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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Astronomy
Posted: June 28, 2017 at 6:51 am
A system of merging galaxies located about 140 million light years from Earth. Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Crete/K. Anastasopoulou et al, NASA/NuSTAR/GSFC/A. Ptak et al; Optical: NASA/STScI
What would happen if you took two galaxies and mixed them together over millions of years? A new image including data from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals the cosmic culinary outcome.
Arp 299 is a system located about 140 million light-years from Earth. It contains two galaxies that are merging, creating a partially blended mix of stars from each galaxy in the process.
However, this stellar mix is not the only ingredient. New data from Chandra reveals 25 bright X-ray sources sprinkled throughout the Arp 299 concoction. Fourteen of these sources are such strong emitters of X-rays that astronomers categorize them as ultra-luminous X-ray sources, or ULXs.
These ULXs are found embedded in regions where stars are currently forming at a rapid rate. Most likely, the ULXs are binary systems where a neutron star or black hole is pulling matter away from a companion star that is much more massive than the Sun. These double star systems are called high-mass X-ray binaries.
Such a loaded buffet of high-mass X-ray binaries is rare, but Arp 299 is one of the most powerful star-forming galaxies in the nearby universe. This is due at least in part to the merger of the two galaxies, which has triggered waves of star formation. The formation of high-mass X-ray binaries is a natural consequence of such blossoming star birth as some of the young massive stars, which often form in pairs, evolve into these systems.
This new composite image of Arp 299 contains X-ray data from Chandra (pink), higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR (purple), and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (white and faint brown). Arp 299 also emits copious amounts of infrared light that has been detected by observatories such as NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope, but those data are not included in this composite.
The infrared and X-ray emission of the galaxy is remarkably similar to that of galaxies found in the very distant universe, offering an opportunity to study a relatively nearby analog of these distant objects. A higher rate of galaxy collisions occurred when the universe was young, but these objects are difficult to study directly because they are located at colossal distances.
The Chandra data also reveal diffuse X-ray emission from hot gas distributed throughout Arp 299. Scientists think the high rate of supernovas, another common trait of star-forming galaxies, has expelled much of this hot gas out of the center of the system.
Posted: June 27, 2017 at 7:48 am
Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2017 June 27
Explanation: Distant galaxies and nearby nebulas highlight this deep image of the M81 Group of galaxies. First and foremost in this 80-exposure mosaic is the grand design spiral galaxy M81, the largest galaxy in the image, visible on the lower right. M81 is gravitationally interacting with M82 just above it, a large galaxy with an unusual halo of filamentary red-glowing gas. Around the image many other galaxies from the M81 Group of galaxies can be seen, as well as many foreground Milky Way stars. This whole galaxy menagerie is seen through the glow of an Integrated Flux Nebula (IFN), a vast and complex screen of diffuse gas and dust also in our Milky Way Galaxy. Details of the red and yellow IFN, digitally enhanced, were imaged by a new wide-field camera recently installed at the Teide Observatory in the Canary Islands of Spain.
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Posted: June 26, 2017 at 5:54 pm
This is a wide view of galaxy cluster MACS J2129-0741, located in the constellation Aquarius. The massive galaxy cluster magnifies, brightens, and distorts the images of remote background galaxies, including the far-distant, dead disc galaxy MACS2129-1. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team
By combining the power of a natural lens in space with the capability of NASAs Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers made a surprising discoverythe first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disc-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang.
Finding such a galaxy early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve, say researchers.
When Hubble photographed the galaxy, astronomers expected to see a chaotic ball of stars formed through galaxies merging together. Instead, they saw evidence that the stars were born in a pancake-shaped disc.
This is the first direct observational evidence that at least some of the earliest so-called dead galaxies where star formation stopped somehow evolve from a Milky Way-shaped disc into the giant elliptical galaxies we see today.
This is a surprise because elliptical galaxies contain older stars, while spiral galaxies typically contain younger blue stars. At least some of these early dead disc galaxies must have gone through major makeovers. They not only changed their structure, but also the motions of their stars to make a shape of an elliptical galaxy.
