03/09/2016: All We Are is Dust in the Interstellar Wind

GMMRadio_CompWide_nraoCosmic dust is not simply something to sweep under the rug and forget about. Instead, National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded astronomers are studying and even mapping it to learn more about what it might be hiding from us, where it comes from, and what it’s turning into.

Some researchers are delving deep down to see how dust comes together at the atomic level, while others are looking at the big picture to see where stars and planets might be forming in dusty stellar nurseries. Recent discoveries, such as that of a very young galaxy containing much more dust than expected, have shown us that we still have much to learn about where exactly all this dust comes from

Published by Eureka Alert.  See more at: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-03/nsf-awa030916.php

02/25/2016: Mysterious radio burst pinpointed in distant galaxy

Cardinal_FRBs_2016For the first time, astronomers have traced an enigmatic blast of radio waves to its source.

Since 2007, astronomers have detected curious bright blasts of radio waves from the cosmos, each lasting no more than a few milliseconds. Now scientists have been able to pinpoint the source of one of these pulses: a galaxy 1.9 billion parsecs (6 billion light years) away. It probably came from two colliding neutron stars, says astronomer Evan Keane, a project scientist for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Keane, who works at the SKA Organization’s headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory outside Manchester, UK, led the team that reports the detection in Nature.

The discovery is the “measurement the field has been waiting for”, says astronomer Kiyoshi Masui of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. By finding more such fast radio bursts (FRBs) and measuring the distance to their source, astronomers hope to use the signals as beacons to shed light on the evolution of the Universe.

Published by Nature News.  See more at: http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-radio-burst-pinpointed-in-distant-galaxy-1.19441

02/24/2016: Pulsar web could detect gravitational waves

NANOgrav_nrao_940x400Researchers are studying the best way to use pulsars to detect signals from low-frequency gravitational waves, like those from colliding supermassive black holes.

The recent detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) came from two black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our sun, merging into one. Gravitational waves span a wide range of frequencies that require different technologies to detect. A new study from the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) has shown that low-frequency gravitational waves could soon be detectable by existing radio telescopes.

“Detecting this signal is possible if we are able to monitor a sufficiently large number of pulsars spread across the sky,” said Stephen Taylor, lead author of the paper published this week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. He is a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “The smoking gun will be seeing the same pattern of deviations in all of them.” Taylor and colleagues at JPL and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have been studying the best way to use pulsars to detect signals from low-frequency gravitational waves. Pulsars are highly magnetized neutron stars, the rapidly rotating cores of stars left behind when a massive star explodes as a supernova.

Published by Astronomy Magazine.  See more at: http://www.astronomy.com/news/2016/02/pulsar-web-could-detect-gravitational-waves

02/02/2016: Giant Cloud Came from the Milky Way


The Milky Way enjoys a light drizzle throughout its galactic year. These cosmic raindrops are speedy clouds of mostly hydrogen gas that rain down onto our galaxy’s spiral disk. They fly through space at hundreds of kilometers per second (millions of miles per hour) and don’t rotate with the Milky Way. They’re appropriately named high-velocity clouds.

This shower of gas is important for fueling star formation. The Milky Way assembles stars at a respectable rate of about one solar mass per year. But it takes gas to keep that starbirth going. Much as the manna from heaven fed the Israelites, these clouds feed star formation in the Milky Way by replenishing the galaxy’s gas at the same rate as the galaxy burns through it.

Despite their importance, we know a paltry amount about these star-fueling clouds. What they’re made of, where they come from, or even how far away they are — astronomers generally scratch their heads about all of these.

Published by Sky and Telescope.  See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/giant-smith-cloud-came-from-milky-way-0202201623/

02/22/2016: Fast Radio Bursts observed

Cardinal_FRBs_2016The universe is a vast and mysterious space, filled with distant and puzzling objects, but UW-Madison physics professor Peter Timbie has played a huge role in helping to demystify it by giving us a deeper understanding of the incredibly rare cosmological phenomenon called Fast Radio Burst: a singular pulse of radio signal.

Timbie and his lab work with understanding the early universe, using large radio telescopes to detect the signals emitted by distant pulsars, which are neutron stars that emit regular and repeated radio wave signals across the universe.

During a radio survey using the Green Bank Radio Telescope in Green Bank, Va., they heard that a research group in Australia had detected over ten Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs. Timbie decided to analyze the data his team had already collected using the Green Bank Telescope, looking for any signs of previously unnoticed FRBs.

Using a new algorithm developed by members of Timbie’s lab, they were able to find one FRB in over 650 hours of archival data. That single FRB, found using the help of the Green Bank Telescope, has provided the clearest image yet of what a Fast Radio Burst is.

Published by TheDaily Cardinal.  See more at: http://www.dailycardinal.com/article/2016/02/fast-radio-bursts-observed