Archive for September 2007

Student Finds Mega-Explosion in Space

David Narkevik, an undergraduate at West Virginia University, was re-analysing data from the Parkes telescope in Australia when he came across a five-millisecond burst of energy so powerful that it “saturated” the equipment. Researchers had previously dismissed it as a man-made phenomenon, an accident to be ignored, according to Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

But another look at the data has convinced scientists that in fact the burst was real, emanating from a point some 1.5 billion light years away, far enough away that any ordinary energy surge should have been very faint.

Now scientists think they may have recorded a catastrophic event such as two neutron stars colliding, or the final evaporation of a black hole.

Can find more info:
Wired Science – Wired Blogs

Astronomers Find Mysterious Radio Burst – SPACE.com

Spacecraft on Its Way to Explore Asteroids

Sept. 27, 2007 — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft rocketed away Thursday toward an unprecedented double encounter in the asteroid belt. Scientists hope the mission sheds light on the early solar system by exploring the two largest bodies in the belt between Mars and Jupiter: an asteroid named Vesta and a dwarf planet the size of Texas named Ceres.

Dawn’s mission is the world’s first attempt to journey to a celestial body and orbit it, then travel to another and circle it as well. Ion-propulsion engines, once confined to science fiction, are making it possible.

“To me, this feels like the first real interplanetary spaceship,” said Marc Rayman, chief engineer. “This is the first time we’ve really had the capability to go someplace, stop, take a detailed look, spend our time there and then leave.”

Dawn won’t reach Vesta, its first stop, until 2011, and Ceres, its second and last stop, until 2015.

Scientists chose the two targets not only because of their size but because they are so different from one another.

Dawn’s Specs:

Dawn has cameras, an infrared spectrometer and a gamma ray and neutron detector to probe the surfaces of Vesta and Ceres from orbit. It also has solar wings that measure nearly 65 feet from tip to tip, to generate power as it ventures farther from the sun.

Most importantly, Dawn has three ion engines that will provide a gentle yet increasingly accelerating thrust. Electrons will bombard Dawn’s modest supply of xenon gas, and the resulting ions will shoot out into space, nudging the spacecraft along.

Even “Star Wars” had only twin ion engines with its T.I.E. Fighters, Rayman noted with a smile earlier in the week.

The mission costs $357 million, excluding the unpublicized price of the rocket.

Discovery Channel :: News – Space :: Spacecraft on Its Way to Explore Asteroids

Meteor Crash in Peru Caused Mysterious Illness (solved)

Nearby residents who visited the impact crater complained of headaches and nausea, spurring speculation that the explosion was a subterranean geyser eruption or a release of noxious gas from decayed matter underground.

But the illness was the result of inhaling arsenic fumes, according to Luisa Macedo, a researcher for Peru’s Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute (INGEMMET), who visited the crash site.

The meteorite created the gases when the object’s hot surface met an underground water supply tainted with arsenic, the scientists said.

Numerous arsenic deposits have been found in the subsoils of southern Peru, explained Modesto Montoya, a nuclear physicist who collaborated with the team. The naturally formed deposits contaminate local drinking water.

“If the meteorite arrives incandescent and at a high temperature because of friction in the atmosphere, hitting water can create a column of steam,” added José Ishitsuka, an astronomer at the Peruvian Geophysics Institute, who analyzed the object.

By Wednesday, according to Macedo, all 30 residents who felt ill reported feeling better.

“People Were Extremely Scared”

Locals described the meteorite as a bright, fiery ball with a smoke trail. The sound and smell rattled residents to the point that they feared for their lives, Ishitsuka said.

The meteorite’s impact sent debris flying up to 820 feet (250 meters) away, with some material landing on the roof of the nearest home 390 feet (120 meters) from the crater, Ishitsuka reported.

“Imagine the magnitude of the impact,” he said. “People were extremely scared. It was a psychological thing.”

Meteor Crash in Peru Caused Mysterious Illness

Biggest void in space is 1 billion light years across

Relatively “old” news, but absolutely had to archive this… the mother of all Voids!

Radio astronomers have found the biggest hole ever seen in the universe. The void, which is nearly a billion light years across, is empty of both normal matter and dark matter. The finding challenges theories of large-scale structure formation in the universe.

Lawrence Rudnick and colleagues of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, US, stumbled upon the void by accident. Rudnick’s team had been studying data from a survey carried out by the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico, also in the US. “One morning I was a little bored, and said, ‘why don’t I look in the direction of the WMAP cold spot’,” says Rudnick.

The cold spot in question is an unexplained anomaly in the map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) created by NASA’s WMAP satellite. The photons of the CMB coming from a region of the sky in the direction of the constellation Eridanus are colder than expected.

Rudnick’s team started looking for radio sources such as radio galaxies and quasars in the direction of the cold spot. “Radio sources track the distribution of mass in the universe,” says Rudnick. “They are the signposts for galaxies, clusters of galaxies and dark matter.”
Unexpected size

The team was in for a surprise. They saw little or no radio sources in a volume that is about 280 megaparsecs or nearly a billion light years in diameter. The lack of radio sources means that there are no galaxies or clusters in that volume, and the fact that the CMB is cold there suggests the region lacks dark matter, too.

The void, which is about 6 billion to 10 billion light years away, is considerably larger than any found before. Until now, optical surveys have found no voids larger than 80 megaparsecs wide – making the new hole 40 times larger in volume than the previous record holder.

Rudnick says that these optical surveys could easily miss the void his team found simply because they don’t study large enough volumes.

He thinks that the void is a confirmation that dark energy is at work in the universe. Normally, when the CMB photons pass through a gravitational well, created say, by a supercluster of galaxies, they first gain energy as they fall into the well, then lose energy as they climb out.

Biggest void in space is 1 billion light years across – space – 24 August 2007 – New Scientist Space

200,000 Elliptical Galaxies Point the Same Way

Is this nothing? Or will this turn out to be something VERY interesting?

Michael J. Longo makes the claim on arXiv that 200,000 elliptical galaxies are aligned in the same direction; the signal for this alignment stands out at 13 standard deviations. This axis is the same as the controversial alignment found in the cosmic microwave background by the WMAP spacecraft.

Slashdot | 200,000 Elliptical Galaxies Point the Same Way

Fermilab: Excursions into matter, space and time

Fermilab is operated by the Fermi Research Alliance (FRA). It is part of the Department of Energy (DoE) with a 2001 funding in the amount of $277 million, a good chunk of the department’s total annual budget of about $3.18 billion back then. The DoE spent a total of about $726 million on high-energy physics in 2001.

Located on the East side of Batavia, IL, the core research area at Fermilab is particle physics, which involves the very smallest building blocks of matter. Scientists investigate the foundations of matter to understand the forces that hold them together or force them apart.

On a 6800-acre site – just under 10 square miles – Fermilab operates a range of proton/anti-proton accelerators to enable various sub-atomic collisions. Using enormous amounts of energy, collisions can reveal exotic particles of matter, which are detected by special devices.

These experiments have allowed scientists to discover several new particles over the years, including the top quark in 1995, the last undiscovered quark of the six predicted to exist by current scientific theory; Fermilab was also the site of the discovery of the bottom quark in 1977 and the site where direct evidence for the tau neutrino was discovered (2000). Most recently, you may have heard of discovery of the “triple scoop” baryon, which contains one quark from each generation of matter.

TG Daily – Fermilab: Excursions into matter, space and time