Tag Archives: Hubble Space Telescope

Gold’s origin in the universe due to cosmic collision

An hypothesis for gold’s origins was first mentioned here in a May 26, 2016 posting,

The link between this research and my side project on gold nanoparticles is a bit tenuous but this work on the origins for gold and other precious metals being found in the stars is so fascinating and I’m determined to find a connection.

An artist's impression of two neutron stars colliding. (Credit: Dana Berry / Skyworks Digital, Inc.) Courtesy: Kavli Foundation

An artist’s impression of two neutron stars colliding. (Credit: Dana Berry / Skyworks Digital, Inc.) Courtesy: Kavli Foundation

From a May 19, 2016 news item on phys.org,

The origin of many of the most precious elements on the periodic table, such as gold, silver and platinum, has perplexed scientists for more than six decades. Now a recent study has an answer, evocatively conveyed in the faint starlight from a distant dwarf galaxy.

In a roundtable discussion, published today [May 19, 2016?], The Kavli Foundation spoke to two of the researchers behind the discovery about why the source of these heavy elements, collectively called “r-process” elements, has been so hard to crack.

From the Spring 2016 Kavli Foundation webpage hosting the  “Galactic ‘Gold Mine’ Explains the Origin of Nature’s Heaviest Elements” Roundtable ,

Astronomers studying a galaxy called Reticulum II have just discovered that its stars contain whopping amounts of these metals—collectively known as “r-process” elements (See “What is the R-Process?”). Of the 10 dwarf galaxies that have been similarly studied so far, only Reticulum II bears such strong chemical signatures. The finding suggests some unusual event took place billions of years ago that created ample amounts of heavy elements and then strew them throughout the galaxy’s reservoir of gas and dust. This r-process-enriched material then went on to form Reticulum II’s standout stars.

Based on the new study, from a team of researchers at the Kavli Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the unusual event in Reticulum II was likely the collision of two, ultra-dense objects called neutron stars. Scientists have hypothesized for decades that these collisions could serve as a primary source for r-process elements, yet the idea had lacked solid observational evidence. Now armed with this information, scientists can further hope to retrace the histories of galaxies based on the contents of their stars, in effect conducting “stellar archeology.”

Researchers have confirmed the hypothesis according to an Oct. 16, 2017 news item on phys.org,

Gold’s origin in the Universe has finally been confirmed, after a gravitational wave source was seen and heard for the first time ever by an international collaboration of researchers, with astronomers at the University of Warwick playing a leading role.

Members of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group, Professor Andrew Levan, Dr Joe Lyman, Dr Sam Oates and Dr Danny Steeghs, led observations which captured the light of two colliding neutron stars, shortly after being detected through gravitational waves – perhaps the most eagerly anticipated phenomenon in modern astronomy.

Marina Koren’s Oct. 16, 2017 article for The Atlantic presents a richly evocative view (Note: Links have been removed),

Some 130 million years ago, in another galaxy, two neutron stars spiraled closer and closer together until they smashed into each other in spectacular fashion. The violent collision produced gravitational waves, cosmic ripples powerful enough to stretch and squeeze the fabric of the universe. There was a brief flash of light a million trillion times as bright as the sun, and then a hot cloud of radioactive debris. The afterglow hung for several days, shifting from bright blue to dull red as the ejected material cooled in the emptiness of space.

Astronomers detected the aftermath of the merger on Earth on August 17. For the first time, they could see the source of universe-warping forces Albert Einstein predicted a century ago. Unlike with black-hole collisions, they had visible proof, and it looked like a bright jewel in the night sky.

But the merger of two neutron stars is more than fireworks. It’s a factory.

Using infrared telescopes, astronomers studied the spectra—the chemical composition of cosmic objects—of the collision and found that the plume ejected by the merger contained a host of newly formed heavy chemical elements, including gold, silver, platinum, and others. Scientists estimate the amount of cosmic bling totals about 10,000 Earth-masses of heavy elements.

I’m not sure exactly what this image signifies but it did accompany Koren’s article so presumably it’s a representation of colliding neutron stars,

NSF / LIGO / Sonoma State University /A. Simonnet. Downloaded from: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/the-making-of-cosmic-bling/543030/

An Oct. 16, 2017 University of Warwick press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item on phys.org, provides more detail,

Huge amounts of gold, platinum, uranium and other heavy elements were created in the collision of these compact stellar remnants, and were pumped out into the universe – unlocking the mystery of how gold on wedding rings and jewellery is originally formed.

