Today a Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kasakhstan a European, an American, and a Russian to the ISS to bring its crew back up to six: New Crew Blasts Off to Station | Space Station. The docking is set for about 6:00 pm EDT today and will be webcast on NASA TV. Here is a video of the launch:
The gravitational dance between two galaxies in our local neighbourhood has led to intriguing visual features in both as witnessed in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. The tiny NGC 1510 and its colossal neighbour NGC 1512 are at the beginning of a lengthy merger, a crucial process in galaxy evolution. Despite its diminutive size, NGC 1510 has had a significant effect on NGC 1512’s structure and amount of star formation.
Galaxies come in a range of shapes and sizes, and astronomers use this fact to classify them based on their appearance. NGC 1512, the large galaxy to the left in this image, is classified as a barred spiral, named after the bar composed of stars, gas and dust slicing through its centre. The tiny NGC 1510 to the right, on the other hand, is a dwarf galaxy. Despite their very different sizes, each galaxy affects the other through gravity, causing slow changes in their appearances.
This video zooms in from a view of the night sky, through the constellation of Horologium, to end on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations of the interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510. Credit: ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey, Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org) Music: Johan B Monell
The bar in NGC 1512 acts as a cosmic funnel, channelling the raw materials required for star formation from the outer ring into the heart of the galaxy. This pipeline of gas and dust in NGC 1512 fuels intense star birth in the bright, blue, shimmering inner disc known as a circumnuclear starburst ring, which spans 2400 light-years.
Both the bar and the starburst ring are thought to be at least in part the result of the cosmic scuffle between the two galaxies — a merger that has been going on for 400 million years.
This video pans over NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations of the interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510, about 30 million light-years from Earth. Despite the difference in size, each galaxy gravitationally affects the other. The ring of starburst and the bar in the centre of the large spiral galaxy NGC 1512 are both in part created by the gravity of the much smaller NGC 1510. The gas and dust in the smaller galaxy have been swirled up by NGC 1512. This kick-started star formation that is even more intense than in the large spiral galaxy. This causes the galaxy to glow with the blue hue that is indicative of hot new stars. Credit: ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey, Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org). Music: Johan B Monell
NGC 1512, which has been observed by Hubble in the past, is also home to a second, more serene, star-forming region in its outer ring. This ring is dotted with dozens of HII regions, where large swathes of hydrogen gas are subject to intense radiation from nearby, newly formed stars. This radiation causes the gas to glow and creates the bright knots of light seen throughout the ring.
Remarkably, NGC 1512 extends even further than we can see in this image — beyond the outer ring — displaying malformed, tendril-like spiral arms enveloping NGC 1510. These huge arms are thought to be warped by strong gravitational interactions with NGC 1510 and the accretion of material from it. But these interactions are not just affecting NGC 1512; they have also taken their toll on the smaller of the pair.
The constant tidal tugging from its neighbour has swirled up the gas and dust in NGC 1510 and kick-started star formation that is even more intense than in NGC 1512. This causes the galaxy to glow with the blue hue that is indicative of hot new stars.
NGC 1510 is not the only galaxy to have experienced the massive gravitational tidal forces of NGC 1512. Observations made in 2015 showed that the outer regions of the spiral arms of NGC 1512 were indeed once part of a separate, older galaxy. This galaxy was ripped apart and absorbed by NGC 1512, just as it is doing now to NGC 1510.
Together, the pair demonstrate how interactions between galaxies, even if they are of very different sizes, can have a significant influence on their structures, changing the dynamics of their constituent gas and dust and even triggering starbursts. Such interactions between galaxies, and galaxy mergers in particular, play a key role in galactic evolution.
Using new observations from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope, astronomers have discovered three different populations of young stars within the Orion Nebula Cluster. This unexpected discovery adds very valuable new insights for the understanding of how such clusters form. It suggests that star formation might proceed in bursts, where each burst occurs on a much faster time-scale than previously thought.