This new insight may force us to rethink the whole cosmological context of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies, said study leader Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early dead galaxies could in fact be discs, simply because we havent been able to resolve them.
Previous studies of distant dead galaxies have assumed that their structure is similar to the local elliptical galaxies they will evolve into. Confirming this assumption in principle requires more powerful space telescopes than are currently available. However, through the phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, a massive, foreground cluster of galaxies acts as a natural zoom lens in space by magnifying and stretching images of far more distant background galaxies. By joining this natural lens with the resolving power of Hubble, scientists were able to see into the center of the dead galaxy.
The remote galaxy is three times as massive as the Milky Way but only half the size. Rotational velocity measurements made with the European Southern Observatorys Very Large Telescope (VLT) showed that the disc galaxy is spinning more than twice as fast as the Milky Way.
Using archival data from the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), Toft and his team were able to determine the stellar mass, star-formation rate, and the ages of the stars.
Why this galaxy stopped forming stars is still unknown. It may be the result of an active galactic nucleus, where energy is gushing from a supermassive black hole. This energy inhibits star formation by heating the gas or expelling it from the galaxy. Or it may be the result of the cold gas streaming onto the galaxy being rapidly compressed and heated up, preventing it from cooling down into star-forming clouds in the galaxys center.
But how do these young, massive, compact discs evolve into the elliptical galaxies we see in the present-day universe? Probably through mergers, Toft said. If these galaxies grow through merging with minor companions, and these minor companions come in large numbers and from all sorts of different angles onto the galaxy, this would eventually randomize the orbits of stars in the galaxies. You could also imagine major mergers. This would definitely also destroy the ordered motion of the stars.
Thefindingsare published in the June 22 issue of the journalNature. Toft and his team hope to use NASAs upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to look for a larger sample of such galaxies.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.
The Very Large Telescope is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile.
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Posted: at 5:54 pm
The night sky over the Cerro Mayu Observatory, Chile. // All images: Astronomy: Alison Klesman
Its been a busy week so far in Chile!
But first, a little more background: Why am I here in the Southern Hemisphere? Im participating in ACEAP: the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program, supported by the National Science Foundation and run via a collaboration of Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), and Gemini Observatory.
This unique program has several interlocking goals. Not only does it highlight the value of investing U.S. dollars in world-class facilities in the country of Chile, it also allows the ambassadors who embark upon this trip and the Chilean communities they visit to build and foster lasting relationships. Through these relationships, people in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can work together to promote astronomy as a hobby, as a career, and as a fundamental way to answer questions both big and small. The night sky is shared by people across the world, and instilling a sense of wonder and of custodianship over this resource is the goal and the passion of each ambassador who arrived in Santiago earlier this week.
This year, the programs third year, Im very lucky to serve as a media liaison for the program on behalf of Astronomy magazine. Its my very first trip to Chile, though I grew familiar with many of the astronomical facilities during my years in graduate school. Now, Im getting the chance to see firsthand the outstanding astronomy efforts being made in Chile today, from the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).
Weve been on the go since day one with a packed schedule, but each experience has been more memorable than the last. Honestly, the only thing theres little time for is sleep which is why I havent had the chance to sit down and blog before this, as Ive jumped on every chance to catch a few spare zs that popped up!
This morning, weve finally got a bit of spare time before we leave the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) after two nights on Cerro Tololo.
Ive already mentioned the busy schedule, but Id like to highlight just a few of my favorite parts of the trip so far:
Astronomers can control the Gemini South telescope from the convenience and comfort of this control room in La Serena if they like.
- Visiting the Observatorio Astronomico Andinoand the Cerro Mayu Observatory, where we spent time discussing astrotourism and astronomy education, as well as imaging the night sky. I saw my very first Southern Hemisphere sky from OAA, and took some amazing shots of it from Cerro Mayu, with some help from the experienced astrophotographers in our group!
- Spending the afternoon at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) headquarters in Chile, where we had the chance to speak with the staff about their education and outreach projects, as well as tour the electronics shop. We were able to see and, in some cases, hold detectors used to image the sky.