The collision produced as much gold as the mass of the Earth. [emphasis mine]

This discovery has also confirmed conclusively that short gamma-ray bursts are directly caused by the merging of two neutron stars.

The neutron stars were very dense – as heavy as our Sun yet only 10 kilometres across – and they collided with each other 130 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, in a relatively old galaxy that was no longer forming many stars.

They drew towards each other over millions of light years, and revolved around each other increasingly quickly as they got closer – eventually spinning around each other five hundred times per second.

Their merging sent ripples through the fabric of space and time – and these ripples are the elusive gravitational waves spotted by the astronomers.

The gravitational waves were detected by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Adv-LIGO) on 17 August this year [2017], with a short duration gamma-ray burst detected by the Fermi satellite just two seconds later.

This led to a flurry of observations as night fell in Chile, with a first report of a new source from the Swope 1m telescope.

Longstanding collaborators Professor Levan and Professor Nial Tanvir (from the University of Leicester) used the facilities of the European Southern Observatory to pinpoint the source in infrared light.

Professor Levan’s team was the first one to get observations of this new source with the Hubble Space Telescope. It comes from a galaxy called NGC 4993, 130 million light years away.

Andrew Levan, Professor in the Astronomy & Astrophysics group at the University of Warwick, commented: “Once we saw the data, we realised we had caught a new kind of astrophysical object. This ushers in the era of multi-messenger astronomy, it is like being able to see and hear for the first time.”

Dr Joe Lyman, who was observing at the European Southern Observatory at the time was the first to alert the community that the source was unlike any seen before.

He commented: “The exquisite observations obtained in a few days showed we were observing a kilonova, an object whose light is powered by extreme nuclear reactions. This tells us that the heavy elements, like the gold or platinum in jewellery are the cinders, forged in the billion degree remnants of a merging neutron star.”

Dr Samantha Oates added: “This discovery has answered three questions that astronomers have been puzzling for decades: what happens when neutron stars merge? What causes the short duration gamma-ray bursts? Where are the heavy elements, like gold, made? In the space of about a week all three of these mysteries were solved.”

Dr Danny Steeghs said: “This is a new chapter in astrophysics. We hope that in the next few years we will detect many more events like this. Indeed, in Warwick we have just finished building a telescope designed to do just this job, and we expect it to pinpoint these sources in this new era of multi-messenger astronomy”.

Congratulations to all of the researchers involved in this work!

Many, many research teams were  involved. Here’s a sampling of their news releases which focus on their areas of research,

University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/uotw-wti101717.php

Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/wios-cns101717.php

Carnegie Institution for Science (US)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/cifs-dns101217.php

Northwestern University (US)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/nu-adc101617.php

National Radio Astronomy Observatory (US)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/nrao-ru101317.php

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (Germany)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/m-gwf101817.php

Penn State (Pennsylvania State University; US)

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/ps-stl101617.php

University of California – Davis

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/uoc–cns101717.php

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) magazine, Science, has published seven papers on this research. Here’s an Oct. 16, 2017 AAAS news release with an overview of the papers,

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/aaft-btf101617.php

I’m sure there are more news releases out there and that there will be many more papers published in many journals, so if this interests, I encourage you to keep looking.

Two final pieces I’d like to draw your attention to: one answers basic questions and another focuses on how artists knew what to draw when neutron stars collide.

Keith A Spencer’s Oct. 18, 2017 piece on salon.com answers a lot of basic questions for those of us who don’t have a background in astronomy. Here are a couple of examples,

What is a neutron star?

Okay, you know how atoms have protons, neutrons, and electrons in them? And you know how protons are positively charged, and electrons are negatively charged, and neutrons are neutral?

Yeah, I remember that from watching Bill Nye as a kid.

Totally. Anyway, have you ever wondered why the negatively-charged electrons and the positively-charged protons don’t just merge into each other and form a neutral neutron? I mean, they’re sitting there in the atom’s nucleus pretty close to each other. Like, if you had two magnets that close, they’d stick together immediately.

I guess now that you mention it, yeah, it is weird.

Well, it’s because there’s another force deep in the atom that’s preventing them from merging.

It’s really really strong.

The only way to overcome this force is to have a huge amount of matter in a really hot, dense space — basically shove them into each other until they give up and stick together and become a neutron. This happens in very large stars that have been around for a while — the core collapses, and in the aftermath, the electrons in the star are so close to the protons, and under so much pressure, that they suddenly merge. There’s a big explosion and the outer material of the star is sloughed off.

