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A new fining from ESA/Hubble:
Thanks to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, some of the most mysterious cosmic residents have just become even more puzzling. New observations of globular clusters in a small galaxy show they are very similar to those found in the Milky Way, and so must have formed in a similar way. One of the leading theories on how these clusters form predicts that globular clusters should only be found nestled in among large quantities of old stars. But these old stars, though rife in the Milky Way, are not present in this small galaxy, and so, the mystery deepens.
Four globular clusters in the dwarf galaxy Fornax.
Left to right: Fornax 1, Fornax 2, Fornax 3 and Fornax 5.
Their positions within the galaxy are shown below.
New observations of the clusters — large balls of stars that orbit the centres of galaxies — show they are very similar to those found in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The finding is at odds with leading theories on how these clusters form — in these theories, globular clusters should be nestled among large quantities of old stars — and so the mystery of how these objects came to exist deepens.
Globular clusters — large balls of stars that orbit the centres of galaxies, but can lie very far from them — remain one of the biggest cosmic mysteries. They were once thought to consist of a single population of stars that all formed together. However, research has since shown that many of the Milky Way’s globular clusters had far more complex formation histories and are made up of at least two distinct populations of stars.
Of these populations, around half the stars are a single generation of normal stars that were thought to form first, and the other half form a second generation of stars, which are polluted with different chemical elements. In particular, the polluted stars contain up to 50-100 times more nitrogen than the first generation of stars.
The proportion of polluted stars found in the Milky Way’s globular clusters is much higher than astronomers expected, suggesting that a large chunk of the first generation star population is missing. A leading explanation for this is that the clusters once contained many more stars but a large fraction of the first generation stars were ejected from the cluster at some time in its past.
This explanation makes sense for globular clusters in the Milky Way, where the ejected stars could easily hide among the many similar, old stars in the vast halo, but the new observations, which look at this type of cluster in a much smaller galaxy, call this theory into question.
Digitized Sky Survey 2 image of the dwarf galaxy Fornax. Highlighted here are four
globular clusters found in the galaxy called Fornax 1, 2, 3 and 5. (Large image)
“We knew that the Milky Way’s clusters were more complex than was originally thought, and there are theories to explain why. But to really test our theories about how these clusters form we needed to know what happened in other environments,”says Søren Larsen of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, lead author of the new paper. “Before now we didn’t know whether globular clusters in smaller galaxies had multiple generations or not, but our observations show clearly that they do!”
The astronomers’ detailed observations of the four Fornax clusters show that they also contain a second polluted population of stars  and indicate that not only did they form in a similar way to one another, their formation process is also similar to clusters in the Milky Way. Specifically, the astronomers used the Hubble observations to measure the amount of nitrogen in the cluster stars, and found that about half of the stars in each cluster are polluted at the same level that is seen in Milky Way’s globular clusters.
This high proportion of polluted second generation stars means that the Fornax globular clusters’ formation should be covered by the same theory as those in the Milky Way.
Based on the number of polluted stars in these clusters they would have to have been up to ten times more massive in the past, before kicking out huge numbers of their first generation stars and reducing to their current size. But, unlike the Milky Way, the galaxy that hosts these clusters doesn’t have enough old stars to account for the huge number that were supposedly banished from the clusters.
“If these kicked-out stars were there, we would see them — but we don’t!” explains Frank Grundahl of Aarhus University in Denmark, co-author on the paper. “Our leading formation theory just can’t be right. There’s nowhere that Fornax could have hidden these ejected stars, so it appears that the clusters couldn’t have been so much larger in the past.”
This finding means that a leading theory on how these mixed generation globular clusters formed cannot be correct and astronomers will have to think once more about how these mysterious objects, in the Milky Way and further afield, came to exist.
The new work is detailed in a paper published today, 20 November 2014, in The Astrophysical Journal.
Video about the findings:
A report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):
New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside.
Artist’s impression of mysterious alignment of quasar rotation axes.
Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centres. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together.
A team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the University of Liège in Belgium used the FORS instrument on the VLT to study 93 quasars that were known to form huge groupings spread over billions of light-years, seen at a time when the Universe was about one third of its current age.
“The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars’ rotation axes were aligned with each other — despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years,” said Hutsemékers.
The team then went further and looked to see if the rotation axes were linked, not just to each other, but also to the structure of the Universe on large scales at that time.
When astronomers look at the distribution of galaxies on scales of billions of light-years they find that they are not evenly distributed. They form a cosmic web of filaments and clumps around huge voids where galaxies are scarce. This intriguing and beautiful arrangement of material is known as large-scale structure.
The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central black holes will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%.