- Seeing the 4.1-meter Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) and the 8-meter Gemini South telescopes on Cerro Pachn; we even got to climb up the scope to see Geminis single-piece mirror and check out the amazing view from near the top of the dome.
- Touring CTIO, including getting an up-close look at the 4-meter Blanco telescope, the 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) telescope, and the SMARTS Consortium telescopes.
The view from inside the Gemini South dome.
Aside from the opportunity to crawl around the domes of these famous telescopes, Ive also had a spectacular time getting to know my fellow ACEAP ambassadors. The group this year includes educators, photographers, planetarium directors, and outreach volunteers and coordinators, all extremely excited and passionate about bringing astronomy into the lives of people in the U.S., Chile, and throughout the world. As we travel, often in close quarters, weve engaged in talk, laughter, and song on our way from one location to the next. While I cant pretend Im not extremely excited about the remaining days of our trip were going to San Pedro next to visit a few schools, then on to tour ALMA on Friday and Saturday! I also have to admit that Im really looking forward to getting home and taking advantage of all the connections Ive made here to promote the projects and work of each and every ambassador Ive met. I will also be turning my experience here into a full feature story for the magazine, which Im ready to get home and write (well, following a couple full nights of sleep, probably).
The view this morning from Cerro Tololo - the clouds look like an ocean!
Since I cant write everything down here, nor should I, Id like to point you to some great resources as we continue our journey. You can find out more about our experiences so far and follow the remainder of our trip on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress.
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Posted: at 5:54 pm
GLENS FALLS Take A Bite, the annual summer weekly food and entertainment festival, starts this week, with more than 35 participants set up along downtown sidewalks from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.
I cant believe it whoo! said Candice Frye, chairwoman of the Take A Bite organizing committee of the Glens Falls Collaborative.
Musicians perform, restaurants sell small portions of entrees, appetizers and desserts, and community organizations set up information booths.
The festival has become an informal competition among restaurants to see who can come up with the most uncommon recipe each week, said Frye, executive director of Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council.
Frye said she is excited that two new dessert vendors Sweets by Marissa and Yum, Yum Ice will participate this year.
Take A Bite continues weekly from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 16.
Restaurants will be set up along Glen Street and Maple Street, and later in the summer along Ridge Street.
There will be a lot happening on Maple Street this year, Frye said.
Most Ridge Street restaurants, with the exception of Morgan & Company, will be set up on Glen Street this Wednesday, and possibly on subsequent Wednesdays, until work on the Ridge Street infrastructure project moves past the block of Ridge Street between the Centennial Circle roundabout and The Queensbury Hotel, Frye said.
Morgan and Company will still have its tent set up in front of the restaurant at the corner of Ridge and Maple streets.
Take A Bite is a great example of the way businesses and arts organizations work together to improve the citys quality of life, said Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond.
Its kind of the face of the city in the summertime, he said. Were looking forward to it.
Musical entertainment this Wednesday will be Milayne Jacksons Blue Train Trio at the Centennial Circle roundabout and saxophone soloist Gavin Munoff on Glen Street, in the vicinity of Crandall Public Library.
Coinciding with Take A Bite, Crandall Public Library will kick off its Eyes to the Skies summer free astronomy program series at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the community room in the library basement.
Kevin Manning, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a consultant to NASA, will speak.
The series leads up to the coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States on Aug. 21.
Follow staff writer Maury Thompson at All Politics is Local blog, at PS_Politics on Twitter and at Maury Thompson Post-Star on Facebook.
Posted: at 5:54 pm
After establishing an independent review committee earlier this year, NASA announced on June 22 that the committee is looking into costs and scheduling issues with the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission.
WFIRST was designed with two main instruments, the Wide Field instrument and the Coronagraph Instrument, to study dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics. The Wide Field Instrument is to study light from galaxies and perform a microlensing survey of the Milky Way while the Coronagraph Instrument will take high contrast images.
The telescope is still being developed and was supposed to go into Phase B in October, but was delayed until an independent review could be done and see any recommendations from the report. Moving forward with the mission will depend on the amount of funding it will receive.
Due to budget cuts, the astrophysics program received a lot less than they had originally asked for about $31 million less, to be exact. The team said NASA sent Congress an operating plan to address the cuts.
