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Posted: 02 Mar 2015 05:38 PM PST
Excerpt from huffingtonpost.com
Along with Earthrise and the Pillars of Creation, the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) photo of 1995 (above) is one of astronomy's most iconic photos.
But if you were wowed by the Hubble Deep Field--and the similar Hubble Deep Field South (HDFS) image of 1998--you should know that a telescope in northern Chile has outdone Hubble. It's given astronomers what's being called the best-ever three-dimensional view of the deep universe.
In this picture, white star symbols are faint stars in the Milky Way. Everything else is a distant galaxy. Circles show objects that appear in the Hubble Deep Field South image. Triangles represent the newly observed objects: blue objects are comparatively close, green and yellow ones more distant, and purple and pink galaxies are seen when the universe was less than one billion years old.
The new deep-space view is essentially a set of observations made of a minute patch of sky in the southern constellation of Tucana--the same patch seen in HDFS. The observational data were recorded by the MUSE instrument on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. MUSE stands for Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer and is described by its makers as a "seven-tonne collection of optics, mechanics and electronics that makes up a fantastic time machine for probing the early universe."
Fantastic sounds right. MUSE was able to record 26 galaxies that were invisible in the Hubble image, Dr. Roland Bacon, principal investigator for MUSE, told The Huffington Post in an email.
"After so many years of hard work on the instrument, it was a powerful experience for me to see our dreams becoming reality," he said in a written statement.
Now that MUSE has proven itself, Bacon said the researchers would look at other deep fields, including one in another celebrated Hubble photo, the so-called Hubble Ultra-Deep Field of 2003.
"We will be able to study thousands of galaxies and to discover new extremely faint and distant galaxies," Bacon said in the statement. "These small infant galaxies, seen as they were more than 10 billion yeas in the past, gradually grew up to become galaxies like the Milky Way that we see today."
A paper describing the new observations was published online Feb. 26, 2015 in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Posted: 02 Mar 2015 05:23 PM PST
Studies may suggest methane-based organic processes ... but maybe not
New findings have roused a great deal of hoopla over the possibility of life on Saturn's moon Titan, which some news reports have further hyped up as hints of extraterrestrials.However, scientists also caution that aliens might have nothing to do with these findings.
All this excitement is rooted in analyses of chemical data returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. One study suggested that hydrogen was flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Astrobiologist Chris McKay at NASA's Ames Research Center speculated that this could be a tantalizing hint that hydrogen is getting consumed by life.
"It's the obvious gas for life to consume on Titan, similar to the way we consume oxygen on Earth," McKay said.
Another study investigating hydrocarbons on Titan's surface found a lack of acetylene, a compound that could be consumed as food by life that relies on liquid methane instead of liquid water to live.
"If these signs do turn out to be a sign of life, it would be doubly exciting because it would represent a second form of life independent from water-based life on Earth," McKay said.
However, NASA scientists caution that aliens might not be involved at all.
McKay told Space.com that "both results are still preliminary."
To date, methane-based life forms are only speculative, with McKay proposing a set of conditions necessary for these kinds of organisms on Titan in 2005. Scientists have not yet detected this form of life anywhere, although there are liquid-water-based microbes on Earth that thrive on methane or produce it as a waste product.
On Titan, where temperatures are around minus-290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius), any organisms would have to use a substance that is liquid as its medium for living processes. Water itself cannot do, because it is frozen solid on Titan's surface. The list of liquid candidates is very short — liquid methane and related molecules such as ethane. Previous studies have found Titan to have lakes of liquid methane.
The dearth of hydrogen Cassini detected is consistent with conditions that could produce methane-based life, but do not conclusively prove its existence, cautioned researcher Darrell Strobel, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Strobel wrote the paper on hydrogen appearing online in the journal Icarus.
Strobel looked at densities of hydrogen in different parts of the atmosphere and at the surface. Previous models from scientists had predicted that hydrogen molecules, a byproduct of ultraviolet sunlight breaking apart acetylene and methane molecules in the upper atmosphere, should be distributed fairly evenly throughout the atmospheric layers.
Strobel's computer simulations suggest a hydrogen flow down to the surface at a rate of about 10,000 trillion trillion molecules per second.
