Anniversary of the 1959 Yellowstone 7.5 mag. Earthquake

At was 11:37 p.m. 58 years ago August 17th that the Yellowstone earthquake happened and a major landslide in the Madison River Canyon killed at least 28 people. The quake was felt in eight Northwest states.

The 1959 event has become known by many Montanans as the the Night the Mountain Fell, a title used by a paperback book written by journalist Ed Christopherson.

The temblor that created Yellowstone’s “Quake Lake” was brought to mind recently by an earthquake earlier this year in Lincoln, Montana. That quake was minor compared to the size of the Yellowstone earthquake. The Hebgen Lake Earthquake measured 7.5 on the richter scale and caused the side of a mountain to slide across a narrow canyon, burying people who were spending the summer night in a public campground.

The slide also blocked the Madison River, creating a lake. The Army Corps of Engineers were called in to build a spillway to partially drain Earthquake Lake.

Effects of the earthquake are clearly visible even now, almost 60 years later. The Visitor’s Center even has a working seismograph, where you can see how Earth trembles every day.

The area is an interesting stop on your next visit to Yellowstone Park.

Cosmic Magnifying Lens Reveals Inner Jets Of Black Holes

Astronomers using Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) have found evidence for a bizarre lensing system in space, in which a large assemblage of stars is magnifying a much more distant galaxy containing a jet-spewing supermassive black hole. The discovery provides the best view yet of blobs of hot gas that shoot out from supermassive black holes.

“We have known about the existence of these clumps of material streaming along black hole jets, and that they move close to the speed of light, but not much is known about their internal structure or how they are launched,” says Harish Vedantham, a Caltech Millikan Postdoctoral Scholar. “With lensing systems like this one, we can see the clumps closer to the central engine of the black hole and in much more detail than before.” Vedantham is lead author of two new studies describing the results in the Aug. 15 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The international project is led by Anthony Readhead, the Robinson Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, and director of the OVRO.

Many supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies blast out jets of gas traveling near the speed of light. The gravity of black holes pulls material toward them, but some of that material ends up ejected away from the black hole in jets. The jets are active for one to 10 million years — every few years, they spit out additional clumps of hot material. With the new gravitational lensing system, these clumps can be seen at scales about 100 times smaller than before.

“The clumps we’re seeing are very close to the central black hole and are tiny — only a few light-days across. We think these tiny components moving at close to the speed of light are being magnified by a gravitational lens in the foreground spiral galaxy,” says Readhead. “This provides exquisite resolution of a millionth of a second of arc, which is equivalent to viewing a grain of salt on the moon from Earth.”

A critical element of this lensing system is the lens itself. The scientists think that this could be the first lens of intermediate mass — which means that it is bigger than previously observed “micro” lenses consisting of single stars and smaller than the well-studied massive lenses as big as galaxies. The lens described in the new paper, dubbed a “milli-lens,” is thought to be about 10,000 solar masses, and most likely consists of a cluster of stars. An advantage of a milli-sized lens is that it is small enough not to block the entire source, which allows the jet clumps to be magnified and viewed as they travel, one by one, behind the lens. What’s more, the researchers say the lens itself is of scientific interest because not much is known about objects of this intermediate-mass range.

“This system could provide a superb cosmic laboratory for both the study of gravitational milli-lensing and the inner workings of the nuclear jet in an active galaxy,” says Readhead.

The new findings are part of an OVRO program to obtain twice-weekly observations of 1,800 active supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, using OVRO’s 40-meter telescope, which detects radio emissions from celestial objects. The program has been running since 2008 in support of NASA’s Fermi mission, which observes the same galaxies in higher-energy gamma rays.

In 2010, the OVRO researchers noticed something unusual happening with the galaxy in the study, an active galaxy called PKS 1413+ 135. Its radio emission had brightened, faded, and then brightened again in a very symmetrical fashion over the course of a year. The same type of event happened again in 2015. After a careful analysis that ruled out other scenarios, the researchers concluded that the overall brightening of the galaxy is most likely due to two successive high-speed clumps ejected by the galaxy’s black hole a few years apart. The clumps traveled along the jet and became magnified when they passed behind the milli-lens.

“It has taken observations of a huge number of galaxies to find this one object with the symmetrical dips in brightness that point to the presence of a gravitational lens,” says coauthor Timothy Pearson, a senior research scientist at Caltech who helped discover in 1981 that the jet clumps travel at close to the speed of light. “We are now looking hard at all our other data to try to find similar objects that can give a magnified view of galactic nuclei.”

