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  • richardmitnick 12:35 pm on February 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth-Trojan asteroid search, , , , U Arizona   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “OSIRIS-REx begins search for Earth-Trojan asteroids” 

    1

    Spaceflight Insider

    February 15th, 2017
    Jim Sharkey

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

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    An artist’s rendering of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s survey pattern during its Earth-Trojan asteroid search (not to scale). The search started on Feb. 9, 2017, and will continue until Feb. 20, 2017, as the spacecraft transits the Earth’s L4 Lagrangian region. Image Credit: University of Arizona

    On Feb. 9, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft began searching for an elusive type of near-Earth object known as Earth-Trojan asteroids. The spacecraft, currently on a two-year outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, will spend nearly two weeks looking for evidence of these small bodies.

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    OSIRIS-REX searches for elusive Earth-Trojan asteroids in Earth’s L4 Lagrange point. Image Credit: NASA

    Trojan asteroids are trapped inside stable gravity wells called Lagrange points, which precede or follow a planet as it orbits the Sun. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently traveling through Earth’s fourth Lagrange point (L4), which is approximately 90 million miles (150 million kilometers) away.

    The mission team will take multiple images of the area with OSIRIS-REx’s MapCam camera in the hope of detecting Earth-Trojan asteroids in the region.

    While researchers have discovered only one Earth-Trojan to date, asteroid 2010 TK7, thousands of Trojan asteroids have been found accompanying other planets, mostly around Jupiter. Researchers predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit, but they are hard to find from Earth because they appear near the Sun on the horizon.

    “Because the Earth’s fourth Lagrange point is relatively stable, it is possible that remnants of the material that built Earth are trapped within it,” said Dante Lauretta. “So this search gives us a unique opportunity to explore the primordial building blocks of Earth.”

    Each day during the search, OSIRIS-REx’s MapCam will take 135 survey images that will be processed and analyzed by the mission’s imaging team at the University of Arizona, Tuscon. During the survey, MapCam will also image Jupiter, several galaxies, and main belt asteroids 55 Pandora, 47 Aglaja, and 12 Victoria.

    The search will continue until Feb. 20.

    The survey will be beneficial even if no new asteroids are discovered as the operations involved in searching for Trojans are similar to those required to search for natural satellites and other hazards around Bennu when the spacecraft approaches it in 2018.

    Practicing these kinds of mission-critical operations in advance will help OSIRIS-REx once the spacecraft arrives at Bennu.


    Video courtesy of NASA / University of Arizona

    See the full article here .

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    SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:20 am on January 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Robert N. Shelton, U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “Ex-President Shelton to Oversee GMT Buildout” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    Jan. 23, 2017
    Daniel Stolte

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    Robert Shelton, who served as the UA’s 19th president from 2006 until 2011, will lead the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization behind the development of the world’s largest telescope. (Image: GMTO)

    The Giant Magellan Telescope, in which the UA has a large stake, is positioned to be the world’s largest astronomical telescope when it comes online in 2025.

    Giant Magellan Telescope, Las Campanas Observatory, to be built  some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile
    Giant Magellan Telescope, Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile

    The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization has announced the appointment of physicist Robert N. Shelton to the position of president, effective Feb. 20. Shelton, who served as the 19th president of the University of Arizona from 2006 until 2011, will lead the organization behind the development of the 24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, which is poised to be the world’s largest astronomical telescope when it comes online early in the next decade.

    Shelton will work closely with the GMTO board of directors, the leadership at the partner institutions and the GMT team to complete construction of the observatory, slated to come online in 2025 as the first of a new crop of Extremely Large Telescopes.

    _____________________________________________________________________
    Extra Info

    The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization manages the GMT project on behalf of its international partners: Astronomy Australia Ltd., Australian National University, Carnegie Institution for Science, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP), Harvard University, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago and the UA.

    _____________________________________________________________________

    “With the UA being one of the founders of GMTO, and all the mirrors for the telescope being fabricated at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, the UA really is at the core of making GMTO a success,” Shelton said.

    Shelton said the GMT would be an incredible asset to the future of scientific discovery and our understanding of the universe.

    “This observatory will have resolving power like nothing before — greater than the Hubble Space Telescope, greater than any other ground-based observatory,” he explained. “This allows us to look back in time, because the farther you can look into the recesses of the universe, the farther you can look back in time. And that goes into some fundamental questions about the origin of the universe, the questions of energy and matter — and that, I think, intrigues all human beings.”

    GMT’s assignments will range from studies of the first stars and galaxies in the universe to the exploration of planets orbiting other stars. Developed by an international consortium of universities and research institutions in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, and Korea, the telescope will be located at the Las Campanas Observatory high in the Andes mountains of northern Chile. Dark skies, a dry climate and smooth airflow make Las Campanas one of the world’s premier astronomical observing sites. Construction is underway at the observatory site in Chile, and the giant mirrors at the heart of the telescope are being polished at the Mirror Lab.

    “GMT will help answer questions about our fundamental humanity, and why we’re here on Earth, and what we’re going to do in our time to make the earth and the world around us better,” Shelton said.

