Saturday, July 14, 2018

Photo of the Week

 This week for Photo of the Week, we would like to feature a serene shot of the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds. Taken in Egmont National Park in New Zealand by the talented photographer Cortland McCullum, the peak of Mt. Taranaki can be seen in the foreground, silhouetted by the beautiful star-filled sky and the majestic Milky Way. On this night, it was a little chilly, worthy of a few layers of clothing and a warm blanket. But as the Milky Way rose above the horizon, all that cool air disappeared as the starry sky filled the night, beautiful in all of its glory.
 For more fantastic photos, be sure to check out McCullum's Instagram @cortland_mc at

Friday, July 13, 2018

Neutrino Detection Suggests Blazar as Cosmic Ray Source

 According to new papers released by researchers using the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Icecube detector at the South Pole, evidence suggests that a blazar is the source of high-energy neutrinos. This blazar, a giant elliptical galaxy with a massive spinning black hole at its core, was first singled out by a neutrino alert on September 22, 2017.
 Cosmic neutrinos are ghostly subatomic particles that are capable of travelling unhindered for billions of lights years from the most extreme environments in the universe to Earth. On the other hand, cosmic rays are highly energetic charged particles. Their paths are difficult to trace back to their source because the powerful magnetic fields that fill space warp their trajectories. Yet the source of these rays also produce neutrinos.
  “The evidence for the observation of the first known source of high-energy neutrinos and cosmic rays is compelling,” said Francis Halzen, a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of physics and the lead scientist for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.
 When the neutrino alert was sent out on September 22, telescopes worldwide were on high alert for follow-u observatories. From telescopes such as NASA"s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenknov Telescope in the Canary Islands, a flare of high0energy gamma rays was detected originating from the blazar, implicating the galaxy as the most likely source.
"Fermi was the first telescope to identify enhanced gamma-ray activity from TXS 0506+056 within 0.06 degrees of the IceCube neutrino direction," stated the press released from IceCube. "In a decade of Fermi observations of this source, this was the strongest flare in gamma rays, the highest-energy photons. A later follow-up by MAGIC detected gamma rays of even higher energies."
“Fermi has been monitoring some 2,000 blazars for a decade, which is how we were able to identify this blazar as the neutrino source,” said Regina Caputo, the analysis coordinator for the Fermi Large Area Telescope collaboration. “High-energy gamma rays can be produced either by accelerated electrons or protons. The observation of a neutrino, which is a hallmark of proton interactions, is the first definitive evidence of proton acceleration by black holes.”

Read the full press releases at:

Or read the full studies at:

Or watch the press conference here:

Image: Artist's impression of neutrino interacting in the NSF's IceCube detector via Nicolle R. Fuller/NSF/IceCube

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Plasma Waves Discovered Moving Between Saturn, Enceladus - Hear Them Now

 According to new research based on data collected from NASA's Cassini spacecraft's Grand Finale orbits, a powerful and dynamic interaction of plasma waves was discovered to be occurring between Saturn, through its rings, to its moon Enceladus.
 These waves were found to be travelling on magnetic field lines connecting Saturn with Enceladus, allowing for energy to flow back and forth between the two bodies. Similarly like air and water, plasma (the fourth state of matter) generates waves to carry energy.
 Researchers converted the recording of plasma waves into an audio file that could be heard - similar in how a radio converts electromagnetic waves into music.
  “Enceladus is this little generator going around Saturn, and we know it is a continuous source of energy,” said Ali Sulaiman, planetary scientist at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and a member of the RPWS team. “Now we find that Saturn responds by launching signals in the form of plasma waves, through the circuit of magnetic field lines connecting it to Enceladus hundreds of thousands of miles away.”