The next step to confirm the PKS 1413+ 135 results is to observe the galaxy with a technique called very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI), in which radio telescopes across the globe work together to image cosmic objects in detail. The researchers plan to use this technique beginning this fall to look at the galaxy and its supermassive black hole, which is expected to shoot out another clump of jet material in the next few years. With the VLBI technique, they should be able to see the clump smeared out into an arc across the sky via the light-bending effects of the milli-lens. Identifying an arc would confirm that indeed a milli-lens is magnifying the ultra-fast jet clumps spewing from a supermassive black hole.

“We couldn’t do studies like these without a university observatory like the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, where we have the time to dedicate a large telescope exclusively to a single program,” said Readhead.

Scientists Use Magnetic Fields To Remotely Stimulate Brain – And Control Body Movements

Scientists have used magnetism to activate tiny groups of cells in the brain, inducing bodily movements that include running, rotating and losing control of the extremities — an achievement that could lead to advances in studying and treating neurological disease.

The technique researchers developed is called magneto-thermal stimulation. It gives neuroscientists a powerful new tool: a remote, minimally invasive way to trigger activity deep inside the brain, turning specific cells on and off to study how these changes affect physiology.

“There is a lot of work being done now to map the neuronal circuits that control behavior and emotions,” says lead researcher Arnd Pralle, PhD, a professor of physics in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “How is the computer of our mind working? The technique we have developed could aid this effort greatly.”

Understanding how the brain works — how different parts of the organ communicate with one another and control behavior — is key to developing therapies for diseases that involve the injury or malfunction of specific sets of neurons. Traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and peripheral paralysis all fall into this category.

The advances reported by Pralle’s team could also aid scientists seeking to treat ailments such as depression and epilepsy directly through brain stimulation.

The study, which was done on mice, was published Aug. 15 in eLife, an open-source, peer-review journal. Pralle’s team included first authors Rahul Munshi, a UB PhD candidate in physics, and Shahnaz Qadri, PhD, a UB postdoctoral researcher, along with researchers from UB, Philipps University of Marburg in Germany and the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Magneto-thermal stimulation involves using magnetic nanoparticles to stimulate neurons outfitted with temperature-sensitive ion channels. The brain cells fire when the nanoparticles are heated by an external magnetic field, causing the channels to open.

Targeting highly specific brain regions

In mice, Pralle’s team succeeded in activating three distinct regions of the brain to induce specific motor functions.

Stimulating cells in the motor cortex caused the animals to run, while stimulating cells in the striatum caused the animals to turn around. When the scientists activated a deeper region of the brain, the mice froze, unable to move their extremities.

“Using our method, we can target a very small group of cells, an area about 100 micrometers across, which is about the width of a human hair,” Pralle says.

How magneto-thermal stimulation works

Magneto-thermal stimulation enables researchers to use heated, magnetic nanoparticles to activate individual neurons inside the brain.

Here’s how it works: First, scientists use genetic engineering to introduce a special strand of DNA into targeted neurons, causing these cells to produce a heat-activated ion channel. Then, researchers inject specially crafted magnetic nanoparticles into the same area of the brain. These nanoparticles latch onto the surface of the targeted neurons, forming a thin covering like the skin of an onion.

When an alternating magnetic field is applied to the brain, it causes the nanoparticles’ magnetization to flip rapidly, generating heat that warms the targeted cells. This forces the temperature-sensitive ion channels to open, spurring the neurons to fire.

The particles the researchers used in the new eLife study consisted of a cobalt-ferrite core surrounded by a manganese-ferrite shell.

An advance over other methods, like optogenetics

Pralle has been working to advance magneto-thermal stimulation for about a decade. He previously demonstrated the technique’s utility in activating neurons in a petri dish, and then in controlling the behavior of C. elegans, a tiny nematode.

Pralle says magneto-thermal stimulation has some benefits over other methods of deep-brain stimulation.

One of the best-known techniques, optogenetics, uses light instead of magnetism and heat to activate cells. But optogenetics typically requires implantation of tiny fiber optic cables in the brain, whereas magneto-thermal stimulation is done remotely, which is less invasive, Pralle says. He adds that even after the brains of mice were stimulated several times, targeted neurons showed no signs of damage.

The next step in the research is to use magneto-thermal stimulation to activate — and silence — multiple regions of the brain at the same time in mice. Pralle is working on this project with Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Polina Anikeeva, PhD, and Harvard Medical School. The team has $3.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct continuing studies.

The research published in eLife was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Human Frontier Science Program.

Supermassive Black Holes Feed On Cosmic Jellyfish

An Italian-led team of astronomers used the MUSE (Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile to study how gas can be stripped from galaxies. They focused on extreme examples of jellyfish galaxies in nearby galaxy clusters, named after the remarkable long “tentacles” of material that extend for tens of thousands of light-years beyond their galactic discs .

The tentacles of jellyfish galaxies are produced in galaxy clusters by a process called ram pressure stripping. Their mutual gravitational attraction causes galaxies to fall at high speed into galaxy clusters, where they encounter a hot, dense gas which acts like a powerful wind, forcing tails of gas out of the galaxy’s disc and triggering starbursts within it.

Six out of the seven jellyfish galaxies in the study were found to host a supermassive black hole at the centre, feeding on the surrounding gas [3]. This fraction is unexpectedly high — among galaxies in general the fraction is less than one in ten.

“This strong link between ram pressure stripping and active black holes was not predicted and has never been reported before,” said team leader Bianca Poggianti from the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova in Italy. “It seems that the central black hole is being fed because some of the gas, rather than being removed, reaches the galaxy centre.” [4]

A long-standing question is why only a small fraction of supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies are active. Supermassive black holes are present in almost all galaxies, so why are only a few accreting matter and shining brightly? These results reveal a previously unknown mechanism by which the black holes can be fed.

Yara Jaffe, an ESO fellow who contributed to the paper explains the significance: “These MUSE observations suggest a novel mechanism for gas to be funnelled towards the black hole’s neighbourhood. This result is important because it provides a new piece in the puzzle of the poorly understood connections between supermassive black holes and their host galaxies.”

The current observations are part of a much more extensive study of many more jellyfish galaxies that is currently in progress.

“This survey, when completed, will reveal how many, and which, gas-rich galaxies entering clusters go through a period of increased activity at their cores,” concludes Poggianti. “A long-standing puzzle in astronomy has been to understand how galaxies form and change in our expanding and evolving Universe. Jellyfish galaxies are a key to understanding galaxy evolution as they are galaxies caught in the middle of a dramatic transformation.”

UPDATE: NASA Heightened Concerns of Cosmic Ray Influence on Humans and Earth

SpaceX, is a Commercial Resupply Service (CRS-12) mission to the International Space Station  (ISS) currently manifested to be launched on August 13th, 2017. The mission was contracted by NASA and is flown by SpaceX. It will fly the new Dragon capsule. The Falcon 9 rocket’s reusable first stage will attempt a controlled landing on Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Its main mission is to measure dangerous, life-threatening galactic cosmic rays. This project, called the Cosmic-Ray Energetics and Mass investigation (CREAM), features instruments to measure the charges of cosmic rays ranging from hydrogen nuclei up through iron nuclei, over a broad energy range. Researchers report once the ISS astronauts unpack it, the modified balloon-borne device will be placed on the Japanese Exposed Facility for a period of at least three years.

Here is the ‘rub’, a word now popularly use in broadcast news, NASA highlights the very real danger astronauts and cosmonauts will face is the serious consequences from exposure to high-energy galactic cosmic rays, including direct damage to DNA and changes in the biochemistry of cells and tissues.

According to principal investigator Eun-Suk Seo of the University of Maryland Institute for Physical Science and Technology: Seo, says: “People on Earth are protected from these rays by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field”. But what has not been taken into account is the current 14% increase of cosmic ray measurements in just over that last 24 months. Additionally, the quickening rate of Earth’s magnetic field weakening of which both indicators the dangers to humans and Earth are already in-play.

CREAM experiments conducted in six balloon flights at 25-mile (40-kilometer) altitudes over Antarctica have yielded a limited understanding of galactic cosmic rays. More study is needed to better understand the time-linked-means of how and at what pace the GCRs begin to have a measurable effect on our lives and planet in the years to come. The established three-year CREAM mission aboard the space station will significantly expand knowledge of cosmic radiation and what it might take to protect interplanetary travelers in the future.

Military Application:

One final project onboard SpaceX cargo is provided by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Army Forces Strategic Command. Chip Hardy, the program manager for the “Kestrel Eye” program, presented an overview of providing real-time information to ground troops regarding enemy location and movement.

Kestrel Eye’s purpose, he said, is to “reduce tactical surprise” and “achieve overmatch at the squad level” by demonstrating operational prototype nanosatellites that make it possible to capture space-based tactical-level intelligence and situational awareness and make synchronized mission-command decisions on the move.