    Among its peers, which are optimized to narrow their focus far into the distant universe, GMT will stand out with its ability to do just that, using its very high-angular resolution mode. But it also will employ a wide-field mode to examine relatively large patches of sky, explained Patrick McCarthy, who has served as GMTO’s interim president.

    “That’s really important when you look back at the early universe and want to understand how galaxies form and evolve,” McCarthy said. “In order to build proper samples that are statistically valid, having a larger patch of sky to look at is an advantage.”

    About Shelton’s appointment, McCarthy said: “Our group is just thrilled to have him come on board. His experience and leadership will have a catalyzing impact on us and our ability to move forward. We are a hundred percent behind him and we are committed to his success, because his success is our success, and we view this as a big step forward.”

    Shelton joins GMTO from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, where he has been president since March 2014 and leads the vision and direction of America’s first foundation dedicated solely to funding science. In addition to his tenure at the UA, Shelton has been executive director of the Arizona Sports Foundation and provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, among many other notable leadership and academic positions at renowned public research universities. He also brings experience as a distinguished experimental condensed-matter physicist focusing on collective electron effects in novel materials, totaling more than 240 refereed publications, 50 invited talks and 100 contributed papers at professional meetings.

    Given the “unique combination” of his familiarity with the Mirror Lab and the UA’s decades-long track record in astronomy, Shelton called the move “a natural next step for somebody with UA leadership experience being privileged to now take on leadership of GMTO.”

    Buell Jannuzi, director of UA’s Steward Observatory, said: “I am very grateful to Robert Shelton for agreeing to bring his extensive scientific, administrative, philanthropic and leadership experience to a project that aspires to transform our understanding of the universe — from characterizing the nearest extra-solar planet, Proxima b, to trying to understand how the first galaxies formed. With the outstanding team assembled by the founding institutions, and under Robert’s leadership, I’m excited about the prospects for GMTO.”

    “The GMT is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” Shelton said. “I think the UA should be very proud of the central role it has played in moving the project this far, and the role it will play in bringing it to closure.”

    “Expert leadership is critical to transforming the GMT from a bold vision into a world-leading research facility,” said Walter E. Massey, chair of the GMTO board of directors and chancellor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Dr. Shelton brings the skills and experience that we need at this critical time in the development of the GMT. The GMTO board looks forward to working with Robert on this exciting project.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on January 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , The most successful phyla have species that live on land and have a skeleton and are parasites, Three Ways to Be a Winner in the Game of Evolution, U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “Three Ways to Be a Winner in the Game of Evolution” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    1
    Jellyfish, polyps and the like belong to a phylum called Cnidaria, one of about 30 major groups that make up the animal kingdom. (Photo: Chai Seamaker/Shutterstock)

    A new UA study reveals the key traits associated with high species diversity: The most successful phyla have species that live on land, have a skeleton and are parasites.

    A new study by University of Arizona biologists helps explain why different groups of animals differ dramatically in their number of species, and how this is related to differences in their body forms and ways of life.

    For millennia, humans have marveled at the seemingly boundless variety and diversity of animals inhabiting the Earth. So far, biologists have described and catalogued about 1.5 million animal species, a number that many think might be eclipsed by the number of species still awaiting discovery.

    All animal species are divided among roughly 30 phyla, but these phyla differ dramatically in how many species they contain, from a single species to more than 1.2 million in the case of insects and their kin. Animals have incredible variation in their body shapes and ways of life, including the plantlike, immobile marine sponges that lack heads, eyes, limbs and complex organs, parasitic worms that live inside other organisms (nematodes, platyhelminths), and phyla with eyes, skeletons, limbs and complex organs that dominate the land in terms of species numbers (arthropods) and body size (chordates).

    Amid this dazzling array of life forms, one question has remained as elusive as it is obvious: Why is it that some groups on the evolutionary tree of animals have branched into a dizzying thicket of species while others split into a mere handful and called it a day?

    From the beginnings of their discipline, biologists have tried to find and understand the patterns underlying species diversity. In other words, what is the recipe that allows a phylum to diversify into many species, or, in the words of evolutionary biologists, to be “successful”? A fundamental but unresolved problem is whether the basic biology of these phyla is related to their species numbers. For example, does having a head, limbs and eyes allow some groups to be more successful and thus have greater species numbers?

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    A simplified evolutionary tree of six representative animal phyla, illustrating differences in body form, habitat, and species numbers among them. (Image: T. Jezkova/Shutterstock/Aaron Ambos/J. Wiens)

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    This colorful chocolate chip sea star, along with sea cucumbers and sea urchins, belongs to the Echinoderms, the only phylum with a five-symmetrical body plan. (Photo: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock)

    n the new study, Tereza Jezkova and John Wiens, both in the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, have helped resolve this problem. They assembled a database of 18 traits, including traits related to anatomy, reproduction and ecology. They then tested how each trait was related to the number of species in each phylum, and how quickly species in each phylum multiplied over time (diversification). The results are published in the journal American Naturalist.

    Jezkova and Wiens found that just three traits explained most variation in diversification and species numbers among phyla: the most successful phyla have a skeleton (either internal or external), live on land (instead of in the ocean) and parasitize other organisms. Other traits, including those that might seem more dramatic, had surprisingly little impact on diversification and species numbers: Evolutionary accomplishments such as having a head, limbs and complex organ systems for circulation and digestion don’t seem to be primary accessories in the evolutionary “dress for success.”

    “Parasitism isn’t correlated with any of the other traits, so it seems to have a strong effect on its own,” Wiens said.

    He explained that when a host species splits into two species, it takes its parasite population(s) with it.

    “You can have a number of parasite species living inside the same host,” he said. “For example, there could be 10 species of nematodes in one host species, and if that host species splits into two, there are 20 species of nematodes. So that really multiplies the diversity.”

    The researchers used a statistical method called multiple regression analysis to tease out whether a trait such as parasitic lifestyle is a likely driver of species diversification.

    “We tested all these unique traits individually,” Wiens explained. “For example, having a head, having eyes, where the species in a phylum tend to live, whether they reproduce sexually or asexually, whether they undergo metamorphosis or not. And from that we picked six traits that each had a strong effect on their own. We then fed those six traits into a multiple regression model. And then we asked, ‘What combination of traits explains the most variation without including any unnecessary variables?’ — and from that we could reduce it down to three key variables.”

    The authors point out that the analysis does not make any assumptions about the fossil record, which is not a true reflection of past biodiversity, as it does not reveal most soft-bodied animals or traits like a parasitic lifestyle.

    “We wanted to know what explains the pattern of diversity in the species we see today,” Wiens said. “Who are the winners, and who are the losers?”

    Marine biodiversity is in jeopardy from human activities such as acidification from carbon emissions, posing an existential threat to many marine animals, Wiens said.

    “Many unique products of animal evolution live only in the oceans and could easily be lost, so groups that have survived for hundreds of millions of years could disappear in our lifetime, which is terrible,” he said. “Many of the animals’ phyla that are losers in terms of present-day species numbers tend to be in the ocean, and because of human activity, they may go completely extinct.”

    The study also suggests that man-made extinction may wage a heavy toll on Earth’s biodiversity because of the effect of secondary extinctions, Wiens explained.

    “When a species goes extinct, all its associated species that live in it or on it are likely to go extinct as well,” he said.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:57 pm on September 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , The Supernova That Wasn't: A Tale of 3 Cosmic Eruptions, U Arizona   

    From U Arizona- “The Supernova That Wasn’t: A Tale of 3 Cosmic Eruptions” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    Sept. 1, 2016
    Daniel Stolte

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    Huge, billowing gas and dust clouds are captured in this stunning NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the supermassive star Eta Carinae. (Image: Nathan Smith/UA and NASA)

    Combining images taken with Hubble Space Telescope over more than 20 years, a team of UA researchers has discovered that Eta Carinae, a very massive star system that has puzzled astronomers since it erupted in a supernova-like event in the mid-19th century, has a past that’s much more violent than they thought. The findings help rewrite the story of how this iconic and mysterious star system came to be and present a critical piece of the puzzle of how very massive stars die.

    In the mid-1800s, astronomers surveying the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere noticed something strange: Over the course of a few years, a previously inconspicuous star named Eta Carinae grew brighter and brighter, eventually outshining all other stars except Sirius, before fading again over the next decade, becoming too dim to be seen with the naked eye.

    What had happened to cause this outburst? Did 19th-century astronomers witness some strange type of supernova, a star ending its life in a cataclysmic explosion?

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    This animated view of Hubble Space Telescope images taken between 1993 and 2014 reveals how much the mass ejections from Eta Carinae have moved outward into space, some at a speed of 2 million miles per hour. The outermost ejecta visible in this image stem from previously unknown eruptions predating the Great Eruption of the 1840s. (Image: Kiminki et al./NASA)

    “Not quite,” says Megan Kiminki, a doctoral student in the University of Arizona’s Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. “Eta Carinae is what we call a supernova impostor. The star became very bright as it blew off a lot of material, but it was still there.”

    Indeed, in the mid-20th century Eta Carinae began to brighten again.

    The aftermath of the “Great Eruption” of the mid-1800s, which is now readily visible through a small telescope if you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere, made Eta Carinae a celebrity among objects in the universe known for their bizarre beauty. An hourglass-shaped, billowing cloud of glowing gas and dust enshrouds the star and its companion. Known as the Homunculus nebula, the cloud consists of stellar material hurled into space during the Great Eruption, drifting away at 2 million miles per hour.

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    Zooming in on the “N bow,” a massive protrusion of gas and dust jutting out from the central portion of the Homunculus nebula. The feature is long enough to accommodate about 250 solar systems, lined up side by side and arbitrarily defined by Pluto’s orbit. In this image, the light is inverted, rendering bright areas dark and vice versa. (Image: Megan Kiminki et al.)

    By carefully analyzing images of Eta Carinae taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Kiminki and her team were surprised to discover that the Great Eruption was only the latest in a series of massive outbursts launched by the star system since the 13th century. Published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the paper was co-authored by Nathan Smith, associate professor in the UA’s Department of Astronomy, and Megan Reiter, who obtained her Ph.D. from the same department last year and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan.

