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Category Archives: Astronomy

Astronomy: Chinese telescope illustrates that country’s science investment – The Columbus Dispatch

Posted: June 25, 2017 at 2:46 pm

While congress stumbles its way through another budget battle that has the potential to cut drastically NASAs funding, China continues to invest in the pursuit of new knowledge.

China recently launched the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, or HXMT. A hard X-ray has higher energy than a soft X-ray, presumably because it makes a harder collision when it hits an atom. Also, the telescope can detect a multitude of X-ray energies in objects.

The purpose of the HMXT is to search for new compact stellar objects, such as neutron stars or black holes.

Because of the immense gravity surrounding these objects, in-falling gas gets heated to high temperatures, causing the gas to emit X-rays. By studying the X-ray spectrum, astronomers can compare observations to theoretical predictions from a physical model, thus deducing what kind of compact object it is.

There are all-sky surveys in the optical and radio wavelengths, but there has not yet been such a survey at X-ray wavelengths. This is partly because X-rays from space do not penetrate our atmosphere and partly because previous X-ray space telescopes had small angular coverage so that it would take forever to do the whole sky.

The HXMT has a different design than previous X-ray space telescopes, using a different technique to filter out X-rays that are not parallel to the viewing direction. This allows the X-ray detector to increase its angular coverage. An all-sky survey has the potential to find many new neutron stars and black holes, as well as the potential for finding new objects.

This new telescope is yet another indication that China is catching up to, and in some ways, exceeding the science programs in the United States and Europe. This is good for science in general, which today is a global effort, but I do find myself wondering why China has invested so heavily in science when the U.S. government seems to be cutting back?

I can only speculate the reasons, but my guess is that China understands the connection between basic research and a robust economy. Advances in science lead to advances in technology, which in turn provides the basis of electronic gadgets (and other things) to sell.

Another reason to invest in science, including astronomy, is that the search for new knowledge stimulates the imagination of young students. These students can see themselves making new discoveries. This both motivates and gets them thinking in creative ways.

Some of these students will go on to academic careers, but most go to work for companies that develop new products. In the process, their innovative skills have been honed, which is good for industry.

There might be another reason why China is so interested in developing a space program. China sent a few other smaller satellites up with the HXMT.

One was an Earth-observing (optical and infrared) satellite from Argentina, which can provide high-resolutions images of the ground for public viewing.

Two other satellites are operated by Zhuhai Orbita Control Engineering, which is based in China. They also are high-resolutions optical Earth-pointing devices with good enough resolution to see any object on the ground larger than 6 feet.

So dont look now, but a Chinese satellite might be watching you as you drive around in your car.

Meanwhile, the American company SpaceX, which has a spotty record, just delayed its planned launch of a Bulgarian satellite. Maybe the Bulgarians will go to China for their next launch.

Kenneth Hicks is a professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University in Athens.

hicks@ohio.edu

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Astronomy Cast Ep. 454: Things We’re Looking Forward To – Universe Today

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Universe Today
Astronomy Cast Ep. 454: Things We're Looking Forward To
Universe Today
As we wrap up season 10 of Astronomy Cast, we look forward to all the instruments, missions and science results on the distant horizon. Think astronomy is exciting already? Just you wait. We're taking our summer hiatus during July and August, but we'll

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New Hubble find challenges our ideas about galaxies – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: June 24, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Objects in the distant universe appear small and difficult to see unless theyre sitting behind a cosmic magnifying glass. Thats exactly the case for MACS 2129-1, a galaxy lensed by a massive foreground galaxy cluster. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have managed to catch a glimpse of this unusual object, which appears to be an old, dead galaxy thats already stopped making new stars just a few billion years after the Big Bang. Not only is this galaxy finished with its star formation earlier than expected, its also shaped like a disk, rather than the fuzzy ball of stars that astronomers assumed theyd see.

The results, which appear in the June 22 issue of Nature, describe a galaxy half the size of the Milky Way, but three times as massive. Its compact disk of old, red stars is spinning rapidly, over two times the speed of the stars orbiting the center of our own galaxy. Astronomers were able to spot it via a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, which occurs when a massive object, such as a galaxy cluster, bends the light from a distant object as it travels to Earth, magnifying the image we see on the sky. This allows researchers to probe very early epochs of the universe that are otherwise unresolvable with todays current instruments.

Based on archival data from the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), the team that discovered the galaxy was able to measure the ages of its stars, its total stellar mass, and its rate of star formation.

