Satellite built at McMaster set for launch on SpaceX shuttle
The McMaster University “NEUDOSE” satellite is scheduled to launch from Florida on a SpaceX shuttle today.
The unit is scheduled to launch at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and it will be available to view as a livestream on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.
The satellite will study the effect of radiation on astronauts as humans attempt to travel farther from earth.
The team involved in this mission consists of a group of McMaster students that took part in designing and planning the launch of the satellite for the past eight years.
“If you had told me when I was 5 years old that I would’ve launched something into space, I would’ve said that you’ve been dreaming.” McMaster’s @NEUDOSE team’s dreams come true next week when the satellite they built blasts off for @Space_Station. https://t.co/5nZ8wHhpXt pic.twitter.com/x5vsRLnjyz
— McMaster University (@McMasterU) March 9, 2023
The mission was picked for the Canadian Space Agency’s “Canadian CubeSat Project” in 2018 and it includes a small satellite, approximately the size of a loaf of bread, to understand the long-term exposure to space radiation.
While in space, the satellite will spend some time at the International Space Station before it is launched into orbit by astronauts on board.
Aaron Pitcher is a PHD student and member of the team working on the unit. He told CHCH News that this work is vital because space radiation exposure is a major health risk to astronauts.
If the mission is successful, the device will send real-time radiation measurements back to the team.
Light-bending gravity reveals one of the biggest black holes ever found – Phys.org
A team of astronomers has discovered one of the biggest black holes ever found, taking advantage of a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.
The team, led by Durham University, UK, used gravitational lensing—where a foreground galaxy bends the light from a more distant object and magnifies it—and supercomputer simulations on the DiRAC HPC facility, which enabled the team to closely examine how light is bent by a black hole inside a galaxy hundreds of millions of light years from Earth.
They found an ultramassive black hole, an object over 30 billion times the mass of our sun, in the foreground galaxy—a scale rarely seen by astronomers.
This is the first black hole found using the technique, whereby the team simulates light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times. Each simulation includes a different mass black hole, changing light’s journey to Earth.
When the researchers included an ultramassive black hole in one of their simulations the path taken by the light from the faraway galaxy to reach Earth matched the path seen in real images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The findings are published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Lead author Dr. James Nightingale, Department of Physics, Durham University, said, “This particular black hole, which is roughly 30 billion times the mass of our sun, is one of the biggest ever detected and on the upper limit of how large we believe black holes can theoretically become, so it is an extremely exciting discovery.”
A gravitational lens occurs when the gravitational field of a foreground galaxy appears to bend the light of a background galaxy, meaning that we observe it more than once.
Like a real lens, this also magnifies the background galaxy, allowing scientists to study it in enhanced detail.
Dr. Nightingale said, “Most of the biggest black holes that we know about are in an active state, where matter pulled in close to the black hole heats up and releases energy in the form of light, X-rays, and other radiation.”
“However, gravitational lensing makes it possible to study inactive black holes, something not currently possible in distant galaxies. This approach could let us detect many more black holes beyond our local universe and reveal how these exotic objects evolved further back in cosmic time.”
The study, which also includes Germany’s Max Planck Institute, opens up the tantalizing possibility that astronomers can discover far more inactive and ultramassive black holes than previously thought, and investigate how they grew so large.
The story of this particular discovery started back in 2004 when fellow Durham University astronomer, Professor Alastair Edge, noticed a giant arc of a gravitational lens when reviewing images of a galaxy survey.
Fast forward 19 years and with the help of some extremely high-resolution images from NASA’s Hubble telescope and the DiRAC COSMA8 supercomputer facilities at Durham University, Dr. Nightingale and his team were able to revisit this and explore it further.
The team hopes that this is the first step in enabling a deeper exploration of the mysteries of black holes, and that future large-scale telescopes will help astronomers study even more distant black holes to learn more about their size and scale.
James Nightingale et al, Abell 1201: Detection of an Ultramassive Black Hole in a Strong Gravitational Lens, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2023). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad587
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Look up: 5 planets will align in Tuesday's night sky – CBC.ca
Tonight, just after sunset, skywatchers across B.C. will be in for an eye-popping show.
Five planets — Mars, Uranus, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter — will be lined up in an arc and visible on the western horizon from almost anywhere on Earth.
“I like to call it, essentially, a cosmic coincidence,” said Andrew Ferreira, a public relations representative with the Vancouver branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
“It’s purely just a coincidence that, you know, five planets happened to line up more or less from our perspective.”
In an interview with CBC, Ferreira said the best time to view the phenomenon will be just after the sun drops below the horizon. Keeping watch just after sunset is best, because as the night sky moves, “it’s essentially going to keep panning these planets down below the horizon.”
Ferreira’s suggestion is to spot the half-moon in the sky and trace a visual line down from there to see Mars. Below that will be Uranus and Venus. Below Venus will be Mercury, and closest to the horizon will be Jupiter.
Ferreira said Venus will outshine Uranus, but Uranus will be visible as a “greenish-blueish glow.” Mercury, he said, will be very faint but visible through binoculars, and people in downtown Vancouver or other urban centres might not be able to see Jupiter because of its low position on the horizon.
Getting away from city lights and buildings increases the chances for clearer viewing. Ferreira said giving your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the sky is also a good idea.
Great conditions for viewing
Of course, people hoping to catch the planetary procession will also benefit from clear skies overhead. And there’s good news on that front.
“The forecast for almost the entire province is looking great for a night-sky viewing,” said CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.
“We have a high pressure system in place for B.C. which is bringing cloudless skies for almost everyone. The exceptions are a few high clouds that may sneak in tonight to northern B.C.”
