Tag: Chile (page 1 of 5)

Astronomers Giddy Over What They Call A Cosmic ‘Dinosaur Egg’ About To Hatch

cosmic dinosaur egg
The Antennae galaxies, shown in visible light in a Hubble image (upper image), were studied with ALMA, revealing extensive clouds of molecular gas (center right image). One cloud (bottom image) is incredibly dense and massive, yet apparently star free, suggesting it is the first example of a prenatal globular cluster ever identified.

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.com

A dense cloud of gas 50 million light-years away has astronomers buzzing, and they're using all sorts of strange metaphors to get the rest of us to pay attention.

They've discovered what they think may be a globular cluster -- a big ball of up to one million stars -- on the verge of being born.

“This remarkable object looks like it was plucked straight out of the very early universe," Dr. Kelsey Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and lead author on a paper about the research, said in a written statement. "To discover something that has all the characteristics of a globular cluster, yet has not begun making stars, is like finding a dinosaur egg that’s about to hatch.”

cosmic egg
ALMA image of dense cores of molecular gas in the Antennae galaxies. The round yellow object near the center may be the first prenatal example of a globular cluster ever identified. It is surrounded by a giant molecular cloud.

Johnson and her colleagues spotted the bizarre object, which they call the "Firecracker," using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Atacama desert in Chile. It's located inside a pair of interacting galaxies known to scientists as NGC 4038/NGC 4039, or The Antennae Galaxies.

The Firecracker has a mass that's 50 times that of our sun, and is under an enormous amount of pressure -- roughly 10,000 times greater than the average pressure in interstellar space. According to the researchers, this makes it a good candidate for collapsing into a globular cluster within the next million years.

What do other scientists make of the discovery? Dr. Alison Peck, ALMA scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, who was not involved in the new research, called it "important" and said she was "really excited to hear about these results."
She told The Huffington Post in an email:
"One of the things that we all yearn to understand is how our surroundings formed, how our galaxy and our solar system came to be. To do this, since we can’t actually watch things change over time, (it just takes too long), we need to find similar objects at different stages of development and compare them. What Dr. Johnson’s team have found here is an analog of an object that we look for in the very early universe, but they’ve found it so close by that we’ll be able to make extremely detailed observations and find out much more about the physical conditions in this exciting region."
The research is set to be published in the Astrophysical Journal. 

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Extremely distant exoplanet discovered


Excerpt from  thespacereporter.com

According to a NASA statement, the agency’s Spitzer Space Telescope has taken part in the discovery of one of the most distant exoplanets yet found. Spitzer observations were combined with data from the Polish Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment’s Warsaw Telescope, part of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. The newly found exoplanet is approximately 13,000 light-years from Earth, and could yield new clues as to the distribution of planets throughout the Milky Way.

The Warsaw Telescope gathers data through the phenomenon known as microlensing, which occurs when a star passes in front of another, more distant star as seen from Earth’s vantage point. The gravity of the nearer star magnifies and intensifies the distant star’s light; any planets orbiting the distant star appear as small disruptions in the magnification. So far, the microlensing methods has identified around 30 exoplanets, the most distant of which is around 25,000 light-years away.

However, the microlensing method cannot always show how far away are the more distant stars and their planets; the distances to about half of the exoplanets found with microlensing cannot be ascertained. Fortunately, Spitzer is able to help. Located 128 million miles from Earth, Spitzer is able to observe a microlensing event at a different time from the Warsaw Telescope, a method called parallax. In the case of the newly discovered exoplanet, the microlensing event was longer than norman, lasting 150 days. 
Spitzer observed the event 20 days earlier than Warsaw. This time delay allowed the distance to the newly found planet to be calculated. With the distance, the planet’s mass, approximately half that of Jupiter, also was determined.

“We’ve mainly explored our own solar neighborhood so far,” said Sebastiano Calchi Novati of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology. “Now we can use these single lenses to do statistics on planets as a whole and learn about their distribution in the galaxy.”

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This Alien Color Catalog May Help Us Spot Life on Other Planets

Excerpt from smithsonianmag.com

In the hunt for alien life, our first glimpse of extraterrestrials may be in the rainbow of colors seen coming from the surface of an exoplanet.

That's the deceptively simple idea behind a study led by Siddharth Hegde at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. Seen from light-years away, plants on Earth give our planet a distinctive hue in the near-infrared, a phenomenon called red edge. That's because the chlorophyll in plants absorbs most visible light waves but starts to become transparent to wavelengths on the redder end of the spectrum. An extraterrestrial looking at Earth through a telescope could match this reflected color with the presence of oxygen in our atmosphere and conclude there is life here.

exoplanets palette
Eight of the 137 microorganism samples used to measure biosignatures for the catalog of reflection signatures of Earth life forms. In each panel, the top is a regular photograph of the sample and the bottom is a micrograph, a version of the top image zoomed-in 400 times.

Plants, though, have only been around for 500 million years—a relative blip in our planet's 4.6-billion-year history. Microbes dominated the scene for some 2.5 billion years in the past, and some studies suggest they will rule the Earth again for much of its future. So Hegde and his team gathered 137 species of microorganisms that all have different pigments and that reflect light in specific ways. By building up a library of the microbes' reflectance spectra—the types of colors those microscopic critters reflect from a distance—scientists examining the light from habitable exoplanets can have a plethora of possible signals to search for, the team argues this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"No one had looked at the wide range of diverse life on Earth and asked how we could potentially spot such life on other planets, and include life from extreme environments on Earth that could be the 'norm' on other planets," Lisa Kaltenegger, a co-author on the study, says via email. "You can use it to model an Earth that is different and has different widespread biota and look how it would appear to our telescopes."

To make sure they got enough diversity, the researchers looked at temperate-dwelling microbes as well as creatures that live in extreme environments like deserts, mineral springs, hydrothermal vents or volcanically active areas.

While it might seem that alien life could take a huge variety of forms—for instance, something like the silicon-based Horta from Star Trek—it's possible to narrow things down if we restrict the search to life as we know it. First, any life-form that is carbon-based and uses water as a solvent isn't going to like the short wavelengths of light far in the ultraviolet, because this high-energy UV can damage organic molecules. At the other end of the spectrum, any molecule that alien plants (or their analogues) use to photosynthesize won't be picking up light that's too far into the infrared, because there's not enough energy at those longer wavelengths.

In addition, far-infrared light is hard to see through an Earth-like atmosphere because the gases block a lot of these waves, and whatever heat the planet emits will drown out any signal from surface life. That means the researchers restricted their library to the reflected colors we can see when looking at wavelengths in the visible part of the spectrum, the longest wavelength UV and short-wave infrared.

The library won't be much use if we can't see the planets' surfaces in the first place, and that's where the next generation of telescopes comes in, Kaltenegger says. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, should be able to see the spectra of relatively small exoplanet atmospheres and help scientists work out their chemical compositions, but it won't be able to see any reflected spectra from material at the surface. Luckily, there are other planned telescopes that should be able to do the job. The European Extremely Large Telescope, a 40-meter instrument in Chile, will be complete by 2022. And NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which is funded and in its design stages, should be up and running by the mid-2020s.

Another issue is whether natural geologic or chemical processes could look like life and create a false signal. So far the pigments from life-forms look a lot different from those reflected by minerals, but the team hasn't examined all the possibilities either, says Kaltenegger. They hope to do more testing in the future as they build up the digital library, which is now online and free for anyone to explore at biosignatures.astro.cornell.edu.

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Exoplanet Imager Begins Hunt for Alien Worlds

This infrared image shows the dust ring around the nearby star HR 4796A in the southern constellation of Centaurus.

Excerpt from news.discovery.com

By Ian O'Neill

A new instrument attached to one of the most powerful telescopes in the world has been switched on and acquired its ‘first light’ images of alien star systems and Saturn’s moon Titan.
The Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (or SPHIRES) instrument has been recently installed at the ESO’s Very Large Telescope’s already impressive suite of sophisticated instrumentation. The VLT is located in the ultra-dry high-altitude climes of the Atacama Desert in Chile.

In the observation above, an ‘Eye of Sauron‘-like dust ring surrounding the star HR 4796A in the southern constellation of Centaurus, a testament to the sheer power of the multiple technique SPHIRES will use to acquire precision views of directly-imaged exoplanets.

The biggest problem with trying to directly image a world orbiting close to its parent star is that of glare; stars are many magnitudes brighter that the reflected light from its orbiting exoplanet, so how the heck are you supposed to gain enough contrast between the bright star and exoplanet to resolve the two? The SPHIRES instrument is using a combination of three sophisticated techniques to remove a star’s glare and zero-in on its exoplanetary targets.