    The expansion rate of gas that was far outside the Homunculus indicated that it was moving slowly and must have been ejected centuries before the observed 19th-century brightening. In fact, the motions of the outer material point to two separate eruptions in the mid-13th and mid-16th centuries.

    For scientists trying to piece together what makes star systems such as Eta Carinae tick, the findings are like the stereotypical smoking gun in a detective story.

    “From the first reports of its 19th-century outburst up to the most recent data obtained with advanced capabilities on modern telescopes, Eta Carinae continues to baffle us,” Smith says. “The most important unsolved problem has always been the underlying cause of its eruption, and now we find that there were multiple previous eruptions. This is a bit like reconstructing the eruption history of a volcano by discovering ancient lava flows.”

    Although the glowing gases of the Homunculus nebula prevent astronomers from getting a clear look at what’s inside, they have figured out that Eta Carinae is a binary system of two very massive stars that orbit each other every 5.5 years. Both are much bigger than our sun and at least one of them is nearing the end of its life.

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    Here, color-coded arrows trace the observed proper motions of 792 features in the ejecta of Eta Carinae. Until now, only one eruption was known (red arrows). Blue and green arrows mark previous eruptions (mid-13th and mid-16th centuries, respectively). (Image: Kiminki et al./NASA)

    “These are very large stars that appear very volatile, even when they’re not blowing off nebulae,” Kiminki says. “They have a dense core and very fluffy envelopes. If you replaced our sun by the larger of the two, which has about 90-100 solar masses, it could very well extend into the orbit of Mars.”

    Because the Homunculus nebula is such an iconic and visually stunning object, it has been a popular target of astronomical observations. A total of eight images, taken over the course of two decades with Hubble, turned out to be a treasure trove for Kiminki and her co-authors.

    The original goal of the team’s observing program was to measure proper motions of stars and protostellar jets — fast streams of matter ejected by young stars during formation — in the Carina Nebula, but the same data also provided a powerful way to measure the motion of debris ejected by Eta Carinae itself.

    “As I was aligning the images, I noticed that the one that Eta Carinae in it was more difficult to align,” Kiminki says. “We can only use objects as alignment points that aren’t moving, and I thought, ‘Wow, a lot of this stuff is really moving.’ And then we decided to take a closer look.”

    By aligning the multi-epoch images of the nebula, the team was able to track the movement of more than 800 blobs of gas Eta Carinae had ejected over time and derived a likely ejection date for each. The analyses showed that the Homunculus nebula and the observed 19th-century brightening tell only part of the story. Measuring the speed with which wisps of ejected material expand outward into space revealed that they must have resulted from two separate eruptions that occurred about 600 and 300 years before the Great Eruption of the 19th century.

    In addition to having a separate origin in time, the older material also showed a very different geometry from the Homunculus, where material was ejected out from the star’s poles and appears symmetric about its rotation axis.

    “We found one of the prior eruptions was similarly symmetric, but at a totally different angle from the axis of the Great Eruption,” Kiminki explains. “Even more surprising was that the oldest eruption was very one-sided, suggesting two stars were involved, because it would be very unlikely for one star to blow material out toward just one side.”

    Though perplexing, the findings are a big step forward for astronomers trying to understand what causes the frequent outbursts.

    “We don’t really know what’s going on with Eta Carinae,” Kiminki says. “But knowing that Eta Carinae erupted at least three times tells us that whatever causes those eruptions must be a recurring process, because it wouldn’t be very likely that each eruption is caused by a different mechanism.”

    “Even though we still have not figured out the underlying physical mechanism that caused the 19th-century eruption, we now know that it isn’t a one-time event,” Smith says. “That makes it harder to understand, but it is also a critical piece of the puzzle of how very massive stars die. Stars like Eta Carinae apparently refuse to go quietly into the night.”

    Eta Carinae’s eruptions provide unique insights into the last unstable phases of a very massive star’s life. Researchers who study supernovae have identified a subclass of supernova explosions that appear to suffer violent eruptions shortly before they finally explode. Smith notes that Eta Carinae might be our nearest example of this.

    Because it takes light 7,000 years to travel from Eta Carinae to Earth, much could have happened in the meantime, Kiminki says. “Eta Carinae may have gone supernova by now, and we wouldn’t know until 7,000 years from now.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:14 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , OSIRIS-REx mission, U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “OSIRIS-REx Interest Grows as Launch Day Nears” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    Aug. 29, 2016
    Doug Carroll

    If the questions posed at Saturday’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory open house were any indication, then Tucsonans are impressively up to speed on the OSIRIS-REx mission and eagerly anticipating the spacecraft’s launch on Sept. 8 in Florida.

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    A near-capacity auditorium crowd of all ages at the Kuiper Space Sciences building wanted to know about everything from the spacecraft’s solar panels to the pressurized nitrogen that will be used in collecting a sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

    University of Arizona scientists Bashar Rizk, Carl Hergenrother and Michael Nolan shared their perspective in a panel discussion on various aspects of the mission. They were followed by the mission’s deputy principal investigator, Ed Beshore, whose hourlong overview filled in any gaps.