Okay, so you’re saying under a lot of pressure and in certain conditions, some stars collapse and become big balls of neutrons?

Pretty much, yeah.

So why do the neutrons just stick around in a huge ball? Aren’t they neutral? What’s keeping them together? 

Gravity, mostly. But also the strong nuclear force, that aforementioned weird strong force. This isn’t something you’d encounter on a macroscopic scale — the strong force only really works at the type of distances typified by particles in atomic nuclei. And it’s different, fundamentally, than the electromagnetic force, which is what makes magnets attract and repel and what makes your hair stick up when you rub a balloon on it.

So these neutrons in a big ball are bound by gravity, but also sticking together by virtue of the strong nuclear force. 

So basically, the new ball of neutrons is really small, at least, compared to how heavy it is. That’s because the neutrons are all clumped together as if this neutron star is one giant atomic nucleus — which it kinda is. It’s like a giant atom made only of neutrons. If our sun were a neutron star, it would be less than 20 miles wide. It would also not be something you would ever want to get near.

Got it. That means two giant balls of neutrons that weighed like, more than our sun and were only ten-ish miles wide, suddenly smashed into each other, and in the aftermath created a black hole, and we are just now detecting it on Earth?

Exactly. Pretty weird, no?

Spencer does a good job of gradually taking you through increasingly complex explanations.

For those with artistic interests, Neel V. Patel tries to answer a question about how artists knew what draw when neutron stars collided in his Oct. 18, 2017 piece for Slate.com,

All of these things make this discovery easy to marvel at and somewhat impossible to picture. Luckily, artists have taken up the task of imagining it for us, which you’ve likely seen if you’ve already stumbled on coverage of the discovery. Two bright, furious spheres of light and gas spiraling quickly into one another, resulting in a massive swell of lit-up matter along with light and gravitational waves rippling off speedily in all directions, towards parts unknown. These illustrations aren’t just alluring interpretations of a rare phenomenon; they are, to some extent, the translation of raw data and numbers into a tangible visual that gives scientists and nonscientists alike some way of grasping what just happened. But are these visualizations realistic? Is this what it actually looked like? No one has any idea. Which is what makes the scientific illustrators’ work all the more fascinating.

“My goal is to represent what the scientists found,” says Aurore Simmonet, a scientific illustrator based at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California. Even though she said she doesn’t have a rigorous science background (she certainly didn’t know what a kilonova was before being tasked to illustrate one), she also doesn’t believe that type of experience is an absolute necessity. More critical, she says, is for the artist to have an interest in the subject matter and in learning new things, as well as a capacity to speak directly to scientists about their work.

Illustrators like Simmonet usually start off work on an illustration by asking the scientist what’s the biggest takeaway a viewer should grasp when looking at a visual. Unfortunately, this latest discovery yielded a multitude of papers emphasizing different conclusions and highlights. With so many scientific angles, there’s a stark challenge in trying to cram every important thing into a single drawing.

Clearly, however, the illustrations needed to center around the kilonova. Simmonet loves colors, so she began by discussing with the researchers what kind of color scheme would work best. The smash of two neutron stars lends itself well to deep, vibrant hues. Simmonet and Robin Dienel at the Carnegie Institution for Science elected to use a wide array of colors and drew bright cracking to show pressure forming at the merging. Others, like Luis Calcada at the European Southern Observatory, limited the color scheme in favor of emphasizing the bright moment of collision and the signal waves created by the kilonova.

Animators have even more freedom to show the event, since they have much more than a single frame to play with. The Conceptual Image Lab at NASA’s [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] Goddard Space Flight Center created a short video about the new findings, and lead animator Brian Monroe says the video he and his colleagues designed shows off the evolution of the entire process: the rising action, climax, and resolution of the kilonova event.

The illustrators try to adhere to what the likely physics of the event entailed, soliciting feedback from the scientists to make sure they’re getting it right. The swirling of gas, the direction of ejected matter upon impact, the reflection of light, the proportions of the objects—all of these things are deliberately framed such that they make scientific sense. …

Do take a look at Patel’s piece, if for no other reason than to see all of the images he has embedded there. You may recognize Aurore Simmonet’s name from the credit line in the second image I have embedded here.

