The Task of Measuring the Milky Way

Measuring the mass of our home galaxy, or any galaxy, is particularly difficult. A galaxy includes not only stars, planets, moons, gases, dust and other objects and material, but also a big helping of dark matter, a mysterious and invisible form of matter that is not yet fully understood and has not been directly detected in the lab. Astronomers and cosmologists, however, can infer the presence of dark matter through its gravitational influence on visible objects.

Milky-Way-Formed-From-the-Inside-Out

The short answer, so far, is 7 x 1011 solar masses. In terms that are easier to comprehend, that’s about the mass of our Sun, multiplied by 700 billion. The Sun, for the record, has a mass of two nonillion (that’s 2 followed by 30 zeroes) kilograms, or 330,000 times the mass of Earth.

“And our galaxy isn’t even the biggest galaxy,” says Gwendolyn Eadie, a PhD candidate in physics and astronomy at McMaster University.

The orbits of globular clusters are determined by the galaxy’s gravity, which is dictated by its massive dark matter component. What’s new about Eadie’s research is the technique she devised for using globular cluster (GCs) velocities.

The total velocity of a GC must be measured in two directions: one along our line-of-sight, and one across the plane of the sky (the proper motion). Unfortunately, researchers have not yet measured the proper motions of all the GCs around the Milky Way.

Eadie and her academic supervisor William Harris, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster, have co-authored a paper on their most recent findings, which allow dark matter and visible matter to have different distributions in space. They have submitted this work to the Astrophysical Journal, and Eadie will present their results May 31 at the Canadian Astronomical Society’s conference in Winnipeg.

Astronomy Student Discovers Four New Planets

Michelle Kunimoto’s bachelor degree in physics and astronomy sent her on a journey out of this world—and led to the discovery of four new worlds beyond our solar system.

four new planets

The planets, designated “planet candidates” until independently confirmed, are exciting discoveries. Two are the size of Earth, one is Mercury-sized, and one is slightly larger than Neptune. But it’s this last one, the largest of the four, that is of special interest.

Officially catalogued as KOI (Kepler Object of Interest) 408.05 and located 3,200 light years away from Earth, the planet occupies the habitable zone of its star where the temperature would allow liquid water and maybe life.

“Like our own Neptune, it’s unlikely to have a rocky surface or oceans,” said Kunimoto, who graduates today from UBC. “The exciting part is that like the large planets in our solar system, it could have large moons and these moons could have liquid water oceans.”

“Pandora in the movie Avatar was not a planet, but a moon of a giant planet,” said Jaymie Matthews, a UBC professor of astronomy.

While the possibility of life is enticing, Kunimoto was excited about the discovery for other reasons. As part of a course designed to give astronomy students research and career experience, she spent months sifting through data from NASA’s Kepler satellite, trying to find anything that other scientists overlooked.

The Kepler space telescope spent four years staring at about 150,000 stars in our own galaxy, looking for periodic changes in the brightness of stars over time and collecting data known as light curves.

“A star is just a pinpoint of light so I’m looking for subtle dips in a star’s brightness every time a planet passes in front of it,” said Kunimoto. “These dips are known as transits, and they’re the only way we can know the diameter of a planet outside the solar system.”

The larger the orbit, the fewer transits you see. Which is why the discovery of this warm Neptune is so rare. It takes 637 days for the planet to orbit its sun. Of the nearly 5,000 planets and planet candidates found by the Kepler satellite, only 20 have longer orbital periods than KOI 408.05.

Kunimoto and Matthews have submitted their findings to the Astronomical Journal. In September, she’ll be returning to UBC to begin a master’s degree in physics and astronomy, hunting for more planets and investigating whether they could support life.

In the meantime, the new graduate and Star Trek fan got the chance to meet a real-life star and space explorer. On Saturday, she met William Shatner backstage at the UBC100 What’s Next? event and told him about these possible new destinations for a future Starship Enterprise.

UPDATE: Earth’s Magnetic Field Shifts Much Faster Than Expected

It was back in January 2014, when NASA’s Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL)’s payload of thallium-activated sodium iodide, NaI(Tl) a crystalline material widely used for the detection of gamma-rays in scintillation detectors, saw something never seen before. During a moderate solar storm in which magnetic solar material collides with Earth’s magnetic field, BARREL mapped for the first time how the storm caused Earth’s magnetic field to shift and move.

earth's magnetic field lines

The fields’ configuration shifted much faster than expected – ‘on the order of minutes’ rather than hours or days. The results took researchers by such surprise causing them to check and re-check instruments and hypothesized outcomes. As a result, their findings were not published until last week on May 12 2016.

barrel

During the solar storm, three BARREL balloons were flying through parts of Earth’s magnetic field that directly connect a region of Antarctica to Earth’s north magnetic pole. One BARREL balloon was on a magnetic field line with one end on Earth and one end connected to the Sun’s magnetic field. And two balloons switched back and forth between closed and open field lines throughout the solar storm, providing a map of how the boundary between open and closed field lines moved.

