SpaceJibe

November 27, 2012

After Winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, Niels Bohr Was Given a Perpetual Supply of Beer Piped Directly into His House

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Wierd — bferrari @ 8:33 pm

The people of Denmark were justifiably proud when one of their own, Niels Bohr, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. The famous Carlsberg brewery marked the occasion by giving him a house and piping fresh beer into it continuously, straight from the brewery. Inevitably, this inebriation led to ever greater discoveries by Bohr.

Skip ahead in the video to 2:55. And remember: when studying physics, use a designated driver.

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November 23, 2012

‘Super-Jupiter’: planet in another solar system photographed

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Life — bferrari @ 4:18 pm
False color, near infrared image of the Kappa Andromedae star system as seen by the Subaru Telescope in Hawai'i. Almost all of the light of the host star, on which the image is centered, has been removed through image processing. A Super-Jupiter planet is clearly visible to the upper left. (NAOJ / Subaru / J. Carson / T. Currie)

False color, near infrared image of the Kappa Andromedae star system as seen by the Subaru Telescope in Hawai’i. Almost all of the light of the host star, on which the image is centered, has been removed through image processing. A Super-Jupiter planet is clearly visible to the upper left. (NAOJ / Subaru / J. Carson / T. Currie)

In a rare direct photo of a world beyond Earth, astronomers have spotted a planet 13 times more massive than Jupiter, the largest planet in our own solar system.
The planet orbits a star called Kappa Andromedae that is 2.5 times the mass of the sun and is located 170 light-years away from Earth. As a gas giant larger than Jupiter, it’s classified as a “super-Jupiter.”
The object is an interesting test case for theories of planet formation, scientists say. Based on observations of this system, the super Jupiter appears to have formed in the same way ordinary, lower-mass exoplanets do, by coalescing from a “protoplanetary disk” of material orbiting a nascent star.

That’s because its orbit, somewhat wider than the path Neptune takes around our sun, is at a comparable distance to planetary orbits in the solar system. Additionally, its star, kappa Andromedae, is relatively young, at about 30 million years old (for comparison, the sun is roughly 5 billion years old). These clues point toward a formation story typical of smaller planets.

Previously, some scientists had doubted that such large stars could give birth to planets in protoplanetary disks. The new finding indicates that this star probably did just that.

The new photo was snapped by Japan’s Subaru 8-meter telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Alien planets are extremely difficult to image directly because their stars are always so much brighter, and outshine any planets.

A false color image of the Kappa And system. The light from the host star (center) has been removed through image processing. The super-Jupiter, Kappa And b (upper left), has a projected separation of 55 Astronomical Units, about 1.8 times that of Neptune's orbital separation. (NAOJ/Subaru/J. Carson/T. Currie)

A false color image of the Kappa And system. The light from the host star (center) has been removed through image processing. The super-Jupiter, Kappa And b (upper left), has a projected separation of 55 Astronomical Units, about 1.8 times that of Neptune’s orbital separation. (NAOJ/Subaru/J. Carson/T. Currie)

To capture this picture, astronomers looked in infrared light, and used a technique to hide the glare from the star in order to reveal the relatively faint dot of light from the planet. More than 800 planets have been discovered beyond the solar system, but only a handful so far have been imaged directly.

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November 22, 2012

Mars Mystery: Has Curiosity Rover Made Big Discovery?

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Life, Mars, Space Ships — bferrari @ 9:30 am

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has apparently made a discovery “for the history books,” but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to learn what the new Red Planet find may be, media reports suggest.

Curiosity's self portrait from Mars

Curiosity’s self portrait from Mars

The discovery was made by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, NPR reported today (Nov. 20). SAM is the rover’s onboard chemistry lab, and it’s capable of identifying organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

SAM apparently spotted something interesting in a soil sample Curiosity’s huge robotic arm delivered to the instrument recently.

“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, told NPR. “It’s looking really good.”

