system. It will also coordinate education and outreach efforts. DOE, through a collaboration led by its SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, will develop the large-format camera.

    In addition, the Republic of Chile will serve as project host, providing (and protecting) access to some of the darkest and clearest skies in the world over the LSST site on Cerro Pachón, a mountain peak in northern Chile. The site was chosen through an international competition due to the pristine skies, low levels of light pollution, dry climate and the robust and reliable infrastructure available in Chile.

    “Chile has extraordinary natural conditions for astronomical observation, and this is once again demonstrated by the decision to build this unique telescope in Cerro Pachón,” says CONICYT President Francisco Brieva. “We are convinced that the LSST will bring important benefits for science in Chile and worldwide by opening up a new window of observation that will lead to new discoveries.”

    By 2020, 70 percent of the world’s astronomical infrastructure is expected to be concentrated in Chile.

    See the full article here.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 10:55 am on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NPR: “Hunting For Big Planets Far Beyond Pluto May Soon Be Easier” 


    National Public Radio (NPR)

    February 02, 2015
    Nell Greenfieldboyce

    Stars over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Sheppard and Trujillo used the new Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on a telescope there to find the distant dwarf planet 2012 VP 113.

    On a mountaintop in Chile, excavators have just started work on a construction site. It will soon be home to a powerful new telescope that will have a good shot at finding the mysterious Planet X, if it exists.

    “Planet X is kind of a catchall name given to any speculation about an unseen companion orbiting the sun,” says Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State University.

    The discovery images of 2012 VP113, which has the most distant orbit known in our Solar System. The dwarf planet’s movement suggests its orbit. 2012 VP-113 Source: Carnegie Institution of Science
    Credit: Scott Sheppard

    For more than a century, scientists have observed various things that they thought could be explained by the presence of an unknown planet lurking at the edge of our solar system.

    “There’s a huge volume of space in the outer solar system,” says Luhman. “We know almost nothing about what might be out there.”

    Some conspiracy-minded folks even think that Planet X has already been discovered. “There are a lot of these people on the Internet,” says Luhman, “who think that, for instance, NASA knows about an unseen planet, but it’s on a collision course with Earth and it’s going to destroy us, but they don’t tell us about it.”

    Finding a major new planet would be big news. While dwarf planets like “Sedna” haven’t exactly become household names, a planet the size of Earth or Mars might get added to the list of planets students have to memorize.

    “If you put an object twice as far away, it becomes 16 times fainter. So things get very faint, very fast.”
    Scott Sheppard, astronomer, Carnegie Institution for Science

    Luhman recently went hunting for planet X using WISE, a NASA space telescope that detects infrared light.

    NASA Wise Telescope

    It would have found anything the size of Jupiter or Saturn, because gas giants like these are big enough and warm enough that they produce a lot of infrared light. But last year, Luhman reported that they didn’t see any planet like that.

    Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Science. Courtesy of Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution of Science

    Still, there may be smaller, cooler planets out there — until recently, scientists had no way to look for them. “Up until a year or two ago, we just didn’t have the technology to do this, because we didn’t have large cameras on large telescopes,” explains Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

    Any planet that far away would be very faint, because light would have to travel billions of miles from the sun to the planet, bounce off, and then travel all the way back to our telescopes. “And because of that, if you put an object twice as far away, it becomes 16 times fainter,” Sheppard says. “So, things get very faint, very fast.”

    Sheppard and his colleagues have been searching for very faint objects using a massive camera on a powerful telescope in Chile. Last year, he and Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory, announced that they’d found a dwarf planet that they nicknamed “Biden,” since its temporary name is 2012 VP113. It’s a little pink ball of ice that’s far beyond Pluto.

    There’s a framed photo of the dwarf planet hanging on the wall of Sheppard’s office; if he has his way, there soon will be more photos up there.

    “Part of this search for these planets in the outer part of the solar system is trying to find out about the neighborhood. I think to find out more about our neighborhood is just really a cool thing.”
    Scott Kenyon, astrophysicist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

    “We believe there are probably a lot of objects bigger than Pluto still out there,” Sheppard says, “and there could easily be objects as big as Mars or even Earth, out beyond in the very far distant solar system.”

    He’s already found hints of something big: When he looks at the orbits of his dwarf planet and some other small icy bodies, he sees a pattern. “And you wouldn’t expect that,” Sheppard says. “You’d expect the orbits to be completely random.”