    The result was a wealth of information that could be appreciated by laypeople and space geeks alike. But it’s what the scientists don’t know or expect that really fires the imagination — both theirs and ours.

    The billion-dollar NASA mission, on the drawing boards at the UA since 2004, is certain to yield unexpected results, according to Nolan, an asteroid scientist.

    “In any mission, you have to predict what you will find,” Nolan said, “and we predict we’ll find pristine material related to the origin of life.

    “However, in every other mission, we’ve predicted and been wrong on things — and that’s why we do this. We’ll be finding things we don’t know anything about.”

    The sample will be the grand prize, and Beshore called it “a gift to future scientists (who will be) using techniques we haven’t dreamed of yet.” The mission represents “a turning of the corner” in the way that the planets are investigated, he said.

    Rizk noted that the weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the installation and integration of the UA-designed OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite, or OCAMS, which will be the spacecraft’s eyes in the sky.

    The three cameras are known informally as PolyCam, a “spyglass” that will spot Bennu from hundreds of thousand of miles and investigate its surface features; MapCam, which will map the entire surface of the asteroid from about three miles, in color; and SamCam, the spacecraft’s “peripheral vision” that will image the actual sample event, expected to occur in July 2020.

    “We’re hoping this asteroid will surprise us in the way that so many images have in the past,” said Rizk, who was the lead on OCAMS.

    Hergenrother, the astronomy lead, detailed the process of elimination that fixed on Bennu as the target. The asteroid, which is 148 million miles away, was chosen because of its carbonaceous composition (“Material that has had a minimal amount of change,” he said), Earth-like orbit, moderate rotation and size.

    “We’re going to learn so much about asteroids that we’ll be able to apply to other (space) objects,” Hergenrother said.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will have three tries to retrieve the sample, expected to yield between 60 grams and a couple of pounds of Bennu’s regolith, or loose surface material. An instrument known as TAGSAM — which stands for Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism — will be used for the collection. If all goes well, the sample will return to Earth at the Utah Test and Training Range, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, in September 2023.

    What happens, one questioner wanted to know, if TAGSAM muffs the first try?

    “We’ll have to go to Washington and show them a lot of PowerPoint,” Beshore said, his sense of humor still intact with less than two weeks to go before launch.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:03 am on July 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Erin Ratcliff, Organic Semiconductor Research Could Boost Electronics, U Arizona,   

    From U Arizona: Women in Science – “Organic Semiconductor Research Could Boost Electronics” Erin Ratcliff 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    July 22, 2016
    Jill Goetz

    1
    Erin Ratcliff

    Erin Ratcliff, assistant professor in the UA College in Engineering, has received grant funding to work toward making environmentally sustainable devices more stable and commercially viable.

    Most people aren’t accustomed to hearing “organic” and “semiconductor” in the same sentence. But the words flow naturally for Erin Ratcliff, a University of Arizona assistant professor with a chemistry background in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

    Ratcliff is co-principal investigator on a new research project funded by the National Science Foundation to better understand and improve the viability of organic semiconductor materials, which are being used more and more in the manufacturing of digital display screens and new electronic devices.

    The $590,000, three-year award teams Ratcliff with Jeanne Pemberton, a UA Regents’ Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Science and principal investigator on the study.

    “I’m incredibly excited to receive this award and to have Jeanne Pemberton as my co-investigator,” said Ratcliff, who joined the UA faculty in 2014. “Her research and discoveries in analytical chemistry have led to major advancements in the field.”

    The NSF project, which started July 1, is also a boon for UA undergraduate and graduate students in engineering and science. Besides working in the Ratcliff and Pemberton labs, participating graduate students will have six-week internships at Next Energy Technologies Inc., a startup based in Santa Barbara, California, that is developing organic semiconductor materials for the solar industry. Ratcliff also is developing a new course, Organic Electronics, for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students at the UA.

    Organic semiconductor materials are carbon-based molecules and polymers with electrical conductivity. They are used to make organic light-emitting diode, digital display screens for mobile phones, TVs and tablets. Future prospects for organic semiconductor materials include solar energy technologies and wearable devices.

    The global market for all types of organic light-emitting diode displays is expected to grow from nearly $16 billion this year to $57 billion in 2026, according to market research firm IDTechEx. Ultrathin flexible organic light-emitting diode screen displays reflect the latest trend, with revenues forecast to grow from $2 billion to $18 billion by 2020.

    Benefits of organic semiconductor materials over their inorganic counterparts, such as silicon, include greater transparency and flexibility, reduced cost and fewer adverse environmental effects.

    However, the degradability of organic semiconductor materials that makes them easier on the environment can also make them less stable and more likely to degrade in operando — that is, when they are used in a device.

    In their study, In Operando Characterization of Degradation Processes in Organic Semiconductor Materials, Ratcliff, Pemberton and UA graduate and undergraduate students in engineering and chemistry are using spectroscopy and other tools to measure and analyze OSCs exposed to different levels of light, heat, gases, moisture and electrical charges under varied conditions to better understand and manipulate the degradation process.
    “Organic semiconductors hold exceptional promise in a number of existing and emerging electronics and other technologies,” Ratcliff said. “But degradation is a major problem for using them commercially. This research project will set a foundation for better understanding and solving this complicated issue.”