Watch Video:  

http://www.space.com/18436-curiosity-inhales-mars-gets-carbon-dioxide-buzz-video.html

The rover team won’t be ready to announce just what SAM found for several weeks, NPR reported, as scientists want to check and double-check the results. Indeed, Grotzinger confirmed to SPACE.com that the news will come out at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place Dec. 3-7 in San Francisco.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater on Aug. 5, kicking off a two-year mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.

The car-size robot carries 10 different instruments to aid in its quest, but SAM is the rover’s heart, taking up more than half of its science payload by weight.

In addition to analyzing soil samples, SAM also takes the measure of Red Planet air. Many scientists are keen to see if Curiosity detects any methane, which is produced by many lifeforms here on Earth. A SAM analysis of Curiosity’s first few sniffs found no definitive trace of the gas in the Martian atmosphere, but the rover will keep looking.

Curiosity began driving again Friday (Nov. 16) after spending six weeks testing its soil-scooping gear at a site called “Rocknest.” The rover will soon try out its rock-boring drill for the first time on the Red Planet, scientists have said.

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NASA SECRET DISCOVERY ON MARS: Meteor offers possible clue

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Inner Solar System, Life, Mars, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 9:21 am

Space rock was flung to Earth after asteroid strike

All the boffinry world is alive with speculation as to just what the as yet unnannounced “one for the history books” discovered by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity might be. But a recently-published study may offer a clue.

In the investigation, researchers from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Carnegie Institution and the Lunar and Planetary Institute compared water concentrations and hydrogen isotopes in crystals within shergottites – two meteorites that came to Earth from Mars as a result of an asteroid strike on the red world. Both were primitive, but one was relatively rich in elements including hydrogen although the other wasn’t.

Did Mars once look like Earth?

Did Mars once look like Earth?

“There are competing theories that account for the diverse compositions of Martian meteorites,” Tomohiro Usui, lead author of the paper and a former NASA/LPI postdoctoral fellow, said. “Until this study there was no direct evidence that primitive Martian lavas contained material from the surface of Mars.”

“Usui revealed that the initial hydrogen isotopic composition of Mars was Earth-like, because he designed an experiment that greatly reduced contamination to the meteorite here on Earth,” said coauthor Justin Simon, a JSC cosmochemist.

One meteorite changed little on its way to the Martian surface from the mantle. The concentration of water in the rock was low, suggesting the inside of Mars is parched. The other meteorite had contact with the atmosphere and had ten times more water, suggesting that the surface could have been very wet at one time.

The full study is online at scientific database ScienceDirect.

NASA’s keeping schtum until at least next month on just what the Curiosity rover’s sample analysis unit has discovered to set its boffins in such a tizzy: but solid evidence of a watery surface on Mars in the past – though not as blockbusting as proof of life – would nonetheless be considered significant enough by the space agency that it would only make revelations after careful checks.

It could just be that Usui’s meteorite study will be borne out by Curiosity’s analysis. We’ll have to wait and see.

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BLAZING HEAVENLY gas BRIDGE filament links galactic clusters

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology — bferrari @ 9:18 am

Bifröst, the burning on-ramp to Valhalla, seen at last

The European Space Agency’s Planck space telescope has discovered a bridge of hot gas connecting two galactic clusters across ten million light-years of intergalactic space.

Planck tries to capture pictures of the ancient light of the cosmos, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). This faint light tootles around the universe, and as it does, it runs into things like galaxies or galaxy clusters that are bound together by gravity.

If the CMB light then interacts with the hot gas permeating galaxy clusters, its energy distribution changes in a way predicted by boffins called the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect, named after the scientists who discovered it.

This effect is used by Planck by detect the huge cosmic structures knowns as galaxy clusters already, but it’s also allowed the space telescope to see the faint filaments of gas that link one cluster to another.

Before now, the tenuous gas links remained mostly undetected. Astroboffins theorise that the filaments can best be spotted when the clusters interact with each other and the filaments are compressed and heated up.

