Scott Manley, a key developer of the Kerbal Space Program, is interviewed by Dan Leone at SpaceNews: SpaceGeeks 6: Lies We Tell Children About Rocket Science – SpaceNews
Listen to the audio:
Scott Manley, a key developer of the Kerbal Space Program, is interviewed by Dan Leone at SpaceNews: SpaceGeeks 6: Lies We Tell Children About Rocket Science – SpaceNews
Listen to the audio:
As mentioned here several times, Andy Weir’s book The Martian is a terrifically readable and scientifically accurate account of an astronaut’s struggles to survive alone on Mars. It will be out as a movie in the fall but you should read it first. Here are beautiful photos of the locations on Mars that the character Mark Watney traversed during his excursions: Real places the main character in ‘The Martian’ went on Mars – Business Insider.
National Geographic will sponsor a miniseries dramatization on the settling of the Red Planet:
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Of all the planets in our solar system, none has captured our collective imagination like Mars — a mysterious, indelible part of our zeitgeist. And now National Geographic Channel (NGC); Academy Award- and Emmy-winning producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Michael Rosenberg of Imagine Entertainment; and Justin Wilkes and Dave O’Connor of RadicalMedia have joined forces to launch us into outer space with the global event series Red Planet.
Slated to premiere on the National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 44 languages in 2016, Red Planet — which is set in 2032 and the present day — will be a unique hybrid of scripted and unscripted elements. The series will tell the epic story of the thrilling quest to colonize Mars and the first manned mission in 2032 with dramatic scripted drama and feature film-caliber visual effects, intercut with documentary verité and interviews from present-day scientists and innovators who are leading the research and development of space technology, preparing the way for our 2032 mission.
“With Imagine and RadicalMedia, we plan to tell a deeply human story of the first manned mission to Mars, that is cinematic in both scope and storytelling,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Channels. “We hope to spark the curiosity of viewers by not only transporting them to another planet, but by embedding them with today’s leaders who are revolutionizing space technology.”
“We stand on the grandest stage of all time — the dark void of interplanetary space — with the brightest 21st century visionaries to light our way,” said Grazer. “By blending awe-inspiring imagery and narrative with present-day footage and interviews, we hope that Red Planet will change the way we see our place in the cosmos and the mysteries that lie beyond.”
“As humans, we possess boundless curiosities and an unparalleled spirit of adventure,” said Howard. “These intrepid explorers — following in the footsteps of pioneers before them — will spark our imaginations as we weave together the stories of both the past and the present Mars visionaries, along with the historical perspective on Mars.”
“How we’ll get to Mars, why we’re going and what happens when we get there are questions playing out in the minds of today’s greatest innovators, technologists and dreamers,” added RadicalMedia President Wilkes. “Our cameras will be there to capture the cutting-edge technology, design, science and ideas at the cusp of transforming not only Mars, but our own world as well.”
A new report from ESO (European Southern Observatory):
The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain the mystery of why many young stars seem to have more of this chemical element than expected. This new finding fills in a long-missing piece in the puzzle representing our galaxy’s chemical evolution, and is a big step forward for astronomers trying to understand the amounts of different chemical elements in stars in the Milky Way.
This image from the New Technology Telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory shows Nova Centauri 2013 in July 2015 as the brightest star in the centre of the picture. This was more than eighteen months after the initial explosive outburst. This nova was the first in which evidence of lithium has been found. Credit: ESO
The light chemical element lithium is one of the few elements that is predicted to have been created by the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. But understanding the amounts of lithium observed in stars around us today in the Universe has given astronomers headaches. Older stars have less lithium than expected , and some younger ones up to ten times more .
Since the 1970s, astronomers have speculated that much of the extra lithium found in young stars may have come from novae — stellar explosions that expel material into the space between the stars, where it contributes to the material that builds the next stellar generation. But careful study of several novae has yielded no clear result up to now.