What they found was puzzling.

In our current picture of galaxy formation, disk-shaped galaxies (like our own Milky Way) in the early universe make stars throughout their youth, appearing blue with bright, young stars before evolving into red and dead elliptical galaxies in our local universe. This transition is largely thought to occur through mergers, which randomize the orbits of the stars in the resulting galaxy, transforming it from an ordered disk into an elliptical shape. Thus, older, more massive galaxies should be elliptical balls of stars, not coherent disks.

So as a disk galaxy in the early universe thats evolved past its star-forming phase into the dead phase without mergers, MACS 2129-1 challenges that picture. This new insight may force us to rethink the whole cosmological context of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies, said lead researcher Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, in a press release.

What could have caused this galaxy to burn out so early while retaining its disk shape? The exact cause is unknown, but some of the most likely possibilities include an active central supermassive black hole or streams of cold gas flowing into the galaxy, either of which could prevent new stars from being born.

For now, MACS 2129-1 is the only galaxy of its kind that doesnt fit the mold. But that could arise from the fact that astronomers have long assumed that distant dead galaxies look like their local universe counterparts. Because these distant galaxies are hard to see without serendipitous events like the lensing phenomenon that brought MACS 2129-1 to astronomers attention, those assumptions could be incorrect.

Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early dead galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven’t been able to resolve them, said Toft.

Tofts team hopes that with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, theyll gain a more powerful tool to see such faraway, hard-to-resolve objects without relying solely on lensing. A larger sample of galaxies like MACS 2129-1 would tell astronomers whether their ideas about galaxy formation and evolution need updating, as well as provide clues as to the reason these galaxies have stopped forming stars so abruptly.

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New Hubble find challenges our ideas about galaxies – Astronomy Magazine

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Would You Go to an Astronomy-Themed Resort? – The Atlantic

Posted: at 3:00 pm

These days, vacation resorts can offer some pretty unusual experiences to guests, beyond the typical white sands, blue waters, and tiny cocktail umbrella. At one Japanese spa resort, visitors can take baths in red wine, green tea, or ramen broth. In Sweden, theres ice hotels, with rooms made out of exactly what the name suggests. In Bolivia, theres a luxury hotel made entirely of salt from nearby salt flats, including the furniture, where guests are asked not to lick the walls to prevent them from deteriorating.

And in India, theres an all-inclusive astronomy resort in the middle of the wilderness, where guests can stargaze without the glare of light and air pollution.

Astroport Sariska bills itself as the first astronomy-themed resort in the country, according to its Facebook page. Its located in the countrys northwest in Rajasthan and sits a few miles south of the Sariska National Park, a wildlife reserve. There are no major cities nearby to clog up the night sky, with New Delhi about a five-hour drive away. During the day, guests can participate in typical nature activities, like hiking and going on safaris. At night, when its pitch black, they stare at the Milky Way as it stretches out above them.

Its beyond imagination, the whole experience takes u away from ur hectic life, that is full of pollution, noise, stress n so on, wrote one user on the resorts reviews page, which is full of five-star ratings. Just go, enjoy the nature, lie down under the blanket of stars and forget everything.

The resort provides telescopes to guests and offers workshops on how to identify stars and constellations, according to a recent post on Connect Jaipur, a lifestyle blog based in the city of the same name. Visitors stay in tents with beds, which cost between 13,000 to 22,000 rupees, or $200 to $340.

Astroport Sariska may be one of the first places of its kind in India, but the concept isnt new. Astrotourism, as a Conde Nast Traveler headline recently put it, is now a thing. The article points out resorts in Mexico and Italy that offer guests telescopes in every room or access to observatories. Iceland has long been a popular astrotourism attraction thanks to clear views of the northern lights over mountaintops and glaciers. In the United States, people raced to book hotels months in advance for this summers total solar eclipse, which is best viewed in a handful of states.

The existence of Astroport Sariska and other astronomy-related getaways serves as a reminder that many people, crammed together in bustling cities underneath streetlights and car exhaust, have never seen the night sky as it is. Judging by the reviews for the resort, some of them are willing to pay for it.

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‘Ready Jet Go’ Brings Science, Astronomy Activities to Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower Sunday – SpaceCoastDaily.com

Posted: at 3:00 pm

$4 each for adults; $2.50 for children 3-10

WUCF TV is bringing science and astronomy activities to Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral for Ready Jet Go day on Sunday, June 25. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

BREVARD COUNTY PORT CANAVERAL, FLORIDA WUCF TV is bringing science and astronomy activities to Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral for Ready Jet Go day on Sunday, June 25.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Port Canaveral for family-friendly activities in this new seven-story attraction featuring exhibits and interactive play.

Children will be surrounded with activities themed around science and astronomy based on the new PBS Kids program, Ready Jet Go!

Theyll also have a chance to meet Jet Propulsion, star of the program.

Tickets are $4 each for adults; $2.50 for children 3-10 at the door.

Be sure to mention Ready Jet Go! at the door. (Not valid with any other offers or discounts)

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‘Ready Jet Go’ Brings Science, Astronomy Activities to Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower Sunday – SpaceCoastDaily.com

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Jerry Nelson dies; astronomer who built advanced telescopes was 73 – Los Angeles Times

Posted: at 3:00 pm

Jerry Nelson, an astronomer who designed advanced telescopes that help scientists glimpse far reaches of the universe, has died. He was 73.

UC Santa Cruz, where Nelson was a professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics, said he died June 10 at his home. No cause was given.

Nelsons design using dozens of segmented mirrors rather than a single large one was the basis for the Keck Observatory’s twin 10-meter telescopes on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii. Those telescopes, among the largest in use, have allowed scientists to measure the black hole at the center of the Milky Way and to spot planetary bodies outside our solar system.

Jerrys impacts on the field of astronomy and astrophysics are legendary, and we will all benefit from his legacy for many years to come, said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories.

Nelsons concept has since been used for other large ground-based telescopes around the world. The space-based James Webb telescope, which is under construction, also has a segmented primary mirror design.

Nelson also played an important role in the development of adaptive optics technology, which sharpens the images from ground-based telescopes by correcting for the blurring effect of Earths atmosphere, the university said.

Even after a stroke in 2011 that left him partly disabled, Nelson continued work for the Thirty Meter Telescope, a project to build the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.

His endless curiosity always pushed the scientists around him to think more deeply, and his persistence and continued excellence after his stroke were inspirational to everyone, said Michael Bolte, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

Born near Los Angeles, Nelson earned an undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology and a PhD in physics at UC Berkeley, where he taught for years before moving to Santa Cruz. He also worked for more than a decade at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Nelson is survived by his wife, sister, two children from his first marriage and three grandchildren.

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Astronomy grad students honored by International Astronomical Union – UC Santa Cruz (press release)

Posted: at 3:00 pm

Two UC Santa Cruz graduate students, Caroline Morley and Morgan MacLeod, are winners of the IAU Ph.D. Prize awarded by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

This is the first year the IAU has awarded the prize, established to recognize outstanding scientific achievement in astronomy by Ph.D. students around the world. Each of the IAU’s nine divisions selects a winner in its particular area of astronomy.

Morley won in the Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy division for her dissertation “Exoplanetary atmospheres: Clouds and hazes in exoplanet and brown dwarf atmospheres.” Working with professor of astronomy and astrophysics Jonathan Fortney, Morley studied the atmospheres of a variety of objects, from super-Earths to brown dwarfs. She is now a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

MacLeod won in the Stars and Stellar Physics division for his dissertation “Social stars: Modeling the interactive lives of stars in dense clusters and binary systems in the era of time domain astronomy.” He worked with Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics, using computational methods to explore close encounters between stars and compact objects. He is now a NASA Einstein Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

As IAU Ph.D. Prize winners, Morley and MacLeod will receive airfare, registration fees, and accommodation to attend the next IAU General Assembly, August 20- 31, 2018, in Vienna, Austria. They will also have the opportunity to present their research work in one of the sessions of the General Assembly.

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This brown dwarf used to be inside its white dwarf companion. – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: June 23, 2017 at 6:49 am

About 2,700 light years away from Earth, an incredibly rare event is occurring: a white dwarf and brown dwarf are closely orbiting each other in less than an hour and a half.

The white dwarf, which scientists are calling WD 1202-024, was discovered in 2006. WD 1202 became a white dwarf about 50 million years ago when it ran out of usable hydrogen in its core. When a study showed WD 1202 having a consistent change in brightness, astronomers assumed the white dwarf was a variable star. While studying what caused the change in brightness, astronomers were surprised to find that its actually caused by a companion brown dwarf.

