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  • richardmitnick 7:59 am on August 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caty Pilachowski, , , NOAO WIYN Observatory, , ,   

    From Science Node: Women in Stem -“A Hoosier’s view of the heavens” Caty Pilachowski 

    Science Node bloc
    Science Node

    24 Aug, 2017
    Tristan Fitzpatrick

    Caty Pilachowski

    Courtesy Emily Sterneman; Indiana University.

    “An eclipse violates our sense of what’s right.”

    So says Caty Pilachowski. Pilachowski, past president of the American Astronomical Society and now the Kirkwood Chair in Astronomy at Indiana University, has just returned from Hopkinsville, Kentucky where she observed the eclipse on the path of totality and watched the phenomena associated with a solar eclipse.

    “There are all kinds of effects that we can see during an eclipse,” says Pilachowski. “For example, we’re able to see the corona, which we can never see during the daytime without special equipment.”

    The surface of the sun, Pilachowski explains, has a temperature of roughly 5,780 kelvins (10,000º Fahrenheit). The thin gas that makes up the corona far above the sun, however, has a much hotter temperature— over a million degrees K.

    “That process of transporting energy into the highest atmosphere of the sun is not well understood,” she observes. “It’s the region just above the bright lower atmosphere of the sun that we’re best able to see during the eclipse, and that’s where the energy transport occurs.”

    Smile for the camera

    But the star in our own neighborhood isn’t the only one Pilachowski is keeping her eye on.

    When they’re not watching eclipses, Pilachowski and her colleagues at the IU Department of Astronomy use the One Degree Imager (ODI) on the WIYN 3.5M Observatory at Kitt Peak outside Tucson, Arizona.

    One Degree Imager (ODI) on the WIYN 3.5M Observatory

    NOAO WIYN 3.5 meter telescope at Kitt Peak, AZ, USA

    The ODI was designed to image one square degree of sky at a time (the full moon takes up about half a square degree). Each image produced with the ODI is potentially 1 – 2 gigabytes in size.

    Kitt Peak outside of Tucson, Arizona hosts the 3.5 meter WIYN telescope, the primary research telescope for IU astronomers. Courtesy IU Astronomy; UITS Advanced Visualization Laboratory.

    IU astronomers collect thousands of these images, creating huge datasets that need to be examined quickly for scholarly insight.

    “Datasets from the ODI are much larger than can be handled with methods astronomers previously used, such as a CD-ROM or a portable hard drive” says Arvind Gopu, manager of the Scalable Compute Archive team.

    This is where IU’s computationally rich resources are critically important.

    The ODI Portal, Pipeline, and Archive (ODI-PPA) leverages the Karst, Big Red II, and Carbonate supercomputers at IU to quickly process these large amounts of data for analysis.

    Karst supercomputer

    Big Red II supercomputer

    These HPC tools allow researchers to perform statistical analysis and source extraction from the original image data. With these resources, they can determine if they’ve located stars, galaxies, or other items of interest from the large slice of the universe they’ve been viewing.

    “The advantage of using ODI-PPA is that you don’t have to have a lot of supercomputing experience,” says Gopu. “The idea is for astronomers to do the astronomy, and for us at UITS Research Technologies to do the computer science for them.”

    This makes the workflow on the ODI much faster than for other optical instruments. When collecting images of the universe, some instruments run into the crowded field problem, where stars are so close to each other they blend together when imaged. Teasing them apart requires a lot of computational heft.

    Another advantage ODI-PPA offers is its user-friendly web portal that makes it easy for researchers to view out-of-this-world images on their own machines, without requiring multiple trips to Kitt Peak.

    “Without the portal, IU astronomers would be dead in the water,” Pilachowski admits. “Lots and lots of data, with no way to get the science done.”

    Out of the fire and into the frying pan

    Pilachowski is also a principal investigtor on the Blanco DECam Bulge Survey (BDBS). A three-year US National Science Foundation-funded project, BDBS uses the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) attached to the Blanco Telescope in Chile to map the bulge at the heart of the Milky Way.

    Dark Energy Survey

    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL

    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Like the yolk of a fried egg rising above egg whites in a frying pan, billions of stars orbit together to form a bulge that rises out of the galactic center.

    With the help of the DECam, Pilachowski can analyze populations of stars in the Milky Way’s bulge to study their properties.

    Astronomers use three different variables to catalog stars: How much hydrogen a star has, how much helium it has, and how much ‘metals’ it has (or, all the elements that aren’t hydrogen or helium).

    When the data from the survey is processed, Pilchowski can explore a large amount of information about stares in the Bulge, giving her clues about how the Milky Way’s central star system formed.

