From University of Washington via Science Alert: Women in STEM- “This Incredible Orbit Map of Our Solar System Makes Our Brains Ache” Eleanor Lutz

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Science Alert

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(Eleanor Lutz)

17 JUN 2019
EVAN GOUGH

If you want to know what a talent for scientific visualizations looks like, check out Eleanor Lutz. She’s a PhD student in biology at the University of Washington, and at her website Tabletop Whale, you can see her amazing work on full display.

Her latest piece is a map showing all the orbits of over 18,000 asteroids in the Solar System. It includes 10,000 asteroids that are over 10 km in diameter, and about 8,000 objects of unknown size.

As the tagline at her website says, she produces “Charts, infographics, and animations about any and all things science.”

This includes things like a “Visual Compendium of Glowing Creatures,” “All the Stars You Can See From Earth,” and a beautiful topographic map of Mercury.

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But it’s her newest project that is garnering her a lot of attention in the space community. Lutz is working on an Atlas of Space, and has been for the last year and a half. It’s a collection of ten visualizations including planets, moons, and outer space.

As she says on her website, “I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10 km.”

It’s that map of objects larger than 10 km that is generating buzz.

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(Eleanor Lutz)

All of the data for Lutz’s Atlas of Space is public data, freely available. She gets if from sources like NASA and the US Geological Survey.

Part of what drives her is that even though the data is public and freely available, it’s raw. And taking that raw data and turning it into a helpful, and even beautiful, visualization, takes a lot of work.

In an interview with Wired, Lutz said, “I really like that all this data is accessible, but it’s very difficult to visualize. It’s really awesome science, and I wanted everyone to be able to see it in a way that makes sense.”

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( Eleanor Lutz)

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(Eleanor Lutz)

Lutz’s work is really more than data visualizations. She has a designer’s eye, and some of her work is very artful.

But being a scientist, she’s inspired to share the data and the methods she used to create her work. She plans to publish the open source code for each of her pieces, and also tutorials for how to create them yourself.

It’s difficult to understand our world, or anything in nature really, without engaging with science. Without science, all we have is anecdote and opinion.

But science is all about data, and dense data is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s taxing and time-consuming to understand.

Lutz’s work is making it easier. In an interview with Wired, she said, “There’s a knowledge barrier to accessing some of the interesting, awesome things about science. There are so many facts and equations, and I want those cool ideas to be accessible.”

To access some of those cool ideas she’s talking about, visit her website, tabletopwhale.com, where you can explore her work and her methods. You can also purchase prints there.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

See the full article here .


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From Science Alert: “Every Few Hours a Flash of Light Comes From The Moon. Another Impact”

ScienceAlert

From Science Alert

15 DEC 2018
MATT WILLIAMS, THE UNIVERSE TODAY

Ever since the Apollo missions explored the lunar surface, scientists have known that the Moon’s craters are the result of a long history of meteor and asteroid impacts. But it has only been in the past few decades that we have come to understand how regular these are.

In fact, every few hours, an impact on the lunar surface is indicated by a bright flash. These impact flashes are designed as a “transient lunar phenomena” because they are fleeting.

Basically, this means that the flashes (while common) last for only a fraction of a second, making them very difficult to detect. For this reason, the European Space Agency (ESA) created the NEO Lunar Impacts and Optical TrAnsients (NELIOTA) project in 2015 to monitor the moon for signs of impact flashes.

By studying them, the project hopes to learn more about the size and distribution of near-Earth objects to determine if they pose a risk to Earth.

To be fair, this phenomena is not new to astronomers, as flashes have been reportedly seen lighting up dark sections of the Moon for at least a thousand years.

It has only been recently, however, that scientists have had telescopes and cameras sophisticated enough to observe these events and characterize them (i.e. size, speed and frequency).

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(NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh)

Determining how often such events take place, and what they can teach us about our Near-Earth environment is the reason the ESA created NELIOTA.

In February of 2017, the project began a 22 month-long campaign to observe the Moon using the 1.2 m telescope at the Kryoneri Observatory located in Greece. This telescope is the largest instrument on Earth ever dedicated to monitoring the Moon.

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Kryoneri Observatory, Greece

In addition, the NELIOTA system is the first to use a 1.2 m-telescope for monitoring the Moon. Traditionally, lunar monitoring programs have relied on telescopes with primary mirrors measuring 0.5 m in diameter or smaller.

