Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

Road Trip: Kepler 452b

Friday, July 24th, 2015

NASA’s timed announcement yesterday got quite the bump from social media. It’s only one of 1,030 exoplanets, so let’s not get too excited.

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”

It’s also worth noting this planet is 1,400 light years away. Pluto, for comparison, is 4 light hours away. That’s why it took 4+ hours to send commands to the New Horizons spacecraft. So if we send a signal to Kepler 452b, it would take 1,400 years to get there.

To get to Kepler 452b at the same rate it took New Horizons to get to Pluto (10 years), it would take us approximately 30 million years. Ain’t nobody got time for that! The only way we could make this kind of trip is to be able to “fold space” or change dimensions. Heim Quantum Theory may help us get there by changing dimensions. Fascinating.

Big Bang Monday: Huge Plasma Tubes

Monday, June 1st, 2015

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Sir Arthur Clarke

What Sir Arthur said many years ago is certainly true today. So many wonderful ideas come from younger generations of scientists, marketers, writers, etc., that we sometimes forget to open our minds to new ideas and ways of thinking. This was certainly the case in Australia.

As an undergraduate student in astrophysics at Sydney University, Cleo Loi came up with an idea for using radio telescopes to “see” something noone has ever been able to visualize.

Via Fairfax Media’s WA Today

A Sydney University student has for the first time used radio telescopes like a giant pair of electronic eyes to locate huge plasma tubes in the atmosphere that interfere with astronomy observations and which could affect some civilian and military navigation systems.

Scientists have long thought that the interaction of the earth’s magnetic field with energy from the sun would create huge tubes of plasma. But they have never been able to directly observe them over large scales or determine their shape. Until now.

While still an undergraduate, Cleo Loi, 23, used the Murchison Wide Field Array in the Western Australia desert in a way that no other radio telescope has been used before.

The wide field array consists of 128 antenna “tiles” over a seven-square-kilometre area. Ms Loi divided the array’s tiles into two halves using the western half like a right eye and the eastern half like a left eye. Similar to the way humans use sight, she used triangulation to build a three-dimensional dynamic map of the plasma tubes over a large area.

Ms Loi, who graduated in March, had to overcome the initial scepticism of senior colleagues who thought her observations were too good to be true.

Her undergraduate supervisor, Dr Tara Murphy, said: “It is to Cleo’s great credit that she not only discovered this but also convinced the rest of the scientific community. As an undergraduate student with no prior background in this, that is an impressive achievement.

“When they first saw the data, many of her senior collaborators thought the results were literally ‘too good to be true’ and that the observation process had somehow corrupted the findings. But over the next few months, Cleo managed to convince them that they were both real and scientifically interesting.”

The tubes are in the earth’s upper atmosphere, known as the ionosphere, which largely consists of ionised oxygen. The ionosphere is so called because photons from the sun dislodge electrons from otherwise neutral atoms in this layer of the atmosphere, creating a soup or plasma of electronically charged particles. This plasma interacts with the earth’s magnetic field, creating field-aligned ducts of the plasma.

The free electrons also interfere with astronomers’ observations and can potentially affect satellite navigation systems.

Big Bang Monday: DNS Pulsar

Monday, May 4th, 2015

DNS in this case stands for “double neutron star” and a pulsar in the widest known orbit around another neutron star was discovered by two high school students.

In the summer of 2012, during a Pulsar Search Collaboratory workshop, two high-school students discovered J1930−1852, a pulsar in a double neutron star (DNS) system. Most DNS systems are characterized by short orbital periods, rapid spin periods and eccentric orbits. However, J1930−1852 has the longest spin period (Pspin∼185 ms) and orbital period (Pb∼45 days) yet measured among known, recycled pulsars in DNS systems, implying a shorter than average and/or inefficient recycling period before its companion went supernova. We measure the relativistic advance of periastron for J1930−1852, ω˙=0.00078(4) deg/yr, which implies a total mass (Mtot=2.59(4) M⊙) consistent with other DNS systems. The 2σ constraints on Mtot place limits on the pulsar and companion masses (mp1.30 M⊙ respectively). J1930−1852’s spin and orbital parameters challenge current DNS population models and make J1930−1852 an important system for further investigation.

