December 18, 2017

05.05.11: Simulating Dark Matter.

The tadpole galaxy UGC 10214…being strung along by dark matter?

(Credit: Hubble/NASA/H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin).

How do you study the gravitational effects of dark matter on galaxy rotation over the span of a billion plus years? Simple; you get a supercomputer to do it for you! That’s exactly what 13-year old Cole Kendrick of Los Alamos MiddleSchool did to win the 21st New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge hosted recently by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Using an initial Python code, he condensed what would amount to 1 billion years of rotation into a period of 15 days… [Read more...]

15.06.10: Found: Lunokhod 1.

NASA has located an old friend on the lunar surface; Lunokhod 1, which landed on the lunar surface in 1970 and fell silent after 11 months of service. A Soviet unmanned rover, Lunokhod 1 delivered some first rate science. Remember, the Apollo astronauts stayed on the lunar surface for a period of time equivalent to a weekend camping trip. With its old school tech, Lunokhod 1 is decidedly steam punk in appearance. Fans of this space will also remember its sister rover Lunokhod 2, purchased by Richard Gariott for $68,500 in 1993. Both were imaged and recovered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently, and now scientists are recruiting the rovers to conduct science once again.  Lunokhod 1 was equipped with corner cube prisms, which reflect laser light back at exactly the direction that it came from. On April 22nd of this year, scientists at the Apache Point observatory in New Mexico fired (you always “fire” lasers!) laser pulses of light via the 3.5 meter telescope and were surprised with the results; more than 2,000 photons were successfully gathered on the first try. In fact, the reflectors on Lunokhod 1 are now brighter than on Lunokhod 2, which may be a scientific mystery in and of itself. Scientists hope to use studies in how the Moon moves through space to search out any potential kinks in General Relativity. That’s right; in the true spirit of science, Relativity (and Gravity, for that matter) is still being run through the mill, over a century later. Thus far, reality, as always, looks to be firmly on the side of Einstein, with the help of a now stationary defunct Soviet-era rover!

10.04.10- Radio Astronomers Refine Celestial Grid.

Getting a good fix on positions both on the Earth and in the sky is tougher than it may sound. Tectonic plates move. The Moon raises tides under our feet. The whole planet orbits our Sun, which is itself flying about the galaxy and getting jostled by other stars, as the galaxies themselves are flying apart. Last year, however, astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array of radio telescopes tackled the problem in a novel way. Using 35 radio telescopes worldwide, they monitored and measured the positions 243 quasars over a 24 hour period starting November 18th 2008. Quasars are ideal candidates for this kind of measurement because of their extreme distance. These high precession measurements break the old record for the most radio dishes employed, which stood at 23. The telescopes utilized a method known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, which combines simultaneous signals collected over individually spaced telescopes to increase resolution power. Headquartered in Socorro, New Mexico, the VLA’s data will not only refine astronomical measurements, but increase the accuracy of geophysical science as well.