Late night science talk show (Star Talk) premiering in April 2015 on US television

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s Jan. 7, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog for this tidbit about a new science addition to the late night television in the US, Star Talk (Note: Links have been removed),

Neil DeGrasse Tyson appeared today [Jan. 7, 2015] at the Television Critics Association presentations in California.  He announced that National Geographic will air a late night science-themed talk show hosted by Tyson, first airing sometime in April (H/T The Mary Sue).  Shooting begins January 8.  It will air weekly, and I intend to include it in the regular late night postings once it starts.

A Jan. 7, 2105 news release on Business Wire offers details about the proposed programme,

On the heels of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey’s global success, National Geographic Channel today announced at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, CA the premiere of the network’s first-ever late-night series, Star Talk, hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson). Based on Tyson’s incredibly popular podcast of the same name, the new series will bridge the intersection between pop culture and science as it brings together celebrities, comedians and scientists to discuss the latest developments in our vast universe.

Premiering April 2015, the series will be produced by National Geographic Studios and will be taped in front of a studio audience at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, where Tyson serves as director. Each week, Tyson and his fellow guests will explore a variety of cosmic topics, including space travel, extraterrestrial life, the Big Bang, the future of Earth and the environment and breaking news from the universe.

“After the global success of COSMOS as one of the most watched series in our history, we are thrilled to be partnering with Neil again on Star Talk — his wildly popular podcast that transcends science and crosses over into pop culture — once again satisfying the audience’s passion for adventure and exploration,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Channels. “We continue to bolster our programming with series and event specials that are brand definitional, and Star Talk is the perfect opportunity to offer our audience an edgy, late-night alternative with the credibility and authenticity that are the hallmarks of our network.”

The premiere of Star Talk will be accompanied by the one-hour special Hubble’s Cosmic Journey, a celebration of the Hubble Space Telescope’s 25 years orbiting our planet. Narrated by Tyson, Hubble’s Cosmic Journey is the story of one of the most remarkable advances in modern technology, as told by the people who designed, built, launched, operated and repaired the legendary observatory. Hubble’s Cosmic Journey is produced by Bigger Bang and along with Star Talk will air globally on National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 45 languages this spring.

The tv show is based on Tyson’s radio show/podcast, Star Talk. A Hollywood Reporter Jan. 7, 2015 article by Michael O’Connell describes the relationship between Tyson’s radio show and his new tv talk show,

“This is kind of low-risk, I think, for National Geographic,” Tyson told the crowd at the Television Critics Association press tour. “Star Talk exists as a thriving podcast right now.”

Star Talk will indeed follow a similar format to Tyson’s podcast, which marries science and popular culture and feature interviews with celebrities, comedians and scientists. He’s still sorting through all of the elements that he’ll add to the television iteration, but he does intend to give Bill Nye a platform for a minute-long rant in each show, much as Andy Rooney had for many years on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

I wish them good luck and look forward to reading about the show on the Pasco Phronesis blog.

I sing the Hubble (space telescope)

Thanks to David Bruggeman and his Nov. 30, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog for some fascinating information about  the Hubble space telescope and its upcoming  30th anniversary in 2015 (Note: Links have been removed),

Bay Chamber Concerts commissioned a piece in advance of the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope (H/T The Atlantic).  Called Hubble Cantata, it is currently in two forms – a 22 minute version which can be heard online at the composer’s website (and is available for download), and a multimedia version that has been performed in public by soprano Jessica Rivera and the International Contemporary Ensemble.  The goal is to develop a full cantata for two voices and instruments, which would include the same kinds of multimedia interludes focused on the Hubble Telescope and what it’s been able to see.

David has embedded a video (approximately 20 mins. running time) of the July 2013 premiere of the Hubble Cantata, a work, that is still in progress.

I have dug up a bit of information about Bay Chamber Concerts which is located in the US state of Maine and is both a school and a concert production company as per the About Us webpage on their website,

Bay Chamber has a rich history of presenting the best in performing arts in Midcoast Maine.

ALL YEAR, ALL-AROUND OUTSTANDING.
Founded in 1961 by brothers Andrew and Thomas Wolf, Bay Chamber Concerts features world-renowned artists year-round. Our Summer Concert Series and Music Festival in July and August feature over 30 events that redefine the standards for chamber music. From September to June the Performing Arts Series features classical, jazz, world music and dance events in a variety of venues throughout the region.

EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION.
The Bay Chamber Music School, located in the village of Rockport, offers private instruction, ensemble opportunities, group classes and other music education programming to local musicians and community members of all ages and abilities.