"It's as if you have a hose and you're squirting hydrogen onto the ground, but it's disappearing," Strobel said. "I didn't expect this result, because molecular hydrogen is extremely chemically inert in the atmosphere, very light and buoyant. It should 'float' to the top of the atmosphere and escape."
Strobel said it is not likely that hydrogen is being stored in a cave or underground space on Titan. An unknown mineral could be acting as a catalyst on Titan's surface to help convert hydrogen molecules and acetylene back to methane.
Although Allen commended Strobel, he noted "a more sophisticated model might be needed to look into what the flow of hydrogen is."
Scientists had expected the sun's interactions with chemicals in the atmosphere to produce acetylene that falls down to coat Titan's surface. But when Cassini mapped hydrocarbons on Titan's surface, it detected no acetylene on the surface, according to findings appearing online in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Instead of alien life on Titan, Allen said one possibility is that sunlight or cosmic rays are transforming the acetylene in icy aerosols in the atmosphere into more complex molecules that would fall to the ground with no acetylene signature.
"Titan's atmospheric chemistry is cranking out organic compounds that rain down on the surface so fast that even as streams of liquid methane and ethane at the surface wash the organics off, the ice gets quickly covered again," said Roger Clark, a Cassini team scientist based at the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. "All that implies Titan is a dynamic place where organic chemistry is happening now."
All this speculation "is jumping the gun, in my opinion," Allen said.
"Typically in the search for the existence of life, one looks for the presence of evidence -- say, the methane seen in the atmosphere of Mars, which can't be made by normal photochemical processes," Allen added. "Here we're talking about absence of evidence rather than presence of evidence — missing hydrogen and acetylene — and oftentimes there are many non-life processes that can explain why things are missing."
These findings are "still a long way from evidence of life," McKay said. "But it could be interesting."
Posted: 02 Mar 2015 04:30 PM PST
Excerpt from escapistmagazine.com
According to quantum mechanics light acts as both a particle and a wave, but now we can finally see what that looks like.
Quantum mechanics is an incredibly complex field for a simple reason: So much of what it studies can be two different things at the exact same time. Light is a great example since it behaves like both a particle and a wave, but only appears in one state during experiments. Mathematically speaking, we have to treat light as both ways for the universe to make sense but actually confirming it visually has been impossible. Or at least that was the case until scientists from Switzerland's École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne developed their own unique photography method.
The image was created by shooting a pulse of laser light at a metallic nanowire to make its charged particles vibrate. Next the scientists fired a stream of electrons past the wire holding the trapped light. When the two collided, it created an energy exchange that could be photographed from the electron microscope.
So what does this mean when looking at the photograph? When the photons and electrons collide, they either slow down or speed up, which creates a visualization of a light wave. At the same time the speed change appears as a quanta - packets of energy - transferred between the electrons and photons as particles. In other words, it's the first case of observing light particles and waves simultaneously.
The experiment results were posted in today's Nature Communications, which will help other scientists build on this research with further studies. After all, it's not like we've unlocked all of light's secrets yet - we can barely even tell what color a dress is sometimes.
Posted: 02 Mar 2015 04:19 PM PST
Excerpt from wric.com
Just look up! Monday night, you’ll be able to see a beautiful sight. Jupiter and the moon will be the brightest objects in the sky. And, with some basic binoculars, you’ll be able to see even more.
The largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, will be pairing up with the moon Monday night. The moon makes a pass by Jupiter, and every planet, at some point each month during its orbit. Monday night, the moon will appear fairly large, called a waxing gibbous moon, and that only happens every few years, according to Jim Lattis, Director of UW Space Place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“But the interest need not be in whether it’s unusual. Rather, it’s a beautiful sight and leads people to look up and think about astronomical things and our place among them,” Lattis said.
After Venus sets, Jupiter and the moon will be the two brightest objects in the sky. Jupiter and the moon will reach the high point in our skies in late evening. With binoculars or a telescope, you’ll even be able to see some of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. They’ll look like little points of light.
Posted: 02 Mar 2015 04:14 PM PST
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Posted: 02 Mar 2015 03:44 PM PST
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Posted: 02 Mar 2015 03:28 PM PST
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