Performing observations in Australia is on many astronomers’ bucket lists, and this video timelapse shows you precisely why. Famous, world-class observatories, dark sky and the beautiful desolation of the desert combine in this award-winning sequence shot by Alex Cherney and posted on…
Into Deepest Space: The Birth of the ALMA Observatory is an independent documentary about the hardships and eventual achievements of all those involved with ALMA from conception to implementation.
“It’s so far beyond any [existing] capability in the millimeter domain," said astronomer Ethan Schreier, president of Associated Universities Inc., which oversaw North America’s contribution to ALMA. "There’s nothing that will compete with this for a very long time. When you introduce a totally new capability, you always discover new things that you don’t predict." [source]
A decade in the making, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array was built atop the Chajnantor plateau (16,570 feet (5,050 meters) above sea level) in order to provide the clearest window to the universe. ALMA will reveal early galaxy formation and peer beyond the interstellar/planetary dust clouds hiding planetary formation in action. A product of North America, Europe, and East Asia with the cooperation of Chile, this is what happens when you collaborate effectively across artificial borders for the sake of exploration and discovery. The dishes themselves weigh around 100 tons each, comprised of ultra-stable CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) for the reflector base, possessing reflecting panels of rhodium-coated nickel.
ALMA will observe in millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths (submillimeter light has slightly shorter wavelengths than millimeter light, whose wavelengths are measured in millimeters). These ranges fall along the boundary between the radio and microwave bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, with longer wavelengths than optical light. This band of light allows astronomers to probe into the dark cores of gas clouds to study star and planet formation, and to collect distant light that’s been shifted toward the red end of the spectrum.
The electronic detector or, “front end” that amplifies/converts the radio waves collected per each antenna must be stabilized at 4 degrees Kelvin (- 452 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 269 degrees Celsius) for prevention of introducing noise to the signal. It’s a pristine engineering feat. Costing $1.4 billion (split across North America, Europe, and East Asia), whereby $500 million was contributed by U.S. taxpayers. [source]
The acronym ALMA was provided due to the Spanish meaning of the Italian word Alma, meaning “soul.” The Atacama Millimeter/submillimeter Array was designated its name because the astronomers/astrophysicists state the observatory will peer into stars’ souls.
“Every single field you can think of, from our solar system to star formation of all masses in our galaxy and nearby galaxies, to even detecting light from the first stars that formed…I don’t think there’s any field of astronomy that will remain untouched by the advent of ALMA.”
— Dr. Crystal Brogan, Astronomer, National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
Antares star and Scorpius Constellation by César Cantú
It’s a very good week for stargazing.
Our ancestors walked from East Africa to Novaya Zemlya and Ayers Rock and Patagonia. They hunted elephants with stone spear-points. they traversed the polar seas in open boats seven-thousand years ago. They circumnavigated the Earth propelled by nothing but wind, walked the moon a decade after entering space.
And we’re daunted by a voyage to Mars?
But then I remind myself of the avoidable human suffering on Earth. How a few dollars could save a child dying of dehydration. How many children we could save for the cost of a trip to Mars. And for the moment, I change my mind. Is it worthy to stay home, or unworthy to go?
Or have I posed a false dichotomy? Isn’t it possible to make a better life for everyone on Earth and reach for the planets and the stars?
|—||Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot|
Supermassive Death: 3 Stars Eaten by Black Holes
Astrophysicists have analyzed two decades-worth of X-ray data and discovered three events inside galactic cores that can be interpreted in only one way: stellar destruction.
For any given galaxy, it is estimated that a star will be destroyed by the central supermassive black hole approximately once every 10,000 years. The vast majority of known galaxies are thought to contain at least one supermassive black hole in their cores, having a dramatic effect on galactic and stellar evolution.
As a star drifts too close to a supermassive black hole, intense tidal stresses rip the star to shreds. As this happens, the shredded material will be dragged into the black hole’s accretion disk — a hot disk of gas that is gradually pulled into the black hole’s event horizon, bulking up the black hole’s mass, or blasted as energetic jets from its poles.
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Article by Ian O’Neill
Photo by NASA/JPL
Possibly discovered by Aristotle in 325BC, and later confirmed by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654, M41 is a relatively small but spread-out cluster of young stars, containing only ~100 stars. If you have been following along with the Messier Marathon, then you can probably guess that it was catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764. Finally, M40 is quite easy to find using binoculars, located due south of the bright star Sirius.