“It is very difficult to model the open-closed boundary,” said Alexa Halford, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This will help with our simulations of how magnetic fields change around Earth, because we’re able to state exactly where we saw this boundary.”

solar-earth image cluster_m

We live in the path of the Sun’s outflow of charged particles, called the solar wind. Solar wind particles are accelerated to high speeds by explosions on the Sun or pushed along by plasma – clouds of solar material. Much of this magnetic field loops up and out into space, but then connects back to Earth at the north magnetic pole, near the Arctic Circle.

A portion of Earth’s magnetic field is open as it connects to the Sun’s magnetic field. This open magnetic field gives charged particles from the Sun a path into Earth’s atmosphere. Once particles are stuck to an open field line, they exceedingly accelerate down into the upper atmosphere. The boundary between these open and closed regions of Earth’s magnetic field is anything but constant. Due to various causes – such as incoming clouds of charged particles, the closed magnetic field lines can realign into open field lines and vice versa, changing the location of the boundary between open and closed magnetic field lines.

magnetic-shift

Scientists have known the open-closed boundary moves, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly how, when, and how quickly it changes – and that is where BARREL comes in. The six BARREL balloons flying during the January 2014 solar storm were able to map these changes, and they found something surprising – the open-closed boundary moves rapidly changing location within minutes.

It is possible, but unlikely, that complex dynamics in the magnetosphere gave the appearance that the BARREL balloons were dancing along this open-closed boundary. If a very fast magnetic wave was sending radiation belt electrons down into the atmosphere in short stuttering bursts, it could appear that the balloons were switching between open and closed magnetic field lines.

However, the particle counts measured by the two balloons on the open-closed boundary matched up to those observed by the other BARREL balloons hovering on closed or open field lines only. This observation strengths the case that BARREL’s balloons were actually crossing the boundary between solar and terrestrial magnetic field.

Hubble Finds Clues to the Birth of Supermassive Black Holes

Astrophysicists have taken a major step forward in understanding how supermassive black holes formed. Using data from Hubble and two other space telescopes, Italian researchers have found the best evidence yet for the seeds that ultimately grow into these cosmic giants.

supermassive-black-hole-seed

For years astronomers have debated how the earliest generation of supermassive black holes formed very quickly, relatively speaking, after the Big Bang. Now, an Italian team has identified two objects in the early Universe that seem to be the origin of these early supermassive black holes. The two objects represent the most promising black hole seed candidates found so far.

The group used computer models and applied a new analysis method to data from the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to find and identify the two objects. Both of these newly discovered black hole seed candidates are seen less than a billion years after the Big Bang and have an initial mass of about 100 000 times the Sun.

“Our discovery, if confirmed, would explain how these monster black holes were born,” said Fabio Pacucci, lead author of the study, of Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy.

This new result helps to explain why we see supermassive black holes less than one billion years after the Big Bang.

There are two main theories to explain the formation of supermassive black holes in the early Universe. One assumes that the seeds grow out of black holes with a mass about ten to a hundred times greater than our Sun, as expected for the collapse of a massive star. The black hole seeds then grew through mergers with other small black holes and by pulling in gas from their surroundings. However, they would have to grow at an unusually high rate to reach the mass of supermassive black holes already discovered in the billion years young Universe.

The new findings support another scenario where at least some very massive black hole seeds with 100 000 times the mass of the Sun formed directly when a massive cloud of gas collapses. In this case the growth of the black holes would be jump started, and would proceed more quickly.

“There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take,” said co-author Andrea Ferrara also of Scuola Normale Superiore. “Our work suggests we are converging on one answer, where black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate.”

Andrea Grazian, a co-author from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy explains: “Black hole seeds are extremely hard to find and confirming their detection is very difficult. However, we think our research has uncovered the two best candidates so far.”

Even though both black hole seed candidates match the theoretical predictions, further observations are needed to confirm their true nature. To fully distinguish between the two formation theories, it will also be necessary to find more candidates.

