4/6/16: Gravitational wave search provides insights into galaxy evolution and mergers

GravitationalwavesGiven scientists’ current understanding of how often galaxies merge, limits point to fewer detectable pairs of supermassive black holes than previously expected.

On the heels of their participation in the historic research that resulted in the detection of gravitational waves, West Virginia University (WVU) astrophysicists continue to plow new ground and build upon their work.

WVU scientists were members of the LIGO team that detected gravitational waves from merging pairs of black holes approximately 29 to 36 times the mass of the Sun, confirming that distortions in the fabric of space-time can be observed and measured.

WVU scientists are also continuing to make discoveries about the universe as members of North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), which has spent the past decade searching for low-frequency gravitational waves emitted by pairs of black holes with masses many millions of times larger than those seen by LIGO.

Published by Astronomy Magazine.  See more at: http://www.astronomy.com/news/videos/2016/04/gravitational-wave-search-provides-insights-into-galaxy-evolution-and-mergers

4/14/16: Daily Mail editorial: Green Bank assists in search for other life

GBT4_RGB2002_hiOver the next decade, the Green Bank Observatory in Pocahontas County will see a $20 million investment as part of a search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The 10-year, $100 million project called Project Breakthrough Listen was announced last year, the Gazette-Mail’s Rick Steelhammer reported. Scientists have been using the Green Bank Telescope since January to search the 200 stars nearest Earth for radio signals bearing clues to the possible presence of other civilizations.

The project is funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, and famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking is also involved.

Researchers will use other telescopes and instruments across the globe. According to Steelhammer’s article: “Project Breakthrough Listen will make use of about 20 percent of the Green Bank Telescope’s observation time during the next 10 years, bringing a total of $20 million to the Green Bank Observatory. In addition to the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope — the world’s largest fully steerable telescope, Breakthrough Listen also makes use of the Parkes Radio Telescope, in Australia, and the Automated Planet Finder, at the Lick Observatory near San Jose.”

Published in The Charleston Gazette. – See more at: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/daily-mail-opinion/20160414/daily-mail-editorial-green-bank-assists-in-search-for-other-life#sthash.oqZbz6Gv.dpuf

4/1/16: He Drew the Sun for 40 Years, but now his Telescope is Dying

Wired_Scoles_2016Most mornings, Steve Padilla rides in an open-air elevator to the top of the 150-Foot Solar Tower at Mount Wilson Observatory, in the mountains just east of Los Angeles. When he opens the dome, sunlight beams in. Padilla aligns two mirrors in the century-old telescope, sending a reflection of the Sun toward a lens. Downstairs, a 17-inch image of the star appears on a piece of paper

Padilla catches a ride back down in the elevator and stands before the paper. It’s time to draw.

All day, Padilla will sketch sunspots, adding his drawings to an archive that stretches back to 1917—the longest consistent record of solar activity. This has been his routine for 40 years. “In a way,” he says, “you could say these drawings are a little daily work of art.”

And so, on top of this mountain, he sits like wise man of old, a knower of stars, a person apart. And also a volunteer. In recent years, Mount Wilson Observatory’s funding—and particularly the money for the 150-Foot Solar Tower—has waned. Padilla stayed after the money left, in April 2014, because this telescope, and this mountain, are his life. “I had so many years here, I didn’t know what to do if this is all over now,” he says.

Published by Wired.  See more at: http://www.wired.com/2016/04/man-whos-drawn-sun-almost-every-day-40-years/

03/31/2016: Researchers discover incredibly rare triple star system

Red_Orbit_2016_Triple_SystemAccording to a newly-published study, a rare triple-star system containing a planet in a stable orbit was recently discovered by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Published in the Astronomical Journal, the study detailed the discovery of distant world, known as KELT-4Ab.

While the planet orbits one star in the system, that star is circled by a pair of stars. Standing on the surface of the KELT-4Ab, the two orbiting stars would appear as bright as the full moon does in our sky.In addition to describing an exotic solar system, the study also provides new details on the evolution of a “hot Jupiter,” or a gas giant that orbits close to its host star.

KELT-4Ab, which is approximately the same size as Jupiter, orbits KELT-A once every three days. The nearby stars KELT-B and KELT-C orbit each other once every three decades, and jointly they travel around KELT-A and its planet about every 4,000 years.

Published by Red Orbit.  See more at: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113413408/rare-three-star-system-033116/#DWllBAx5tDU7c3cA.99

03/30/2016: The extremely hot heart of quasar 3C273

RadioAstron_Quasar_xrayScientists combined telescopes on Earth and in space to learn that this famous quasar has a core temperature hotter than 10 trillion degrees! That’s much hotter than formerly thought possible.

By combining signals recorded from radio antennas on Earth and in space – effectively creating a telescope of almost 8-Earth-diameters in size – scientists have, for the first time, gotten a look at fine structure in the radio-emitting regions of quasar 3C273, which was the first quasar known and is still one of the brightest quasars known. The result has been startling, violating a theoretical upper temperature limit. Yuri Kovalev of the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, Russia, commented:

We measure the effective temperature of the quasar core to be hotter than 10 trillion degrees!

This result is very challenging to explain with our current understanding of how relativistic jets of quasars radiate.

Aired on Earth & Sky.  See more at: http://earthsky.org/space/the-extremely-hot-heart-of-quasar-3c273