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Posted: June 25, 2017 at 2:46 pm
While congress stumbles its way through another budget battle that has the potential to cut drastically NASAs funding, China continues to invest in the pursuit of new knowledge.
China recently launched the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, or HXMT. A hard X-ray has higher energy than a soft X-ray, presumably because it makes a harder collision when it hits an atom. Also, the telescope can detect a multitude of X-ray energies in objects.
The purpose of the HMXT is to search for new compact stellar objects, such as neutron stars or black holes.
Because of the immense gravity surrounding these objects, in-falling gas gets heated to high temperatures, causing the gas to emit X-rays. By studying the X-ray spectrum, astronomers can compare observations to theoretical predictions from a physical model, thus deducing what kind of compact object it is.
There are all-sky surveys in the optical and radio wavelengths, but there has not yet been such a survey at X-ray wavelengths. This is partly because X-rays from space do not penetrate our atmosphere and partly because previous X-ray space telescopes had small angular coverage so that it would take forever to do the whole sky.
The HXMT has a different design than previous X-ray space telescopes, using a different technique to filter out X-rays that are not parallel to the viewing direction. This allows the X-ray detector to increase its angular coverage. An all-sky survey has the potential to find many new neutron stars and black holes, as well as the potential for finding new objects.
This new telescope is yet another indication that China is catching up to, and in some ways, exceeding the science programs in the United States and Europe. This is good for science in general, which today is a global effort, but I do find myself wondering why China has invested so heavily in science when the U.S. government seems to be cutting back?
I can only speculate the reasons, but my guess is that China understands the connection between basic research and a robust economy. Advances in science lead to advances in technology, which in turn provides the basis of electronic gadgets (and other things) to sell.
Another reason to invest in science, including astronomy, is that the search for new knowledge stimulates the imagination of young students. These students can see themselves making new discoveries. This both motivates and gets them thinking in creative ways.
Some of these students will go on to academic careers, but most go to work for companies that develop new products. In the process, their innovative skills have been honed, which is good for industry.
There might be another reason why China is so interested in developing a space program. China sent a few other smaller satellites up with the HXMT.
One was an Earth-observing (optical and infrared) satellite from Argentina, which can provide high-resolutions images of the ground for public viewing.
Two other satellites are operated by Zhuhai Orbita Control Engineering, which is based in China. They also are high-resolutions optical Earth-pointing devices with good enough resolution to see any object on the ground larger than 6 feet.
So dont look now, but a Chinese satellite might be watching you as you drive around in your car.
Meanwhile, the American company SpaceX, which has a spotty record, just delayed its planned launch of a Bulgarian satellite. Maybe the Bulgarians will go to China for their next launch.
Kenneth Hicks is a professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University in Athens.
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Posted: at 2:46 pm
Astronomy Cast Ep. 454: Things We're Looking Forward To
As we wrap up season 10 of Astronomy Cast, we look forward to all the instruments, missions and science results on the distant horizon. Think astronomy is exciting already? Just you wait. We're taking our summer hiatus during July and August, but we'll ...
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Posted: June 24, 2017 at 3:00 pm
Objects in the distant universe appear small and difficult to see unless theyre sitting behind a cosmic magnifying glass. Thats exactly the case for MACS 2129-1, a galaxy lensed by a massive foreground galaxy cluster. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have managed to catch a glimpse of this unusual object, which appears to be an old, dead galaxy thats already stopped making new stars just a few billion years after the Big Bang. Not only is this galaxy finished with its star formation earlier than expected, its also shaped like a disk, rather than the fuzzy ball of stars that astronomers assumed theyd see.
The results, which appear in the June 22 issue of Nature, describe a galaxy half the size of the Milky Way, but three times as massive. Its compact disk of old, red stars is spinning rapidly, over two times the speed of the stars orbiting the center of our own galaxy. Astronomers were able to spot it via a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, which occurs when a massive object, such as a galaxy cluster, bends the light from a distant object as it travels to Earth, magnifying the image we see on the sky. This allows researchers to probe very early epochs of the universe that are otherwise unresolvable with todays current instruments.