The team plans to conduct follow-up observations in X-rays and in the infrared range to check whether the two objects have more of the properties expected for black hole seeds. Upcoming observatories, like the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope will certainly mark a breakthrough in this field, by detecting even smaller and more distant black holes.

Unexpected Discovery of Stars Dying Prematurely

Using recent advancements in Australian telescope technology, a Monash University-led research team has made an unexpected discovery that a large group of stars are dying prematurely, challenging our accepted view of stellar evolution.

M4 globular cluster

The findings of this new study, published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, were made by Monash PhD student Mr Ben MacLean, supervised by Professor John Lattanzio, Dr Simon Campbell from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and Dr Gayandhi De Silva from the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and the University of Sydney. Their results dispute the prevailing theory of stellar evolution, revealing that large numbers of helium burning stars are dying prematurely in the M4 globular cluster.

M4 is one of the closest and brightest globular clusters, and has already been very well studied. Professor John Lattanzio, has described the discovery as a surprising one to find in our own backyard.

“Globular clusters are some of the oldest objects in the Universe. Although we have some ideas for what is going on in them, every time we look carefully we find something unexpected. They are both fascinating and frustrating at the same time,” said Professor Lattanzio.

Researchers used a new instrument called a high efficiency and resolution multi-element spectrograph (HERMES). With HERMES fitted to the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT) and operated by the AAO, the researchers uncovered the surprising results by working out the chemical composition of stars in M4 by deciphering their starlight. The international team found that about half of the stars tend to skip the Red Giant phase, instead becoming White Dwarfs millions of years ahead of schedule.

While the cause of this remains a mystery, the HERMES chemical analysis has revealed that premature death tends to only occur in the sodium-rich/oxygen-poor stars. The surprising thing is that our best models of these stars do not predict that they will die young.

These findings build on previous Monash University-led research which made the initial discovery that many stars were dying prematurely in the globular cluster NGC 6752. Commenting on this discovery, Dr Simon Campbell said he was surprised to find these results extend to much more ‘normal’ stars’.

“Although the phenomenon of sodium-rich stars failing to reach old age has been seen in our previous research, it was totally unexpected that it should occur on such a scale in this ‘normal’ star cluster, ” Dr Campbell said.

Until now, this research would have been impossible to conduct in Australia, instead requiring the use of larger overseas telescopes. However, thanks to the recent construction and installation of the HERMES instrument, researchers can now use the AAT to analyse the chemical composition of up to 400 stars at a time.

Dr Gayandhi De Silva from the AAO believes the recent upgrade to the AAO will benefit astronomers around the world.

“HERMES represents a significant step forward for Australia’s observational capacity. This incredible advance is unique in that it combines multi-object capability with high data quality. Otherwise we are limited to observing one star at a time to collect such high quality data. This capability makes HERMES and the AAT competitive against some of the world’s biggest telescopes and a new tool for making breakthrough discoveries,” Dr De Silva said.

Looking to the future research in this field, Professor Lattanzio highlighted the role that advanced computer simulations will play in the next stage of research.

“Computer simulations do not agree with this observation; so as well as continuing observations, new computer models will need to be generated to better understand what is taking place in the cores of these stars,” Professor Lattanzio said.

JUST IN: New Finding Depicts Evidence how Modern Science and Ancient Text Unite

Physicists and astronomers from the University of Texas at Arlington have used advanced astronomical software to accurately date  and translate ancient Greek poet Sappho’s, “Midnight Poem” which describes the night sky over Greece more than 2,500 years ago.

shhh2

Scientists are now coming out supporting their interest and research into ancient text as it relates to recent discoveries (new findings over last 5 years). Believe me, this is a new revelation. Of the multitude of scientists I have interviewed over the last 25 years, their ambition of ancient text was only whispered to me “off air.”

Sappho's -Midnight Poem- Describes Star Cluster

The scientific teams research was published yesterday in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. Martin George, former president of the International Planetarium Society, now at the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, also participated in the work.

science and ancient text unite

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“This is an example of where the scientific community can make a contribution to knowledge described in important ancient texts, “ said Manfred Cuntz, physics professor and lead author of the study. ” Estimations had been made for the timing of this poem in the past, but we were able to scientifically confirm the season that corresponds to her specific descriptions of the night sky in the year 570 B.C.”

pleiades

Sappho’s “Midnight Poem” describes a star cluster known as the Pleiades having set at around midnight, when supposedly observed by her from the Greek island of Lesbos.

starry night pro plus1

Cuntz and co-author and astronomer Levent Gurdemir, director of the Planetarium at UTA, used advanced software called Starry Night version 7.3, to identify the earliest date that the Pleiades would have set at midnight or earlier in local time in 570 B.C. The Planetarium system Digistar 5 also allows creating the night sky of ancient Greece for Sappho’s place and time.