Read the full press release at:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

'Sausage' Galaxy Collided with Milky Way 8-10 Billion Years Ago

 According to a new study published by a team of British astronomers, an unknown dwarf galaxy dubbed the 'Sausage' galaxy collided with the Milky Way Galaxy around 8 to 10 billion years ago. This collision left the dwarf galaxy in shreds, leaving behind a wreckage of stars still visible today.
 Unlike other collisions such as the Milky Way's ongoing collision with the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy, the Sausage galaxy was much more massive. Totalling more than 10 billion times the mass of our Sun, the collision left the Milky Way's disk either puffed up or completely fractured following the impact. As for the dwarf galaxy, its detritus would have been scattered across the inner parts of the Milky Way, contributing to the bright centre of the Milky Way galaxy and its surrounding 'stellar halo'.
 “Evidence of this galactic remodeling is seen in the paths of stars inherited from the dwarf galaxy. The Sausage stars are all turning around at about the same distance from the center of the Galaxy,” said Dr. Alis Deason, from Durham University. “These U-turns cause the density in the Milky Way’s stellar halo to decrease dramatically where the stars flip directions.”

Read more about this fascinating story at:
Or read the studies at the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Image: Artists impression of the collision between the Sausage Galaxy and the Milky Way Galaxy. Credits: V. Belokurov / Juan Carlos Muñoz / ESO.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope Enters Hibernation Mode

 NASA's Kepler space telescope has officially entered into its low-fuel hibernation state. According to state officials, the telescope which is famous for discovering over 2,500 exoplanets known to date is nearing the end of its life.
 In a move to attempt to ensure that Kepler is able to beam its latest data haul back to its scientist handlers next month, NASA scientists are putting it into hibernation to ensure it has enough fuel for its last haul.
  "To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August," NASA officials wrote in a statement on July 6. (The Deep Space Network is the global array of radio telescopes that NASA uses to communicate with its spacecrafts.)
 "Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode," added the team. "On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and manoeuvre the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. If the manoeuvre and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel.

Read the full press release at:

Monday, July 9, 2018

Researchers Determine Koala DNA Sequencing

Image credit: Holger Detje

The first high-quality genomic sequence for the koala has been created. After sequencing over 3.4 billion base pairs and more than 26,000 genes in the koala genome, the team of scientists behind the Koala Genome Consortium finally assembled the complete sequence through the use of supercomputers.

Due to factors such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, disease, and drought, the koala gained status as ‘Vulnerable’ two years earlier on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The assembled genome produced by the team of 54 scientists spanning across seven countries and 29 different institutions will help ensure the longevity of the Australian marsupial. “This milestone has come from our vision to use genomics to conserve this species. The genetic blueprint has not only unearthed a wealth of data regarding the koalas unusual and highly specialized diet of eucalyptus leaves, but also provides important insights into their immune system, population diversity and the evolution of koalas,” explains director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, Professor Rebecca Johnson.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Study Bolsters Theory That Uranus Collided with Huge Object Billions of Years Ago

 According to a new study performed by a team led by researchers at Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, many of Uranus' abnormal properties were caused by a collision with a huge object - about twice the size of Earth.
 Using a high-powered supercomputer, the team ran a never-before-done simulation of massive collisions. This simulation showed that the primary suspect of a collision with Uranus might have been a young protoplanet, primarily made up of rock and ice.
 Some of the effects of this collision include the planet's extreme tilt and its abnormal magnetic field. Unlike other planets in the solar system, the planet has an axial tilt of 97.77° . Furthermore, whenever Uranus completes a rotation, its magnetic field tumbles around, opening and closing periodically as the magnetic field lines disconnect and reconnect.
 Furthermore, the simulation demonstrates that when the collision occurred, some of the debris from the impact may have formed a thin shell that continues to trap heat radiating from the planet's core. This could provide a partial explanation to Uranus' extremely cold outer atmosphere.
 Other oddities explained by the simulation include the formation of the planet's moons and the rotation of its moons. The researchers believe that the impact could have knocked rock and ice into the young planet's orbit, debris that later could have formed some of Uranus' 27 moons. This collision would have also changed the rotational speeds of any moons orbiting the planet at the time.

Read the full study at: