Hubble Detects Helium In The Atmosphere Of An Exoplanet For The First Time

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have detected helium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-107b. This is the first time this element has been detected in the atmosphere of a planet outside the Solar System. The discovery demonstrates the ability to use infrared spectra to study exoplanet extended atmospheres.

The international team of astronomers, led by Jessica Spake, a PhD student at the University of Exeter in the UK, used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to discover helium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-107b This is the first detection of its kind.

Spake explains the importance of the discovery: “Helium is the second-most common element in the Universe after hydrogen. It is also one of the main constituents of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in our Solar System. However, up until now helium had not been detected on exoplanets — despite searches for it.”

The team made the detection by analysing the infrared spectrum of the atmosphere of WASP-107b. Previous detections of extended exoplanet atmospheres have been made by studying the spectrum at ultraviolet and optical wavelengths; this detection therefore demonstrates that exoplanet atmospheres can also be studied at longer wavelengths.

“The strong signal from helium we measured demonstrates a new technique to study upper layers of exoplanet atmospheres in a wider range of planets,” says Spake “Current methods, which use ultraviolet light, are limited to the closest exoplanets. We know there is helium in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and this new technique may help us to detect atmospheres around Earth-sized exoplanets — which is very difficult with current technology.”

WASP-107b is one of the lowest density planets known: While the planet is about the same size as Jupiter, it has only 12% of Jupiter’s mass. The exoplanet is about 200 light-years from Earth and takes less than six days to orbit its host star.

The amount of helium detected in the atmosphere of WASP-107b is so large that its upper atmosphere must extend tens of thousands of kilometres out into space. This also makes it the first time that an extended atmosphere has been discovered at infrared wavelengths.

Since its atmosphere is so extended, the planet is losing a significant amount of its atmospheric gases into space — between ~0.1-4% of its atmosphere’s total mass every billion years [2].

As far back as the year 2000, it was predicted that helium would be one of the most readily-detectable gases on giant exoplanets, but until now, searches were unsuccessful.

David Sing, co-author of the study also from the University of Exeter, concludes: “Our new method, along with future telescopes such as the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope/, will allow us to analyse atmospheres of exoplanets in far greater detail than ever before.”

Taming The Multiverse: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory About The Big Bang

Professor Stephen Hawking’s final theory on the origin of the universe, which he worked on in collaboration with Professor Thomas Hertog from KU Leuven, has been published today in the Journal of High Energy Physics.

The theory, which was submitted for publication before Hawking’s death earlier this year, is based on string theory and predicts the universe is finite and far simpler than many current theories about the big bang say.

Professor Hertog, whose work has been supported by the European Research Council, first announced the new theory at a conference at the University of Cambridge in July of last year, organised on the occasion of Professor Hawking’s 75th birthday.

Modern theories of the big bang predict that our local universe came into existence with a brief burst of inflation — in other words, a tiny fraction of a second after the big bang itself, the universe expanded at an exponential rate. It is widely believed, however, that once inflation starts, there are regions where it never stops. It is thought that quantum effects can keep inflation going forever in some regions of the universe so that globally, inflation is eternal. The observable part of our universe would then be just a hospitable pocket universe, a region in which inflation has ended and stars and galaxies formed.

“The usual theory of eternal inflation predicts that globally our universe is like an infinite fractal, with a mosaic of different pocket universes, separated by an inflating ocean,” said Hawking in an interview last autumn. “The local laws of physics and chemistry can differ from one pocket universe to another, which together would form a multiverse. But I have never been a fan of the multiverse. If the scale of different universes in the multiverse is large or infinite the theory can’t be tested. ”

In their new paper, Hawking and Hertog say this account of eternal inflation as a theory of the big bang is wrong. “The problem with the usual account of eternal inflation is that it assumes an existing background universe that evolves according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity and treats the quantum effects as small fluctuations around this,” said Hertog. “However, the dynamics of eternal inflation wipes out the separation between classical and quantum physics. As a consequence, Einstein’s theory breaks down in eternal inflation.”

“We predict that our universe, on the largest scales, is reasonably smooth and globally finite. So it is not a fractal structure,” said Hawking.

