Observational Astronomy Drawings

Illustration by Simon Atkinson. © Simon Atkinson Creative Arts.

Before everyone strapped a camera to their telescopes, a pencil and paper was the way to go. Sharpening a twig is an easy way to make a smudge stick and turn a small graphite blob into an amazing swirling arm of nebula gases. Many famous astronomers of the past went on to create equally famous notebook entries that featured their unique artistic styles. Observational drawing is both an art and a science.

Some amateur astronomers like to use ink for permanent stars, and pencil in the rest of the objects that they observe. They might wish to produce a composite drawing of each individual object they’ve observed on a previous night. However, patience is a virtue when trying to put otherworldly photons down on paper. Most astronomers are tempted to randomly pepper a scene with stars on more than one occasion during their amateur careers, and the discipline requires a great deal of restraint to avoid doing that.

Galileo’s Astronomical Images – Moon Drawings

Despite the rather low-tech images this effort creates, some people actually combine high technology with their astronomy art. While most mobile devices lack great drawing programs, some PDA units actually come with a high-resolution stylus that’s conducive to observational drawing as well. This practice became so popular that it has generated a little buzz on the Internet in the recent past.

I personally learn things better by writing/drawing things in many cases. If you are the same, drawing the objects you view during your stargazing may be a great way to reinforce your memory of the sights you observe.

Image Credits: Simon AtkinsonUniversity of Minnesota

Learn History with Timeline Eons [App Review]

  Free App Download

Printed timelines can only cover so much history, but the new Timeline Eons app for iOS covers literally billions of years worth of history starting with the Big Bang. And it does it in a really cool way. The Today in History option can help users to keep tabs on important events, though individuals can actually program in anniversary reminders if they purchase the full version. Even the free version has plenty of functionality though. Mobile device users can experiment with three trial events, though they’ll probably be more interested in the fact that they can browse all of Earth’s history for ten days.

Parents seem to think that children rot their brains on the Internet, but Timeline Eons actually has a few functions that could be useful for history projects. Coverage of topics like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Battle of Britain should provide ample material for anyone cramming for a test. The only real drawback here is that some teachers might be a bit reluctant to accept citations from a mobile phone app, but most students can cite software these days anyhow.

People with an interest in paleontology might get the most out of the app, considering that it covers just about any geological age one can think of. I think students can benefit from this app in a very big way for sure.

Free App Link

Image Credits: manni.us

Astronomers Find Anomaly Around Ancient Black Hole

This image shows the bright emission from carbon and dust in the galaxy surrounding the most distant

Using the IRAM array of millimetre-wave telescopes in the French Alps, a team of European astronomers from Germany, the UK and France has discovered a large reservoir of gas and dust in a galaxy that surrounds the most distant supermassive black hole known. Light from the galaxy, called J1120+0641, has taken so long to reach us that the galaxy is seen as it was only 740 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only 1/18th of its current age.

Team leader Dr. Bram Venemans of the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany will present the new discovery on Wednesday 28th March at the RAS / AG National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester, United Kingdom. The Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) array is made up of six 15-m size telescopes that detect emission at millimeter wavelengths (about a thousand times as long as visible light) sited on the 2550-m high Plateau de Bure in the French Alps. The IRAM telescopes work together to simulate a single much larger telescope in a so-called interferometer that can study objects in fine detail.

A recent upgrade to IRAM allowed the scientists to detect the newly discovered gas and dust that includes significant quantities of carbon. This is quite unexpected, as the chemical element carbon is created via nuclear fusion of helium in the centres of massive stars and ejected into the galaxy when these stars end their lives in dramatic supernova explosions.

Dr Venemans comments: “It’s really puzzling that such an enormous amount of carbon-enriched gas could have formed at these early times in the universe. The presence of so much carbon confirms that massive star formation must have occurred in the short period between the Big Bang and the time we are now observing the galaxy.”

From the emission from the dust, Venemans and his team were able to show that the galaxy is still forming stars at a rate that is 100 time higher than in our Milky Way. The team give credit to the IRAM upgrade that made the new discovery possible.

“Indeed, we would not have been able to detect this emission only a couple of years ago.” says team member Dr Pierre Cox, director of IRAM.

The astronomers are excited about the fact that this source is also visible from the southern hemisphere where the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which will be the world’s most advanced sub/millimeter telescope array, is currently 2 under construction in Chile. Observations with ALMA will enable a detailed study of the structure of this galaxy, including the way the gas and dust moves within it.

Dr Richard McMahon, a member of the team from the University of Cambridge in the UK is looking forward to when ALMA is fully operational later this year. “The current observations only provide a glimpse of what ALMA will be capable of when we use it to study the formation of the first generation of galaxies.”

