Cooperation is the key!

I was reading my latest copy of Nature, and in it, there is an article on ESO’s VLT.  This revolutionary land based telescope will have a mirror that is 38 meters in diameter. It is an unprecedented piece of equipment. Or at least it would be, if it were under construction.

The article reads that Brazil had signed an agreement with ESO as the first non European country to be involved in the group. Its contribution (some 1.1 billion euros) would allow for the construction of the telescope, high in the Atacama desert. Some of the best possible skies that can be achieved on Earth. The project has now stalled, because Brazil now feels that its contribution (the same figure as the UK and France) is too high, as they have less astronomers than those countries. They should either pay less, or have more telescope time.

Where I agree that perhaps a financial reduction could be considered by ESO due to Brazil’s lesser number of astronomers, I think that Brazil is being very short sighted here. Perhaps they should consider that people might be interested in becoming astronomers if they knew there was such a wonderful scope right on the door step.

I feel that the astronomy community has become far too revolved around rivalry and competition, and forgotten how to work together. We are one race, one people on one planet in a universe of billions. The only way humanity will progress, is if we learn to work together. Especially in the field of astronomy. Why bother constructing larger and larger solo scopes, collaborate. Work together. Many hands, many eyes. Scientists from all over the world, working as one unit. To advance science. To advance knowledge.

Money will only last as long as it lasts, knowledge will last forever!

ESO's VLT

The Nature article & Image – http://www.nature.com/news/brazil-delays-stargazing-pact-1.13670

Galaxy formation: Cosmic dawn

For one sleepless week in early September 2009, Garth Illingworth and his team had the early Universe all to themselves. At NASA’s request, Illingworth, Rychard Bouwens and Pascal Oesch had just spent the previous week staring into their computer screens at the University of California, Santa Cruz, scanning through hundreds of black-and-white portraits of faint galaxies recorded in a multi-day time exposure by a newly installed infrared camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA simply wanted the three astronomers to preview the images and make sure that the camera was working correctly, before the agency released the data more widely.

via Galaxy formation: Cosmic dawn : Nature News & Comment.

Observable Light in the Universe –Blazars Offer a Measuring Tool

If all the light emitted by all galaxies in the observable universe at all wavelengths during all of cosmic history were known, it would clue astronomers about the entire history of galaxy formation and evolution, and provide insights to key aspects of the expansion history of the universe. But measuring this light — known as extragalactic background light (EBL) — is no simple task, complicated by the fact that Earth is lodged inside a bright solar system and the Milky Way, a very bright galaxy, making it enormously difficult for ground-based and space-based telescopes to reliably measure EBL. Furthermore, current galaxy surveys being used to estimate EBL could very well be missing information from faint galaxies and other sources.

A team of astronomers has come up with a solution that ingeniously overcomes the technical challenges of measuring EBL. They propose in a paper published May 24 in The Astrophysical Journal that one answer to the problem of measuring EBL lies in measuring the attenuation — or weakening — of very high-energy gamma rays from distant “blazars,” which are supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies.

via Observable Light in the Universe –Blazars Offer a Measuring Tool.

A Night of Observing With Friends and Neighbours

In the week I was stopped by my next door neighbour, while on my way in from work, with the starting sentence  “that’s a large telescope you were using last night, is it yours?”

“It is” I replied “It’s actually one of two that I have.”

“Ah I see, my son saw you out there with it the other night, but was too shy to come over and ask for a look”

“That’s no problem at all” I said “He’s welcome to come and have a look at any time. Assuming the skies are clear over the weekend, I”ll get them both out and set up, and we can do a bit of viewing”

So, Sunday evening arrives and the skies are perfectly clear. I have a group of friends with me (who also wanted to see what was going on in the skies). I set up both of my scopes, the 8″ Skywatcher 200 and the 3″ Skywatcher 102. The 102 is computer driven and this would be the first time I had used it in such a configuration since having it.

I started the evening with a small sky orientation, using the same reference points, that I use to align the 102. Vega (located in East), Arcturus (in the South West) and then pointed out Saturn (also in the South West) and Polaris (in the North) These are the main objects that I use, when I am out, as they are most familiar to me in relation to my surroundings (i.e. my garden)

The first object of interest we looked at, was Saturn. Fairly low in the South-West, just peaking above the roof top of the adjoining houses. It was particularly clear and crisp. I had the 8″ on it, with a 25mm eyepiece and 2x Barlow, so the view of the rings was pretty spectacular. The Cassini division was clearly visible, as at the current time, the rings are tilted down towards us. Saturn was the first of the planets that I ever saw through a telescope, and I am pretty sure it is what got me hooked on astronomy. It’s always a good reliable object to view for first timers, as it has that WOW factor. (Plus, at this point the Moon hadn’t risen above the horizon)

Next we moved on to play a game that I call “Red Star, Blue Star” I use this to show that stars have different colours and how this relates to physical parameters of stars. We used Vega and Arcturus for this as the colour difference between the two. I explained that blue stars, are generally large very hot yet short lived (in star terms) and that red stars are cooler, and yet live a lot longer. This then led on to the talk about stellar distances, the light year, and how astronomy is basically time travel.

