Thursday, 29 June 2017

Universe Was Rife With Iron Early On, Say Astrophysicists

six-galaxy-clustersMost of the Universe’s iron had already been uniformly distributed inside intergalactic gas some 10 billion years ago --- or well before the first galaxy clusters even formed, an international team of astrophysicists report.

Using 26 independent measurements of ten nearby galaxy clusters taken by Japan’s Suzaku x-ray satellite, the team was surprised to find that the gas between these galaxies has iron metallicities about a third of solar. That is, a third of the iron found in our own Sun. (Astronomers term anything heavier than helium, a metal.)

“The fact that the distribution of iron appears so homogeneous indicates that it has been produced by some of the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang,” Ondrej Urban, the lead author of a paper being published by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS), said in a statement.

The findings are important because iron --- which forms in the last stages of a star that’s about to go supernova --- is crucial to life as we know it. Astrobiologists may in turn push back the clock on when life could have begun based on these findings. That’s because terrestrial mass planets like Earth are laden with iron cores and we ourselves need this stellar by-product to carry oxygen in our bloodstreams.

The paper also notes that the early universe was likely even more violent and topsy-turvy than previously thought.

Iron, and many other elements, was blown out of galaxies by the combined energy of billions of supernovae, as well as outbursts from growing supermassive black holes, the team noted in a statement.

Galaxy clusters, the authors note, have long been valued as unique astrophysical labs which allow cosmologists to study the onset of nucleosynthesis --- the nuclear processes that form elements --- and the chemical enrichment history of the Universe.

It’s been known for some four decades, they note, that a significant portion of the hot plasma in the central regions of galaxy clusters has been enriched by iron produced in stars. Their work corroborates aspects of earlier observations.

What’s unique about these findings however, the authors say, is that the Suzaku measurements found such an unexpectedly homogeneous metal distribution in the outskirts of the nearby Perseus Cluster. Just when and how these metals were injected into the intergalactic medium (the space between galaxies) is not well understood, they note.

Iron’s uniform distribution also means that the combined energy of many supernovae --- as well as the jets and winds of accreting supermassive black holes --- enabled the thorough mixture of the elements across cosmic time, Norbert Werner, the paper’s second author and an astrophysicist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, noted in a statement.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Is evidence of extra dimensions hiding in gravitational waves?

Is-evidence-of-extra-dimensions-hiding-in-gravitational-wavesMany theoretical frameworks used to explain quantum gravity and other cosmological phenomena, including string theory, require extra dimensions. Some use space-time as a single extra dimension, while others use several extra space-time dimensions.

In a new study, researchers suggest evidence of extra dimensions could be hiding in gravitational waves. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics theorized how these extra dimensions might influence the space-time ripples, with hopes of directly observing their predictions.

Astrophysicists believe LIGO, the gravitational wave-detection system, can help them study gravity itself.

"Compared to the other fundamental forces like, e.g. electromagnetism, gravity is extremely weak," David Andriot, one of the authors of the new study, said in a news release.

Theories of quantum gravity, such as string theory, attempt to bring the predictions and premises of quantum mechanics into agreement with those of general relativity. Extra dimensions help quantum gravity theories explain the behaviour of large masses as infinitesimal scales.

"Physicists have been looking for extra dimensions at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN but up to now this search has yielded no results," said study co-author Gustavo Lucena Gómez. "But gravitational wave detectors might be able to provide experimental evidence."

Scientists at the Albert Einstein Institute predicted that extra dimensions would alter the "standard" gravitational wave, as well as trigger the propagation of additional waves at frequencies above 1000 Hz. Unfortunately, LIGO is capable of detecting such high-frequency waves.

However, researchers are hopeful that LIGO, with the help of the forthcoming Virgo detector, will help scientists detect the ways in which extra dimensions alter the stretching and shrinking of space-time in standard gravitational waves.

The team of astrophysicists detailed their work in a new paper, published this week in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.


Ashampoo_Snap_2017.06.28_17h36m37s_002_Rocky planets are probably a whole lot more common in our galaxy than astronomers previously believed — according to the latest release of Kepler Space Telescope data last week — a scenario that enhances the prospects for extra-terrestrial life in nearby solar systems.

Kepler's final tally of exoplanets in the Cygnus constellation — the most comprehensive and detailed catalogue of exoplanets to date — indicates 4,034 possible planets, of which 50 are Earth-sized and reside in the habitable zone of their stars. The set includes KOI 7711 (short for# Kepler 'object of interest'), which is just 30 percent larger than Earth and roughly the same distance from its star as the Earth is to the Sun, meaning it receives a similar amount of energy.

"Kepler has really and truly opened our eyes to these small terrestrial-sized worlds," said Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute, at the announcement of the new catalogue of planet candidates at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Scientists gathered at NASA Ames June 19-23 for the Kepler Science Conference to present their findings from the original mission as well as update their progress on K2, an extended, "second life" mission that will continue until the spacecraft runs out of fuel or something else
goes wrong.

Prior to Kepler's launch in 2009, astronomers mainly knew about Jupiter and Neptune-sized planets orbiting at various periods around their stars. It took the continuous gaze of Kepler's image sensor array at a patch of sky loaded with 200,000 stars to discover this sizable population of rocky-sized worlds, most of them three times the size of Earth or smaller. Many hover close to their stars, but some appear with long orbital periods putting their distance outside a habitable zone. About a half-dozen confirmed exoplanets, though, are circling within# the habitable zone of G-dwarf stars — the same type of star as the Sun.

"Are we alone?" said Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Kepler says we are probably not alone."

Yet, the prospects for life on any single one of these planets remains vastly uncertain. We know virtually nothing about the size and composition of their atmospheres, or whether water is present. For example, at 1,700 light years away, KOI 7711, dubbed 'Earth's Twin,' seems one of the most promising exoplanets for life that we know of to date, given its similar orbital period (it circles its star in 303 days) and size. But Thompson urged caution in drawing hasty conclusions. "There's a lot we don't know," she said." I like to remind people that it looks like there are three planets in our habitable zone — Venus, Earth and Mars — and I only want to live on one of them."

Ashampoo_Snap_2017.06.28_17h35m54s_001_The recently discovered TRAPPIST-1 star system, a mere 40 light years away from us, has a record-breaking seven rocky planets, raising all kinds of excitement at the possibility of panspermia, the seeding of life from one planet to a neighbouring one. But given that they huddle  close to their ultra-cool dwarf star, these planets are likely to be tidally locked, like Mercury. One side would be scorching and the other side frigid. Stellar flares could blast away the
atmospheres of these planets or subject them to surges of UV radiation, a known detriment to earthly existence.