The larger mirror of the Kryoneri telescope allows the NELIOTA scientists to detect flashes two magnitudes fainter than other lunar monitoring programs.

But even with the right instruments, detecting these flashes is no easy task. In addition to lasting for only a fraction of a second, it is also impossible to spot them on the bright side of the Moon since the sunlight reflected from the surface is much brighter.

For this reason, these events can only be seen on the Moon’s “dark side” – i.e. between a New Moon and First Quarter and between a Last Quarter and New Moon.

The Moon must also be above the horizon at the time and observations must be conducted using a fast-frame camera. Because of these necessary conditions, the NELIOTA project has only been able to obtain 90 hours of observation time over a 22-month period, during which time 55 lunar impact events were observed.

From this data, scientists were able to extrapolate that an average of about 8 flashes occur every hour on the surface of the Moon.

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(ESA/AFP)

Another feature that sets the NELIOTA project apart is its two fast-frame cameras that enable lunar monitoring in the visible and near-infrared bands of the spectrum.

This allowed the project scientists to conduct the first study ever where the temperatures of lunar impacts were calculated. Of the first ten they detected, they obtained temperature estimates ranging from about 1,300 to 2,800 °C ( 2372 to 5072 °F).

With the extension of this observing campaign to 2021, the NELIOTA scientists hope to obtain further data that will improve impact statistics.

In turn, this information will go a long way towards addressing the threat of Near-Earth Objects – which consist of asteroids and comets that periodically pass close to Earth (and on rare occasions, impact on the surface).

In the past, the ESA has monitored these objects through its Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program, of which the NELTIOA project is part.

Today, the SSA is building infrastructure in space and on the ground (such as the deployment of Flyeye telescopes across the globe) to improve our monitoring and understanding of potentially hazardous NEOs.

ESA Flyeye telescope

In the future, the ESA plans to transition from monitoring NEOs to developing mitigation and active planetary defense strategies.

This includes the proposed NASA/ESA Hera mission – formerly known as the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) – which is scheduled to launch by 2023.

NASA ESA Hera

In the coming decades, other measures (ranging from directed energy and ballistic missiles to solar sails) are also likely to be investigated.

But as always, the key to protecting Earth from future impacts is the existence of effective detection and monitoring strategies. In this respect, projects like NELIOTA will prove to be invaluable.

See the full article here .


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From Universe Today: “Amazing High Resolution Image of the Core of the Milky Way, a Region with Surprisingly Low Star Formation Compared to Other Galaxies”

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Universe Today

27 Feb , 2018
Matt Williams

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The centre of the Milky Way Galaxy seen through NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1540-ssc2006-02a-A-Cauldron-of-Stars-at-the-Galaxy-s-Center

NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

Compared to some other galaxies in our Universe, the Milky Way is a rather subtle character. In fact, there are galaxies that are a thousands times as luminous as the Milky Way, owing to the presence of warm gas in the galaxy’s Central Molecular Zone (CMZ). This gas is heated by massive bursts of star formation that surround the Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) at the nucleus of the galaxy.

The core of the Milky Way also has a SMBH (Sagittarius A*) and all the gas it needs to form new stars.

SgrA* NASA/Chandra

But for some reason, star formation in our galaxy’s CMZ is less than the average. To address this ongoing mystery, an international team of astronomers conducted a large and comprehensive study of the CMZ to search for answers as to why this might be.

The study, titled Star formation in a high-pressure environment: an SMA view of the Galactic Centre dust ridge recently appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The study was led by Daniel Walker of the Joint ALMA Observatory and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and included members from multiple observatories, universities and research institutes.

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From Universe Today: “For the First Time, Planets Have Been Discovered in ANOTHER Galaxy!”

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Universe Today

3 Feb , 2018
Matt Williams

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Using the microlensing metthod, a team of astrophysicists have found the first extra-galactic planets! Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

The first confirmed discovery of a planet beyond our Solar System (aka. an Extrasolar Planet) was a groundbreaking event. And while the initial discoveries were made using only ground-based observatories, and were therefore few and far between, the study of exoplanets has grown considerably with the deployment of space-based telescopes like the Kepler space telescope.