A team led by Luca Izzo (Sapienza University of Rome, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) has now used the FEROS instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, as well the PUCHEROS spectrograph on the ESO 0.5-metre telescope at the Observatory of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santa Martina near Santiago, to study the nova Nova Centauri 2013 (V1369 Centauri). This star exploded in the southern skies close to the bright star Beta Centauri in December 2013 and was the brightest nova so far this century — easily visible to the naked eye .
The very detailed new data revealed the clear signature of lithium being expelled at two million kilometres per hour from the nova . This is the first detection of the element ejected from a nova system to date.
This video sequence starts from a wide field view of the Milky Way and closes in on the bright and famous pair of stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. Nova Centauri 2013 exploded close to Beta Centauri in the sky in late 2013 and careful study of the light from this star has revealed the first traces of the element lithium ever found in a nova. The final image in the zoom is a closeup of the nova taken using the New Technology Telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in July 2015. The nova is the brightest star close to the centre of the picture and is much fainter than it was at maximum light, when it could be seen with the naked eye.
Co-author Massimo Della Valle (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) explains the significance of this finding:
“It is a very important step forward. If we imagine the history of the chemical evolution of the Milky Way as a big jigsaw, then lithium from novae was one of the most important and puzzling missing pieces. In addition, any model of the Big Bang can be questioned until the lithium conundrum is understood.”
The mass of ejected lithium in Nova Centauri 2013 is estimated to be tiny (less than a billionth of the mass of the Sun), but, as there have been many billions of novae in the history of the Milky Way, this is enough to explain the observed and unexpectedly large amounts of lithium in our galaxy.
Authors Luca Pasquini (ESO, Garching, Germany) and Massimo Della Valle have been looking for evidence of lithium in novae for more than a quarter of a century. This is the satisfying conclusion to a long search for them. And for the younger lead scientist there is a different kind of thrill:
“It is very exciting,” says Luca Izzo, “to find something that was predicted before I was born and then first observed on my birthday in 2013!”
An announcement from the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) about their upcoming annual conference:
The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) is proud
to announce the 2015 Space Elevator Conference!
This annual event will be held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle,
Washington from Friday, August 21st through Sunday, August 23rd.
Seattle, WA, July 27, 2015 – Come experience learning, brainstorming, and international collaboration in an atmosphere of history, invention, and discovery! A Family Science Fest day will be held in conjunction with the conference.
3-Day Technical Conference
The twin themes of this year’s conference are “Carbon Nanotube Tensile Strength Progress” & “Marine Node Design Characteristics”. Papers will be presented on these and other space-elevator related topics. There will be mini-workshops on Research Activities and Global Cooperation, Marine Node Design Concepts, and Space Elevator Architectures and Roadmaps as well as the ever popular Shotgun Science Session and “Elevator Speech” competition.
ISEC is very pleased to announce that Mr. Mark Haase, PhD student (Chemical Engineering) at the University of Cincinnati will give the Keynote address at this year’s conference. His talk will address:
“Advanced Materials are critical for the development of the Space Elevator. Most prominently, the elevator cable will require a material with a much greater tensile strength than current materials. Carbon nanotubes are an exciting material for this purpose, showing high tensile strength at the nanoscale. Despite this promise, they have not yet achieved the needed strength. Nonetheless, meaningful progress has been made.
In this presentation, we will consider the recent progress in high strength materials; focusing on carbon nanotubes, but also considering other materials. We will also consider the progress in other properties of these materials, such as conductivity. While these properties are not directly related to the development of the Space Elevator Tether, they are likely to be important in the design and development of other elevator technologies.
Further, demand for these properties in other sectors will drive broader material development, making them important in enabling technologies.”
We are very excited to have Mr. Haase with us this year and we’re sure that his insights will be fascinating.