This infrared image of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, was one of the first produced by the SPHERE instrument soon after it was installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in May 2014.
The first technique, known as adaptive optics, is employed by the VLT itself. By firing a laser into the Earth’s atmosphere during the observation, a gauge on the turbulence in the upper atmospheric gases can be measured and the effects of which can be removed from the imagery. Any blurriness caused by our thick atmosphere can be adjusted for.

Next up is a precision coronograph inside the instrument that blocks the light from the target star. By doing this, any glare can be removed and any exoplanet in orbit may be bright enough to spot.

But the third technique, which really teases out any exoplanet signal, is the detection of different polarizations of light from the star system. The polarization of infrared light being generated by the star and the infrared glow from the exoplanet are very subtle. SPHIRES can differentiate between the two, thereby further boosting the observation’s contrast.

“SPHERE is a very complex instrument. Thanks to the hard work of the many people who were involved in its design, construction and installation it has already exceeded our expectations. Wonderful!” said Jean-Luc Beuzit, of the Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble, France and Principal Investigator of SPHERE, in an ESO press release.

The speed and sheer power of SPHIRES will be an obvious boon to astronomers zooming in on distant exoplanets, aiding our understanding of these strange new worlds.

The star HR 7581 (Iota Sgr) was observed in SPHERE survey mode (parallel observation in the near infrared with the dual imaging camera and the integral field spectrograph ). A very low mass star, more than 4000 times fainter that its parent star, was discovered orbiting Iota Sgr at a tiny separation of 0.24". This is a vital demonstration of the power of SPHERE to image faint objects very close to bright ones.

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Ancient ‘Blue’ Mars Lost an Entire Ocean to Space

Artist impression of Mars ocean

Excerpt from news.discovery.com

Mars was once a small, wet and blue world, but over the past 4 billion years, Mars dried up and became the red dust bowl we know today.

But how much water did Mars possess? According to research published in the journal Science, the Martian northern hemisphere was likely covered in an ocean, covering a region of the approximate area as Earth’s Atlantic Ocean, plunging, in some places, to 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) deep.

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper, in an ESO news release. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

Over a 6-year period, Villanueva and his team used the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (in Chile) and instruments at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (both on Mauna Kea in Hawaii) to study the distribution of water molecules in the Martian atmosphere. By building a comprehensive map of water distribution and seasonal changes, they were able to arrive at this startling conclusion.

It is becoming clear that, over the aeons, Mars lost the majority of its atmosphere to space. That also goes for its water. Though large quantities of water were likely frozen below the surface as the atmosphere thinned and cooled, the water contained in an ocean of this size must have gone elsewhere — it must have also been lost to space.

This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about four billion years ago. The young planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 meters deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’s northern hemisphere. 
The water in Earth’s oceans contains molecules of H2O, the familiar oxygen atom bound with 2 hydrogen atoms, and, in smaller quantities, the not-so-familiar HDO molecule. HDO is a type of water molecule that contains 1 hydrogen atom, 1 oxygen atom and 1 deuterium atom. The deuterium atom is an isotope of hydrogen; whereas hydrogen consists of 1 proton and an electron, deuterium consists of 1 proton, 1 neutron and 1 electron. Therefore, due to the extra neutron the deuterium contains, HDO molecules are slightly heavier than the regular H2O molecules.

Also known as “semi-heavy water,” HDO is less susceptible to being evaporated away and being lost to space, so logic dictates that if water is boiled (or sublimated) away on Mars, the H2O molecules will be preferentially lost to space whereas a higher proportion of HDO will be left behind.

By using powerful ground-based observatories, the researchers were able to determine the distribution of HDO molecules and the H2O molecules and compare their ratios to liquid water that is found in its natural state.

Of particular interest is Mars’ north and south poles where icecaps containing water and carbon dioxide ice persist to modern times. The water those icecaps contain is thought to document the evolution of water since the red planet’s wet Noachian period (approximately 3.7 billion years ago) to today. It turns out that the water measured in these polar regions is enriched with HDO by a factor of 7 when compared with water in Earth’s oceans. This, according to the study, indicates that Mars has lost a volume of water 6.5 times larger than the water currently contained within the modern-day icecaps.

Therefore, the volume of Mars’ early ocean must have been at least 20 million cubic kilometers, writes the news release.

Taking into account the Martian global terrain, most of the water would have been concentrated around the northern plains, a region dominated by low-lying land. An ancient ocean, with this estimate volume of water, would have covered 19 percent of the Martian globe, a significant area considering the Atlantic Ocean covers 17 percent of the Earth’s surface.