    As a collaboration of chemists and engineers, the project stands apart from previous studies of OSC degradation, Ratcliff emphasized.

    “Chemistry researchers have approached the problem by looking only at molecular chemistry,” she said. “Engineering researchers have focused on device functionality. By combining the skills, expertise and perspectives of chemists and engineers, our project will provide the most complete picture of OSC degradation in operando to date.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:31 am on December 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “UA Completes Primary Mirror for Advanced Solar Telescope” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    December 11, 2015
    Justin Walker
    UA College of Optical Sciences
    520-621-0207
    jwalker@optics.arizona.edu

    1
    The completed primary mirror for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope awaits shipping at the College of Optical Sciences.

    The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, or DKIST, is scheduled to see first light in 2019 on the island of Maui.

    Completion of the $14 million primary mirror for the 4.2-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, which is scheduled to see first light in 2019, was celebrated this week by the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona.

    DKIST telescope
    View of DKIST

    The telescope is under construction by the National Solar Observatory atop the Haleakala volcano on the Pacific island of Maui. It is named after the late Daniel K. Inouye, who was a U.S. senator from Hawaii.

    The telescope, also known as DKIST, features an off-axis, clear aperture design to allow for observations with unprecedented spatial, spectral and temporal resolution.

    “We’re actually going to point this at the sun,” said Thomas Rimmele, DKIST’s project director, who was on hand for the mirror’s completion. “This is an important telescope. It will be transformational for understanding the sun, solar activity and its impacts on humankind.”

    The DKIST primary mirror blank was fabricated by Schott AG of Germany then shipped to the UA for polishing. The UA’s polishing effort was four years in the in the planning and execution, involving more than 50 people from the College of Optical Sciences and Steward Observatory. The polishing alone required an estimated 80 hours a week for six months, utilizing four new measurement techniques.

    “It was daunting to plan out the things we needed to do,” said Jim Burge, a UA professor of optical sciences and astronomy and the project’s principal investigator, citing the mirror’s complex shape and challenging specifications.

    As an example of the research involved, Burge said, eight UA students worked on their thesis or dissertation related to different aspects of the project.

    “Nobody has made a surface like this before,” Burge said. “Nobody has needed a surface like this before.”

    The mirror’s construction was “a research project all the way through,” said Joseph McMullin, DKIST’s project manager.

    The telescope’s site on Haleakala was selected for its clear daytime atmospheric seeing conditions, which will enable study of the solar corona. DKIST will be capable of observing objects on the sun that are about 25 kilometers (nearly 16 miles) across.

    Construction at the DKIST site began in January 2013. Work on the telescope’s housing was completed in September of that year.

    Justin Walker, associate dean of the College of Optical Sciences, praised the teamwork involved in the mirror project.

    “The University of Arizona is known for this kind of work in optical fabrication, which is unmatched by any other university,” Walker said. “We have this breadth of engineering staff that supports our faculty to do cutting-edge science with applied outcomes. It’s a unique capability.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:50 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Planet in the making, U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “Researchers Capture First Photo of Planet in the Making” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    1
    A composite image of LkCa15 shows the MagAO data, in blue, and the LBT data, in green and red.

    November 18, 2015
    Robin Tricoles

    There are 450 light-years between Earth and LkCa15, a young star with a transition disk around it, a cosmic whirling dervish, a birthplace for planets.

    Despite the disk’s considerable distance from Earth and its gaseous, dusty atmosphere, University of Arizona researchers captured the first photo of a planet in the making, a planet residing in a gap in LkCa15’s disk.

    Of the roughly 2,000 known exoplanets — planets that orbit a star other than our sun — only about 10 have been imaged, and that was long after they had formed, not when they were in the making.

    “This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,” says Stephanie Sallum, a UA graduate student, who with Kate Follette, a former UA graduate student now doing postdoctoral work at Stanford University, led the research.

    “No one has successfully and unambiguously detected a forming planet before,” Follette says. “There have always been alternate explanations, but in this case we’ve taken a direct picture, and it’s hard to dispute that.”

    The researchers’ results were published in the Nov. 19 issue of Nature.

    Only months ago, Sallum and Follette were working independently, each on her own Ph.D. project. But serendipitously they had set their sights on the same star. Both were observing LkCa15, which is surrounded by a special kind of protoplanetary disk that contains an inner clearing, or gap.

    Protoplanetary disks form around young stars using the debris left over from the star’s formation. It is suspected that planets then form inside the disk, sweeping up dust and debris as the material falls onto the planets instead of staying in the disk or falling onto the star. A gap is then cleared in which planets can reside.

    The researchers’ new observations support that view.

    “The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” Follette says. “It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of disks that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”

    Sallum says researchers are just now being able to image objects that are close to and much fainter than a nearby star. “That’s because of researchers at the University of Arizona who have developed the instruments and techniques that make that difficult observation possible,” she says.