Family Science Fest
The Family Science Fest on Saturday, August 22nd will also be held at the Museum of Flight. This event is open to the public (no registration required) and is included in the museum admission price. The Family Science Fest includes Space Elevator 101 and 201 presentations, a youth robotics competition, exhibits from science organizations and clubs, and much more.
More details of the conference program and the Family Science Fest events are posted at http://spaceelevatorconference.org, including information on registration for the technical conference and lodging. Registration for the technical conference closes August 15th.
The Space Elevator is one of the most magnificent Engineering projects ever conceived. It promises abundant access to space and a multitude of benefits for humanity. Come to the conference and hear presentations and join discussions with people who are working to make space elevators a reality!
About The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC)
The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) is composed of individuals and organizations from around the world who share a vision of humanity in space. Our Vision is a world with inexpensive, safe, routine, and efficient access to space for the benefit of all mankind. Our Mission is to promote the development, construction and operation of a Space Elevator (SE) Infrastructure as a revolutionary and efficient way to space for all humanity.
To learn more about ISEC, please visit our website at http://www.isec.org.
1. Monday, July 27, 2015: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT; 4-5:30 PM CDT): We welcome DR. ROBERT PAPPALARDO of JPL who is heading up the NASA Europa mission.
2. Tuesday, July 28, 2015:,7-8:30 PM PDT (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CDT): We welcome MICHAEL MACKOWSKI, author of Adventures in Space Advocacy
3. Friday, July 24, 2015; 9:30 -11 AM PDT (12:30-2 PM EDT; 11:30-1 PM CDT): We welcome DR. JULIE ROBINSON, NASA JSC & ISS Chief Scientist. We will be discussing the Twins Study along with other relevant issues.
4. Sunday, August 2, 2015: 12-1:30 PM PDT (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): OPEN LINES. First time callers welcome, all space and STEM topics welcome.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
Catching up on recent TMRO.tv Spacepod webcasts:
* Everything Will Be Alright – SpacePod 07/07/15
TMRO’s Space Mike covers the recent success of the Progress resupply ship as well as some of the first political rhetoric after the Falcon 9 launch failure.
* How Pluto Was Discovered – Space Pod 07/10/15
TMRO Chief Astronomer Jared Head goes over the history of Pluto, just in time for next week’s New Horizons flyby.
* Retro Space Data – Mariner 4 – Space Pod 07/20/15
This week Ariel Waldman talks about how impatient NASA JPL employees visualized the very first image of Mars from space using colored pastels and a paint-by-number scheme.
* Meanwhile, in the Rocket Industry – SpacePod 07/21/15
With all the excitement over Pluto lately, there may have been a few notable rocket industry updates you may have missed.
* The Pluto “Planet” Problem – Space Pod 07/24/15
TMRO Chief Astronomer Jared Head takes a look at the recent decision to reclassify Pluto to dwarf planet and if recent New Horizons data may be enough to reverse that decision.
TMRO Space Pods are crowd funded shows. If you like this episode consider contributing to help us to continue to improve. Head over tohttp://www.patreon.com/spacepod for information, goals and reward levels. Don’t forget to check out our weekly live show campaign as well over at http://www.patreon.com/tmro
Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.
Speeding away from Pluto just seven hours after its July 14 closest approach, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back and captured this spectacular image of Pluto’s atmosphere, backlit by the sun. The image reveals layers of haze that are several times higher than scientists predicted. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
“We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now — 10 days after closest approach — we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling.”
Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze — one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers), twice the resolution of the single-image view taken on July 13.
“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries — it brings incredible beauty.”
Studying Pluto’s atmosphere provides clues as to what’s happening below.
“The hazes detected in this image are a key element in creating the complex hydrocarbon compounds that give Pluto’s surface its reddish hue,” said Michael Summers, New Horizons co-investigator at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
Models suggest the hazes form when ultraviolet sunlight breaks up methane gas particles — a simple hydrocarbon in Pluto’s atmosphere. The breakdown of methane triggers the buildup of more complex hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene and acetylene, which also were discovered in Pluto’s atmosphere by New Horizons. As these hydrocarbons fall to the lower, colder parts of the atmosphere, they condense into ice particles that create the hazes. Ultraviolent sunlight chemically converts hazes into tholins, the dark hydrocarbons that color Pluto’s surface.