But Courtney Dressing, a CalTech astronomer, offered some signs of hope, even for planets that look doomed. She pointed out that new research using sophisticated 3-D models is showing that if tidally-locked planets manage to hang onto their atmospheres, strong air currents could be evening out temperatures. "There's a chance you could have a bunch of civilizations where maybe all the astronomers live on one side of the planet and everyone else enjoys the sunny, beach-y side close to the star," she said.

And UV radiation, which may have sparked life the formation of RNA on early Earth, may not be the end-all even in the form of sudden surges. For example, one study found that halo archaea, an extremophile microorganism found in highly saline water, could withstand heavy blasts of UV radiation. "Even if the surface is a dangerous place, life could be thriving underground or underwater," Dressing said.

Stellar flaring and its impact on life is an area of active research in astrobiology, given that M dwarf stars, many of which are prone to flaring, are numerous in our galaxy and host rocky planets that are astronomers' most accessible prospects for near-term bio-signature research.

"Regardless of whether any of these newly detected planet candidates are inhabited, the fact that Kepler has discovered 50 potentially habitable planets and planet candidates implies that such worlds are frequent," wrote Dressing in an email. Future instruments are what's needed to move the science forward. Late next year, NASA (alongside the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency) is scheduled to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, a next generation space observatory that will be the best observation tool we have to measure the atmospheres of exoplanets close to us — a key to understanding other aspects of habitability. And also in development is the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which will expand the range of exoplanet exploration and build on Kepler's foundation.

"It feels a bit like the end of an era," said Thompson, "but actually it feels like a new beginning."

New-born star gorges on a 'space hamburger,' belching spinning jets

170420a_enAstronomers have observed the eating habits of a new-born star — and like any youngster, it has an affinity for fast food.

Using the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile, an international team of researchers has imaged the flow of material around a "young" 40,000-year-old protostar called Herbig-Haro 212 (or HH 212), located some 1,300 light-years away in the constellation Orion. A protostar is the earliest stage of star evolution, just before the star begins nuclear fusion in its core.

Protostars are known to generate powerful jets of gas that blast into interstellar space and this work reveals that HH 212’s jets are spinning, with the material blasting out from the protostar's poles like bullets.

The spinning bullets confirm the hypothesis that angular momentum is being removed from the protostar's accretion disk, or the orbiting gas and debris around the star, which the study's authors refer to as a "space hamburger." [Meet ALMA: Amazing Photos from Giant Radio Telescope]

HH 212's accretion disk is nearly edge-on from our perspective on Earth and has a radius of 60 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is the average distance at which the Earth orbits the sun — about 93 million miles. The disk has a "prominent equatorial dark lane sandwiched between two brighter features," the researchers said in a statement, giving it a resemblance to a hamburger.

The discovery of HH 212's rotating jets was made around the same time as another team was using ALMA to clock the angular momentum of rotating jets blasting from Orion KL Source I in the Orion Nebula, another protostar.

"We see jets coming out from most baby stars, like a train of bullets speeding down along the rotational axis of the accretion disks. We always wonder what their role is," lead astronomer Chin-Fei Lee, of the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan, said in a statement. "Are they spinning, as expected in current models of jet launching? However, since the jets are very narrow and their spinning motion is very small, we had not been able to confirm their spinning motion.

"Now, using the ALMA, with its unprecedented combination of spatial and velocity resolutions, we not only resolve a jet near a protostar down to 10 astronomical units (AU) but also detect its spinning motion," Lee added. "It looks like a baby star spits a spinning bullet each time it takes a bite of a space hamburg

28 June: The Stars over the Philippines tonight at 23:00 pm local time

Manila South

Manila North

Bright nights: scientists explain rare phenomenon of 'nocturnal sun'

untitledThe Romans referred to it as the “nocturnal sun”. Later accounts describe it as an unexplained glow – bright enough to read a book by – that would sometimes light up the night sky.

Now researchers from York University in Canada have come up with a possible explanation for the rare phenomenon known as “bright nights”. Using satellite data, two atmospheric scientists from the Toronto institution suggest that the bright nights are not due to the sun or meteors, but instead the result of converging “zonal waves” in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Accounts of the phenomenon are sprinkled throughout history. In the first century BC, Pliny the Elder wrote of an event that gives “an appearance of day during the night”. Subsequent accounts were published in 1783 and 1908.

Today, in the age of artificial light, few have experienced the event. “I have never seen one myself,” said Gordon Shepherd, the lead author of the study published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

In 1991, Shepherd built a satellite instrument capable of measuring airglow, which results when ultraviolet radiation from the sun separates molecular oxygen into individual atoms. The atoms recombine at night, once the sun disappears, releasing energy that emits a green tint.

His latest study came about after researchers noticed that, at times, airglow could be seen by the naked eye. Along with York University’s Young-Min Cho, Shepherd carried out an analysis of two years’ worth of satellite data, finding that wavelengths in the upper atmosphere were at times superimposed over each other, brightening the airglow by as much as tenfold.

Their analysis showed these bright nights occurred 7% of the time and were highly localised, confined to an area about the size of Europe. But outside of remote areas, chances of seeing an event nowadays are slim, due to widespread light pollution.

“If you go back to Roman times, you have a significant population and all of them are looking. They’re all living in an environment with no artificial light,” said Shepherd. “Now almost everybody is living with artificial light.”

The change might explain why accounts of bright nights seem to disappear after the first world war, he said. “They’re something we’ve lost – like we lost species, for example – but we can still see them with our satellites.”

Since the study was published, Shepherd said, he had heard from many whose families had passed down stories about experiencing the bright nights. One shared his grandfather’s story of being chastised as a child after accidentally staying out until midnight playing football, a story Shepherd chalked up to bright nights. “There’s a whole bunch of stories like that,” he added. “Anyone who has seen one is really struck by it.”

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

New Horizons: Occultations in Preparation for MU69

by Paul Gilster

16-3526-Lisa-HardawayOur spacecraft have never encountered an object as far from Earth as 2014 MU69, but New Horizons will change all that when it races past the Kuiper Belt object on New Year’s Day of 2019. This summer is an interesting part of the project because planners will use it to gather as much information as possible about what they’ll find at the target. We have three occultations to work with, one of them just past, and they are as tricky as it gets.

But before I get to the occultations, let me offer condolences to the family and many New Horizons friends of Lisa Hardaway, who died in January at age 50. Hardaway helped to develop the LEISA (Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array) spectrometer that brought us such spectacular results during the Pluto/Charon flyby. She was program manager at Ball Aerospace for the Ralph instrument that contains LEISA. Mission scientists used data from the instrument package to make geological, colour and composition maps of Pluto and its moons. The mission team has now dedicated the spectrometer in her memory.

Tracking a Fleeting Shadow

The MU69 occultations should provide useful data as we learn more about the KBO encounter environment. The first event occurred on June 2-3, with observers in Argentina and South Africa — 54 telescope teams in all — trying to track the shadow of MU69, which had occulted a star. Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, explains the goal:

Predicting the narrow stripe of MU69’s shadow over the Earth called for data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. Remember that it was only in 2014, after a determined search, that the Hubble instrument discovered the 45-kilometre object, which is only 1/10,000th the mass of Pluto, although ten times larger than the average comet. Just the kind of KBO we’d like to study, in other words, but one we’ve had to characterize quickly in preparation for the upcoming flyby.

Screenshot-from-2017-06-27-08-39-19As the data from the recent occultation are analysed, we can look forward to another on July 10 and a third on July 17. For the July 10 event, mission scientists will use the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 2.5-meter airborne telescope mounted in a Boeing 747SP jet. SOFIA can work at 45,000 feet, well above intervening clouds and capable of providing better data than the army of small telescopes used in the June occultation.

For the July 17 occultation, two dozen 40-centimetre telescopes will be deployed to Patagonia, where observers hope to scan more deeply for any debris around MU69. The star being occulted will be the brightest of the three, offering the best prospect for such detections. To track all this, keep an eye on the New Horizons KBO Chasers page, but as we get close to the event check the project’s Facebook page and the Twitter hashtag #mu69occ.

As of this morning, we’re 689,472,210 km from MU69 with 553 days to go until flyby.

Mystery of floppy solar jets is solved at last

N2017-06-23-spiculeseutral particles play a crucial role in the creation of mysterious jets of plasma called spicules that burst from the surface of the Sun. Computer simulations done by researchers in the US and Norway suggest that an interplay between neutral particles and plasma in the Sun's atmosphere allow tangled magnetic fields to launch the jets.

The middle layer of the Sun's atmosphere – the chromosphere – is permeated by about 10 million spicules at any given time. These jets travel at speeds of 50–150 km/s and reach lengths of 10,000 km before collapsing. Rather than pointing straight out of the Sun, they tend to flop back towards the surface – giving the chromosphere the appearance of a lawn in need of cutting. Spicules could be providing hot plasma to the Sun's outer atmosphere – the corona – and a better understanding of the jets could help solve the long-standing puzzle of why the corona is millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun.

However, understanding what drives the emergence of spicules has been a difficult task. They are tricky to observe because they move very quickly, with each jet lasting only 5–10 min. This means that it has been difficult to improve computer simulations of spicules by comparing them to observations of the real thing. Indeed, scientists have been working on one particular computer model of the chromosphere for 10 years without being able to simulate the emergence of spicules.

Missing ingredient

Now, Juan Martínez-Sykora and colleagues at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory and the University of Oslo have found a missing ingredient that appears to have been holding back the success of the computer model – neutral particles.

Solar physicists believe that spicules are created when tangled magnetic fields from within the Sun emerge into the chromosphere and straighten out like a snapping whip. Previous models had not been able to reproduce this behaviour as Martínez-Sykora explains: "Usually magnetic fields are tightly coupled to charged particles. With only charged particles in the model, the magnetic fields were stuck, and couldn't rise beyond the Sun's surface. When we added neutrals, the magnetic fields could move more freely."

Previous simulations had ignored these neutral particles because it is computationally very expensive to include them. Indeed, the team's new version of the computer model that includes neutral particles took a year to run on NASA's Pleiades supercomputer.

Worth the wait

The long wait was worth it because the model was able to simulate spicules for the first time. Furthermore, the output of the model was a close match to spicules observed by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph space telescope and the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope in the Canary Islands.

The simulation also revealed that the snapping magnetic fields create Alfvén waves. These are strong magnetic waves that physicists believe are responsible for heating the Sun's atmosphere and driving the solar wind of charged particles towards Earth.

Dark-matter constraints tightened after LUX no-shows

2017-06-12-flash-2The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) collaboration has set new constraints on hypothetical dark-matter particles called WIMPs – weakly interacting massive particles. The LUX experiment is a dark-matter detector at the Sandford Underground Research Facility in the US. Buried 1500 m under radiation-shielding rock, it consists of a 2 m-tall titanium tank filled with 370 kg of liquid xenon cooled to –108 °C.

The detector relies upon the assumption that WIMPs should occasionally collide with the xenon atoms. If this occurs, the recoiling atom will create light and some free electrons. The electrons are accelerated by an electric field such that they create more light when they reach a layer of xenon gas at the top of the tank. Light signals from the collision point and the top of the tank are collected by extremely sensitive detectors and the energy of the collision can be deduced from the brightness. Requiring two signals from each event makes it easier to discriminate against light created by background radiation.

The experiment has undergone two data runs searching for WIMPs – one for three months in 2013 and another between October 2014 and May 2016. Neither run saw evidence of WIMPs.

However, the two null results have allowed researchers to set a new upper limit on the spin-dependent WIMP–nucleon elastic cross-sections. The value for proton collisions is 5 ×10–40 cm2, while for WIMP–neutron interactions the cross-section is 1.6 ×10–41 cm2 – the most sensitive constraint to date.

The result, presented in Physical Review Letters, agrees with recent findings from the PICO-60 detector in Canada, which have also now been published in Physical Review Letters

The Niagara Falls of Mars

PIA21763_modestVarious researchers are often pre-occupied with the quest for flowing water on Mars. However, this image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), shows one of the many examples from Mars where lava (when it was molten) behaved in a similar fashion to liquid water.

In a 3D image from MRO's Context Camera, the northern rim of a 30-kilometre diameter crater situated in the western part of the Tharsis volcanic province is shown. (See the HiRISE 3D image as well.) The image shows that a lava flow coming from the north-northeast surrounded the crater rim, and rose to such levels that it breached the crater rim at four locations to produce spectacular multi-level lava falls (one in the northwest and three in the north). These lava "falls" cascaded PIA21760_fig1down the wall and terraces of the crater to produce a quasi-circular flow deposit. It seems that the flows were insufficient to fill or even cover the pre-existing deposits of the crater floor. This is evidenced by the darker-toned lavas that overlie the older, and possibly dustier, lighter-toned deposits on the crater floor.

This image covers the three falls in the north-central region of the crater wall. The lava flows and falls are distinct as they are rougher than the original features that are smooth and knobby. In a close-up image the rough-textured lava flow to the north has breached the crater wall at a narrow point, where it then cascades downwards, fanning out and draping the steeper slopes of the wall in the process.

This is a stereo pair with ESP_050472_1585.

The map is projected here at a scale of 50 centimetres (19.7 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 54.5 centimetres (21.5 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning); objects on the order of 164 centimetres (64.6 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Skynet? More like Night-sky-net. AI hunts for Milky Way's turbo stars

gaia_star_mappingAn artificial neural network has detected rare super-fast stars zipping through the Milky Way – by crunching piles of data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia probe.

Hypervelocity stars (HVSes) are flung from the Way's Galactic Center and can reach speeds faster than our galaxy's escape velocity. Only 20 unbound HVSes have been discovered so far, and most of them are late B-type stars – brighter and larger than our Sun – with velocities between 300 and 700 kilometres (186 and 435 miles) per second.

ESA’s Gaia mission is trying to construct the most detailed 3D space map by measuring the position and distances of far-away stars. Billions of objects have been detected so far, generating a treasure trove of data suited for artificial neural networks to comb through.

Out of the two million stars from the Gaia Data Release 1 – measurements taken over a year from July, 2014 – 80 HVS candidates were found using this method.

A team of researchers led by Tommaso Marchetti, a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, are presenting their results this week at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science, a conference held in Prague, the Czech Republic.

A paper published at the end of May in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describes their system.

“We have developed from scratch an artificial neural network with five input units (the astrometric parameters), two hidden layers of neurons, and a single output neuron for binary classification,” the paper said.

First, the system needs to be trained. Since HVSes are rare, using real data for training is not enough. Instead, the researchers simulate mock data based on real results from the Gaia catalogue with inputs describing a star’s coordinates, distance and brightness. They then calculate its velocity.

Next, the fake catalogue is split for training, validation and testing. An algorithm processes the input and matches the output to a 0 for a normal background star and 1 for an HVS. It is then applied to new, unlabelled data taken from Gaia Data Release 1 to estimate the probabilities of a star being an HVS by looking at the output results.

“In just an hour, the algorithm reduced the dataset on two million stars to some 20,000 stars – only 1 per cent of the catalogue,” said Elena Maria Rossi, co-author of the paper and researcher at Leiden University. “A further selection including only measurements above a certain precision in distance and motion brought this down to 80 candidate stars.”

The results show that HVSes are complex dynamic systems. Fourteen stars have a total velocity in the Galactic rest frame, but 5 of these have a 50 per cent probability of escaping and fleeing the Milky Way. Another five stars were already runaway stars with a median velocity of between 400 and 780 kilometres per second.

“These hypervelocity stars are extremely important to study the overall structure of our Milky Way,” Rossi explained.

“These are stars that have travelled great distances through the Galaxy but can be traced back to its core – an area so dense and obscured by interstellar gas and dust that it is normally very difficult to observe – so they yield crucial information about the gravitational field of the Milky Way from the centre to its outskirts.” ®

Monday, 26 June 2017

A Giant Asteroid Will Come Extremely Close To Earth In 2029, And Impact ‘Can’t Be Ruled Out’

shutterstock_105231248Scientists believe a 40-million-ton asteroid set to fly close to Earth in 12 years may end up colliding with our planet on a future pass.

The Apophis asteroid will pass within 18,600 miles of Earth on April 13, 2029, which is ridiculously close by space distance standards. Scientists expect the near-miss to disrupt the asteroid’s orbit, making its future path unpredictable.

This means there’s a small chance Apophis could hit Earth on a future pass. Apophis will pass by the Earth again in 2036.

“You can find a full table of objects for which the impact probability is not mathematically zero,” Dr. Richard P. Binzel, a planetary science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who’s involved in research on Apophis, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The table includes Apophis with a probability of less than one chance in 100,000.”

If Apophis did strike Earth, it could create a crater about 1.25 miles across and almost 1,700 feet deep. Such an impact could be devastating, as on average an asteroid this size can be expected to impact Earth about every 80,000 years.  It could annihilate a city if it were to directly land on an urban area. The blast would equal 880 million tons of TNT or 65,000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

“We can rule out a collision at the next closest approach with the Earth, but then the orbit will change in a way that is not fully predictable just now, so we cannot predict the behaviour on a longer timescale,” Alberto Cellino of the Observatory of Turin in Italy, told

MIT announced last month that professors and students are designing a space probe mission to observe the asteroid “99942 Apophis” as it passes Earth in 2029. MIT or NASA would have to launch the probe before August of 2026 due to the way orbital mechanics work.

The MIT probe could teach scientists more about the construction of asteroids, providing valuable information about the formation of our solar system. What scientists learn from the Apophis encounter could make it easier to mount a planetary defence in the event an asteroid was ever found to be on an impact course.

In December 2004, initial observations of Apophis indicated it had a 2.7 percent chance of striking Earth in 2029 or exactly seven years later. This has since been revised downward considerably.

Smaller asteroids are much harder to detect and there’s little that could be done to stop a small space rock on course for Earth without early warning. Typically, these rocks are discovered just days or hours before they pass by Earth.

There’s not a shortage of space rocks that put our planet at risk either. Global asteroid detection programs found more than 16,314 near-Earth objects of all sizes — 816 new near-Earth objects were identified so far this year alone, according to International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planets Center.

Unravelling the universe's mysteries

619383_thumpBy Dennis CJ who is with Gubbi Labs, a Bengaluru-based research collective.

On February 11, 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo observatory announced the detection of a gravitational wave for the first time, a phenomenon that was predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity. Gravitational waves, according to Einstein, are ripples in the fabric of the universe, caused by various cosmic events such as when two black holes merge or during a supernova explosion of stars. Once generated, these waves can travel unhindered throughout the universe, expanding and contracting matter, space and time itself, along its path.

The discovery of gravitational waves has generated huge excitement among the astronomers community and opened up a treasure trove of opportunities for scientists studying the cosmos. “We can see that Einstein’s theory of gravity, yet again, has predicted something exactly correctly, in advance,” exclaims Professor Brian Schmidt, vice-chancellor and president at the Australian National University. Brian is also the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess, for showing that the expansion of the universe was accelerating

Rate of expansion

In 1927, Georges Lemaitre, using general relativity, had shown that the universe is expanding. This was later confirmed by Edwin Hubble, who showed how faraway galaxies were receding from the Milky Way. Since then, we’ve known that we live in a universe that was born in the Big Bang and is expanding, but scientists had expected the expansion to be slowing down. Einstein’s theory however showed something else. “If you use general relativity and look at what happens when space is filled with energy, that’s energy which is uniform everywhere, then it will lead to what is called negative pressure. Now we all know what positive pressure is. Take, for example, a bicycle tire. If I fill it up, and try and push on it, it will push back. This is because of positive pressure. Negative pressure means, if I push, the tire will want to shrink, and if I pull it apart, it will want to spring apart. So it amplifies motion instead of dampening it,” explains Brian.

Tipsy-Turvy motion creates light switch effect at Uranus

170626093453_1_900x600Unlike Earth, this icy planet's magnetosphere opens and closes every day

More than 30 years after Voyager 2 sped past Uranus, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are using the spacecraft's data to learn more about the icy planet. Their new study suggests that Uranus' magnetosphere, the region defined by the planet's magnetic field and the material trapped inside it, gets flipped on and off like a light switch every day as it rotates along with the planet. It's "open" in one orientation, allowing solar wind to flow into the magnetosphere; it later closes, forming a shield against the solar wind and deflecting it away from the planet.

This is much different from Earth's magnetosphere, which typically only switches between open and closed in response to changes in the solar wind. Earth's magnetic field is nearly aligned with its spin axis, causing the entire magnetosphere to spin like a top along with Earth's rotation. Since the same alignment of Earth's magnetosphere is always facing toward the sun, the magnetic field threaded in the ever-present solar wind must change direction in order to reconfigure Earth's field from closed to open. This frequently occurs with strong solar storms.

But Uranus lies and rotates on its side, and its magnetic field is lopsided -- it's off-cantered and tilted 60 degrees from its axis. Those features cause the magnetic field to tumble asymmetrically relative to the solar wind direction as the icy giant completes its 17.24-hour full rotation.

Rather than the solar wind dictating a switch like here on Earth, the researchers say Uranus' rapid rotational change in field strength and orientation lead to a periodic open-close-open-close scenario as it tumbles through the solar wind.

"Uranus is a geometric nightmare," said Carol Paty, the Georgia Tech associate professor who co-authored the study. "The magnetic field tumbles very fast, like a child cartwheeling down a hill head over heels. When the magnetized solar wind meets this tumbling field in the right way, it can reconnect and Uranus' magnetosphere goes from open to closed to open on a daily basis."

Paty says this solar wind reconnection is predicted to occur upstream of Uranus' magnetosphere over a range of latitudes, with magnetic flux closing in various parts of the planet's twisted magneto tail.

Reconnection of magnetic fields is a phenomenon throughout the solar system. It occurs when the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field -- which comes from the sun and is also known as the heliospheric magnetic field -- is opposite a planet's magnetosphere alignment. Magnetic field lines are then spliced together and rearrange the local magnetic topology, allowing a surge of solar energy to enter the system.

Magnetic reconnection is one reason for Earth's auroras. Auroras could be possible at a range of latitudes on Uranus due to its off-kilter magnetic field, but the aurora is difficult to observe because the planet is nearly 2 billion miles from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope occasionally gets a faint view, but it can't directly measure Uranus' magnetosphere.

The Georgia Tech researchers used numerical models to simulate the planet's global magnetosphere and to predict favourable reconnection locations. They plugged in data collected by Voyager 2 during its five-day flyby in 1986. It's the only time a spacecraft has visited.

The researchers say learning more about Uranus is one key to discovering more about planets beyond our solar system.

"The majority of exoplanets that have been discovered appear to also be ice giants in size," said Xin Cao, the Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate in earth and atmospheric sciences who led the study. "Perhaps what we see on Uranus and Neptune is the norm for planets: very unique magnetospheres and less-aligned magnetic fields. Understanding how these complex magnetospheres shield exoplanets from stellar radiation is of key importance for studying the habitability of these newly discovered worlds."

The future of the Orion constellation

A new video, based on measurements by ESA’s Gaia and Hipparcos satellites, shows how our view of the Orion constellation will evolve over the next 450 000 years.

Stars are not motionless in the sky: their positions change continuously as they move through our Galaxy, the Milky Way. These motions, too slow to be appreciated with the naked eye over a human lifetime, can be captured by high-precision observations like those performed by ESA’s billion-star surveyor, Gaia.

By measuring their current movements, we can reconstruct the past trajectories of stars through the Milky Way to study the origins of our Galaxy, and even estimate stellar paths millions of years into the future.

This video provides us with a glimpse over the coming 450 000 years, showing the expected evolution of a familiar patch of the sky, featuring the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.

The portion of the sky depicted in the video measures 40 x 20º – as a comparison, the diameter of the full Moon in the sky is about half a degree.

Amid a myriad of drifting stars, the shape of Orion as defined by its brightest stars is slowly rearranged into a new pattern as time goes by, revealing how constellations are ephemeral.

The red supergiant star Betelgeuse is visible at the centre towards the top of the frame at the beginning of the video (represented in a yellow–orange hue). According to its current motion, the star will move out of this field of view in about 100 000 years. The Universe has a much harsher fate in store for Betelgeuse, which is expected to explode as a supernova within the next million of years.

More of the stars shown in this view will have exploded as supernovas before the end of the video, while others might be still evolving towards that end, like Orion’s blue supergiant, Rigel, visible as the bright star in the lower left, or the red giant Aldebaran, which is part of the constellation Taurus, and can be seen crossing the lower part of the frame from right to left.

Many new stars will also have been born from the Orion molecular cloud, a mixture of gas and dust that is not directly seen by Gaia – it can be identified as dark patches against the backdrop of stars – but shines brightly at infrared wavelengths. The birth and demise of stars are not shown in the video.

The Hyades cluster, a group of stars that are physically bound together and are also part of the Taurus constellation, slowly makes its way from the lower right corner to the upper left.

The new video is based on data from the Tycho–Gaia Astrometric Solution, a resource that lists distances and motions for two million stars in common between Gaia’s first data release and the Tycho-2 Catalogue from the Hipparcos mission. Additional information from ground-based observations were included, as well as data from the Hipparcos catalogue for the brightest stars in the view.

NASA to support ESA’s gravitational wave space mission

untitledThe European Space Agency (ESA) has selected the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) to study gravitational waves in space – a mission in which NASA will partner with ESA in design, development, operations and data analysis. LISA is expected to launch in 2034, NASA said in a statement on Thursday. ESA’s Science Program Committee announced the selection of the three-spacecraft constellation LISA this week. The mission will now be designed, budgeted and proposed for adoption before construction begins. Gravitational radiation was predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Massive accelerating objects such as merging black holes produce waves of energy that ripple through the fabric of space and time.

Indirect proof of the existence of these waves came in 1978 when subtle changes observed in the motion of a pair of orbiting neutron stars showed energy was leaving the system in an amount matching predictions of energy carried away by gravitational waves. In September 2015, these waves were first directly detected by the National Science Foundation’s ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). The signal arose from the merger of two stellar-mass black holes located some 1.3 billion light-years away. Similar signals from other black hole mergers have since been detected. Seismic, thermal and other noise sources limit LIGO to higher-frequency gravitational waves around 100 cycles per second (hertz). But finding signals from more powerful events, such as mergers of supermassive black holes in colliding galaxies, requires the ability to detect frequencies much lower than one hertz, a sensitivity level only possible from space.

LISA consists of three spacecraft separated by 2.5 million kilometres in a triangular formation that follows Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Each spacecraft carries test masses that are shielded in such a way that the only force they respond to is gravity. Lasers measure the distances to test masses in all three spacecraft. Tiny changes in the lengths of each two-spacecraft arm signal the passage of gravitational waves through the formation. LISA may also detect a background of gravitational waves produced during the universe’s earliest moments. NASA said it has worked for decades to develop many technologies needed for LISA, including measurement, micro-propulsion and control systems, as well as support for the development of data analysis techniques.

Irish astronomer leads international team to make incredible star discovery

Image-of-BetelgeuseAn Irish astronomer has led an international team of astronomers to make an incredible discovery about the surface of a star.

Dr Eamon O’Gorman led to team to make the most detailed image of the surface of a star bar the sun that has ever been created at radio wavelengths.

The image was made using the world’s largest radio telescope called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array shown below.

The image was taken of Betelgeuse, the famous Red Supergiant located in the constellation Orion.

The image resulted in the discovery that the temperature in its inner atmosphere is not the norm.

Dr. Eamon O’Gorman said: “ALMA now provides us with the capabilities to image surface features on nearby stars while also directly measuring the temperature of these features.

ALMA-Telescope-Array-time-lapse"We have known for decades that the visible surface of Betelgeuse is not uniform, but ALMA has now shown us in detail that the temperature in its inner atmosphere is also not uniform.

"It looks like these temperature fluctuations could be caused by magnetic fields, similar to what we see on the Sun, our nearest star."

Dr. Pierre Kervella, astronomer at the Paris Observatory said: “Located about 650 light years away, Betelgeuse is certainly not the closest star to our solar system, but its sheer size makes it an ideal target to image directly with ALMA.

“When we look at the night sky with our naked eyes, we see bright stars everywhere, but because they are so small, even the most powerful telescopes in the world struggle to image their surfaces.

"Our results show ALMA has the capability to image the surfaces of the largest stars in detail.”

In terms of size, Betelgeuse is approximately 1,400 times larger than our Sun, and more than one billion times larger in terms of volume.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Dark Matter Hypothesis: A controversial mystery

By Adityadhar Dwivedi (India).

Dark Matter is really a mysterious concept on which many theories were proposed but they fully can't explain the truth behind dark matter. But today be ready to prove this theory again with corrections.

Before reading this blog post, I'd like to introduce myself, My name is Aditya and I am same as curious as you with these great phenomena ruling our universe. Since we started thinking about those twinkling stars, we keep on discovering the extremes of our universe. We are really so beautiful creature of our universe, I believe.

So, if you think that we have almost found many of the things except few of things, around us then you're wrong. If you just raise your head above and gaze towards those twinkling wonders, you can answer the questions behind these visible objects like stars, nebula, planets, meteors, asteroids etc. But what about the answer behind empty space or vacuum?
You can't ignore them, my friend. They are not zero as you think because in almost 90 years before, we have met with such obstructions which really matters with the modern physics. They are:

  1. Dark Matter, also known as Missing Mass.
  2. Dark Energy
So here, as our topic says, we will discuss about Dark Matter.
Dark Matter is considered as mysterious or dark because we have not yet discovered. But why don't you think that how can it be possible that if dark matter is a matter then it must make a sense? If it is really hard for you to understand then, no problem, I am explaining it below:
If we are searching for Dark Matter for at least 90 years, then we must be having any single proof of its existence. But, Do we have?

Yes we have but not by proof. Why I am saying like this because if we recall it as 'matter' then it must be having matter like properties or at least it is present somewhere. But where are those proofs?

In my view, it is really not a matter as we recall or say it but it is something else which is having a share of 25 percent of whole energy density of the universe. I know it really sounds crazy or absurd but think about it.
         If we are existing and we are made up of baryonic matter consisting of all visible matter all around us. And if dark matter really exists then the it must interact with any of the visible matter but it doesn't. So, leave this idea because it may be possible that it really not interact with any other particles. But what about its particles. If it is really a matter then it would form a larger number of galaxies made up of dark matter. Actually it doesn't belong to family of matter. It is missing mass which form an immense gravity which can be called as, Dark Gravity. To explain it, I might tell you the story of arising concept of Dark Matter:

Actually, the theory of Dark Matter rose when we measure the mass of a galaxy and separately we count the masses of all stars, nebula, neutron stars, and even black holes of the same galaxy. We found a major difference between mass of galaxy and mass of its visible entities. So there we raised a concept of missing mass by missing matter, which is now collectively called as Dark Matter. But it is also explained as the binding force or something like thread which stitches or forms stars by creating galaxies. And dark matter is that missing mass responsible for galaxies formation and formation of clusters of galaxies.

So as you see, it roughly works for normal matter to exist. To form a star, it gives enough mass to gravitationally collapse to form a star. So why don't you think, it's an energy or something as dark gravity?

Watch this video:

Description: There's something fundamental we all need to understand about dark matter—it may not actually be matter at all. Neil deGrasse Tyson has a bone to pick with this misnomer that is distracting physicists and the public from the real discoveries to be made. Scientists know very little about "dark matter", and in fact it can only be observed indirectly by its effect on other objects. Tyson has a few suggestions for its re-naming: how about "Fred", he jokes, which is a name devoid of any implied meaning—suitable for our current level of knowledge. But if you want it to sound sexy and be accurate, then the way to go is dark gravity, according to Tyson. Why? Because when you add up everything in the universe—the stars, moons, gas clouds, black holes, everything—85% of gravity is unaccounted for. That is so-called "dark matter". What makes it so interesting isn't the wild-goose-chase question of whether or not it exists, but why it doesn't interact with ordinary, known matter?

Hope you've understood well my concepts by this video very well. To understand fully, at least try to read my full post plus watch the full video.

So, to put this theory of Dark Gravity over the different theories proposed on Dark Matter, we really need a proof. But why don't you think it is a something different from all the matching Dark Matter theories. If you really feel that this theory sounds like different then it is my great pleasure that I succeed in understanding others my theory of Dark Matter Hypothesis. By the way I think it would be controversial theory in physics world, lol.
So, I happily saying you a goodbye and good luck and keep growing!

Researchers using crowd funding to put telescope in Antarctica

Ashampoo_Snap_2017.06.25_13h12m10s_001_A research team called the "Consortium of Antarctic Astronomy" is using an unusual method to raise money to install a high-frequency radio wave telescope in Antarctica -- online crowd funding

The consortium, made up of researchers from the University of Tsukuba, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and other organizations, plans to build the radio telescope with a 10-meter diameter receiving dish at an altitude of 3,260 meters above sea level in the interior of the Antarctic continent. The antenna will collect high-frequency radiation waves emitted following the Big Bang and provide insight into the birth of galaxies.