“A correlation between the orientation of quasars and the structure they belong to is an important prediction of numerical models of evolution of our Universe. Our data provide the first observational confirmation of this effect, on scales much larger that what had been observed to date for normal galaxies,” adds Dominique Sluse of the Argelander-Institut für Astronomie in Bonn, Germany and University of Liège.
The team could not see the rotation axes or the jets of the quasars directly. Instead they measured the polarisation of the light from each quasar and, for 19 of them, found a significantly polarised signal. The direction of this polarisation, combined with other information, could be used to deduce the angle of the accretion disc and hence the direction of the spin axis of the quasar.
“The alignments in the new data, on scales even bigger than current predictions from simulations, may be a hint that there is a missing ingredient in our current models of the cosmos,” concludes Dominique Sluse.
I recently posted about SpaceTraveller, ”a solar system simulator and space mission visualizer program” under development by BINARY SPACE (see Simulating Rosetta and Philae with ‘SpaceTraveller’). Here is an animation created with SpaceTraveller showing the Philae lander as it bounces twice on Comet 67P/C-G. The parameters for the first bounce were derived from the Rosetta images released yesterday (see previous posting). The second bounce uses a guess for the recoil velocity. Eventually ESA will find the lander and it will be interesting to see how close this simulation came to predicting where Philae settled on the comet.
For further info on SpaceTraveller, contact email@example.com.
The Rosetta mission releases some great photos showing the Philae lander as it approached the comet and then bounced away from it:
The mosaic comprises a series of images captured by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera over a 30 minute period spanning the first touchdown. The time of each of image is marked on the corresponding insets and is in GMT. A comparison of the touchdown area shortly before and after first contact with the surface is also provided.
The images were taken with Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera when the spacecraft was 17.5 km from the comet centre, or roughly 15.5 km from the surface. They have a resolution of 28 cm/pixel and the enlarged insets are 17 x 17 m.
From left to right, the images show Philae descending towards and across the comet before touchdown. The image taken after touchdown, at 15:43 GMT, confirms that the lander was moving east, as first suggested by the data returned by the CONSERT experiment, and at a speed of about 0.5 m/s.
The final location of Philae is still not known, but after touching down and bouncing again at 17:25 GMT, it reached there at 17:32 GMT. The imaging team is confident that combining the CONSERT ranging data with OSIRIS and navcam images from the orbiter and images from near the surface and on it from Philae’s ROLIS and CIVA cameras will soon reveal the lander’s whereabouts.
1. Special Time: Monday, Nov. 17, 2014: 2:30-4PM PST (5:30-& PM EST, 4:30-6 PM CST): We welcome back JIM MUNCY for space policy review and the impact of recent space events on policy & commercial space.
2. Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014:,7-8:30 PM PST (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST): No show today as I am out on personal business..
3. Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, 9:30 -11 AM PST (12:30-2 PM EST; 11:30-1 PM CST): We welcome back MARCIA SMITH to discuss space politics in light of the midterm election, upcoming space policy and budget issues. .
4. Sunday, Nov. 23 2014, 12-1:30 PM PST (3-4:30 PM EST, 2-3:30 PM CST): We welcome Dr. Dorit Donoviel and Dr. Eugene de Juan to discuss the NSBRI [National Space Biomedical Research Institute] research project “Vision for Mars Challenge: A Unique Opportunity for Opthhalmology Companies“.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
The SETI Institute posts this video of a discussion at the SETICon2 event last summer of the potential of citizen science. Here is a the list of the panelists (See the Youtube caption for the full backgrounds):
- Debra Ann Fischer - Debra Fischer is a professor of Astronomy at Yale University. Her research is centered on the detection and characterization of planets orbiting other stars.
- Jon Richards – works on the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) software and hardware control systems.
- Alex Hall – now the Senior Director of the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, a private race to the moon designed to enable commercial exploration of space while engaging the global public, Hall brings a wealth of experience in both the private and public sectors in USA and Europe to the X PRIZE Foundation. As the co-founder and former CEO of Airship Ventures …
- Dan Werthimer – is co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project and directs other UC Berkeley SETI searches at radio, infrared and visible wavelengths, including the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations (SERENDIP).
- Ariel Waldman - founder of Spacehack.org, a directory of ways to participate in space exploration, and the global coordinator of Science Hack Day…
- Moderator: Dane Glasgow, SETI Institute Trustee is a Vice President of Global Product Management at Ebay, and former Director of Program Management at Microsoft Live Search.