This was how Planck spotted the bridge between clusters Abell 399 and Abell 401, a billion light years from Earth and each containing hundreds of galaxies. The possibility of the filament was first hinted at by X-ray data from ESA’s XMM-Newton, but the new data confirms it.

The temperature of the bridge is similar to the gas in the two clusters, on the order of 80 million degrees Celsius and the gas in the link could be a mixture of the elusive filaments of the cosmic web combined with the gas from each cluster.

Planck will continue to probe galaxy clusters to figure out their connection to the gas of the universe, from which all groups of galaxies were originally formed. ®

Bootnote

Ancient Norse legend tells of Bifröst, a glowing rainbow bridge between our world of Midgard and Asgard, home of the Gods and location of Valhalla, the hall of the slain heroes. In the Poetic Edda, we learn that Bifröst blazes with flames. It will be broken at Ragnarök, the universe-ending battle between the Gods and the Frost Giants.

Some have theorized that the old Norse Bifröst may have been inspired by the Milky Way. The skalds surely were unaware of galactic clusters and the filaments linking them. But a superhot 80-million-degree glowing sky bridge connecting galactic clusters is evidently so fiery and stupendous in scale as to be even more like Bifröst.

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November 19, 2012

What’s the Coolest Place in the Universe?

Filed under: Cool, Supernova — bferrari @ 6:40 pm
The coolest place in the Universe is nearly at absolute zero. (International Falls Chamber of Commerce/Pete Schultz)

The coolest place in the Universe is nearly at absolute zero. (International Falls Chamber of Commerce/Pete Schultz)

It’s not Miami Beach, if that’s what you were thinking. Nor is it the North Pole.

The coldest place known is inside the Boomerang Nebula. It is in the constellation of Centaurus, 5000 light-years from Earth. Planetary nebulae form around a bright, central star when it expels gas in the last stages of its life.

The Boomerang Nebula is one of the Universe’s peculiar places. In 1995, using the 15-metre Swedish ESO Submillimetre Telescope in Chile, astronomers Sahai and Nyman revealed that it is the coldest place in the Universe found so far. With a temperature of -272°C, it is only one degree warmer than absolute zero (the lowest limit for all temperatures). Even the -270°C background glow from the Big Bang is warmer than this nebula. It is the only object found so far that has a temperature lower than the background radiation.

The general bow-tie shape of the Boomerang appears to have been created by a very fierce wind, some 310,000 mph, blowing ultracold gas away from the dying central star. The star has been losing as much as one-thousandth of a solar mass of material per year for 1,500 years, astronomers say. This is 10-100 times more than in other similar objects. The rapid expansion of the nebula has enabled it to become the coldest known region in the universe.

November 13, 2012

Supersymmetry takes an arrow to the knee

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Cosmology, Wierd — bferrari @ 6:58 pm

Hiding places get narrower

Supersymmetry isn’t quite dead yet, but the latest results out of the Large Hadron Collider are giving it some trouble.

A theory that’s been around since the 1960s, supersymmetry proposes that all fermions (the fundamental particles of matter) have corresponding bosons (the carriers of basic forces). At the moment, including the Higgs, there are five boson types, which doesn’t match the 12 fermion types that exist.

The problem is that the LHC outputs are increasingly eliminating the mass levels at which supersymmetry may exist. In the latest work, detailed at the Large Hadron Collider conference taking place in Kyoto, a new BS Meson decay rules out one of the proposed energies for supersymmetry.

New Scientist explains the importance of the BS interaction here.

Put simply: the frequency of a particular decay, from BS into a pair of muons provides what the LHCb people call an important “bench test” of supersymmetry. The Standard Model predicts one rate at which the decay will be observed; supersymmetry predicts that the decay would be observed more often.

The reason that the test hasn’t been applied before is that you need an awful lot of data to test something that only occurs a handful of times in a billion.

In the Kyoto presentation, Johannes Albrecht of LHCb said the collider had set the decay rate to once for every 300 billion BS mesons, in close agreement with the Standard Model.