Surprise: astronomers have found what look like three different generations of baby stars within the Orion Nebula Cluster.
[Higher resolution video]
OmegaCAM — the wide-field optical camera on ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) — has captured the spectacular Orion Nebula and its associated cluster of young stars in great detail, producing a beautiful new image. This object is one of the closest stellar nurseries for both low and high-mass stars, at a distance of about 1350 light-years .
But this is more than just a pretty picture. A team led by ESO astronomer Giacomo Beccari has used these data of unparallelled quality to precisely measure the brightness and colours of all the stars in the Orion Nebula Cluster. These measurements allowed the astronomers to determine the mass and ages of the stars. To their surprise, the data revealed three different sequences of potentially different ages.
“Looking at the data for the first time was one of those ‘Wow!’ moments that happen only once or twice in an astronomer’s lifetime,” says Beccari, lead author of the paper presenting the results. “The incredible quality of the OmegaCAM images revealed without any doubt that we were seeing three distinct populations of stars in the central parts of Orion.”
Monika Petr-Gotzens, co-author and also based at ESO Garching, continues,
“This is an important result. What we are witnessing is that the stars of a cluster at the beginning of their lives didn’t form altogether simultaneously. This may mean that our understanding of how stars form in clusters needs to be modified.”
This video sequence starts with a wide view of the Milky Way and slowly zooms in on the Orion Nebula, one of the brightest nearby regions of active star formation. The final view shows a very detailed new view of the stellar nursery from the VLT Survey Telescope. Credit: ESO, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org), Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: Johan B. Monell (www.johanmonell.com)
The astronomers looked carefully at the possibility that instead of indicating different ages, the different brightnesses and colours of some of the stars were due to hidden companion stars, which would make the stars appear brighter and redder than they really were. But this idea would imply quite unusual properties of the pairs, which have never before been observed. Other measurements of the stars, such as their rotation speeds and spectra, also indicated that they must have different ages .
“Although we cannot yet formally disprove the possibility that these stars are binaries, it seems much more natural to accept that what we see are three generations of stars that formed in succession, within less than three million years,”
This pan video shows a richly detailed new view of the Orion Nebula from the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. This star formation region comprises glowing clouds of gas, veins of dark dust and many very young stars. Credit: ESO. Music: Johan B. Monell (www.johanmonell.com)
The new results strongly suggest that star formation in the Orion Nebula Cluster is proceeding in bursts, and more quickly than had been previously thought.
 The group also found that each of the three different generations rotate at different speeds — the youngest stars rotate the fastest, and the oldest stars rotate the slowest. In this scenario, the stars would have formed in quick succession, within a time frame of three million years.
Summary: When the moon passes between the sun and the Earth on August 21, it won’t make a sound—but Exploratorium composer Wayne Grim and the world-famous Kronos Quartet will turn the total solar eclipse into a piece of music unlike any other. The performance will take place at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco and a live-video feed will be available free to all through the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse app and online.
SAN FRANCISCO (July 20, 2017) – On August 21st, 2017, the Exploratorium will provide five live feeds of the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Madras, Oregon; Casper, Wyoming; and from their campus on Pier 15 of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. These feeds will be free to all and can be found online and on the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse App, available for iOS and Android. The live video streams will include telescope feeds, video with commentary by Exploratorium and NASA scientists in English and Spanish, and a real-time eclipse sonification produced by Exploratorium staff sound artist and Bay Area composer Wayne Grim in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. The collaboration will offer listeners an opportunity to experience the eclipse in real time as music, and will give Kronos Quartet fans an opportunity to experience a free live stream of this once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Grim’s composition, titled “233rd Day,” will begin at 9:15 a.m. PDT and will last three hours, ending at 12:15 p.m. PDT. Kronos Quartet will join the composition at 10:30 a.m. PDT, and will play live for thirty minutes before, during, and after the totality occurring over Casper. Totality is the name given to the period during which the sun is completely occulted by the moon and it is safe to look at the sun’s corona with the naked eye. But those who are not in the path of totality should never look directly at the eclipse; instead they should use the techniques described in the Exploratorium’s “Safe Viewing Techniques” video or by creating a “Hands-On Sun Viewer.” To find out if you are in the path of totality, to learn the percentage of partial totality that will be visible in your area, and to access more safe viewing videos and information, download the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse app.
“We’re excited that people all across the world—both those who are in the path of totality and those who are not—will tune in to listen to this composition,” says Exploratorium Physicist Paul Doherty. “Totality will take about three hours to move across the country, and each point along the path will experience only about two minutes of complete occlusion. That means people all across the U.S. will have time to experience the eclipse in person and also listen to Kronos Quartet’s performance as totality occurs in real time in Casper, Wyoming.”
To create the soundscape, Grim will process digital information collected from an array of telescopes and translate that information into an auditory experience. The Exploratorium will stream feeds of the eclipse over Casper from four different telescopes using two different filters. When the telescope feeds switch, the digital information coming in causes the tonal range of the sound to change as well; to hear the music leap and stabilize with each feed transition allows for a piece of music that is not only responsive, but dynamic and fascinating to hear. Grim also incorporates algorithms based on the movement of the planets visible during the dark sky of totality to create the sonification.
This is not the first time Grim has produced a composition of a celestial event; he has also produced compositions for the 2012 Transit of Venus and the 2016 total solar eclipse broadcast by the Exploratorium from Micronesia. This is the first time Grim will be collaborating with the Kronos Quartet.
“The experience of translating astronomical events into music is profound,” says Grim. “You get a chance to listen to light, to understand the relationship between the sun, the moon, and the earth in a new way. I’m elated to have a chance to collaborate with the stars on this piece—I’ve been a fan of Kronos Quartet since I first heard Black Angels, and I’ve been a fan of the sun for literally as long as I’ve been alive.”
The process of translating visual information from the stars into sound is not new; using a process called asteroseismology astronomers measure oscillations in light reaching the earth from celestial bodies and convert that data into sound, producing what has been called “music of the stars” and “star’s song.” Often that music is a sped-up and otherwise modified version of data collected from a single source to produce an audible representation of light; in 2016 researchers from the University of Birmingham translated data into sound from starlight emitted 13-billion years ago. In the case of this summer’s eclipse, you’ll be listening to the sun—not as it is, but as it was 8.5 minutes in the past. And that’s the freshest stellar light available.
About the Kronos Quartet: For more than 40 years, the Kronos Quartet—David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)—has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 850 works and arrangements for string quartet. In 2011, Kronos became the only recipients of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. The group’s numerous awards also include a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
About Wayne Grim: Wayne Grim’s focus is on composing for small ensembles, making field recordings, designing multimedia works, and developing a generative compositional language that explores temporal extremes. He is the curator for Resonance, an Exploratorium music series, and creates sound installations and composes sound tracks and other pieces for the museum for events including After Dark, exhibits, the Science in the City webcast series, and more. He created a live audio rendering of the 2012 annular eclipse using camera feed, and a live sonification of the 2011 Transit of Venus and 2016 Total Solar Eclipse in Micronesia using live telescope feed. He has also created ringtones using Exploratorium exhibits and ephemera, and has made recordings of unusual instruments. Wayne has performed and collaborated with musicians in the United States, Germany, Japan, and Indonesia.
About the Exploratorium: The Exploratorium is a playful learning laboratory of more than 600 interactive exhibits and experiences that ignite curiosity and transform the way people learn. Since 1969, the Exploratorium has influenced generations of entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, students, children, museum professionals and everyday doers, reaching nearly 180 million people annually from around the globe.
Jill has been a pioneer in SETI research – it has been and still is her life’s work. Jill currently holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute, serves on the management board for the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), is President Emeritus of the California Academy of Sciences Board of Trustees and continues to make groundbreaking impacts in the worlds of science, education and the arts. ‘Making Contact’ is Jill’s story.