The theory of eternal inflation that Hawking and Hertog put forward is based on string theory: a branch of theoretical physics that attempts to reconcile gravity and general relativity with quantum physics, in part by describing the fundamental constituents of the universe as tiny vibrating strings. Their approach uses the string theory concept of holography, which postulates that the universe is a large and complex hologram: physical reality in certain 3D spaces can be mathematically reduced to 2D projections on a surface.

Hawking and Hertog developed a variation of this concept of holography to project out the time dimension in eternal inflation. This enabled them to describe eternal inflation without having to rely on Einstein’ theory. In the new theory, eternal inflation is reduced to a timeless state defined on a spatial surface at the beginning of time.

“When we trace the evolution of our universe backwards in time, at some point we arrive at the threshold of eternal inflation, where our familiar notion of time ceases to have any meaning,” said Hertog.

Hawking’s earlier ‘no boundary theory’ predicted that if you go back in time to the beginning of the universe, the universe shrinks and closes off like a sphere, but this new theory represents a step away from the earlier work. “Now we’re saying that there is a boundary in our past,” said Hertog.

Hertog and Hawking used their new theory to derive more reliable predictions about the global structure of the universe. They predicted the universe that emerges from eternal inflation on the past boundary is finite and far simpler than the infinite fractal structure predicted by the old theory of eternal inflation.

Their results, if confirmed by further work, would have far-reaching implications for the multiverse paradigm. “We are not down to a single, unique universe, but our findings imply a significant reduction of the multiverse, to a much smaller range of possible universes,” said Hawking.

This makes the theory more predictive and testable.

Hertog now plans to study the implications of the new theory on smaller scales that are within reach of our space telescopes. He believes that primordial gravitational waves — ripples in spacetime — generated at the exit from eternal inflation constitute the most promising “smoking gun” to test the model. The expansion of our universe since the beginning means such gravitational waves would have very long wavelengths, outside the range of the current LIGO detectors. But they might be heard by the planned European space-based gravitational wave observatory, LISA, or seen in future experiments measuring the cosmic microwave background.

NASA Will Solve a Massive Physics Mystery This Summer

It takes 512 years for a high-energy photon to travel from the nearest neutron star to Earth. Just a few of them make the trip. But they carry the information necessary to solve one of the toughest questions in astrophysics.

The photons shoot into space in an energetic rush. Hot beams of X-ray energy burst from the surface of the tiny, ultradense, spinning remnant of a supernova. The beams disperse over long centuries in transit. But every once in a while, a single dot of X-ray light that’s traveled 156 parsecs (512 light-years) across space — 32 million times the distance between Earth and the sun — expends itself against the International Space Station’s (ISS) X-ray telescope, nicknamed NICER. Then, down on Earth, a text file enters a new point of data: the photon’s energy and its arrival time, measured with microsecond accuracy.

That data point, along with countless others like it collected over the course of months, will answer a basic question as soon as summer 2018: Just how wide is J0437-4715, Earth’s nearest neutron-star neighbor?

If researchers can figure out the width of a neutron star, physicist Sharon Morsink told a crowd of scientists at the American Physical Society’s (APS) April 2018 meeting, that information could point the way toward solving one of the great mysteries of particle physics: How does matter behave when pushed to its wildest extremes? [10 Futuristic Technologies ‘Star Trek’ Fans Would Love]

On Earth, given humanity’s existing technology, there are some hard limits on how dense matter can get, even in extreme laboratories, and even harder limits on how long the densest matter scientists make can survive. That’s meant that physicists haven’t been able to figure out how particles behave at extreme densities. There just aren’t many good experiments available.

“There’s a number of different methodologies that people come up with to try to say how super-dense matter should behave, but they don’t all agree,” Morsink, a physicist at the University of Alberta and a member of a NASA working group focused on the width of neutron stars, told Live Science. “And the way that they don’t all agree can actually be tested because each one of them makes a prediction for how large a neutron star can be.”

In other words, the solution to the mystery of ultradense matter is locked away inside some of the universe’s densest objects — neutron stars. And scientists can crack that mystery as soon as they measure precisely just how wide (and, therefore, dense) neutron stars really are.

“Neutron stars are the most outrageous objects that most people have never heard of,” NASA scientist Zaven Arzoumanian told physicists at the meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Arzoumanian is one of the heads of NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) project, which forms the technical basis for Morsink’s work. NICER is a large, swiveling telescope mounted on the ISS; it monitors and precisely times the X-rays that arrive in the area of low Earth orbit from deep space.

A neutron star is the core left behind after a massive supernova explosion, but it’s believed to be not much wider than a midsize city. Neutron stars can spin at high fractions of the speed of light, firing flickering beams of X-ray energy into space with more precise timing than the ticking of atomic clocks.

And most importantly for Morsink and her colleagues’ purposes, neutron stars are the densest known objects in the universe that haven’t collapsed into black holes — but unlike with black holes, it’s possible for scientists to figure out what goes on inside them. Astronomers just need to know precisely how wide neutron stars really are, and NICER is the instrument that should finally answer that question.

Scientists don’t know exactly how matter behaves in the extreme core of a neutron star, but they understand enough to know that it’s very weird.

Daniel Watts, a particle physicist at the University of Edinburgh, told a separate audience at the APS conference that the interior of a neutron star is essentially a great big question mark.

Scientists have some excellent measurements of the masses of neutrons stars. The mass of J0437-4715, for example, is about 1.44 times that of the sun, despite being more or less the size of Lower Manhattan. That means, Morsink said, that J0437-4715 is far denser than the nucleus of an atom — by far the densest object that scientists encounter on Earth, where the vast majority of an atom’s matter gathers in just a tiny speck in its center.

At that level of density, Watts explained, it’s not at all clear how matter behaves. Quarks, the tiny particles that make up neutrons and protons, which make up atoms, can’t exist freely on their own. But when matter reaches extreme densities, quarks could keep binding into particles similar to those on Earth, or form larger, more complex particles, or perhaps mush together entirely into a more generalized particle soup. [7 Strange Facts About Quarks]

What scientists do know, Watts told Live Science, is that the details of how matter behaves at extreme densities will determine just how wide neutron stars actually get. So if scientists can come up with precise measurements of neutron stars, they can narrow down the range of possibilities for how matter behaves under those extreme conditions.

And answering that question, Watts said, could unlock answers to all sorts of particle-physics mysteries that have nothing to do with neutron stars. For example, he said, it could help answer just how individual neutrons arrange themselves in the nuclei of very heavy atoms.

Most neutron stars, Morsink said, are believed to be between about 12 and 16 miles (20 and 28 kilometers) wide, though they might be as narrow as 10 miles (16 km). That’s a very narrow range in astronomy terms but not quite precise enough to answer the kinds of questions Morsink and her colleagues are interested in.

To press toward even more precise answers, Morsink and her colleagues study X-rays coming from rapidly spinning “hotspots” on neutron stars.

Though neutron stars are incredibly compact spheres, their magnetic fields cause the energy coming off of their surfaces to be fairly uneven. Bright patches form and mushroom on their surfaces, whipping around in circles as the stars turn many times a second.

That’s where NICER comes in. NICER is a large, swiveling telescope mounted on the ISS that can time the light coming from those patches with incredible regularity.

That allows Morsink and her colleagues to study two things, both of which can help them figure out a neutron star’s radius:

1. The speed of rotation: When the neutron star spins, Morsink said, the bright spot on its surface winks toward and away from Earth almost like the beam from a lighthouse turning circles. Morsink and her colleagues can carefully study NICER data to determine both exactly how many times the star is winking each moment and exactly how fast the bright spot is moving through space. And the speed of the bright spot’s motion is a function of the star’s rate of rotation and its radius. If researchers can figure out the rotation and speed, the radius is relatively easy to determine.

2. Light bending: Neutron stars are so dense that NICER can detect photons from the star’s bright spot that fired into space while the spot was pointed away from Earth. A neutron star’s gravity well can bend light so sharply that its photons turn toward and smack into NICER’s sensor. The rate of light curvature is also a function of the star’s radius and its mass. So, by carefully studying how much a star with a known mass curves light, Morsink and her colleagues can figure out the star’s radius.