The latest TMRO show is about the comet lander : The story of the Philae Lander – 7.35 – TMRO
The Philae lander has now gone quiet due to insufficient light hitting its solar panels. However, the Rosetta control team downloaded a great deal of science data before it went down. There remains hope that as the comet circles the sun, there will be an angle where the panels are once again illuminated and the lander can awaken once again.
A couple of items about Philae:
- Three touchdowns for Rosetta’s lander – ESA
- Philae’s first touchdown seen by Rosetta – Rosetta blog
- Philae Falls Silent : Was a Landing Success or Failure? – Innerspace.net
Here is a summary from ESA:
Showing the spot were Philae first touched down and then bounced away.
Philae’s first touchdown seen by Rosetta – Rosetta blog
15 November 2014: Rosetta’s lander has completed its primary science mission after nearly 57 hours on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
After being out of communication visibility with the lander since 09:58 GMT / 10:58 CET on Friday, Rosetta regained contact with Philae at 22:19 GMT /23:19 CET last night. The signal was initially intermittent, but quickly stabilised and remained very good until 00:36 GMT / 01:36 CET this morning.
In that time, the lander returned all of its housekeeping data, as well as science data from the targeted instruments, including ROLIS, COSAC, Ptolemy, SD2 and CONSERT. This completed the measurements planned for the final block of experiments on the surface.
In addition, the lander’s body was lifted by about 4 cm and rotated about 35° in an attempt to receive more solar energy. But as the last science data fed back to Earth, Philae’s power rapidly depleted.
“It has been a huge success, the whole team is delighted,” said Stephan Ulamec, lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Agency, who monitored Philae’s progress from ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, this week.
“Despite the unplanned series of three touchdowns, all of our instruments could be operated and now it’s time to see what we’ve got.”
Against the odds – with no downwards thruster and with the automated harpoon system not having worked – Philae bounced twice after its first touchdown on the comet, coming to rest in the shadow of a cliff on Wednesday 12 November at 17:32 GMT (comet time – it takes over 28 minutes for the signal to reach Earth, via Rosetta).
The search for Philae’s final landing site continues, with high-resolution images from the orbiter being closely scrutinised. Meanwhile, the lander has returned unprecedented images of its surroundings.
While descent images show that the surface of the comet is covered by dust and debris ranging from millimetre to metre sizes, panoramic images show layered walls of harder-looking material. The science teams are now studying their data to see if they have sampled any of this material with Philae’s drill
“We still hope that at a later stage of the mission, perhaps when we are nearer to the Sun, that we might have enough solar illumination to wake up the lander and re-establish communication, ” added Stephan.
From now on, no contact will be possible unless sufficient sunlight falls on the solar panels to generate enough power to wake it up. The possibility that this may happen later in the mission was boosted when mission controllers sent commands to rotate the lander’s main body with its fixed solar panels. This should have exposed more panel area to sunlight.
The next possible communication slot begins on 15 November at about 10:00 GMT / 11:00 CET. The orbiter will listen for a signal, and will continue doing so each time its orbit brings it into line-of-sight visibility with Philae. However, given the low recharge current coming from the solar panels at this time, it is unlikely that contact will be re-established with the lander in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Rosetta orbiter has been moving back into a 30 km orbit around the comet.
It will return to a 20 km orbit on 6 December and continue its mission to study the body in great detail as the comet becomes more active, en route to its closest encounter with the Sun on 13 August next year.
Over the coming months, Rosetta will start to fly in more distant ‘unbound’ orbits, while performing a series of daring flybys past the comet, some within just 8 km of its centre.
Data collected by the orbiter will allow scientists to watch the short- and long-term changes that take place on the comet, helping to answer some of the biggest and most important questions regarding the history of our Solar System. How did it form and evolve? How do comets work? What role did comets play in the evolution of the planets, of water on the Earth, and perhaps even of life on our home world.
“The data collected by Philae and Rosetta is set to make this mission a game-changer in cometary science,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.
Fred Jansen, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager, says, “At the end of this amazing rollercoaster week, we look back on a successful first-ever soft-landing on a comet. This was a truly historic moment for ESA and its partners. We now look forward to many more months of exciting Rosetta science and possibly a return of Philae from hibernation at some point in time.”
The latest update from NASA on activities aboard the Int. Space Station this past week:
For over a half century, astronomers involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have scanned the skies for signals from distant civilizations. Would humans be able to decode information-rich signals from another planet? Could we create a “universal language” that would be meaningful to an independently evolved civilization? To help answer these questions, on November 10-11 the SETI Institute will convene a multidisciplinary, international workshop at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. Speakers from six countries will draw on disciplines ranging from astronomy and mathematics, to anthropology and linguistics, as they debate the best ways to create meaningful messages. While the two-day workshop is closed to the public, all talks will later be posted on the SETI Institute’s Youtube channel.