    “Most large astronomical catalogues are in the range of 500 million stars,” says Michael Young, astronomer and senior developer analyst at UITS Research Technologies. “When we’re done with this project, we should have a catalog of about a billion stars for researchers to use.”

    Journey of two eclipses

    As a child of the atomic age, Pilachowski grew up devouring books about the evolution of stars. She read as many books as she could about how they were formed, what stages they went through, and how they died.

    “That interest in stars has been a lifelong love for me,” Pilachowski says. “It’s neat to me that what I found exciting as a kid is what I get to spend my whole career studying.”

    She observed the last total solar eclipse in the continental US on February 26, 1979, an event she says further inspired her research in astronomy.

    “For me that eclipse was a combination of, ‘Wow, this is so amazing,’” Pilachowski recalls.

    “On the other hand, the observer in me saw cool things that were present, like planets that were visible right near the sun in the day time.”

    Regardless of whether scientists get closer to answering why the sun’s outer atmosphere is much hotter than its surface, Pilachowski says the eclipse has an eerie, unnerving effect on viewers.

    “We have this deep, ingrained understanding that the sun rises every morning and sets every evening,” says Pilachowski. “Things are as they’re supposed to be. An eclipse is something so rare and counter to our intuition that it just affects us deeply.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:50 pm on March 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NOAO WIYN Observatory,   

    From Penn State: “NASA selects Penn State to lead next-generation planet finder” 

    Penn State Bloc

    Pennsylvania State University

    29 March 2016
    Kimberly M. S. Cartier / B K K

    A Penn State-led research group has been selected by NASA’s Astrophysics Division to build a $10-million, cutting-edge instrument to detect planets orbiting stars outside our solar system. The team, led by Suvrath Mahadevan, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, was selected after an intense national competition. When completed in 2019, the instrument will be the centerpiece of a partnership between NASA and the National Science Foundation called the NASA-NSF Exoplanet Observational Research program (NN-EXPLORE).

    NOAO WIYN 3.5 meter telescope exterior
    NOAO WIYN 3.5 meter telescope interior
    NOAO WIYN 3.5 meter telescope at Kitt Peak, AZ, USA

    “We are privileged to have been selected to build this new instrument for the exoplanet community,” Mahadevan said. “This is a testament to our multi-institutional and interdisciplinary team of talented graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and senior scientists.” The instrument is named NEID – derived from the word meaning “to discover/visualize” in the native language of the Tohono O’odham, on whose land Kitt Peak National Observatory is located. NEID also is short for “NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy.” NEID will detect planets by the tiny gravitational tug they exert on their stars.

    NOAO Kitt Peak National Observatory
    NOAO Kitt Peak National Observatory

    “NEID will be more stable than any existing spectrograph, allowing astronomers around the world to make the precise measurements of the motions of nearby, Sun-like stars,” said Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a member of the science advisory team. “Our team will use NEID to discover and measure the orbits of rocky planets at the right distances from their stars to host liquid water on their surfaces.”

    “Winning this competition is a tremendous honor and a mark of recognition for our Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds,” said Donald Schneider, Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Many NEID team members are graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Schneider added, “We are proud that our junior scientists are a significant part of this ground-breaking project.”

    NEID Project Manager and Senior Scientist Fred Hearty said, “Building this instrument is a wonderful opportunity for Penn State and our partners. R&D here at Penn State established a foundation to advance the state-of-the-art in planet finding almost thirty years ago. Today’s Habitable-zone Planet Finder project is proving the entire system works as planned.”

    NEID will be built over the next three years in laboratories at Innovation Park on the Penn State University Park Campus and at partnering institutions. It will be installed on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona. NEID will provide new capabilities for the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO)3, which operates the Kitt Peak telescopes. When NEID is completed, astronomers worldwide will have access to this state-of-the-art planet finder.

    Astronomer and Penn State Research Associate Chad Bender, who will help to oversee the construction of the instrument, noted that “NEID’s capabilities are critical to the success of NASA’s upcoming exoplanet missions. NEID will follow-up on planets discovered by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and also will identify exciting targets to be observed by the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.”


    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb telescope annotated
    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb telescope annotated


    The NEID team is a multi-institutional collaboration, consisting of exoplanet scientists and engineers from Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Colorado, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Macquarie University in Australia, Australian Astronomical Observatory, and Physical Research Laboratory in India. “NEID is a transformative capability in the search for worlds like our own, Mahadevan said.”