A P–P˙ diagram showing all pulsars in DNS systems (stars/squares) and all other known pulsars (dots). Measured P and P˙ come from the ATNF Pulsar Catalog (Hobbs et al. 2004) and lines of characteristic age and surface magnetic field are shown with dot-dash and dashed lines, respectively. Recycled DNS pulsars (stars) appear between the normal and millisecond pulsar populations and are listed in Table 2. Despite its significantly longer spin period, J1930−1852 clearly belongs in the population of recycled DNS pulsars, unlike J1906+0746 and J0737−3039B (squares) – neither of which have undergone recycling.

With so many astronomers engaged in this type of work, it’s inspirational to find younger ones with no inhibitions and lots of hope continues to reap the rewards of discovery.




Big Bang Monday: Fly Through Andromeda

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Via EarthSky, a 1.5 billion pixel image of Andromeda galaxy, interpreted as a “fly-through.” The image is huge (69,536 x 22,230).

Geminid Meteor Shower

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Via Blue Dog Films on Vimeo

Geminids meteor shower December 2014…. a slightly different perspective!
I filmed some time lapse images over 2 nights around the 14th of December 2014. Intrigued by the Geminid meteor shower, I decided to make a short film/ animation to explain (very simply) how it comes about.
You have to watch the time lapse sequences a few times and more of the meteor streaks will reveal themselves. They are very subtle bright streaks.

Time lapses shot on a Canon 5d, compositing in After Effects and 3d work in Modo.

Big Bang Monday: Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

The winning image by James Woodend was of a green aurora pictured in Iceland’s Vatnajokull National Park. The light reflected almost symetrically in Jokulsrlon Glacier lagoon. A complete lack of wind and currrent combine in this sheltered lagoon scene to create an arresting mirror effect giving the image a sensation of utter stillness. © James Woodend

As reported by The Daily Mail

From clouds dancing across the Milky Way to a stunning solar eclipse over Kenya, the annual competition showcasing the mysterious depths of our universe has revealed some incredible images.

West Midlands-based photographer James Woodend beat over a thousand amateur and professional photographers from around the world to win the title of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014.

As well as securing the £1,500 ($2,440) top prize, his image takes pride of place in the exhibition of winning photographs opening today at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
The judges were mesmerised by Woodend’s shot portraying a vivid green aurora dancing across the Icelandic night sky and reflected symmetrically in the glacial Jökulsarlon lagoon of Vatnajökull National Park.

Competition judge and Royal Observatory Public Astronomer, Dr Marek Kukula said: ‘I love the combination of whites and blue in the glacier with the chilly green of the aurora in this wonderfully icy picture.

‘We’ve had some amazing aurora pictures in the competition over the last six years, but this is the first time a photo of the Northern Lights has actually won the Astronomy Photographer of the Year prize.

‘We were all completely in awe of the colours and symmetry of James’ shot.’

That really is a stunning image! Some of the others receiving commendation include the Horsehead Nebula, IC 1340 (part of the Veil Nebula), Helix Nebula, NGC 1999 and the surface of the Sun.

They’re on display now at the Royal Observatory’s Astronomy Centre in Greenwich (18 September 2014 to 22 February 2015).

Big Bang Monday: Aurora Over Scotland

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Scotland’s vote for independence on 18 September 2014 is an interesting proposition. Although Sir Paul is in favor of “staying together, it is an immensely complicated proposition (defense, currency/banking, oil rights, etc.). Contrary to what you may remember from Trainspotting, Scotland was not “colonized by wankers.”

Let’s move on to the other spectacle in Scotland recently: the aurora borealis! You’ve got to see Maciej Winiarczyk’s beautiful photos!

Aurora Panorama from Noss Head

Loch Killimster, Caithness, Scotland

Aurora Space Vine

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Nice vine from Reid Wiseman. Here’s the full version…

Big Bang Monday: Comet of the Month

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko activity on 2 August 2014. The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera from a distance of 550 km. The exposure time of the image was 330 seconds and the comet nucleus is saturated to bring out the detail of the comet activity. Note there is a ghost image to the right. The image resolution is 55 metres per pixel.

ESA’s Rosetta Mission is sending back some very interesting images, especially for those who were curious about what these big rocks look like. It’s the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.