The team has already received permission from France and Italy, whose governments own the planned site for the telescope, and with the goal of completing the installation by 2024, they are also aiming for funding from the Japanese government.

High-frequency radio waves are easily absorbed by water vapour in the Earth's atmosphere. However, Antarctica is extremely dry, and has clear skies roughly 70 percent of the year. This makes the South Pole the best location on the planet for astronomical observation.

The crowd funding goal is set at 10 million yen, with a deadline of 11 p.m. on June 30. Donations start from 3,000 yen, and more details can be found at the campaign website: (in Japanese).

New image of Jupiter from NASA’s JUNO spacecraft

new jupiterThis enhanced-colour image of Jupiter's bands of light and dark clouds was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft.

Three of the white oval storms known as the "String of Pearls" are visible near the top of the image. Each of the alternating light and dark atmospheric bands in this image is wider than Earth, and each rages around Jupiter at hundreds of miles (kilometres) per hour. The lighter areas are regions where gas is rising, and the darker bands are regions where gas is sinking.

Juno acquired the image on May 19, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. PST (2:30 p.m. EST) from an altitude of about 20,800 miles (33,400 kilometres) above Jupiter's cloud tops.

JunoCam's raw images are available at for the public to peruse and process into image products.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran

Forest Fire might have damaged telescope dome atop Mount Graham

594c6d0052fe5_imageAstronomers fear at least one of the telescopes on Mount Graham sustained heat damage when winds swept the Frye Fire across the highest peaks of the Pinaleno Mountains last weekend.

The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) did not burn, said astronomer Paul Gabor, vice director of the Vatican Observatory.

Heat from the nearby inferno melted some of the sprinkler lines set up to protect the telescope and Gabor is worried that it may have warped the metal enclosure. He also fears smoke and soot may have gotten inside to foul the sensitive electronic and optical systems.

Gabor had scheduled a visit to inspect the damage Thursday, but was told by officials managing the fire that recurring high winds made that trip too dangerous.

The fire, which came within feet of the Vatican Telescope, did not get that close to the Large Binocular Telescope, the biggest and most expensive instrument on the mountain.

“There is no damage of any kind,” said Christian Veillet, director of the LBTO, the international consortium that built the telescope.

Veillet said the telescope has been staffed with a skeleton crew throughout the fire and is being used as a spotting tower by the team fighting the fire.

“The only worry we had, outside of the fire coming too close, was that we could have ashes and smoke going into the enclosure.

“Smoke comes with little particulates and that is not good at all for some of the optics we have.”

It smells like smoke inside the dome, he said, “but there is no ash or debris around.”

Veillet said the observatory did lose weeks of valuable observing time and probably won’t open before the planned monsoon shutdown on July 11. Partner astronomers from Italy and Ohio State University had to leave without performing their observing runs.

vaatEven though fire has already burned through those areas, wind from daily, dry thunderstorms has made the situation volatile, said Cameron Eck, spokesman for the team fighting the fire.

A team of firefighters remains in the high reaches of the mountains to protect summer cabins, a Bible camp and the Mount Graham International Observatory — home to the Vatican’s telescope, the LBT and the UA’s Submillimeter Telescope.

“Their job is to just stay up there in the area and just keep mopping up. We’re staffing that 24 hours a day and will continue to do that until we can say for 100 percent sure it’s safe,” Eck said.

Eck said 831 people are assigned to the fire, with 7 helicopters dropping buckets of fire retardant.

The fire, which started with a lightning strike on June 7, has burned 21,335 acres of forest and was only 10 percent contained as of Thursday.

It came “within feet” of the Vatican telescope on Sunday afternoon. “You couldn’t see the VATT from the (nearby) Large Binocular Telescope,” said Gabor.

Gabor received an emailed picture of the telescope, totally obscured in smoke, with flames visible. It had a message from Kevin Newton, one of three observatory personnel still on the site. “VATT is in trouble,” it read.

When the smoke cleared, the observatory was still standing. Gabor said no one has entered the telescope since then, but said an exterior inspection “showed some evidence of maybe some heat damage to the dome.”

He hopes to visit the site next week with engineers and an insurance adjuster. He said the observatory had been “fire-hardened” to prevent embers from entering through vents, but suspects that smoke and soot may have made it inside. “The moths seem to find a way,” he said.

This is the third time forest fires have threatened the telescopes managed by the University of Arizona on Mount Graham, southwest of Safford in Graham County.

Fire came within 200 yards of the observatory during the Clark Peak Fire in 1996 and the Nuttall Complex Fire in 2004.

The Frye Fire started in the fire scar left by the Nuttall Complex. The presence of downed timber and standing burned trees, combined with the steep terrain and erratic winds, make fighting the fire hazardous, said Eck.

And new fires keep popping up each day with the dry lightning storms.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

NEWS ALERT: bright supernova discovered near Gamma Scuti


A Nova alert has been issued by astronomers, it lies in the constellation of Scutum close to gamma Scuti

ASAS-SN Discovery of a Possible Galactic Nova ASASSN-17ib on the Rise

ATel #10523; K. Z. Stanek, C. S. Kochanek (OSU), L. Chomiuk, J. Strader (MSU), J. S. Brown, T. W.-S. Holoien, J. V. Shields, T. A. Thompson (OSU), B. J. Shappee (Hubble Fellow, Carnegie Observatories), J. L. Prieto (Diego Portales; MAS), Subo Dong (KIAA-PKU)
on 23 Jun 2017; 16:20 UT
Distributed as an Instant Email Notice Novae
Credential Certification: Krzysztof Stanek (

Subjects: Optical, Nova

Referred to by ATel #: 10524, 10527

During the ongoing All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, Shappee et al. 2014), using data from the quadruple 14-cm "Brutus" telescope in Haleakala, Hawaii, we detect a bright, new transient source, possibly a classical nova (could also be a bright CV), near the Galactic plane

Object       RA (J2000)    DEC (J2000)    Gal l (deg)   Gal b (deg)    Disc. UT Date   Disc. V mag  
ASASSN-17ib  18:31:45.918 -14:18:55.57      17.969        -2.232        2017-06-23.47    12.5  

ASASSN-17ib was discovered in images obtained on UT 2017-06-23.47 at V~12.5, and it is also detected in several earlier epochs, starting at UT 2017-06-19.41 at V~14.7. We do not detect (V>17.1) this object in subtracted images taken on UT 2017-06-13.21 and before.

