September 21, 2017

28.03.11: Einstein@Home Bags Pulsar #2.

Pulsars in a tight orbit…(Artists conception credit: NASA/Goddard).

Crowd-sourced citizen science bagged another astrophysical biggie this month. Einstein@Home, everyone’s favorite desktop screensaver program, announced the discovery of a new potential pulsar pair earlier this month. Like SETI@Home, this program utilizes idle computing time to analyze avalanches of data looking for signals. In the case of Einstein@Home, the data received comes from LIGO,VIRGO, and more recently, Arecibo. [Read more...]

16.03.11: The LIGO/Virgo Collaboration Passes “The Envelope.”

On the hunt for Gravitational Waves in the heart of Louisiana… (Photo by Author).

Amidst a week of killer-moons and earthquake paranoia, a real science story with potentially big implications was shaping up in Arcadia, California.  On March 14th, the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) and European-based Virgo scientists gathered to “pass the envelop” (their spelling!) On a hoped-for first detection of a gravitational wave. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge of the Week: Can you Spot the Brightest Quasar?

(Credit: (NASA/CXC/SAO).

(Credit: (NASA/CXC/SAO).

The luminous jet of 3C 273 in X-rays.

   This week, we here at Astroguyz are going to show you how to go after that most elusive of beasts; a quasar. Even seasoned amateurs do not always realize that some of the brighter denizens of this elusive class of beasts are bag-able with a telescope of moderate-sized aperture. Of course, don’t expect to see much; part of the fun of this challenge is the fact you can see it at all, and the wonder of what the object actually is. Our visual prey is 3C 273 is the constellation Virgo. This object was the 273th listed in the 3rd Cambridge Catalog of radio sources, and at a 16% red-shift, stands at “only” about 2 billion light years distant! This also gives it an apparent recessional velocity of 30,000 miles per second. Visually, 3C 273 hovers at about magnitude +12.2, although it has been known to vary by about magnitude 0.5 in either direction. Its coordinates are;

Right Ascension: 12 Hours 29 minutes 6 seconds.

Declination: +02° 03’ 06” N

A good series of finder charts courtesy of the AAVSO may be had here; 3C 273 is about 4.7° NW of the star Gamma Virginis and very near the galaxy NGC 4536.

Now for the mind-blowing part; the absolute magnitude of 3C 273 is about -26; if this object was 10 parsecs distant, it would visually rival our own Sun! Its output also tops our own Milky Way galaxy by a factor of x100! As you can see, writing a post on the topic of quasars demands the extreme over-usage of exclamation points. 3C 273 is a worthy target for aperture 6” or greater, and stands as the farthest object you’ll probably ever lay eyes on. It also serves as a good reply to that common neophyte question heard at star parties; “So, how far can you see with that thing?” And just think, the light left 3C 273 when the Proterozoic era was the newest, greatest thing here on Earth… imaging may even help you grab this beast. Amateurs have even successfully recorded a spectrum of 3C 273 and measured its red-shift, a good reply next time someone asks you; “Yeah, but how do YOU know the universe is expanding?”  As the waning Moon slides out of the evening sky, I invite you add a quasar to your visual athlete-life list!

This week’s astro-word of the week is Quasar. Short for Quasi-Stellar object, this class of amazing objects was not even heard of until the early 1960s. Much controversy raged for decades as to exactly what astronomers were seeing; theories ranged from white holes to anti-matter fueled stars in the early universe. With the advent of accretion disc theory as a massive energy source outlined in the 1970’s a model of quasars slowly emerged; the consensus now is that we are seeing highly energetic galactic nuclei early in their youth. Perhaps the supermassive black hole at the core of our own Milky Way Galaxy was once a quasar itself, gobbling up interstellar matter and emitting massive amounts of x-rays and radio waves before settling down to the relatively placid state we see today. Other classes of objects such as blazars and radio galaxies have further filled in the classification gaps, and the massive amounts of energy we see in some quasars are thought to simply be the result of our viewing angle here on Earth. The brightest quasars devour perhaps 1000 solar masses of material a year, and the most distant recorded is CFHQS J2329-0301 discovered in 2007, with a red-shift of 6.43 and about 13 billion light years distant. This puts it in the realm of the very early universe, which is only 13.7 billion years old!

LIGO: A Quest for Gravity Waves.

LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).
LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).

We had to go there… last month’s NASA Tweetup at the Johnson Spaceflight Center saw us undertake the great American road trip from Astroguyz HQ north of Tampa, Florida, to Houston on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and back. Ever the opportunists, we scoured the route for any astronomical pilgrimages of note. Then, like a bolt from the sky, a lone commenter drew our attention to a recent news piece we did on LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory[Read more...]

02.02.10 In Search of Life, Gravity Waves, and Everything.

The LIGO detector at Hanford. (Credit:NSF/LIGO).

The LIGO detector at Hanford. (Credit:NSF/LIGO).

Astronomers have added a key tool to their arsenal in probing the very early universe. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory, is a pair of “observatories” one in Hanford, Washington, and one in Livingston, Louisiana that monitor the universe for that most exotic of beasts; gravity waves. Each L-shaped detector is comprised of two 2.25 mile long arms and by monitoring the minute changes in length as measured by laser beam, LIGO can detect changes as small as 1/1,000th of the width of an atomic nucleus.   By comparing the measurements from the two observatories and its sister companion, a European detector known as Virgo, directional magnitude of cosmic gravity waves can be measured. LIGO saw first “gravity light” in 2002. Late last year, data was released comprising two years’ worth of observations, and a sort of “all-sky map” in gravity waves is emerging. Unlike microwave energy, which can only probe the universe back to an age of about 380,000 years old, gravity waves were generated just moments after the Big Bang, and promise to paint a picture of that youthful era of our universe. LIGO may also prove to be one of the very few testable platforms for string theory, a theory that is very much in need of observational data. And be sure to keep an eye out in 2014 for Advanced LIGO, a detector to go online with 10x the present accuracy… can’t wait? YOU can join the citizen science brigade in the hunt for gravity waves before bedtime; checkout Einstein@home!