Scientists previously had calculated temperatures would be too warm for hazes to form at altitudes higher than 20 miles (30 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.
“We’re going to need some new ideas to figure out what’s going on,” said Summers.
The New Horizons mission also found in LORRI images evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto’s surface and revealing signs of recent geologic activity, something scientists hoped to find but didn’t expect.
Annotated image of the northwestern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum, swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark suggest that a surface layer of exotic ices has flowed around obstacles and into depressions, much like glaciers on Earth.
The new images show fascinating details within the Texas-sized plain, informally named Sputnik Planum, which lies within the western half of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature, known as Tombaugh Regio. There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed — and may still be flowing — in a manner similar to glaciers on Earth.
“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,” said mission co-investigator John Spencer of SwRI. “I’m really smiling.”
Additionally, new compositional data from New Horizons’ Ralph instrument indicate the center of Sputnik Planum is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices.
Pluto and Charon are shown in a composite of natural-color images from New Horizons. Images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views, which portray Pluto and Charon as an observer riding on the spacecraft would see them. The images were acquired on July 13 and 14, 2015
“At Pluto’s temperatures of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit, these ices can flow like a glacier,” said Bill McKinnon, deputy leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team at Washington University in St. Louis. “In the southernmost region of the heart, adjacent to the dark equatorial region, it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits.”
View a simulated flyover using New Horizons’ close-approach images of Sputnik Planum and Pluto’s newly-discovered mountain range, informally named Hillary Montes, in the video here: go.nasa.gov/1MMEdTb
The New Horizons mission will continue to send data stored in its onboard recorders back to Earth through late 2016. The spacecraft currently is 7.6 million miles (12.2 million kilometers) beyond Pluto, healthy and flying deeper into the Kuiper Belt.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons
The New Horizons team will hold a briefing today at 2:00 pm EDT: Complex World: New Horizons Pluto Science Update Set for July 24 – NASA.
The panel will include:
[ Update: Here is a video of the briefing:
Here’s the latest Space to Ground report from NASA on activities related to the Int. Space Station:
From the Nature article:
Haze on Ceres would be the first ever observed directly in the asteroid belt. In 2014, researchers using the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory reported seeing water vapour spraying off Ceres, which suggested that it was geologically active1. At least one-quarter of Ceres’s mass is water, a much greater proportion than seen in most asteroids.
Bright spots pepper Ceres’s surface, but the haze has so far been seen in only one location — a crater named Occator, which has a large bright area at its centre and several smaller spots nearby. Mission scientists have been trying to work out whether the bright spots are made of ice, evaporated salts or other minerals, or something else entirely.
Some team members had been leaning towards the salt explanation, but the discovery of haze suggests the presence of sublimating ice. “At noontime, if you look at a glancing angle, you can see what seems to be haze,” Russell says. “It comes back in a regular pattern.” The haze covers about half of the crater and stops at the rim.
Effective time travel films must be able to set clear, established rules and be a means of achieving greater, emotional weight . Without the two, a film can be eviscerated by plot holes or become an unruly, empty spectacle. Predestination, an adaptation of an Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, “”—All You Zombies—”,” effectively coopts time travel and musings on fate and identity by anchoring the film emotionally with a stellar performance by Sarah Snook.
Predestination is paradoxically both stylistic as well as barebones. Temporal agents hop via a pedantically named device in the form of a violin case, and the effects itself are minimal but still satisfy. This is not a typical time travel thriller nor a brilliant, nuanced allegory, but something in between. Although the twist will shock and amuse, it is the gradient performance by Sarah Snook in transforming Jane into John that sets an otherwise shallow film apart.
Science fiction allows people to grapple with difficult and often nebulous themes, and although not perfect, Predestination does just enough to stand out in its dealings with time, fate, and identity. (David Tran)
See also Predestination (2014) – IMDb.
Evan Dohrmann is a ceramics expert, an astronomy buff, and founder of the new startup Constellation Supply Co. He contacted me about his company’s first product: The Little Dripper Coffee Brewer, whose launch is backed by a successful Kickstarter soon to end.
The pledge rewards include a badge “inspired by the mission patches worn by intrepid space explorers” –
– and a limited edition glow in the dark star chart constellation star chart –
Evan describes the poster to me as follows:
1. Innovative Design – The poster is inspired by the works of astrophysicist Donald H. Menzel and author H.A. Rey, and is designed and printed in the U.S.A. (Portland, Oregon).
2. Glow In the Dark – A glow in the dark poster is appealing to kids and adults alike.
3. Celebrate Science and Astronomy – Constellation Supply Co. is a ceramics business first and foremost, however we’ve chosen to celebrate our love of astronomy in everything we do. We believe this is something your followers will appreciate.
Nice to see Evan finding ways to combine his ceramics business with his interest in space and astronomy.
Seth Shostak talks with SETI Institute scientists Douglas Caldwell, Jeffrey Coughlin, Joseph Twicken about the latest Kepler findings:
Here is the Kepler announcement:
NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”
The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”
Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.
While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.
The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.
Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.
“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”
These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission’s four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.
Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/kepler
NASA is going to make an announcement today at 12:00 noon EDT about the latest discovery by the Kepler space observatory:
The first exoplanet orbiting another star like our sun was discovered in 1995. Exoplanets, especially small Earth-size worlds, belonged within the realm of science fiction just 21 years ago. Today, and thousands of discoveries later, astronomers are on the cusp of finding something people have dreamed about for thousands of years — another Earth.
The briefing participants are:
A new report form ESO (European Space Observatory):
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has been used to detect the most distant clouds of star-forming gas yet found in normal galaxies in the early Universe. The new observations allow astronomers to start to see how the first galaxies were built up and how they cleared the cosmic fog during the era of reionisation. This is the first time that such galaxies are seen as more than just faint blobs.
When the first galaxies started to form a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, the Universe was full of a fog of hydrogen gas. But as more and more brilliant sources — both stars and quasars powered by huge black holes — started to shine they cleared away the mist and made the Universe transparent to ultraviolet light . Astronomers call this the epoch of reionisation, but little is known about these first galaxies, and up to now they have just been seen as very faint blobs. But now new observations using the power of ALMA are starting to change this.
A team of astronomers led by Roberto Maiolino (Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute for Cosmology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom) trained ALMA on galaxies that were known to be seen only about 800 million years after the Big Bang . The astronomers were not looking for the light from stars, but instead for the faint glow of ionised carbon coming from the clouds of gas from which the stars were forming. They wanted to study the interaction between a young generation of stars and the cold clumps that were assembling into these first galaxies.
They were also not looking for the extremely brilliant rare objects — such as quasars and galaxies with very high rates of star formation — that had been seen up to now. Instead they concentrated on rather less dramatic, but much more common, galaxies that reionised the Universe and went on to turn into the bulk of the galaxies that we see around us now.
From one of the galaxies — given the label BDF 3299 — ALMA could pick up a faint but clear signal from the glowing carbon. However, this glow wasn’t coming from the centre of the galaxy, but rather from one side.
Co-author Andrea Ferrara (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy) explains the significance of the new findings:
“This is the most distant detection ever of this kind of emission from a ‘normal’ galaxy, seen less than one billion years after the Big Bang. It gives us the opportunity to watch the build-up of the first galaxies. For the first time we are seeing early galaxies not merely as tiny blobs, but as objects with internal structure!”