The pair is only separated by about 192,625 miles (310,000 kilometers), which is closer than the Moon is to Earth. The white dwarfs gravity is so strong and so fast 62 miles (100 kilometers) per second that it pulls the brown dwarf into an orbit that is completed every 71 minutes.

The brown dwarf, like all brown dwarfs, is too big to be considered a planet, but not big enough to sustain nuclear fusion. This brown dwarf is 67 times the mass of Jupiter and about the equivalent diameter. Because white dwarfs are small husks of former stars, its also wider (though not as massive) as its home dead star. Since its so much bigger than the white dwarf it blocks the light from us when it passes by it.

WD 1202 burns at a scorching 40,352 Fahrenheit (22,000 Celsius), making it bright enough to see, while the brown dwarf is too faint to be seen without the help of its white dwarf companion.

Astronomers believe the brown dwarf was inside WD1202 about 50 million years ago when WD 1202 expanded to become a red giant, becoming bigger than the brown dwarfs orbital distance and engulfing the entire brown dwarf. But the brown dwarf survived when the density of the gas in the red giants outer layers dropped while it expanded, saving the brown dwarf from becoming so hot that it shrunk its orbit.

The brown dwarf is orbiting so closely to WD 1202 that its slowly getting drawn into its host star. Astronomers believe in about 250 million years the brown dwarf will get so close that the white dwarfs gravity will draw material from the brown dwarf and eventually end up a type 1a supernova when theres enough material mixed with intense gravity and the white dwarf will go through sudden catastrophic fusion and explode with a flare in brightness over the system, before cooling and dimming again, to repeat all over again in years to come.

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Jerry Nelson, astronomer who built advanced telescopes, dies – Paradise Post

Posted: at 6:49 am

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) Jerry Nelson, an astronomer who designed advanced telescopes that help scientists glimpse far reaches of the universe, has died in California. He was 73.

The University of California, Santa Cruz, where Nelson was a professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics, said he died June 10 at his home. No cause was given.

Nelson’s design using dozens of segmented mirrors rather than a single large one was the basis for the Keck Observatory’s twin 10-meter telescopes on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii. Those telescopes, among the largest in use, have allowed scientists to measure the black hole at the center of the Milky Way and to spot planetary bodies outside our solar system.

“Jerry’s impacts on the field of astronomy and astrophysics are legendary, and we will all benefit from his legacy for many years to come,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories.

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Nelson’s concept has since been used for other large ground-based telescopes around the world. The space-based James Webb telescope, which is under construction, also has a segmented primary mirror design.

Nelson also played an important role in the development of adaptive optics technology, which sharpens the images from ground-based telescopes by correcting for the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere, the university said.

Even after a stroke in 2011 that left him partly disabled, Nelson continued work for the Thirty Meter Telescope, a project to build the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.

“His endless curiosity always pushed the scientists around him to think more deeply, and his persistence and continued excellence after his stroke were inspirational to everyone,” said Michael Bolte, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

Born near Los Angeles, Nelson earned an undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in physics at UC Berkeley, where he taught for years before moving to Santa Cruz. He also worked for more than a decade at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Nelson is survived by his wife, sister, two children from his first marriage and three grandchildren. His first wife died in 1992.

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Is there another Planet Nine altogether? – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: at 6:49 am

Planet Nine, meet also Planet Nine. Maybe.

An Earth or Mars-sized world or even two may exist on the outskirts of the Kuiper Belt at an eight degree inclined orbit, shifting a number of Kuiper Belt orbits up to a similar inclination.

The planet-mass object would be about 60 AU from the Sun. One AU is the distance between the Sun and Earth, with Pluto at about 30 AU at closest approach.

The proposed planet, hypothesized by Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the University of Arizona, is different than the one proposed by Caltechs Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin. Brown and Batygin propose a much more distant ice giant a bit smaller than Neptune, whereas Volk and Malhortas planet is smaller and much closer in.

In fact, one does not preclude the existence of the other as the dwarf planets affected by Planet Nines orbit far, far away.

If it clears its orbit to meet the definition of a planet (and actually exists) we could probably consider it Planet Nine and rename Planet Nine to Planet Ten. Or if youre a Pluto Truther, consider it Planet Ten, Eris as Planet Eleven (same size as Pluto so you have to count it), and Planet Nine as Planet Twelve.

Regardless, we could have a long lost sister to Earth and Mars lurking surprisingly close, in overall solar system terms.

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