As part of our Community Engagement program, Bay Chamber presents concerts in alternative settings to audiences who might otherwise not have the ability to attend live performances. Concerts and workshops featuring Bay Chamber Concerts professional roster of musicians are presented at no charge in prisons, hospitals, assisted living facilities and more.

The composer for this cantata is Paola Prestini and here’s more about the project and her collaborators from her (eponymous) website’s Projects page,

Hubble Cantata

in collaboration with artists

filmmaker CARMEN KORDAS & librettist ROYCE VAVREK

with soprano Jessica Rivera &

International Contemporary Ensemble

violinist and improviser, Cornelius Dufallo

texts inspired by astrophysicist Mario Livio

a Bay Chamber Concerts Commission

The Hubble is a contemporary multimedia cantata for the mezzo soprano Jessica Rivera, and the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble. Commissioned by Bay Chamber Concerts, the cantata is inspired by Hubble Telescope images. The work is a collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek, filmmaker Carmen Kordas, and the famed astrophysicist, Mario Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute. The work is leading towards a full length cantata for soprano and baritone, for the Hubble’s 25th anniversary in 2015. This work is supported by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The work exists in two versions, as a 22 minute work, and an evening length cantata that features music, electronics, filmed sequences with rare seen photographs and footage from the Hubble telescope, interlaced with sung poetic movements.

Prestini provides this compelling description of the work written Mario Livio on the website homepage,

By incorporating Mario Livio’s strong and poignant themes with music, visual art/film, and advanced technology, the Hubble Cantata promises to be one of the most exciting forays into the interdisciplinary dance of science and art, to date.

“We decided to symbolically anchor the Earth-based part of the lyrics on the agonizing experiences of a young woman struggling with a harsh reality. As Vavrek states in the introduction to the libretto: “Her footsteps tell stories.” The music and imagery for this section were partly inspired by the Japanese mythology-rich forest Aokigahara. Sadly, the historic association of this forest with demons has led to numerous suicides on the site. To connect the life (and death) experience of the young woman to the heavens, we used the ancient Peruvian geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. Again in Vavrek’s words: “The woman walks in patterns, pictures emerge in the soil… She creates her own private Nazca lines, tattooing the Earth with her history.” The Nazca lines in Peru are believed to have been created between the fifth and seventh centuries, and they are thought (at least by some researchers) to point to places on the horizon where certain celestial bodies rose or set. In other words, they truly marked a direct astronomical connection between the surface of the Earth and the heavens. In its conclusion, the Cantata completely intermingles the fate of the young woman with the ultimate fate of the stars. The shapes in the sand and the constellations in the sky become one, mirroring the tortuous path of human life in the dramatic Hubble images of outbursts that simultaneously mark stellar deaths and the promise for a new generation of stars, planets, and life.”

-Mario Livio

While this is somewhat off topic; it is related. Today (Dec. 2, 2013), Google is commemorating the 90th anniversary of opera singer. Maria Callas’ birth with a doodle as per this Dec. 2, 2013 news item on the Guardian website (Note: Links have been removed),

The birth of singer Maria Callas 90 years ago has been celebrated in a new Google doodle.

The animation shows the legendary soprano performing on stage. Callas, who died in 1977, was a colourful figure who was renowned as a prima donna.

Last month, the actor Faye Dunaway said she was determined to finish a film – which she is also directing and producing – telling Callas’s life story. The Independent quoted Dunaway as saying: “That woman changed an art form and not many people can say that. Callas is to opera what Fellini is to cinema.”

google doodle of maria callas

Getting back to music and outer space, I was reminded of an episode in the classic Star Trek series that featured Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, the communications officer, singing a song about space,loneliness, and love,


For anyone as ignorant as I am about the difference between a cantata and an opera, here’s a definition for a cantata from Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

A cantata (literally “sung”, derived from the Italian word “cantare”) is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir.

The meaning of the term changed over time, from the simple single voice madrigal of the early 17th century, to the multi-voice “cantata da camera” and the “cantata da chiesa” of the later part of that century, from the more substantial dramatic forms of the 18th century (including the 200-odd sacred and secular cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach) to the usually sacred-texted 19th-century cantata, which was effectively a type of short oratorio.[1] Several cantatas were written for special occasions, such as Christmas cantatas.

I wish the principals good luck with their Hubble Cantata project and look forward to hearing more about it as the Hubble’s 30th anniversary in 2015 rears.