Source: Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy

Image Credits: ESO/UKIDSS/SDSS)

Reference:

B. P. Venemans, R. G. McMahon, F. Walter, R. Decarli, P. Cox, R. Neri, P. Hewett, D. J. Mortlock, C. Simpson, & S. J. Warren (2012). Detection of atomic carbon [CII] 158 micron and dust emission from a
z=7.1 quasar host galaxy APJ Letters arXiv: 1203.5844v1

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Edwin Hubble – Discoverer of Galaxies

Edwin Hubble was born in a small town in Missouri in 1889. From a young age, he developed an interest in science and astronomy and desperately wished to make astronomy his career.

Hubble graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in science and was subsequently accepted as a Rhodes Scholar to study at Oxford University. Surprisingly, his studies at Oxford were in law rather than astronomy.

Upon graduating, he became a practicing lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky. He also worked for a time as a school teacher but he wasn’t happy with his career path. He returned to school and earned his doctorate in astronomy a short time later.

When Hubble began his career, the standard theory held that the Milky Way galaxy was the entirety of the universe. Through nightly observation, and the use of astronomic photography, Hubble proved that objects in the constellation Andromeda were at least one million light years away. In other words, there was more to the universe than the Milky Way. The universe was filled with galaxies!

Hubble’s other great breakthrough involved the discovery of an approximate relationship between the redshifts of galaxies and the distances to them using a formulation known as Hubble’s law. Through these measurements, a strong case is made for the expansion of the universe as well as supporting the Big Bang theory.

Edwin Hubble passed away in 1953. The Hubble Space Telescope (shown below) is named in his honor. Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers hope to be able to figure out the likely fate of our universe: will it expand forever, or will the expansion reverse and cause the universe to collapse back into another Big Bang? It would be interesting to get Hubble’s take on things given the knowledge we know today.

Image Credit: NASA

Reference:

http://www.spacetelescope.org/about/history/the_man_behind_the_name/
http://www.edwinhubble.com/hubble_bio_001.htm

Wanna Check Out the Webb Telescope? Here’s How You Can…

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor Center in Greenbelt, MD will host this month’s Sunday Experiment on Sunday, March 18 from1:00 to 3:00 p.m. EDT. It’s a free afternoon for children of all ages and their families with a look at how NASA’s most powerful space telescope will look at the universe and see further back in time than ever before.

The James Webb Space Telescope will examine every phase of our history including the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang. Through a variety of hands-on activities, visitors will model the life cycle of a star, explore how the Webb telescope will “see” the universe in infrared light, and see how its hardware pieces will fit together.

Children will partake in hands-on activities, and will be able to see what they look like in an infrared camera, similar to the one that will fly on the Webb telescope. By creating special bookmarks with multi-colored beads, children will learn about the difference between stars in the universe.

“The Sunday Experiment is a great way for the general public to meet and interact with some of our scientists and engineers while learning about our latest projects,” said Lynn Chandler, Communications Officer for the Webb Telescope at Goddard. “It is great fun for the entire family.”

As always, the Visitor Center’s Science on a Sphere theater will offer insight to Goddard’s cutting edge science and research.

The Sunday Experiment, held on the third Sunday of each month, spotlights Goddard’s world-renowned science and engineering research and technological developments. Families leave inspired by the activities, wowed by the scientists and engineers, and excited about Goddard’s revolutionary research and technology. In addition to celebrating all things science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the Sunday Experiment celebrates major science missions that are managed by NASA Goddard and set to launch in the near future.

For more information on the Sunday Experiment, visit Goddard’s Visitor Center Web page:

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/visitor/events/index.html

For more information and directions to the NASA Goddard Visitor’s Center, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/visitor/home/faq.html

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/visitor/directions/index.html

Source: NASA

Image: Artist’s impression of the James Webb Space Telecope.
Credit: ESA

Meet I Zw 18: A Dwarf Galaxy

The Center of Astrophysics of the University of Porto recently came up with an analysis that seriously calls into question the current model of galactic formation. Polychronis Papaderos represented the CAUP, and with his Swedish colleague Göran Östlin, Papderos examined data from the Hubble Space Telescope to better understand the I Zw 18 dwarf galaxy. That particular object has received a lot of attention, and it is one of the few places where star-forming activity can be readily observed.

I Zw 18 region. (Credit: Image courtesy of Centro de Astrofísica da

For a long time, astrophysicists have simply assumed that stars were emitting light from gas structures. These structures occupied the same region as the stars that were emitting the light. The research suggests that galaxies that undergo active starbursts don’t follow this rule. Instead, nebula gases might actually be emitting around half of the total light in question. Since star mass is often calculated from the galaxy’s total luminosity, the idea that nebular emissions account for so much light means that many of these calculations could be totally off. One could also surmise that since I Zw 18 is young, the galaxy is acting the way many objects did shortly after the Big Bang. Many of the stars there have been around for less than 1 billion years. It will be interesting to watch this galaxy in the years ahead.