The astronomers think that the off-centre location of the glow is because the central clouds are being disrupted by the harsh environment created by the newly formed stars — both their intense radiation and the effects of supernova explosions — while the carbon glow is tracing fresh cold gas that is being accreted from the intergalactic medium.
By combining the new ALMA observations with computer simulations, it has been possible to understand in detail key processes occurring within the first galaxies. The effects of the radiation from stars, the survival of molecular clouds, the escape of ionising radiation and the complex structure of the interstellar medium can now be calculated and compared with observation. BDF 3299 is likely to be a typical example of the galaxies responsible for reionisation.
“We have been trying to understand the interstellar medium and the formation of the reionisation sources for many years. Finally to be able to test predictions and hypotheses on real data from ALMA is an exciting moment and opens up a new set of questions.This type of observation will clarify many of the thorny problems we have with the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe,” adds Andrea Ferrara.
Roberto Maiolino concludes:
“This study would have simply been impossible without ALMA, as no other instrument could reach the sensitivity and spatial resolution required. Although this is one of the deepest ALMA observations so far it is still far from achieving its ultimate capabilities. In future ALMA will image the fine structure of primordial galaxies and trace in detail the build-up of the very first galaxies.”
 Neutral hydrogen gas very efficiently absorbs all the high-energy ultraviolet light emitted by young hot stars. Consequently, these stars are almost impossible to observe in the early Universe. At the same time, the absorbed ultraviolet light ionises the hydrogen, making it fully transparent. The hot stars are therefore carving transparent bubbles in the gas. Once all these bubbles merge to fill all of space, reionisation is complete and the Universe becomes transparent.
 Astronomers are particularly interested in ionised carbon as this particular spectral line carries away most of the energy injected by stars and allows astronomers to trace the cold gas out of which stars form. Specifically, the team were looking for the emission from singly ionised carbon (known as [C II]). This radiation is emitted at a wavelength of 158 micrometres, and by the time it is stretched by the expansion of the Universe arrives at ALMA at just the right wavelength for it to be detected at a wavelength of about 1.3 millimetres.
More images from New Horizons of Pluto and its Moons were released today:
A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Pluto’s icy mountains have company. NASA’s New Horizons mission has discovered a new, apparently less lofty mountain range on the lower-left edge of Pluto’s best known feature, the bright, heart-shaped region named Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region).
These newly-discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile (1-1.5 kilometers) high, about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains. The Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) discovered by New Horizons on July 15 more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains.
The new range is just west of the region within Pluto’s heart called Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain). The peaks lie some 68 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Norgay Montes.
This newest image further illustrates the remarkably well-defined topography along the western edge of Tombaugh Regio.
“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”
While Sputnik Planum is believed to be relatively young in geological terms – perhaps less than 100 million years old – the darker region probably dates back billions of years. Moore notes that the bright, sediment-like material appears to be filling in old craters (for example, the bright circular feature to the lower left of center).
This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The names of features on Pluto have all been given on an informal basis by the New Horizons team.
While Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, has grabbed most of the lunar spotlight, two of Pluto’s smaller and lesser-known satellites are starting to come into focus via new images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.
Pluto’s small, irregularly shaped moon Hydra (right) is revealed in this black and white image taken from New Horizons’ LORRI instrument on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers). Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length.
Nix and Hydra – the second and third moons to be discovered – are approximately the same size, but their similarity ends there.
New Horizons’ first color image of Nix, in which colors have been enhanced, reveals an intriguing region on the jelly bean-shaped satellite, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide.
Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull’s-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater.
“Additional compositional data has already been taken of Nix, but is not yet downlinked. It will tell us why this region is redder than its surroundings,” said mission scientist Carly Howett, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. She added, “This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked.”
Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto’s satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan. The new image was made by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers), and shows features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) across. There appear to be at least two large craters, one of which is mostly in shadow. The upper portion looks darker than the rest of Hydra, suggesting a possible difference in surface composition. From this image, mission scientists have estimated that Hydra is 34 miles (55 kilometers) long and 25 miles (40 kilometers) wide.