    NASA and NSF established the NN-EXPLORE partnership in February 2015 to take advantage of the full NOAO share of the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at KPNO, to provide the science community with the tools and access to conduct ground-based observations that advance exoplanet science, and to support the observations of NASA space astrophysics missions. KPNO is operated on behalf of NSF by NOAO. The NEID project will be managed on behalf of NASA’s Astrophysics Division by the Exoplanet Exploration Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:19 am on November 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NOAO WIYN Observatory   

    From Tuscon.com: “NASA needs Kitt Peak telescope for exoplanet duty” 


    November 28, 2014
    Tom Beal

    NASA needed an earthbound location for following up the exoplanet discoveries of its orbiting telescopes just when the National Science Foundation was looking to unload its share of the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak.

    NOAO WIYN Telescope
    NOAO KItt Peak WIYN telescope

    “Our friends at NSF came over and said … ‘Any interest in a joint venture before we pull the plug on it?’” said Douglas Hudgins, program scientist for exoplanet exploration at NASA’s Astrophysics Division.

    Hudgins said NASA looked at WIYN’s capabilities and decided it was a good match for its need to learn more about planets it had found orbiting distant stars with its Kepler Space Telescope and for future discoveries made closer by with Kepler’s K2 mission.

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    It also plans to equip the 3.5-meter telescope with an instrument that will perform “extreme precision Doppler spectrography,” said Hudgins.

    It will be used to follow up discoveries that will be made around nearby stars in NASA’s upcoming TESS mission, he said.


    TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is expected to launch by 2018.

    The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) will continue to operate the telescope and will give its 40 percent share of its time to projects proposed by individual scientists that support NASA’s exoplanet program.

    The telescope’s other partners are the universities of Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri. The “Y” in its name came from original partner Yale University.

    WIYN, which saw first light in 1994, is the second largest optical telescope on Kitt Peak.

    “The WIYN is a really great telescope,” said Hudgins. Kitt Peak remains a good site for astronomy and the WIYN occupies “the best spot” there, he said.

    NASA’s Kepler has found 4,178 exoplanet candidates using the transit method, which records a diminution of a star’s light when a planet passes in front of it.

    It has confirmed 995 exoplanets in follow-up observations, which involve a measurement of the planet’s radial velocity — its tug on the host star. A few have been directly observed by the largest telescopes on Earth and in space.

    The radial velocity measurement requires “very high precision,” said Hudgins.

    It measures the slight shift toward the blue part of the spectrum when a planet passes in front of a star and tugs it toward the observer, and the slight shift toward red when it passes behind.

    The smaller the planet, the more precision needed, said Hudgins, and the new instrument will be capable of measuring the tug from small, possibly Earthlike planets — the ultimate targets of the hunt.

    Only a handful of such instruments exist, said Hudgins. “This is going to be the first such instrument openly available to the U.S. scientific community.”

    NASA’s involvement is the happiest possible ending for WIYN and NOAO, said Kitt Peak Director Lori Allen.

    It adds capabilities while preserving open access, she said.

    John Salzer, chair of the Department of Astronomy at Indiana University, called the arrangement “an outstanding resolution to our funding crisis.”

    In an email, Salzer said NASA’s involvement has “significant positive ramifications for the WIYN university partners in terms of new science opportunities.”

    See the full article here

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  • richardmitnick 4:58 am on April 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NOAO WIYN Observatory   

    From NASA Chandra- “NGC 281: A Bustling Hub of Star Formation” 2007 

    NASA Chandra

    NGC 281 is a bustling hub of star formation about 10,000 light years away. This composite image of optical and X-ray emission includes regions where new stars are forming and older regions containing stars about 3 million years old.

    ngc 281
    NGC 281
    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Wolk et al; Optical: NSF/AURA/WIYN/Univ. of Alaska/T.A.Rector
    Release Date November 15, 2007

    NOAO WIYN Telescope
    NOAO WIYN Telescope

    The optical data (seen in red, orange, and yellow) show a small open cluster of stars, large lanes of obscuring gas and dust, and dense knots where stars may still be forming. The X-ray data (purple), based on a Chandra observation lasting more than a day, shows a different view. More than 300 individual X-ray sources are seen, most of them associated with IC 1590, the central cluster. The edge-on aspect of NGC 281 allows scientists to study the effects of powerful X-rays on the gas in the region, the raw material for star formation.

    A second group of X-ray sources is seen on either side of a dense molecular cloud, known as NGC 281 West, a cool cloud of dust grains and gas, much of which is in the form of molecules. The bulk of the sources around the molecular cloud are coincident with emission from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a family of organic molecules containing carbon and hydrogen. There also appears to be cool diffuse gas associated with IC 1590 that extends toward NGC 281 West. The X-ray spectrum of this region shows that the gas is a few million degrees and contains significant amounts of magnesium, sulfur and silicon. The presence of these elements suggests that supernova recently went off in that area.

    See the full article here.

    Chandra X-ray Center, Operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
    Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

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