    Those instruments include the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, the world’s largest telescope, located on Arizona’s Mount Graham, and the UA’s Magellan Telescope and its adaptive optics system, or MagAO, located in Chile.

    Large Binocular telescope
    LBT

    Magellan 6.5 meter telescopes
    CTIO Magellan telescope

    Capturing sharp images of distant objects is difficult thanks in large part to atmospheric turbulence, the mixing of hot and cold air.

    “When you look through the Earth’s atmosphere, what you’re seeing is cold and hot air mixing in a turbulent way that makes stars shimmer,” says Laird Close, UA astronomy professor and Follette’s graduate adviser.

    “To a big telescope, it’s a fairly dramatic thing. You see a horrible-looking image, but it’s the same phenomenon that makes city lights and stars twinkle.”

    Josh Eisner, UA astronomy professor and Sallum’s graduate adviser, says big telescopes “always suffer from this type of thing.” But by using the LBT adaptive optics system and a novel imaging technique, he and Sallum succeeded in getting the crispest infrared images yet of LkCa15.

    Meanwhile, Close and Follette used Magellan’s adaptive optics system MagAO to independently corroborate Eisner and Sallum’s planetary findings. That is, using MagAO’s unique ability to work in visible wavelengths, they captured the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” spectral fingerprint, the specific wavelength of light that LkCa 15 and its planets emit as they grow. In fact, almost all young stars are identified by their hydrogen alpha light, says Close, principal investigator of MagAO.

    When cosmic objects are forming, they get extremely hot, Close says. And because they’re forming from hydrogen, those objects all glow a dark red, which astronomers refer to as H-alpha, a particular wavelength of light. “It’s just like a neon sign, the way neon gas glows when it gets energized,” he says.

    “That single dark shade of red light is emitted by both the planet and the star as they undergo the same growing process,” Follette says. “We were able to separate the light of the faint planet from the light of the much brighter star and to see that they were both growing and glowing in this very distinct shade of red.”

    A color so distinct, Close says, that it’s proof positive a planet is forming — something never seen before now.

    “Results like this have only been made possible with the application of a lot of very advanced new technology to the business of imaging the stars,” says professor Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney, one of the study’s co-authors, “and it’s really great to see them yielding such impressive results.”


    download mp4 video here.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:51 am on October 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Presolar grains, U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “Microscopic Findings, Astronomic Implications” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    October 16, 2015
    Rebecca Peiffer NASA Space Grant Intern, University Relations – Communications

    1
    The arrow points to a grain of magnetite preserved from an ancient star, discovered by UA researcher Tom Zega and a team of researchers. (Photo: Tom Zega and © AAS. Reproduced with permission.)

    Imagine that you could travel back in time four and a half billion years ago, when the solar system was still just a bunch of rocks and dust and gas mixing together. Imagine watching all those billions of years of history re-created in front of you.

    Now, imagine that scientists are working to reconstruct this history with objects found here on Earth.

    One of the scientists is Tom Zega, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. He studies “presolar grains,” which are the remains of ancient stars preserved in meteorites.

    These grains contain clues for scientists looking to build a narrative about the nearby stars before the birth of the solar system. Considering the scale of the undertaking, it is surprising that the evidence found in these presolar grains is microscopic.

    Scientists find the grains in chunks of meteorite mostly made up of rocks that formed after the solar system’s creation.

    “Those of us that are interested in understanding stardust basically have to find needles in the haystack,” Zega says.

    2
    The best samples of presolar grains come from meteorites found soon after their fall to Earth, so that any grains inside are not affected by rain or heat.

    To help find the needles, scientists employ some clever techniques.

    “We’ll take a chunk of a meteorite, we’ll boil it up in these harsh, nasty, aggressive acids, and then we’ll generate a residue,” Zega says.

    The process eliminates some of the excess meteorite and increases the chances of finding a presolar grain. The grains have endured millions of years of exposure to cosmic rays and maintained their original form, so some will withstand the acid and remain in the residue.

    Grains are only a few hundred nanometers wide. For context, a strand of human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide, and one nanometer is about half the width of a strand of DNA. To image the grains, scientists must use microscopes powerful enough to look at individual atoms.

    Through this procedure, Zega and a team of researchers discovered the first grain of magnetite with confirmed presolar origins and published their results in the Astrophysical Journal. From a sample only 650 nanometers wide, Zega estimated the size and chemical composition of its parent star, a star that inhabited this part of the galaxy before the solar system came into existence.

    Even the discovery of this grain was revealing. The chemical reaction that created the magnetite almost certainly required water vapor. This is one of the first experimental confirmations of water vapor around an ancient star.

    With the right approach, Zega says he believes presolar grains could even help construct a timeline for the history of our local part of the galaxy.

    “We know the galaxy itself is about 13 billion years old, and we know the solar system is four and a half billion years old, but there’s a lot of billions of years in between there for things to happen,” he says.

    If we could age-date these grains the way we age-date rocks on Earth, then we could start to document the astrophysical events that took place in this period. That’s one way studies of presolar grains can go beyond traditional observations through telescopes.

    With meteorites, researchers can do more than observe stardust — they can actually hold it in their hands.