New Scientist quotes Albrecht as saying “This measurement certainly further shrinks the allowed parameter space for SUSY, but unfortunately, one cannot fully rule out SUSY,” says Albrecht.

However, since some supersymmetry models permit the one-in-three hundred billion decay rate, the LHC boffins will have to keep chipping away at the problem.

November 12, 2012

Cray’s Titan system takes supercomputer crown

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets — bferrari @ 7:59 pm

Titan is a Cray XK7 system that hit 17.59 Petaflop/s on the Linpack benchmark. Titan features 560,640 processors, including 261,632 Nvidia K20x accelerator cores.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory had the fastest supercomputer with a system called Titan, which consisted of Cray and Nvidia technology, according to the twice a year Top500 list.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory had the fastest supercomputer with a system called Titan, which consisted of Cray and Nvidia technology, according to the twice a year Top500 list.

Titan towers over Top500 supercomputer list (gallery)

Specifically, Titan is a Cray XK7 system that hit 17.59 Petaflop/s (quadrillions
of calculations per second) on the Linpack benchmark. Titan features 560,640 processors, including 261,632 Nvidia K20x accelerator cores.

The results will be announced at the SC12 supercomputing conference Monday.

Titan bumped Sequoia, an IBM BlueGene/Q system, to No. 2. Sequoia is installed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and was No. 1 in June. Sequoia—16.32
Petaflop/s—has 1,572,864 cores. The rest of the top 5 included Fujitsu’s K computer in Kobe, Japan, a BlueGene/Q system dubbed Mira at the Argonne National Laboratory and another BlueGene/Q system named JUQUEEN at the Forschungszentrum Juelich in Germany.

Dell also cracked the top 10 list with Stampede, a system based on PowerEdge servers and Intel’s Xeon Phi processors. Stampede is installed at the University of Texas in Austin.

By geography, the U.S. had 251 of the top 500 systems with Asia having 123 systems. Europe has 105 systems. There are 72 high performance computing systems installed in China.

Among the notable details:

  • Overall, 23 systems have Petaflop/s performance.
  • 62 systems are using Nvidia GPUs to accelerate computation.
  • 7 are accelerated by Intel’s Xeon Phi processors.
  • 84.6 percent of systems use processors with six or more cores.
  • Intel processors are used in 76 percent of the Top500 systems. AMD is in 12 percent of systems and IBM’s Power processors have 10.6 percent of the pie.
  • IBM has six of the top 10 systems and 32 entries in the top 100.
  • IBM has 192 entries in the Top500 list followed by HP at 149 and Cray at 30.

 

November 4, 2012

Curiosity snaps “arm’s length” self-portrait on Mars

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Mars, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 3:47 pm
Oct. 31, 2012: NASA's Curiosity rover captured a set of 55 high-resolution images (left), which were stitched together to create this full-color self-portrait from Mars (right). (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Oct. 31, 2012: NASA’s Curiosity rover captured a set of 55 high-resolution images (left), which were stitched together to create this full-color self-portrait from Mars (right). (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

There you are, the first human to step onto the surface of Mars.

Your astronaut colleagues are still on board the lander, cheering on your historic first interplanetary steps. Of course there are cameras on the lander, and your buddies are filming the whole event from inside their pressurized capsule, but you can’t resist.

To record this moment for posterity, you grab your own camera from your suit pocket, hold it at arm’s length and snap a shot of your head and upper torso in the alien, red landscape.

PHOTOS: Curiosity Flips Powerful Camera’s Dust Cap

Personally, I’m a huge fan of candid arm’s length photography, especially when I’m exploring a new place alone. But for the one-ton Mars rover Curiosity, self portraits are becoming an essential staple of its time on the Martian surface. What’s more, the rover is kitted out with a huge array of wonderfully advanced cameras, one of which — the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) — is mounted perfectly at the end of its 2-meter long robotic arm.