As of February 1st, 2018, 3,728 planets have been confirmed in 2,794 systems, with 622 systems having more than one planet. But now, thanks to a new study by a team of astrophysicists from the University of Oklahoma, the first planets beyond our galaxy have been discovered! Using a technique predicting by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, this team found evidence of planets in a galaxy roughly 3.8 billion light years away.

The study which details their discovery, titled Probing Planets in Extragalactic Galaxies Using Quasar Microlensing, recently appeared in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The study was conducted by Xinyu Dai and Eduardo Guerras, a postdoctoral researcher and professor from the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Oklahoma, respectively.

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From Universe Today: “This is the Surface of a Giant Star, 350 Times Larger Than the Sun”

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Universe Today

24 Jan , 2018
Matt Williams

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This artist’s impression shows the red supergiant star. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer, an international team of astronomers have constructed the most detailed image ever of this, or any star other than the Sun. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.

2009 ESO VLT Interferometer image, Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

When it comes to looking beyond our Solar System, astronomers are often forced to theorize about what they don’t know based on what they do. In short, they have to rely on what we have learned studying the Sun and the planets from our own Solar System in order to make educated guesses about how other star systems and their respective bodies formed and evolved.

For example, astronomers have learned much from our Sun about how convection plays a major role in the life of stars. Until now, they have not been able to conduct detailed studies of the surfaces of other stars because of their distances and obscuring factors. However, in a historic first, an international team of scientists recently created the first detailed images of the surface of a red giant star located roughly 530 light-years away.

The study recently appeared in the scientific journal Nature under the title Large Granulation cells on the surface of the giant star Π¹ Gruis. The study was led by Claudia Paladini of the Université libre de Bruxelles and included members from the European Southern Observatory, the Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, Georgia State University, the Université Grenoble Alpes, Uppsala University, the University of Vienna, and the University of Exeter.

For the sake of their study, the team used the Precision Integrated-Optics Near-infrared Imaging ExpeRiment (PIONIER) instrument on the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) to observe the star known as Π¹ Gruis.

ESO VLTI PIONIER instrument [First light October 2010]

Located 530 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Grus (The Crane), Π1 Gruis is a cool red giant. While it is the same mass as our Sun, it is 350 times larger and several thousand times as bright.

See the full article here .

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From Universe Today: “A Black Hole is Pushing the Stars Around in this Globular Cluster”

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Universe Today

19 Jan , 2018
Matt Williams

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Artist’s impression of the star cluster NGC 3201 orbiting an black hole with about four times the mass of the Sun. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Astronomers have been fascinated with globular clusters ever since they were first observed in 17th century. These spherical collections of stars are among the oldest known stellar systems in the Universe, dating back to the early Universe when galaxies were just beginning to grow and evolve. Such clusters orbit the centers of most galaxies, with over 150 known to belong to the Milky Way alone.

One of these clusters is known as NGC 3201, a cluster located about 16,300 light years away in the southern constellation of Vela. Using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, a team of astronomers recently studied this cluster and noticed something very interesting. According to the study they released, this cluster appears to have a black hole embedded in it.

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

The study appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society under the title A detached stellar-mass black hole candidate in the globular cluster NGC 3201. The study was led by Benjamin Giesers of the Georg-August-University of Göttingen and included members from Liverpool John Moores University, Queen Mary University of London, the Leiden Observatory, the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, ETH Zurich, and the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP).

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From Universe Today: “Researchers Develop a New Low Cost/Low Weight Method of Searching for Life on Mars”

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Universe Today

19 Jan , 2018
Evan Gough

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Study co-author I. Altshuler sampling permafrost terrain near the McGill Arctic research station, Canadian high Arctic. Image: Dr. Jacqueline Goordial

Researchers at Canada’s McGill University have shown for the first time how existing technology could be used to directly detect life on Mars and other planets. The team conducted tests in Canada’s high arctic, which is a close analog to Martian conditions. They showed how low-weight, low-cost, low-energy instruments could detect and sequence alien micro-organisms. They presented their results in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

Getting samples back to a lab to test is a time consuming process here on Earth. Add in the difficulty of returning samples from Mars, or from Ganymede or other worlds in our Solar System, and the search for life looks like a daunting task. But the search for life elsewhere in our Solar System is a major goal of today’s space science. The team at McGill wanted to show that, conceptually at least, samples could be tested, sequenced, and grown in-situ at Mars or other locations. And it looks like they’ve succeeded.

See the full article here .

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