Reference:

Papaderos, P., & Östlin, G. (2012). I Zw 18 as morphological paradigm for rapidly assembling high-galaxies Astronomy & Astrophysics, 537 DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201117551

Izotov, Y., Chaffee, F., Foltz, C., Thuan, T., Green, R., Papaderos, P., Fricke, K., & Guseva, N. (2001). A Spectroscopic Study of Component C and the Extended Emission around I Zw 18 The Astrophysical Journal, 560 (1), 222-235 DOI: 10.1086/322494

Image Credit: Hubble

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Let’s Explore Gamma-ray Bursts

Astronomers remain fascinated by gamma-ray bursts. These bursts of energy appear to be among the most powerful explosions in the universe today. They occur about once a day and are divided into two categories. The first category is called long gamma-ray bursts and last from two seconds to about thirty seconds. They have a clearly defined burst of energy followed by an afterglow which can be clearly seen. The second type is short gamma-ray bursts. These bursts last under two seconds and most last a few milliseconds.

When gamma-ray bursts were first detected in 1969, scientists believed the intense flashes of energy may have originated from distant alien civilizations. We now know that gamma-ray bursts result from the cores of massive stars collapsing at the end of their lives. These stars are known as supernovas and, if the star has enough mass, they turn into black holes. As the gas descends into the center of the black hole, some of it escapes as gamma-rays and is shot out from the dying star’s poles at nearly the speed of light.

Although gamma-ray bursts only last from a few seconds to a few minutes and are not visible to human eyes, they emit the same amount of energy the Milky Way produces in 100 years and are brighter than all other sources of gamma-rays, including neighboring stars and our Sun. Scientist have observed gamma-ray bursts from 13.14 billion light-years away, making them the most powerful forms of energy in the universe, secondary only to the big bang.

Gamma-ray bursts produce large amounts of gas that evelopes the entire surrounding area. Because new stars form from the gas clouds left behind by larger stars that have undergone the supernova process, gamma ray bursts are often found in these “stellar nurseries.” Scientists now use gamma-ray bursts to locate areas of new star formation and study the life cycle of stars.

Astronomers also believe that long gamma-ray bursts are caused by the collapse of a Wolf-Rayet star. When the star collapses, a black hole is formed within the star. Then, as the star further collapses, matter escapes from the star. It is this matter that astronomers are seeing.

These long gamma-ray bursts come from all directions within the universe. Astronomers believe that most of them originate at the very edge of where the most powerful telescopes can see and beyond. NASA and other space agencies have satellites that are studying the bursts. When they detect one, they send a signal to several points on Earth. Telescopes can then be pointed in the right direction.

Image Credit: 1) Artist’s conception of a gamma-ray burst by NASA/SkyWorks Digital

Reference:

Woosley, S., & Bloom, J. (2006). The Supernova–Gamma-Ray Burst Connection Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 44 (1), 507-556 DOI: 10.1146/annurev.astro.43.072103.150558

Extreme Gamma-ray Burst – NASA Science. (2009, February 20). NASA Science. Retrieved February 24, 2012, from http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/20feb_extremegrb/

Gamma-Ray Burst Physics. (n.d.). Astronomy and Astrophysics. Retrieved February 24, 2012, from http://www2.astro.psu.edu/users/nnp/grbphys.html

NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2009, November 02). NASA. Retrieved February 24, 2012, from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GLAST/news/star_factories.html

NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2011, May 27). NASA. Retrieved February 24, 2012, from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/swift-20110527.html

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Tellurium Detected for the First Time in Ancient Stars

Nearly 13.7 billions years ago our universe consisted of three basic elements which included hydrogen, helium, and a little bit of lithium. However, 300 million years ago when the stars first began to emerge, new elements were formed. Now there are around 100 different elements in our universe, including the rare element Tellurium.

Tellurium has been rarely found on Earth, which is why hardly anyone has ever heard of it. It is a superconductive element that was found in ancient stars near the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy. Common elements such as Iron and Nickle can be created by any ordinary supernova, but Tellurium is in a group of heavy elements that can only be created through specialized supernovas.

During rapid nuclear fusion, heavy elements are formed creating elements such as Tellurium. It is called the r-process, which occurs when atomic nuclei become bombarded by neutrons during a supernova explosion. The result is the creation of heavier elements that are not as common as some of the lighter elements that are much more abundant. This Tellurium discovery was an interesting find for astronomers, and is yet another step towards unraveling the mystery of these special supernovas.

Image Credit: periodictable.com

Reference:

Ian U. Roederer, James E. Lawler, John J. Cowan, Timothy C. Beers, Anna Frebel, Inese I. Ivans, Hendrik Schatz, Jennifer S. Sobeck, & Christopher Sneden (2012). Detection of the Second r-process Peak Element Tellurium in Metal-Poor Stars The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 747 (1) DOI: arXiv:1202.2378

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