Based on archival data from the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), the team that discovered the galaxy was able to measure the ages of its stars, its total stellar mass, and its rate of star formation.
What they found was puzzling.
In our current picture of galaxy formation, disk-shaped galaxies (like our own Milky Way) in the early universe make stars throughout their youth, appearing blue with bright, young stars before evolving into red and dead elliptical galaxies in our local universe. This transition is largely thought to occur through mergers, which randomize the orbits of the stars in the resulting galaxy, transforming it from an ordered disk into an elliptical shape. Thus, older, more massive galaxies should be elliptical balls of stars, not coherent disks.
So as a disk galaxy in the early universe thats evolved past its star-forming phase into the dead phase without mergers, MACS 2129-1 challenges that picture. This new insight may force us to rethink the whole cosmological context of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies, said lead researcher Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, in a press release.
What could have caused this galaxy to burn out so early while retaining its disk shape? The exact cause is unknown, but some of the most likely possibilities include an active central supermassive black hole or streams of cold gas flowing into the galaxy, either of which could prevent new stars from being born.
For now, MACS 2129-1 is the only galaxy of its kind that doesnt fit the mold. But that could arise from the fact that astronomers have long assumed that distant dead galaxies look like their local universe counterparts. Because these distant galaxies are hard to see without serendipitous events like the lensing phenomenon that brought MACS 2129-1 to astronomers attention, those assumptions could be incorrect.
Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early dead galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven't been able to resolve them, said Toft.
Tofts team hopes that with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, theyll gain a more powerful tool to see such faraway, hard-to-resolve objects without relying solely on lensing. A larger sample of galaxies like MACS 2129-1 would tell astronomers whether their ideas about galaxy formation and evolution need updating, as well as provide clues as to the reason these galaxies have stopped forming stars so abruptly.
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Posted: at 3:00 pm
These days, vacation resorts can offer some pretty unusual experiences to guests, beyond the typical white sands, blue waters, and tiny cocktail umbrella. At one Japanese spa resort, visitors can take baths in red wine, green tea, or ramen broth. In Sweden, theres ice hotels, with rooms made out of exactly what the name suggests. In Bolivia, theres a luxury hotel made entirely of salt from nearby salt flats, including the furniture, where guests are asked not to lick the walls to prevent them from deteriorating.
And in India, theres an all-inclusive astronomy resort in the middle of the wilderness, where guests can stargaze without the glare of light and air pollution.
Astroport Sariska bills itself as the first astronomy-themed resort in the country, according to its Facebook page. Its located in the countrys northwest in Rajasthan and sits a few miles south of the Sariska National Park, a wildlife reserve. There are no major cities nearby to clog up the night sky, with New Delhi about a five-hour drive away. During the day, guests can participate in typical nature activities, like hiking and going on safaris. At night, when its pitch black, they stare at the Milky Way as it stretches out above them.
Its beyond imagination, the whole experience takes u away from ur hectic life, that is full of pollution, noise, stress n so on, wrote one user on the resorts reviews page, which is full of five-star ratings. Just go, enjoy the nature, lie down under the blanket of stars and forget everything.
The resort provides telescopes to guests and offers workshops on how to identify stars and constellations, according to a recent post on Connect Jaipur, a lifestyle blog based in the city of the same name. Visitors stay in tents with beds, which cost between 13,000 to 22,000 rupees, or $200 to $340.
Astroport Sariska may be one of the first places of its kind in India, but the concept isnt new. Astrotourism, as a Conde Nast Traveler headline recently put it, is now a thing. The article points out resorts in Mexico and Italy that offer guests telescopes in every room or access to observatories. Iceland has long been a popular astrotourism attraction thanks to clear views of the northern lights over mountaintops and glaciers. In the United States, people raced to book hotels months in advance for this summers total solar eclipse, which is best viewed in a handful of states.
The existence of Astroport Sariska and other astronomy-related getaways serves as a reminder that many people, crammed together in bustling cities underneath streetlights and car exhaust, have never seen the night sky as it is. Judging by the reviews for the resort, some of them are willing to pay for it.