Using newly released ASAS-SN Sky Patrol light curve interface (Kochanek et al. 2017, PASP, submitted), we have retrieved aperture photometry time series at the location of ASASSN-17ib in the last 20 days, and the resulting light curve can be seen here. No previous outbursts are detected at the position of ASASSN-17ib since ASAS-SN started observing this location in February 2015.

Follow-up observations, especially spectroscopy, are strongly encouraged.

We thank Las Cumbres Observatory and its staff for their continued support of ASAS-SN. ASAS-SN is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant GBMF5490 to the Ohio State University, NSF grant AST-1515927, the Mt. Cuba Astronomical Foundation, the Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP) at OSU, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences South America Center for Astronomy (CASSACA).

ASAS-SN Sky Patrol Light Curve of ASASSN-17ib

Could the Universe be Conscious ?

Antennae_Galaxies_reloadedFor centuries, modern science has been shrinking the gap between humans and the rest of the universe, from Isaac Newton showing that one set of laws applies equally to falling apples and orbiting moons to Carl Sagan intoning that “we are made of star stuff” — that the atoms of our bodies were literally forged in the nuclear furnaces of other stars.

Even in that context, Gregory Matloff’s ideas are shocking. The veteran physicist at New York City College of Technology recently published a paper arguing that humans may be like the rest of the universe in substance and in spirit. A “proto-consciousness field” could extend through all of space, he argues. Stars may be thinking entities that deliberately control their paths. Put more bluntly, the entire cosmos may be self-aware.

The notion of a conscious universe sounds more like the stuff of late night TV than academic journals. Called by its formal academic name, though, “panpsychism” turns out to have prominent supporters in a variety of fields. New York University philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers is a proponent. So too, in different ways, are neuroscientist Christof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, renowned for his work on gravity and black holes. The bottom line, Matloff argues, is that panpsychism is too important to ignore.
“It’s all very speculative, but it’s something we can check and either validate or falsify,” he says.

Three decades ago, Penrose introduced a key element of panpsychism with his theory that consciousness is rooted in the statistical rules of quantum physics as they apply in the microscopic spaces between neurons in the brain.

In 2006, German physicist Bernard Haisch, known both for his studies of active stars and his openness to unorthodox science, took Penrose’s idea a big step further. Haisch proposed that the quantum fields that permeate all of empty space (the so-called “quantum vacuum”) produce and transmit consciousness, which then emerges in any sufficiently complex system with energy flowing through it. And not just a brain, but potentially any physical structure. Intrigued, Matloff wondered if there was a way to take these squishy arguments and put them to an observational test.

One of the hallmarks of life is its ability to adjust its behaviour in response to stimulus. Matloff began searching for astronomical objects that unexpectedly exhibit this behaviour. Recently, he zeroed in on a little-studied anomaly in stellar motion known as Paranego’s Discontinuity. On average, cooler stars orbit our galaxy more quickly than do hotter ones. Most astronomers attribute the effect to interactions between stars and gas clouds throughout the galaxy. Matloff considered a different explanation. He noted that the anomaly appears in stars that are cool enough to have molecules in their atmospheres, which greatly increases their chemical complexity.

Matloff noted further that some stars appear to emit jets that point in only one direction, an unbalanced process that could cause a star to alter its motion. He wondered: could this actually be a willful process? Is there any way to tell?

If Paranego’s Discontinuity is caused by specific conditions within the galaxy, it should vary from location to location. But if it is something intrinsic to the stars — as consciousness would be — it should be the same everywhere. Data from existing stellar catalogues seems to support the latter view, Matloff claims. Detailed results from the Gaia star-mapping space telescope, due in 2018, will provide a more stringent test.

Matloff is under no illusion that his colleagues will be convinced, but he remains upbeat: “Shouldn’t we at least be checking? Maybe we can move panpsychism from philosophy to observational astrophysics.”

America is building yet another supercomputer

_73783433_supercomp1The 20th century space race ushered in some of the most significant scientific discoveries of the era. Now, the efforts of private companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, as well as traditional governmental agencies like NASA, have sparked a new space race that’s bringing about next-level space technologies.

However, the Space Race 2.0 isn’t the only technological competition in the world today — the smartest minds across the globe are competing to create the most powerful supercomputer on the planet.

Since 1996, the United States has consistently been home to one of the three fastest supercomputers in the world. Unfortunately for the U.S., that streak has ended as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Titan supercomputer has been bumped to the number four slot. The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre’s Piz Daint now holds the bronze following an upgrade involving the addition of Nvidia GPUs.

The U.S. is not taking this bump to fourth place lying down. Last week, the DOE announced that it was making $258 million available to help fund the next big supercomputer.

According to MIT Technology Review, the U.S. government expects to have a system that can perform one quintillion operations per second by 2021. That would be 50 times faster than Titan and 10 times faster than China’s TaihuLight, the current world leader.

Of course, the rest of the world won’t spend the next four years content with what they’ve already created. China is looking to further cement its place at the top of the supercomputing heap by heavily investing in the next generation of supercomputers. The nation is even setting a more ambitious goal for itself than the U.S. — they believe their more powerful machine will be ready by 2020.

Ultimately, this race for the world’s most powerful supercomputer will benefit us all, as the devices will help humanity with everything from healthcare to predicting the weather. Truly, there are no losers when innovation is the goal.

Japan to launch 3rd satellite in August to enhance GPS

Ashampoo_Snap_2017.06.24_11h07m58s_001_Japan will put into orbit a third satellite in August to enhance the precision of its global positioning system, the Japanese space agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said Thursday.

An H-2A rocket carrying the government's quasi-zenith satellite Michibiki No. 3 is scheduled to be launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima Prefecture, south-western Japan, on Aug 11 between 2pm and 11pm, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy.

Launch window: 0500-1400 GMT (1:00-10:00 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

A Japanese H-2A rocket, designated H-2A F35, will launch the Michibiki 3 navigation spacecraft, the third member of Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System. Japan plans to initially deploy four QZSS satellites to augment regional navigation services over Japan and neighbouring countries provided by the U.S. Global Positioning System.

The new satellite will be placed in a geostationary orbit for purposes such as locating people during disasters.

Another Michibiki satellite, used to determine locations of objects on Earth, is also set to be launched later this year, according to the government.

The new additional satellites will work in tandem from fiscal 2018 with Michibiki No. 1 and No. 2, launched in 2010 and earlier this month, respectively, and complement a US satellite network that Japan had previously fully depended on.

The government aims to increase the number of satellites in orbit to seven in fiscal 2023. Once the "Japanese GPS" is created, smartphone users will be able to receive more accurate information on locations shown in their map apps.