    One possible explanation is that the array of objects are all being influenced by the force of a large, unknown planet. “I think, like all new discoveries, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Trujillo told NPR via email. “And it will probably be quite a while until someone can explain things and most people accept their explanation.”

    In Trujillo’s view, if a large planet is out there, astronomers are unlikely to find it until the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online.

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera

    The device is designed to scan huge swaths of sky for faint objects; the building site for it is already being prepared on top of a mountain in Chile, and construction will begin in earnest this year. The telescope is expected to start operations in the early 2020s.

    “But, we could get lucky,” Trujillo notes — somebody might find the distant planet sooner than that.

    Others agree that the chances of finding something sizable are good.

    “With the next generation of telescopes, or if we’re lucky with the current generation of telescope, it will be possible to detect the light from this planet,” says Scott Kenyon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. “If we can see it and pinpoint its position, then everybody will get excited.”

    Finding a big new planet would be like meeting a new neighbor, says Kenyon.

    “You like to know people on your street, or in your apartment building,” he says. “I think that part of this search for these planets in the outer part of the solar system is trying to find out about the neighborhood. I think to find out more about our neighborhood is just really a cool thing.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:26 pm on January 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From FNAL: “Fermilab leads in developing software for LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration” 

    FNAL Home

    Fermilab is an enduring source of strength for the US contribution to scientific research world wide.

    From left: Fermilab’s Jim Kowalkowski, Marc Paterno, Saba Sehrish, Steve Kent, all of the Scientific Computing Division, and Scott Dodelson, Particle Physics Division, contributed to DESC as part of its Software Working Group, which Dodelson leads. Photo: Rich Blaustein

    Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015
    Rich Blaustein

    At the supercomputing conference SC14, held in November, Fermilab astrophysics and computing experts achieved a milestone with a demonstration run of the analysis framework software they are developing for the Dark Energy Science Collaboration (DESC) of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Telescope

    LSST Camera
    LSST Camera, being built at SLAC

    The LSST, whose construction is led by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, is currently in the advanced design phase and will be placed in Cerro Pachon, Chile. It will be the tool for the world’s largest imaging survey, taking repeated images of the southern sky beginning in 2020.

    The software and data processing demands for the DESC are challenging, to say the least.

    “LSST will truly be a next-generation survey: It will surpass preceding surveys in terms of data size in its first few months of operation,” said University of Pennsylvania astrophysicist Bhuvnesh Jain, spokesperson for the Dark Energy Science Collaboration.

    More than 200 scientists from five countries are currently involved with DESC, and Jain expects the number of scientists involved in DESC to double in the next decade.

    Fermilab astrophysicist Scott Dodelson, convener of the DESC Software Working Group, says the group is designing a framework for all DESC scientists that will facilitate their collaboration and use of tools built by the LSST project team. Steve Kent, Jim Kowalkowski, Marc Paterno and Saba Sehrish, all in Fermilab’s Scientific Computing Division, worked to develop the DESC framework. Sehrish ran the November demonstration.

    The framework links some programs specifically produced for LSST with others written externally or by the scientists themselves. It runs them on supercomputers, networks such as FermiGrid and local resources.

    “The scientists running the DESC workflows will not have to worry about details such as file transport or access to supercomputers to do their dark energy science,” Paterno said. “We demonstrated how this could be done.”

    Dodelson and Kent say that the demonstration was very successful and bodes well for the DESC.

    “The demo was an end-to-end simulation of LSST data and science analyses — that was the really important thing,” Kent said. “It was a walking-through of all the steps and with an eye on eventually expanding to the LSST scale.”

    The group ran simulated images through the interlinked software until at the end it was run through CosmoSIS, a cosmological parameter estimation program to which Dodelson, Kowalkowski, Paterno and Sehrish have contributed.

    The DESC Software Working Group is currently developing another version of the demonstrated framework for the DESC scientists to consider at their February gathering at SLAC.

    Jain said that innovative DESC software will enable explorations of the many astronomical mysteries that LSST will open up.

    “The work of the Fermilab group is really going to pave the way for a new mode of doing software analyses and how people collaborate,” Jain said. “I think it will have far-reaching implications for how we do cosmology.”

    See the full article here.

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    Fermilab Campus

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics.

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