“It may get a little chilly though with no clouds to keep the daytime heat in, so bundle up when you look up tonight.”
Alignments happen once or twice each year
As for the rarity of planetary alignments, Ferreira said ones like tonight happen once or twice each year. But an alignment of all the planets in the solar system, minus Earth, “that’s something like once every 200 or 300 years,” he said. “So it kind of depends on the objects and how many of them are lined up.”
Rare or not, Ferreira said events like tonight are always a joy, even for avid skywatchers like himself.
“It’s exciting being able to tell people about it — to get other people excited about what we do,” he said.
“I always tell people that astronomy is the easiest science to do because all you need is your eyes and the ground. You lie on your back and you look up and you know you’re doing astronomy.”
NASA’S JWST measures the temperature of a rocky exoplanet
An international team of researchers has used the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to measure the temperature of the rocky exoplanet TRAPPIST-1 b. The measurement is based on the planet’s thermal emission: heat energy given off in the form of infrared light detected by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The result indicates that the planet’s dayside has a temperature of about 500 kelvins (roughly 230°C), and suggests that it has no significant atmosphere. This is the first detection of any form of light emitted by an exoplanet as small and as cool as the rocky planets in our own solar system. The result marks an important step in determining whether planets orbiting small active stars like TRAPPIST-1 can sustain atmospheres needed to support life. It also bodes well for Webb’s ability to characterise temperate, Earth-sized exoplanets using MIRI.
“These observations really take advantage of Webb’s mid-infrared capability,” said Thomas Greene, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and lead author on the study published today in the journal Nature. “No previous telescopes have had the sensitivity to measure such dim mid-infrared light.”
Rocky planets orbiting ultra cool red dwarfs
In early 2017, astronomers reported the discovery of seven rocky planets orbiting an ultracool red dwarf star (or M dwarf) 40 light-years from Earth. What is remarkable about the planets is their similarity in size and mass to the inner, rocky planets of our own solar system. Although they all orbit much closer to their star than any of our planets orbit the Sun – all could fit comfortably within the orbit of Mercury – they receive comparable amounts of energy from their tiny star.
TRAPPIST-1 b, the innermost planet, has an orbital distance about one hundredth that of Earth’s and receives about four times the amount of energy that Earth gets from the Sun. Although it is not within the system’s habitable zone, observations of the planet can provide important information about its sibling planets, as well as those of other M-dwarf systems.
“There are ten times as many of these stars in the Milky Way as there are stars like the Sun, and they are twice as likely to have rocky planets as stars like the Sun,” explained Greene. “But they are also very active – they are very bright when they’re young and they give off flares and X-rays that can wipe out an atmosphere.”
Co-author Elsa Ducrot from CEA in France, who was on the team that conducted the initial studies of the TRAPPIST-1 system, added, “It’s easier to characterise terrestrial planets around smaller, cooler stars. If we want to understand habitability around M stars, the TRAPPIST-1 system is a great laboratory. These are the best targets we have for looking at the atmospheres of rocky planets.”
Detecting an atmosphere (or not)
Previous observations of TRAPPIST-1 b with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, as well as NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, found no evidence for a puffy atmosphere, but were not able to rule out a dense one.
One way to reduce the uncertainty is to measure the planet’s temperature. “This planet is tidally locked, with one side facing the star at all times and the other in permanent darkness,” said Pierre-Olivier Lagage from CEA, a co-author on the paper. “If it has an atmosphere to circulate and redistribute the heat, the dayside will be cooler than if there is no atmosphere.”
The team used a technique called secondary eclipse photometry, in which MIRI measured the change in brightness from the system as the planet moved behind the star. Although TRAPPIST-1 b is not hot enough to give off its own visible light, it does have an infrared glow. By subtracting the brightness of the star on its own (during the secondary eclipse) from the brightness of the star and planet combined, they were able to successfully calculate how much infrared light is being given off by the planet.
Measuring minuscule changes in brightness
Webb’s detection of a secondary eclipse is itself a major milestone. With the star more than 1,000 times brighter than the planet, the change in brightness is less than 0.1%.
“There was also some fear that we’d miss the eclipse. The planets all tug on each other, so the orbits are not perfect,” said Taylor Bell, the post-doctoral researcher at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute who analysed the data. “But it was just amazing: The time of the eclipse that we saw in the data matched the predicted time within a couple of minutes.”
Analysis of data from five separate secondary eclipse observations indicates that TRAPPIST-1 b has a dayside temperature of about 500 kelvins, or roughly 230°C. The team thinks the most likely interpretation is that the planet does not have an atmosphere.
“We compared the results to computer models showing what the temperature should be in different scenarios,” explained Ducrot. “The results are almost perfectly consistent with a blackbody made of bare rock and no atmosphere to circulate the heat. We also didn’t see any signs of light being absorbed by carbon dioxide, which would be apparent in these measurements.”
This research was conducted as part of Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) program 1177, which is one of eight approved GTO and General Observer (GO) programs designed to help fully characterise the TRAPPIST-1 system. Additional secondary eclipse observations of TRAPPIST-1 b are currently in progress, and now that they know how good the data can be, the team hopes to eventually capture a full phase curve showing the change in brightness over the entire orbit. This will allow them to see how the temperature changes from the day to the nightside and confirm if the planet has an atmosphere or not.
“There was one target that I dreamed of having,” said Lagage, who worked on the development of the MIRI instrument for more than two decades. “And it was this one. This is the first time we can detect the emission from a rocky, temperate planet. It’s a really important step in the story of discovering exoplanets.”
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