And the researchers are close to announcing their results, Morsink said. (Several physicists at her APS talk expressed some light disappointment that she hadn’t announced a specific number, and excitement that it was coming.)

Morsink told Live Science that she wasn’t trying to tease the upcoming announcement. NICER just hasn’t collected enough photons yet for the team to offer up a good answer.

“It’s like taking a cake out of the oven too early: You just end up with a mess,” she said.

But the photons are arriving, one by one, during NICER’s months of periodic study. And an answer is getting close. Right now, the team is looking at data from J0437-4715 and Earth’s next-nearest neutron star, which is about twice as far away.

Morsink said she isn’t sure which neutron star’s radius she and her colleagues will publish first, but she added that both announcements will be coming within months.

“The aim is for this to happen later on this summer, where ‘summer’ is being used in a fairly broad sense,” she said. “But I would say that by September, we ought to have something.”

Clear As Mud: Desiccation Cracks Help Reveal The Shape Of Water On Mars

As Curiosity rover marches across Mars, the red planet’s watery past comes into clearer focus.

In early 2017 scientists announced the discovery of possible desiccation cracks in Gale Crater, which was filled by lakes 3.5 billion years ago. Now, a new study has confirmed that these features are indeed desiccation cracks, and reveals fresh details about Mars’ ancient climate.

“We are now confident that these are mudcracks,” explains lead author Nathaniel Stein, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Since desiccation mudcracks form only where wet sediment is exposed to air, their position closer to the center of the ancient lake bed rather than the edge also suggests that lake levels rose and fell dramatically over time.

“The mudcracks show that the lakes in Gale Crater had gone through the same type of cycles that we see on Earth,” says Stein. The study was published in Geology online ahead of print on 16 April 2018.

The researchers focused on a coffee table-sized slab of rock nicknamed “Old Soaker.” Old Soaker is crisscrossed with polygons identical in appearance to desiccation features on Earth. The team took a close physical and chemical look at those polygons using Curiosity’s Mastcam, Mars Hand Lens Imager, ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS), and Alpha-Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

That close look proved that the polygons — confined to a single layer of rock and with sediment filling the cracks between them — formed from exposure to air, rather than other mechanisms such as thermal or hydraulic fracturing. And although scientists have known almost since the moment Curiosity landed in 2012 that Gale Crater once contained lakes, explains Stein, “the mudcracks are exciting because they add context to our understanding of this ancient lacustrine system.”

“We are capturing a moment in time,” he adds. “This research is just a chapter in a story that Curiosity has been building since the beginning of its mission.”

Black Hole And Stellar Winds Form Giant Butterfly, Shut Down Star Formation In Galaxy

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have completed an unprecedented “dissection” of twin galaxies in the final stages of merging.

The new study, led by CU Boulder research associate Francisco Müller-Sánchez, explores a galaxy called NGC 6240. While most galaxies in the universe hold only one supermassive black hole at their center, NGC 6240 contains two — and they’re circling each other in the last steps before crashing together.

The research reveals how gases ejected by those spiraling black holes, in combination with gases ejected by stars in the galaxy, may have begun to power down NGC 6240’s production of new stars. Müller-Sánchez’s team also shows how these “winds” have helped to create the galaxy’s most tell-tale feature: a massive cloud of gas in the shape of a butterfly.

“We dissected the butterfly,” said Müller-Sánchez of CU Boulder’s Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS). “This is the first galaxy in which we can see both the wind from the two supermassive black holes and the outflow of low ionization gas from star formation at the same time.”

The team zeroed in on NGC 6240, in part, because galaxies with two supermassive black holes at their centers are relatively rare. Some experts also suspect that those twin hearts have given rise to the galaxy’s unusual appearance. Unlike the Milky Way, which forms a relatively tidy disk, bubbles and jets of gas shoot off from NGC 6240, extending more than 30,000 light years into space and resembling a butterfly in flight.

“Galaxies with a single supermassive black hole never show such a phenomenal structure,” Müller-Sánchez said.