In this intimate scene we can see Curiosity, as if in mid-playtime, in its Mars sandbox — a geologically interesting area called “Rocknest.” In the lower left are the scoop trenches where samples of Mars soil have been excavated and in the upper right, the base of Mt. Sharp (the unofficial name of Aeolis Mons, a 3-mile high mountain in the center of Gale Crater). Wheel tread-marks surround the rover.

ANALYSIS: Curiosity Finds Some Aloha Spirit in Mars Soil

This image is composed of a mosaic of 55 high-resolution photos. Apart from providing a great portrait of our beloved robotic emissary on Mars, these photos provide the MSL team with an invaluable means of keeping track of dust buildup and wheel tread wear. Although Curiosity is still relatively shiny and new, as the years march on, we’ll likely see marked changes in its appearance. If its still-functioning rover cousin Opportunity is anything to go by, Curiosity will be coated in a rusty orange coat in no time at all.

Go to the NASA JPL mission site to download the incredibly detailed high-resolution version

 

November 1, 2012

Light from universe’s first stars seen

Nov. 1, 2012: Ultraviolet and visible light emitted by all the stars that ever existed is still coursing through the universe. Astronomers refer to this "fog" of starlight as the extragalactic background light (EBL). (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

Nov. 1, 2012: Ultraviolet and visible light emitted by all the stars that ever existed is still coursing through the universe. Astronomers refer to this “fog” of starlight as the extragalactic background light (EBL). (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Astronomers have spotted light from the very first stars in the universe, which are almost as old as time itself.

Shortly after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, the universe cooled enough to let atoms form, which eventually clumped together to create the first stars. Ever since these stars ignited, their light has been filling the universe, creating a pervasive glow throughout space that each successive generation of stars adds to.

Now, astronomers have detected this glow — called the extragalactic background light, or EBL — and have separated out the light from later stars, isolating the contribution from the first stars that ever existed.

“The EBL is the ensemble of photons generated by all the stars and also all the black holes in the universe,” said astrophysicist Marco Ajello of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, who led the research. “The EBL also includes the light of the first massive stars that ever shone. We have a fairly good knowledge of the light emitted by ‘normal’ stars. Thus, by measuring the EBL we are able to constrain the light of the first stars.”

‘By measuring the extragalactic background light, we are able to constrain the light of the first stars.’

– astrophysicist Marco Ajello of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Ajello and his team did not measure the EBL directly, but they detected it by analyzing measurements of distant black holes made by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. Fermi studied light from objects called blazars, which are giant black holes that release copious amounts of light while gobbling up large meals of matter.

“We use [blazars] as cosmic lighthouses,” Ajello said. “We observe their dimming due to the EBL ‘fog’. This allows us to quantify how much EBL there is between us and the blazars. As blazars are distributed across the universe, we can measure the EBL at different epochs.”

The study was able to probe light emitted by stars that existed when the universe was just 0.6 billion years old or so — relatively an infant.

These first stars are thought to have been quite different from stars that form today. In general, they were much more massive, containing up to hundreds of times the mass of our sun, and burned hotter, brighter, and for shorter lifetimes than stars today. [Gallery: History & Structure of the Universe]

This plot shows the locations of 150 blazars (green dots) used in the EBL study. Image released Nov. 1, 2012.

This plot shows the locations of 150 blazars (green dots) used in the EBL study. Image released Nov. 1, 2012.

The new measurements should help astronomers answer some of their most basic questions about the first generations of stars, such as how quickly they formed, and how soon after the birth of the universe the first stars came to be, researchers said.

Already, the scientists have found that the first stars’ peak formation rate must have been lower than previously thought.

Ultimately, the researchers would like to constrain this parameter further, and eventually to glimpse these ancient stars themselves. Future technology, such as NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, called the James Webb Space Telescope (expected to come online by 2018), should come closer to doing the job.

“Detecting these stars is very important, but currently impossible,” Ajello said. “The Webb Telescope in a few years might be able to see the first galaxies (not the first stars though). In this way we are already able to set constraints on the amount and role of these stars in the early universe.”

The findings are reported in the Nov. 2 issue of the journal Science.
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