After all looking at both stars, I then used the 102 to point to a number of different star clusters (M13, M92 and M5) and had a discussion about them and what they are.

The hardest question of the night, was trying to explain what would happen if gravity between binary stars stopped. Tricky because its hard to explain to a 10 year old the answer to this question, and not go into too much detail about general relativity. However I think we managed.

Finally, around 11pm the Moon made a spectacular appearance from below the horizon. Bright vibrant orange. Attention to this then took up the rest of the night. Both the 200 and the 105 were slewed to it. The 102 using a 35mm camera projection wide angle eyepiece, and the 200 the same 25mm with 2x barlow. The craters were lovely in the orange light, and made for great viewing. There were lots of images taken using iPhones by the members of the group.

 

Hopefully the evening of astronomy helped inspire a new generation of amateurs, and as the year goes on, hopefully I can hold another evening, when there are different objects visible.

The Thirty Meter Telescope –“Next Generation in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life”

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) – soon to be the world’s widest eye on space – has got the go-ahead for construction on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Most of Mauna Kea is below sea level. When measured from its oceanic base, its height is 33,500 ft (10,200 m)—more than twice Mount Everest’s base-to-peak height. The sacred mountain is about one million years old –long past the most active shield stage of life hundreds of thousands of years ago–providing a stable platform for what will will be the world’s most advanced and capable ground-based optical, near-infrared, and mid-infrared observatory.

The TMT will integrate the latest innovations in precisions control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics. The giant eye will enable groundbreaking advances in a wide range of scientific areas, from the most distantreaches of the Universe to our own Solar System. TMT will allow astronomers to explore virtually every aspect of this picture, from inflation to exoplanets.

The resolution and sensitivity provided by its large aperture and adaptive optics systems, combined with a flexible and powerful suite of instruments, will enable astronomers to address many of the most fundamental questions ofthe coming decades.

One of the primary missions of the TMT will be the detection and analysis of life-bearing exo planets. The exoplanets that have so far been detected are gas giants like Jupiter and Neptune. They were found because their large mass noticeably perturbs the motion of the host star. Surprisingly, many are found very close to their host star. As the higher temperatures there would prevent such planets from forming, itseems that they must have migrated inward, after forming at greater distances. Most astronomers believe that smaller terrestrial planets exist, but these cannot be detected with present telescopes. The TMT will help answer such questions as are such planets common and can they survive the disruption that would result from migration of the massive planets? Do they have atmospheres like Earth?

via The Thirty Meter Telescope –“Next Generation in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life”.

Hints of lightweight dark matter get even stronger.

A strange light is shining near the centre of the Milky Way, and evidence is mounting that it is the spark of lightweight dark matter meeting a violent end. At the same time, a suite of sensitive detectors deep underground is seeing hints of similar particles.

Dark matter is thought to make up roughly 80 per cent of the matter in the universe. But aside from its gravitational tug on regular matter, the substance has proven tough to detect, and many of its fundamental properties remain unknown.

The leading theoretical candidates for dark matter are weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). It’s thought these particles annihilate when they meet, producing a shower of radiation, including gamma rays. Launched in 2008, NASA’s Fermi space telescope has been scanning for excess gamma rays emanating from the centre of our galaxy, where dark matter should be concentrated.

Last year scientists ruled out a possible Fermi signal at 130 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) as dark matter’s smoking gun. But there is another: In 2010, physicist Dan Hooper at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, and colleagues reported a possible hint from the space telescope of dark matter particles with a mass of about 10 GeV.

via Hints of lightweight dark matter get even stronger – space – 10 May 2013 – New Scientist.

A ‘Fifth Force’ May Alter Gravity at Cosmic Scales

Radical new research is attempting to characterize the properties of a fifth force that disrupts the predictions general relativity makes outside our own galaxy, on cosmic-length scales. University of Pennsylvania astrophysicist Bhuvnesh Jain, says the nature of gravity is the question of a lifetime. As scientists have been able to see farther and deeper into the universe, the laws of gravity have been revealed to be under the influence of an unexplained force.

Two branches of theories have sprung up, each trying to fill its gaps in a different way. One branch — dark energy — suggests that the vacuum of space has an energy associated with it and that energy causes the observed acceleration. The other falls under the umbrella of “scalar-tensor” gravity theories, which effectively posits a fifth force (beyond gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces) that alters gravity on cosmologically large scales.

“These two possibilities are both radical in their own way,” Jain said. “One is saying that general relativity is correct, but we have this strange new form of energy. The other is saying we don’t have a new form of energy, but gravity is not described by general relativity everywhere.”

Jain’s research is focused on the latter possibility; he is attempting to characterize the properties of this fifth force that disrupts the predictions general relativity makes outside our own galaxy, on cosmic length scales.

via A ‘Fifth Force’ May Alter Gravity at Cosmic Scales.