The one from 7 August 20014 gave us a pretty good close-up…

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow angle camera on 7 August from a distance of 104 km.

Not as exciting as we’d expect, yet it’s most fascinating.

So how big is this comet? Thanks to @quark1972, now we now. Here’s the comet next to Los Angeles.

Big Bang Monday: The White Hole

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Check out this abstract

While most of the singularities of General Relativity are expected to be safely hidden behind event horizons by the cosmic censorship conjecture, we happen to live in the causal future of the classical big bang singularity, whose resolution constitutes the active field of early universe cosmology. Could the big bang be also hidden behind a causal horizon, making us immune to the decadent impacts of a naked singularity? We describe a braneworld description of cosmology with both 4d induced and 5d bulk gravity (otherwise known as Dvali-Gabadadze-Porati, or DGP model), which exhibits this feature: The universe emerges as a spherical 3-brane out of the formation of a 5d Schwarzschild black hole. In particular, we show that a pressure singularity of the holographic fluid, discovered earlier, happens inside the white hole horizon, and thus need not be real or imply any pathology. Furthermore, we outline a novel mechanism through which any thermal atmosphere for the brane, with comoving temperature of 20% of the 5D Planck mass can induce scale-invariant primordial curvature perturbations on the brane, circumventing the need for a separate process (such as cosmic inflation) to explain current cosmological observations. Finally, we note that 5D space-time is asymptotically flat, and thus potentially allows an S-matrix or (after minor modifications) AdS/CFT description of the cosmological big bang.

Got your head wrapped around it yet? Probably not. Our friends at Science Daily explain it a little more…

What we perceive as the big bang, they argue, could be the three-dimensional “mirage” of a collapsing star in a universe profoundly different than our own.

“Cosmology’s greatest challenge is understanding the big bang itself,” write Perimeter Institute Associate Faculty member Niayesh Afshordi, Affiliate Faculty member and University of Waterloo professor Robert Mann, and PhD student Razieh Pourhasan.

Conventional understanding holds that the big bang began with a singularity — an unfathomably hot and dense phenomenon of spacetime where the standard laws of physics break down. Singularities are bizarre, and our understanding of them is limited.

“For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity,” Afshordi says in an interview with Nature.

The problem, as the authors see it, is that the big bang hypothesis has our relatively comprehensible, uniform, and predictable universe arising from the physics-destroying insanity of a singularity. It seems unlikely.

So perhaps something else happened. Perhaps our universe was never singular in the first place.

Their suggestion: our known universe could be the three-dimensional “wrapping” around a four-dimensional black hole’s event horizon. In this scenario, our universe burst into being when a star in a four-dimensional universe collapsed into a black hole.

In our three-dimensional universe, black holes have two-dimensional event horizons — that is, they are surrounded by a two-dimensional boundary that marks the “point of no return.” In the case of a four-dimensional universe, a black hole would have a three-dimensional event horizon.

In their proposed scenario, our universe was never inside the singularity; rather, it came into being outside an event horizon, protected from the singularity. It originated as — and remains — just one feature in the imploded wreck of a four-dimensional star.

The researchers emphasize that this idea, though it may sound “absurd,” is grounded firmly in the best modern mathematics describing space and time. Specifically, they’ve used the tools of holography to “turn the big bang into a cosmic mirage.” Along the way, their model appears to address long-standing cosmological puzzles and — crucially — produce testable predictions.

Of course, our intuition tends to recoil at the idea that everything and everyone we know emerged from the event horizon of a single four-dimensional black hole. We have no concept of what a four-dimensional universe might look like. We don’t know how a four-dimensional “parent” universe itself came to be.

But our fallible human intuitions, the researchers argue, evolved in a three-dimensional world that may only reveal shadows of reality.

They draw a parallel to Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which prisoners spend their lives seeing only the flickering shadows cast by a fire on a cavern wall.

“Their shackles have prevented them from perceiving the true world, a realm with one additional dimension,” they write. “Plato’s prisoners didn’t understand the powers behind the sun, just as we don’t understand the four-dimensional bulk universe. But at least they knew where to look for answers.”

Still interested? I bet you are! Read more here. Relax: there’s a video on the Perimeter Institute site.