“Use of Planetarium software permits us to simulate the night sky more accurately on any date, past or future, at any location,” said Levent Gurdemir.”This is an example of how we are opening up the Planetarium to research into disciplines beyond astronomy, including geosciences, biology, chemistry, art, literature, architecture, history and even medicine.”

pleiades chart

The Starry Night software demonstrated that in 570 B.C., the Pleiades set at midnight on Jan. 25, which would be the earliest date the poem could be related. As the year progressed, the Pleiades set progressively earlier.

“The timing question is complex as at that time they did not have accurate mechanical clocks as we do, only perhaps water clocks” said Cuntz. “For that reason, we also identified the latest date on which the Pleiades would have been visible to Sappho from that location on different dates some time during the evening.”

The researchers also determined that the last date that the Pleiades would have been seen at the end of astronomical twilight – the moment when the Sun’s altitude is -18 degrees and the sky is regarded as perfectly dark – was March 31.

“From there, we were able to accurately seasonally date this poem to mid-winter and early spring, scientifically confirming earlier estimations by other scholars,” Cuntz said.

Sappho was the leading female poet of her time and closely rivaled Homer. Her interest in astronomy was not restricted to the “Midnight Poem.” Other examples of her work make references to the Sun, the Moon, and planet Venus.

“Sappho should be considered an informal contributor to early Greek astronomy as well as to Greek society at large,” Cuntz added. “Not many ancient poets comment on astronomical observations as clearly as she does.”

Morteza Khaledi, dean of UTA’s College of Science, congratulated the researchers on their work, which forms part of UTA’s strategic focus on data-driven discovery within the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

“This research helps to break down the traditional silos between science and the liberal arts, by using high-precision technology to accurate date ancient poetry,” Khaledi said. “It also demonstrates that the Planetarium’s reach can go way beyond astronomy into multiple fields of research.”

Dr. Manfred Cuntz is a professor of physics at UTA and active researcher in solar and stellar astrophysics, as well as astrobiology. In recent years he has focused on extra-solar planets, including stellar habitable zones and orbital stability analyses. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in 1988.

Levent Gurdemir received his master’s of science degree in physics from UTA and is the current director of the university’s Planetarium. UTA uses the facility for research, teaching and community outreach, serving large numbers of K-12 students and the public at this local facility.

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BREAKING NEWS: New Study Shows Mantle Plume Movement Occurs More Rapidly Affecting Oceans and Climate

Still more confirmation of Battros 2012 equation identifying mantle plumes role in Earth’s core convection process. This new study also confirms mantle’s effect on ocean warming and specifically “ice caps.” This throws a hefty monkey-wrench into advocates of the 1988 made-up name global warming. I will attach my previous articles highlighting the connection to cyclical events occurring in our backyard “Milky Way” and our neighboring galaxies.

equation-mantle plumes

New Equation:
Increase Charged Particles → Decreased Magnetic Field → Increase Outer Core Convection → Increase of Mantle Plumes → Increase in Earthquake and Volcanoes → Cools Mantle and Outer Core → Return of Outer Core Convection (Mitch Battros – July 2012)

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Researchers have compiled the first global set of observations of the movement of the Earth’s mantle, the 3000-kilometer thick layer of hot silicate rocks between the crust and the core, and have found that it looks very different to predictions made by geologists over the past 30  a years.

galaxy-sun-earth3_m

The team, from the University of Cambridge, used more than 2000 measurements taken from the world’s oceans in order to peer beneath the Earth’s crust and observe the chaotic nature of mantle flow. These movements have a huge influence on the way Earth looks today related to mountain formation, volcanic activity and earthquakes.

inside earth1

The result of this new research is now published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Significant ramifications across many disciplines including the study of oceanic circulation and past climate change are now made manifest creating a bit of a shake-up in the global warming world.

The inventory of more than 2000 spot observations was determined by analyzing seismic surveys of the world’s oceans. By examining variations in the depth of the ocean floor, the researchers were able to construct a global database of the mantle’s movements.

subsea-volcanoes-110712-02

“These results will have wider reaching implications,” said Hoggard. “Considering the surface is moving much faster than we had previously thought, it could also affect things like the stability of ice caps and help us to understand past climate change.”

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