In research that will be published April 18 in Nature, the team discovered that two different forces have given rise to the nebula. The butterfly’s northwest corner, for example, is the product of stellar winds, or gases that stars emit through various processes. The northeast corner, on the other hand, is dominated by a single cone of gas that was ejected by the pair of black holes — the result of those black holes gobbling up large amounts of galactic dust and gas during their merger.

Those two winds combined evict about 100 times the mass of Earth’s sun in gases from the galaxy every year. That’s a “very large number, comparable to the rate at which the galaxy is creating stars in the nuclear region,” Müller-Sánchez said.

Such an outflow can have big implications for the galaxy itself. He explained that when two galaxies merge, they begin a feverish burst of new star formation. Black hole and stellar winds, however, can slow down that process by clearing away the gases that make up fresh stars — much like how a gust of wind can blow away the pile of leaves you just raked.

“NGC 6240 is in a unique phase of its evolution,” said Julie Comerford, an assistant professor in APS at CU Boulder and a co-author of the new study. “It is forming stars intensely now, so it needs the extra strong kick of two winds to slow down that star formation and evolve into a less active galaxy.”

Meteorite Diamonds Tell Of A Lost Planet

Using transmission electron microscopy, EPFL scientists have examined a slice from a meteorite that contains large diamonds formed at high pressure. The study shows that the parent body from which the meteorite came was a planetary embryo of a size between Mercury to Mars. The discovery is published in Nature Communications.

On October 7, 2008, an asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded 37 km above the Nubian Desert in Sudan. The asteroid, now known as “2008 TC3,” was just over four meters in diameter. When it exploded in the atmosphere, it scattered multiple fragments across the desert. Only fifty fragments, ranging in size from 1-10 cm, were collected, for a total mass of 4.5 kg. Over time, the fragments were gathered and catalogued for study into a collection named Almahata Sitta (Arabic for “Station Six,” after a nearby train station between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum).

The Almahata Sitta meteorites are mostly ureilites, a rare type of stony meteorite that often contains clusters of nano-sized diamonds. Current thinking is that these tiny diamonds can form in three ways: enormous pressure shockwaves from high-energy collisions between the meteorite “parent body” and other space objects; deposition by chemical vapor; or, finally, the “normal” static pressure inside the parent body, like most diamonds on Earth.

The unanswered question, so far, has been the planetary origin of 2008 TC3 ureilites. Now, scientists at Philippe Gillet’s lab at EPFL, with colleagues in France and Germany, have studied large diamonds (100-microns in diameter) in some of the Almahata Sitta meteorites and discovered that the asteroid came from a planetary “embryo” whose size is between Mercury to Mars.

The researchers studied the diamond samples using a combination of advanced transmission electron microscopy techniques at EPFL’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Electron Microscopy. The analysis of the data showed that the diamonds had chromite, phosphate, and iron-nickel sulfides embedded in them — what scientists refer to as “inclusions.” These have been known for a long time to exist inside Earth’s diamonds, but are now described for the first time in an extraterrestrial body.

The particular composition and morphology of these materials can only be explained if the pressure under which the diamonds were formed was higher than 20 GPa (giga-Pascals, the unit of pressure). This level of internal pressure can only be explained if the planetary parent body was a Mercury- to Mars-sized planetary “embryo,” depending on the layer in which the diamonds were formed.

Many planetary formation models have predicted that these planetary embryos existed in the first million years of our solar system, and the study offers compelling evidence for their existence. Many planetary embryos were Mars-sized bodies, such as the one that collided with Earth to give rise to the Moon. Other of these went on to form larger planets, or collided with the Sun or were ejected from the solar system altogether. The authors write “This study provides convincing evidence that the ureilite parent body was one such large ‘lost’ planet before it was destroyed by collisions some 4.5 billion years ago.”

340,000 Stars’ DNA Interrogated In Search For Sun’s Lost Siblings

An Australian-led group of astronomers working with European collaborators has revealed the “DNA” of more than 340,000 stars in the Milky Way, which should help them find the siblings of the Sun, now scattered across the sky.

This is a major announcement from an ambitious Galactic Archaeology survey, called GALAH, launched in late 2013 as part of a quest to uncover the formulation and evolution of galaxies. When complete, GALAH will investigate more than a million stars.