    “It’s pretty amazing,” Zega says. “After 17 years in the field, I’m still fascinated by the fact that I can hold a piece of the solar system in my hand, and I can analyze it in the laboratory at the atomic level.”

    This excitement and curiosity inspires missions such as OSIRIS-REx, which aims to bring back samples of an asteroid for further study on Earth. For Zega and people in his field, that mission is like a dream come true.

    NASA Osiris -REx
    NASA/OSIRIS-REx

    “Everything that didn’t go into forming the sun or the planets was left over in the form of asteroids and meteors and dust,” he says. “So you can think of that as a time capsule that’s just sitting out there, and if we could we’d fly out there and grab samples of it. We’d rewrite the books.”

    For the next step in his research, Zega would like to collect more samples of presolar grains and look at the trends among them.

    That could help answer some of the big questions in planetary science about the origin of the solar system. In particular, the grains offer an estimate for how many stars injected their matter into the early solar system — and what kind of stars they were.

    “It just remains to be seen as time progresses whether we can come up with answers to some of these questions,” Zega says, smiling. “But we keep asking them.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:38 pm on October 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U Arizona   

    From U Arizona: “Spiral Arms Discovered in Planet-Forming Disk” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    October 9, 2015
    Emily Litvack

    1
    Astronomers add one rare, majestic piece to the puzzle of figuring out how rare planets such as Earth are in the Milky Way.

    According to a new paper co-authored by UA researchers, an ultra-rare spiral structure lives inside a planet-forming disk, some 400 light-years from here.

    Using a powerful, state-of-the-art new instrument, Kevin Wagner, a first-year graduate student in University of Arizona’s Department of Astronomy, and his adviser Daniel Apai were hunting for exoplanets — planets that orbit stars outside of our own solar system.

    2
    The spiral structures and finer features of the planet-building disk revealed through high-contrast, high-resolution imaging. Left: near-infrared false color composite image (RGB=HJY) of the disk in HD100453. A mask has been placed over the central star to enable imaging of the much fainter structures, while any light structures inside of the dashed ring are unreliable because of image artifacts. Right: K1-band image of HD100453 with features and size comparisons to our own solar system overlaid.

    But as Wagner and his colleagues pored over images of a young star some 400 light-years from Earth and twice the size of the sun, they noticed something curious.

    It’s not uncommon for young stars such as HD100453 to be encircled by planet-building disks. The disk that orbits this particular star is like most others, too: It’s a gigantic, orbiting cosmic pancake of gas and dust. But inside it, they discovered, lives an odd, beautiful, symmetrical, two-armed spiral structure.

    Up to now, after observing hundreds of young stars, astronomers discovered such spirals only in two other stars — and the one around HD100453 is by far the closest to Earth and most symmetrical in shape. Each of the two arms of the disk is about 3 billion miles, or about 40 times longer than the Earth-sun distance.

    Compared to our own solar system, the gap in this disk ends at about the orbit of Uranus, and the spirals extend to about the orbit of Pluto, suggesting that HD100453 may resemble the young solar system and it may be where scientists should look for ongoing formation of giant planets.

    Using the planet-finding SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the research team took the first high-resolution, high-contrast images of HD100453 and discovered the unique spiral protoplanetary disk.

    ESO SPHERE
    ESO/SPHERE

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    ESO/VLT

    “(We are) trying to figure out how planetary systems form, but we can’t watch it happen because it takes tens of millions of years,” Wagner said.

    Instead, by studying multiple systems in different stages of evolution, researchers are able to make inferences on their general evolution from young disks of star- and planet-forming material to mature planetary systems.

    This disk has not been imaged previously, and the spiral structure likely indicates interaction with unseen planets, according to Apai and other astronomers, although so far the observations have not been sensitive enough to detect them.

    “Directly imaging planets around other stars is exciting, but very challenging — even giant planets are about a million times fainter than their host stars,” Apai said. “The rare disk structures, such as Kevin’s majestic two-armed spiral, are our best indicators of where the just-forming planets may hide.”

    Finding out how many systems are like our own is an important part of answering the question of how rare planets such as Earth are in the Milky Way. Investigating how, when and where planets form in the disks around young stars will help pin down that number.

    The team’s images also show a large gap in the disk, seen for the first time in this system and probably suggesting the presence of one or two massive, undetected planets, which could be driving the spiral arms and quickly clearing the disk of material, Wagner said.

    He explained that while the possibilities are compelling, the only way to know for sure is to revisit the spiral by taking even more sensitive images to search for the planets themselves.

    “We can’t wait to see what our next, more detailed images will reveal,” Apai said.

    Apai, principal investigator and assistant professor of astronomy and planetary sciences, led the proposal and the observations, while Wagner performed the data reduction and analysis and is lead author on the paper. They are members of the major NASA-funded project Earths in Other Solar Systems team.

    Apai, Wagner and astronomers Markus Kasper of the European Southern Observatory and Massimo Robberto of the Space Telescope Science Institute will have their results published as a letter in the Astrophysical Journal.

    Ultimately, this kind of imaging and analysis is about answering big questions, Wagner said.

    “Is our solar system rare or typical? Are there others like ours?”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
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