The start of hard rock excavation for the Giant Magellan Telescope’s massive concrete pier and the foundations for the telescope’s enclosure has started in Chile's Atacama Desert. Using a combination of hydraulic drilling and hammering, the excavation work is expected to take about five months to complete. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is slated to be the first in a new class of extremely large telescopes, capable of producing images with 10 times the clarity of those captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT aims to discover Earth-like planets around nearby stars and the tiny distortions that black holes cause in the light from distant stars and galaxies. It will reveal the faintest objects ever seen in space, including extremely distant and ancient galaxies, the light from which has been travelling to Earth since shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. The telescope is being built at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Las Campanas Observatory in the dry, clear air of Chile's Atacama Desert, and will be housed a structure 22 stories high. GMT is expected to see first light in 2024.
Welcome to the night sky report for September 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Spot Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars with the naked eye. This month your binoculars will reveal the rusty surface of Mars, iconic rings of Saturn, the waxing Moon, and the comet Giacobini-Zinner, which passes through the constellation of Auriga. Then, set your sights beyond the Solar System and take a late summertime road trip of the constellations along the Milky Way. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The Milky Way Galaxy has experienced a much more dramatic history than originally thought. It appears that our galaxy died once before and we are now in what can be considered its second life, according to Masafumi Noguchi of Tohoku University in Japan. His research shows that stars in our galaxy formed over a 10 billion year period in two different epochs through very different mechanisms, with a long dormant period of 5 billion years in between. During that time, star formation ceased and the galaxy was essentially void of stellar life. The history of our galaxy is inscribed in the elemental composition of its stars… And there are two groups of stars in the solar neighborhood with very different compositions. One group (the first generation) is rich in alpha elements such as oxygen, magnesium, and silicon. The second generation contains a lot of iron. Our Sun is a second generation star.
After some 400 years of relative stability, Earth's North Magnetic Pole has moved nearly 1100 kilometers out into the Arctic Ocean during the last century and at its present rate could move from northern Canada to Siberia within the next half century. Scientists have determined that Earth's magnetic field has flipped its polarity many times over the millennia -- Reversals are the rule, not the exception. Earth has settled into a pattern of a pole reversal about every 200,000 to 300,000 years, although it has been more than twice that long since the last reversal. The last time that Earth's poles flipped in a major reversal was about 780,000 years ago. Does the unexpectedly fast rate of movement in the North Magnetic Pole signal the beginnings of an impending reversal?
Supergiant Fast X-ray Transients (SFXTs) are a baffling type of X-ray binary system discovered with ESA’s INTEGRAL space telescope. These binaries were first noticed because of their occasional flare-ups in the X-ray portion of the spectrum. The transient activity, which lasts only a few hours, enhances the brightness of these otherwise very faint sources dramatically. Over the years, INTEGRAL has discovered numerous SFXTs. Previously thought to be extremely rare, it turns out that these are actually quite common in our galaxy.
A unique observatory in a remote location in Argentina is starting to unravel the mysteries of High Energy Cosmic Rays. There is no scientific consensus on the source of these particles, some of which shower the Earth at energies a million times higher than that produced in particle accelerators like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), but the Pierre Auger Observatory is shedding new light on these energetic particles from space and using them as messengers to tell us more about the wider Universe. Something out there -- no one knows what -- is hurling incredibly energetic particles around the Universe. Do these particles come from some unknown super-powerful cosmic explosion? From a huge black hole sucking stars to their violent deaths? From colliding galaxies? Researchers at the Pierre Auger Observatory have concluded that the most extreme and energetic of these cosmic rays are not originating in our Milky Way Galaxy, but rather in extra-galactic objects far, far away.
This summer, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will travel closer to the Sun and deeper into the solar atmosphere than any mission before it. Over the course of seven years of planned mission duration, the spacecraft will make 24 orbits of the Sun. On each close approach, it will sample the solar wind, study the Sun’s corona, and provide unprecedented close-up observations. On the final three orbits, Parker Solar Probe will fly to within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface. For comparison, Mercury is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun and Earth’s average distance is 93 million miles. Inside the part of the solar atmosphere known as the corona, the spacecraft will travel through material with temperatures greater than a million degrees Fahrenheit while being bombarded with intense sun light. Yet it won’t melt… Here’s why.
Welcome to the night sky report for August 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Mid-month, the Perseid meteor shower—an always-anticipated feature of the August night sky—will peak. Backyard telescopes will also reveal sunlight reflecting off the clouds of Venus’s thick atmosphere and the Ring Nebula, an expanding shell of glowing gas in the constellation Lyra. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Since cosmic rays were discovered in 1912, scientists have sought the origins of these mysterious particles. In September 2017, a flash of blue light in the ice deep beneath the South Pole set researchers on a path to resolving this century-old riddle. With the help of an icebound detector situated a mile beneath the South Pole, an international team of scientists has found the first evidence of a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, a ghostly subatomic particle that can travel in a straight line for billions of light years, passing unhindered through galaxies, stars and anything else nature throws in its path. The observation, made by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, helps resolve a more than century-old riddle about what sends subatomic particles such as neutrinos and high-energy cosmic rays speeding through the universe. Since they were first detected more than a hundred years ago, cosmic rays – highly energetic particles that continuously rain down on Earth from space – have posed an enduring mystery: What creates and propels the particles across vast distances? Where do they come from?
“Your smartphone has already replaced your camera, your TV, your radio, your wristwatch, your calendar, your GPS, your credit cards, your newspaper, your magazines, and your local library... Maybe you should lift up your head, look away from the screen, and engage your family and friends in some face-to-face conversation -- Before your smartphone replaces them too.”
Welcome to the night sky report for July 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. On July 27th, Mars reaches its long-awaited opposition and is visible all night. Look for its south polar cap and dark features that shift as the planet rotates. This month you will also spot constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, globular cluster M4, and the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
A new multi-agency report outlines how the U.S. could become better prepared for near-Earth objects—asteroids and comets whose orbits come within 30 million miles of Earth—otherwise known as NEOs. While no known NEOs currently pose significant risks of impact, the report is a key step to addressing a nationwide response to any future risks. NASA, along with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several other governmental agencies collaborated on this federal planning document for NEOs.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is officially entering a new stage. On June 15, 2018, a ground-breaking ceremony at CERN celebrated the start of the civil-engineering work for the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) -- a new milestone in CERN’s history. By 2026 this major upgrade will have considerably improved the performance of the LHC, by increasing the number of collisions in the large experiments and thus boosting the probability of the discovery of new physics phenomena. This means that physicists will be able to investigate rare phenomena and make more accurate measurements. The LHC allowed physicists to unearth the Higgs boson in 2012, making great progress in understanding how particles acquire their mass. The HL-LHC upgrade will allow studies of scenarios beyond the Standard Model, including Super-Symmetry (SUSY), theories about extra dimensions, and quark substructure.
Caltech scientists have found, for the first time, that merging pairs of neutron stars -- the burnt-out cores of stars that have exploded -- create the majority of heavy elements in small "dwarf" galaxies. Heavy elements, such as silver and gold, are key for planet formation and even life itself. By studying these dwarf galaxies, the researchers hope to learn more about the primary sources of heavy elements for the whole universe.
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