The GALAH survey used the HERMES spectrograph at the Australian Astronomical Observatory’s (AAO) 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran, NSW, to collect spectra for the 340,000 stars.

The GALAH Survey today makes its first major public data release.

The ‘DNA’ collected traces the ancestry of stars, showing astronomers how the Universe went from having only hydrogen and helium — just after the Big Bang — to being filled today with all the elements we have here on Earth that are necessary for life.

“No other survey has been able to measure as many elements for as many stars as GALAH,” said Dr Gayandhi De Silva, of the University of Sydney and AAO, the HERMES instrument scientist who oversaw the groups working on today’s major data release.

“This data will enable such discoveries as the original star clusters of the Galaxy, including the Sun’s birth cluster and solar siblings — there is no other dataset like this ever collected anywhere else in the world,” Dr De Silva said.

Dr. Sarah Martell from the UNSW Sydney, who leads GALAH survey observations, explained that the Sun, like all stars, was born in a group or cluster of thousands of stars.

“Every star in that cluster will have the same chemical composition, or DNA — these clusters are quickly pulled apart by our Milky Way Galaxy and are now scattered across the sky,” Dr Martell said.

“The GALAH team’s aim is to make DNA matches between stars to find their long-lost sisters and brothers.”

For each star, this DNA is the amount they contain of each of nearly two dozen chemical elements such as oxygen, aluminium, and iron.

Unfortunately, astronomers cannot collect the DNA of a star with a mouth swab but instead use the starlight, with a technique called spectroscopy.

The light from the star is collected by the telescope and then passed through an instrument called a spectrograph, which splits the light into detailed rainbows, or spectra.

Associate Professor Daniel Zucker, from Macquarie University and the AAO, said astronomers measured the locations and sizes of dark lines in the spectra to work out the amount of each element in a star.

“Each chemical element leaves a unique pattern of dark bands at specific wavelengths in these spectra, like fingerprints,” he said.

Dr Jeffrey Simpson of the AAO said it takes about an hour to collect enough photons of light for each star, but “Thankfully, we can observe 360 stars at the same time using fibre optics,” he added.

The GALAH team has spent more than 280 nights at the telescope since 2014 to collect all the data.

The GALAH survey is the brainchild of Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from the University of Sydney and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) and Professor Ken Freeman of the Australian National University (ANU). It was conceived more than a decade ago as a way to unravel the history of our Milky Way galaxy; the HERMES instrument was designed and built by the AAO specifically for the GALAH survey.

Measuring the abundance of each chemical in so many stars is an enormous challenge. To do this, GALAH has developed sophisticated analysis techniques.

PhD student Sven Buder of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany, who is lead author of the scientific article describing the GALAH data release, is part of the analysis effort of the project, working with PhD student Ly Duong and Professor Martin Asplund of ANU and ASTRO 3D.

Mr. Buder said: “We train [our computer code] The Cannon to recognize patterns in the spectra of a subset of stars that we have analysed very carefully, and then use The Cannon’s machine learning algorithms to determine the amount of each element for all of the 340,000 stars.” Ms. Duong noted that “The Cannon is named for Annie Jump Cannon, a pioneering American astronomer who classified the spectra of around 340,000 stars by eye over several decades a century ago — our code analyses that many stars in far greater detail in less than a day.”

The GALAH survey’s data release is timed to coincide with the huge release of data on 25 April from the European Gaia satellite, which has mapped more than 1.6 billion stars in the Milky Way — making it by far the biggest and most accurate atlas of the night sky to date.

In combination with velocities from GALAH, Gaia data will give not just the positions and distances of the stars, but also their motions within the Galaxy.

Professor Tomaz Zwitter (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) said today’s results from the GALAH survey would be crucial to interpreting the results from Gaia: “The accuracy of the velocities that we are achieving with GALAH is unprecedented for such a large survey.”

Dr Sanjib Sharma from the University of Sydney concluded: “For the first time we’ll be able to get a detailed understanding of the history of the Galaxy.”

The ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) is a $40m Research Centre of Excellence funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and six collaborating Australian universities — The Australian National University, The University of Sydney, The University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology, The University of Western Australia and Curtin University.