Here’s a video of a panel summarizing the conference discussions:
And here is a talk by Seth Shostak :
High school freshman
Mike Alex Hoppe feels compelled to fly a pie on a high altitude balloon. His π1 project is apparently inspired by the otherworldly taste of a great pie and also by this project: FPV to Space and back – RC Explorer.
Alex has a Kickstarter if you want to kick in on his dessert adventure : Pie In Space! by Alex Hoppe — Kickstarter
Why the pie?
I don’t know! Really, I’ve just always had this thing for pie: Pumpkin, Apple, Chocolate. I love them all. When I was designing this project I thought to myself, “How can I make my project different from all the other weather balloon projects?” Then it hit me, “PIE! No one has sent pie into space before!”
And that is why there will be pie in space!
A nicely made compilation by Guillaume Juin of views of space and earth from the Int. Space Station:
- Astronaut – A journey to space on Vimeo
- Incredible NASA supercut video using pictures from the ISS – BGR
The touch down of Rosetta‘s Philae lander onto Comet 67P/C-G was more dramatic than first thought. The lander bounced twice and the first bounce may have been as high as a kilometer from the surface. Where it came down to rest is still not known exactly . The three legged spacecraft is apparently sitting at a tilt. Most of the instruments seem to be working properly but the resting spot is shaded (perhaps it is in a hole or near a cliff) and the solar panels are only getting sun for about an hour and a half of the 12 hour comet rotation. They will try to get as much science data out of it as they can before the batteries give out.
Lots more info and images:
- Philae status, a day later – The Planetary Society
- Researchers race to collect comet data from Philae – Spaceflight Now
- Philae’s landing through Rosetta’s eye – Rosetta blog
- Philae, the ‘happy lander’ – Rosetta blog
- Comet with a view – Rosetta blogr
- Touchdown! Rosetta’s Philae probe lands on comet – ESA
Rosetta’s view of Philae as it headed towards the comet:
A view of the surface from about 40 meters:
A 360 degree panorama from Philae of the comet scene around it (see this annotated version for more info on what’s in the image):
An enlarged and rotated view of the comet scene in the bottom right of the above panorama:
The European Space Agency (ESA) released these three videos with music by Vangelis to celebrate Rosetta and the Philae landing today:
Congratulations to ESA and the Rosetta team on the successful landing of Philae on Comet 67P/C-G :
- Touchdown confirmed for Philae at 17:03 CET – Rosetta blog
- Farewell, Philae! – Rosetta blog
- Farewell, Rosetta! – Rosetta blog
Rosetta’s lander Philae took this parting shot of its mothership shortly after separation.
Some highlights of events leading up to the separation:
Christes is holding an online auction (Nov.11-25) of 30 gorgeous meteorites. Check out the galleries:
- Deep Impact – Martian, Lunar and Other Rare Meteorites
- Space Rocks for Sale! Buy a Piece of the Moon or Mars – WIRED
A Seymchan Meteorite Sphere
Discovered in Russia, 1967; Modern cutting.
A Partial Slice of Imilac Meteorite
Discovered in the Atacama Desert, Chile, 1822; Modern Cutting.
A Gibeon Meteorite Sphere
Discovered in Namaland, Namibia, 1836.
Re-worked into a sphere more recently.
The webcast of the release of the Philae lander from the Rosetta spacecraft has begun: Rosetta | rendezvous with a comet.
The actual separation and landing will not happen till tomorrow (Nov.12):
Separation of the lander is planned for about 09:03 GMT (10:03 CET) [4:03 am EDT], and touch down should follow about seven hours later, at 16:02 GMT (17:02 CET) [11:02 am EDT].
See also latest info at:
Here is a video about the challenges of landing on this comet:
Here is NASA JPL’s monthly report on upcoming night sky highlights: What’s Up for November 2014
Here is the link to the Meteor Shower Flux Estimator (FLUXTIMATOR) mentioned in the video.
In this show, Amanda Bush talks about the following topics:
01:16 – 04:56 Virgin Galactic spaceplane suffers accident
04:57 – 07:02 Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes
07:03 – 08:18 Not all disasters
08:19 – 09:05 Rosetta to deploy comet lander
09:06 – 10:18 China and a private company fly around the Moon
Previous Virtual SpaceTV 3D shows are available on the HobbySpace Youtube Channel.
These videos are intended as educational programs and as demonstrations of an experimental technique for generating animated presentations. The show was generated autonomously by software according to a text script. The project is described in the Virtual Producer whitepaper (Release 1.1, Oct.2013, pdf). For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.