Top: Wide-Field - NOAO/Aura/NSF
Bottom: Close-Up - 2MASS/NASA
As it should be obvious, there is no nebula or cluster to be seen. Just two stars. M40 is actually a mistake!
Charles Messier discovered M40 in 1764, while searching for a certain nebula reported by Johann Hevelius. Well, he apparently didn’t find it. Instead, he noted this lovely binary star in its place.
Binary stars are twin stars, bound in a gravitational attraction. There are many kinds of binaries, figured by their orbital paths. However, M40 is not a “true” binary by this definition. Instead, it is suggested that M40 is what is called a “visual binary” which means that the stars only appear to be near each other, when in fact they are actually very far away.
And for those of you wondering, there is a nearby nebula, but it is very faint. Messier probably just didn’t see it.
Top: Wide-Field - F. Espenak
Bottom: Close-Up - F. Espenak
You are my Heart and Soul…
credit: Leonardo Orazi
Searching for Life in Our Solar System
Scientists expect that Europa may have more liquid water than in all of Earth’s oceans. It has all the elements thought to be key for the origin of life: water, energy, and organic chemicals, the carbon-containing building blocks of life. Unlike Earth though, Europa’s vast, salty seas lie beneath roughly 10 miles of ice. Not only is it difficult to get a probe beneath this icy armor, but Europa’s oceans are darker than a cave — which means photosynthesis won’t work. However, something down there may subsist on geothermal heat or complex molecules from the surface. http://bit.ly/1trVzvX
NASA says it’s setting aside $25 million for designing scientific instruments to address questions about the habitability of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. A Europa probe that could be launched in the 2020s. http://nbcnews.to/1pU2JJe
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and the only world in the solar system (besides Earth) known to sport liquid lakes. These are lakes of ethane and methane — liquid natural gas — endlessly topped up by hydrocarbon rain. Despite the odd ingredients and Titan’s extremely cold temperatures (minus 290 Fahrenheit, or minus 179 Celsius), it is a world where chemistry’s a happening enterprise. It’s so cold that water ice is rock-hard—in fact, the rocks littering the moon’s surface are made from water. Water is everywhere on Titan, but it’s locked in a state that’s inaccessible for life-sustaining chemistries. On Titan, scientists would most likely be looking for bizarre life. Life that, instead of being water-based, uses liquid hydrocarbons as a solvent. Yet if life is found, it could demonstrate a different way in which it could begin and populate the cosmos.
Like its more celebrated neighbor Europa, scientists suggest that Callisto’s interior contains a salty ocean separated by ice layers, with a rocky seafloor underlying everything. The likely presence of an ocean within Callisto leaves open the possibility that it could sustain life. Because of its low radiation levels, Callisto has long been considered a suitable place among the Galilean moons for future exploration. http://bit.ly/1pra4Qx
The largest moon in the solar system, Ganymede, may feature liquid oceans layered between vast sheets of ice. Studies suggest that there may be a layer of salty water directly on top of Ganymede’s rocky core. Chemical interactions between rock and water could lead to the formation of life. http://cnn.it/1q8jCj2
Venus, with its scorching surface temperatures (850 F, or 454 C). The planet is generally assumed to be unlivable but some scientists believe that high in the Venusian atmosphere where temperatures are more tolerable atmospheric sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide might serve as food for floating microbes. http://bit.ly/1l3sWVo
Mars remains popular for those hunting for otherworldly life. In 2013, scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon - some of the key chemical ingredients for life - in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater. Also, particularly intriguing are the dark stripes that appear in the Martian summertime at Horowitz crater. These are likely to be salty meltwater only inches beneath Mars’ dusty top layer.
In 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft photographed geysers of frozen water spewing from cracks in Enceladus’ southern hemisphere. Scientists think reservoirs of liquid water lie beneath the frozen surface and are warmed by gravitational interactions between Enceladus and other moons around Saturn. http://bit.ly/1pZu0bf
(Credit: List compiled from Space.com “6 Most Likely Places for Alien Life in the Solar System”)
One of the few objects discovered by Charles Messier in 1764, M39 is a large but loose open cluster in the constellation Cygnus, the swan. it is an intermediate age cluster, with only about 30 proven member stars. M39 also has a high collection of pair groupings. It is best seen with binoculars, as a telescope will magnify the cluster so much as to loose any structure which separates M39 from the rich starfields in the background. Give it a try!
Top: Wide-Field - F. Espenak
Bottom: Close-Up - 2MASS
I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity.
The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.
|—||Neil deGrasse Tyson (via whats-out-there)|
|—||Henri Poincaré, Science and Method (via observando)|