“Before last week, Hydra was just a faint point of light, so it’s a surreal experience to see it become an actual place, as we see its shape and spot recognizable features on its surface for the first time,” said mission science collaborator Ted Stryk, of Roane State Community College in Tennessee.
Images of Pluto’s most recently discovered moons, Styx and Kerberos, are expected to be transmitted to Earth no later than mid-October.
Nix and Hydra were both discovered in 2005 using Hubble Space Telescope data by a research team led by New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland. New Horizons’ findings on the surface characteristics and other properties of Nix and Hydra will help scientists understand the origins and subsequent history of Pluto and its moons.
46 years ago today humans landed on another celestial object for the first time. Here are a couple of videos about Apollo 11:
On The Space Show this afternoon, Rand Simberg and Bill Simon spoke about the Evoloterra ceremony to mark “The Story of When We First Left Earth“. My wife and I did the ceremony a couple of years ago with friends and really enjoyed it: Our Evoloterra evening.
Announcement of a major donation to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) with the Breakthrough Initiative:
Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking Announce $100 Million Breakthrough
Initiatives to Dramatically Accelerate Search for
Intelligent Life in the Universe
10-year, Multi-disciplinary Search Effort Will Harness World’s Largest Telescopes
to Mine Data from Nearest Million Stars, Milky Way and 100 Galaxies
LONDON, July 20, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Yuri Milner was joined at The Royal Society today by Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy, Pete Worden and Ann Druyan to announce the unprecedented $100 million global Breakthrough Initiatives to reinvigorate the search for life in the universe.
10-year, Multi-disciplinary Search Effort Will Harness World’s Largest Telescopes to Mine Data from Nearest Million Stars, Milky Way and 100 Galaxies
The first of two initiatives announced today, Breakthrough Listen, will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The second, Breakthrough Message, will fund an international competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth, which might one day be sent to other civilizations.
The program will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It will scan the center of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way, it will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies. The telescopes used are exquisitely sensitive to long-distance signals, even of low or moderate power:
Open Data, Open Source, Open Platform
The program will generate vast amounts of data. All data will be open to the public. This will likely constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public. The Breakthrough Listen team will use and develop the most powerful software for sifting and searching this flood of data. All software will be open source. Both the software and the hardware used in the Breakthrough Listen project will be compatible with other telescopes around the world, so that they could join the search for intelligent life. As well as using the Breakthrough Listen software, scientists and members of the public will be able to add to it, developing their own applications to analyze the data.
Crowdsourced processing power
Breakthrough Listen will also be joining and supporting SETI@home, University of California, Berkeley’s ground breaking distributed computing platform, with 9 million volunteers around the world donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life. Collectively, they constitute one of the largest supercomputers in the world.
Yuri Milner said: “With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.”
Stephen Hawking said: “I strongly support the Breakthrough Initiatives and the search for extraterrestrial life.”
Frank Drake said: “Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all. That still sends a shiver down my spine. The search for intelligent life is a great adventure. And Breakthrough Listen is giving it a huge lift.”
“We’ve learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space. With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend upward significantly,” added Frank Drake.
Ann Druyan said: “The Breakthrough Message competition is designed to spark the imaginations of millions, and to generate conversation about who we really are in the universe and what it is that we wish to share about the nature of being alive on Earth. Even if we don’t send a single message, the act of conceptualizing one can be transformative. In creating the Voyager Interstellar Message, we strived to attain a cosmic perspective on our planet, our species and our time. It was intended for two distinct kinds of recipients – the putative extraterrestrials of distant worlds in the remote future and our human contemporaries. As we approach the Message’s fortieth anniversary, I am deeply grateful for the chance to collaborate on the Breakthrough Message, for what we might discover together and in the hope that it might inform our outlook and even our conduct on this world.”
Additional information www.breakthroughinitiatives.org.