“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than previously thought, suggesting the planet might have been habitable for longer,” said Michael Mumma, also of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

This estimate is likely on the low-side as Mars is thought to contain significant quantities of water ice below its surface — a fact that surveys such as this can be useful for pinpointing exactly where the remaining water may be hiding.

Ulli Kaeufl, of the European Southern Observatory and co-author of the paper, added: “I am again overwhelmed by how much power there is in remote sensing on other planets using astronomical telescopes: we found an ancient ocean more than 100 million kilometers away!”
Source: ESO

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Astronomers find star speeding out of the galaxy

(Reuters) - Astronomers have found a star hurtling through the galaxy faster than any other, the result of being blasted away by the explosion of a massive partner star, researchers said on Thursday.
The star, known as US 708, is traveling at about 746 miles (1,200 km) per second, fast enough to actually leave the Milky Way galaxy in about 25 million years, said astronomer Stephan Geier with Germany-based European Southern Observatory, which operates three telescopes in Chile.

"At that speed you could travel from Earth to the moon in five minutes," noted University of Hawaii astronomer Eugene Magnier.
US 708 is not the first star astronomers have found that is moving fast enough to escape the galaxy, but it is the only one so far that appears to have been slingshot in a supernova explosion.

The 20 other stars discovered so far that are heading out of the galaxy likely got their impetus from coming too close to the supermassive black hole that lives at the center of the Milky Way, scientists report in an article in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

Before it was sent streaming across the galaxy, US 708 was once a cool giant star, but it was stripped of nearly all of its hydrogen by a closely orbiting partner. Scientists suspect it was this feeding that triggered the partner’s detonation.

If confirmed, these types of ejected stars may provide more insight into how supernova explosions occur. Since the explosions give off a fairly standard amount of radiation, scientists can calculate their distances by measuring how bright or dim they appear and determine how fast the universe is expanding.

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This Awesome 3D View Of Deep Space May Be The Best Ever

The background image in this composite shows the Hubble Space Telescope image of the region known as the Hubble Deep Field South. The boxes show distant galaxies that were invisible to Hubble.Excerpt from  huffingtonpost.comAlong with Earthrise ...

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Astronomers search for missing brown dwarf star

Excerpt from sciencerecorder.com

Armed with one of the largest telescopes in the world, the aptly named Very Large Telescope at the ESO Observatory in Chile, astronomers are conducting a search for what they once were certain had to be a brown dwarf star. The only problem is that now the star seems to have vanished without evidence.

What happened? Brown dwarfs, compared to their better known red dwarf counterparts are significantly cooler, dimmer objects which at a glance bear more resemblance to planets than to other stars.

Although they release heat and bear a chemical composition similar to that of the sun, astronomers tend to refer to them as “failed stars,” since they are too small to set off any thermonuclear reactions within their cores. This particular vanishing dwarf was thought to be part of a double-star system, the V471 Tauri, located within the Taurus constellation, only 163 light years from Earth. Within this system, the stars orbit each other in 12 hour intervals, which causes the brightness to diminish every six hours, when one star crosses directly in front of the other. 

However, the timing of this eclipse never happened at an entirely predictable pace, leading the researchers to suspect that a brown dwarf’s gravitational pull was pushing on the stars and causing the lapse – it’s the only thing consistent with the minimal lapsing patterns. With the use of a new powerful camera called SPHERE, they set out to plot out the location of the brown dwarf, but found nothing where they predicted it would be. 

“This is how science works,” said Adam Hardy, the study’s lead author who remains undaunted by the road ahead. The new study was published this week by the journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters. “Observations with new technology can either confirm or, as in this case, disprove earlier ideas.”
Perhaps most intriguing is that while a brown dwarf appears to be hiding from them, the cluster it waxes influence over is among the brightest and largest of deep-sky objects visible in the evening sky.
The binary star system is found in what astronomers call the Hyades cluster, named for the nymphs of Greek mythology who are responsible for the rain.

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White Dwarf Stars to Collide in Catastrophic Supernova

Henize 2-428 nebula
Pictured: An artist's impression of the center of the Henize 2-428 planetary nebula, containing two white dwarf stars. (Photo : ESO/L. CALÇADA)

Excerpt from natureworldnews.com

Reported in the journal Nature, the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile was originally studying how some stars produce strangely shaped, asymmetric nebula. They focused on Henize 2-428 and found something they did not expect - not just one star, but two.

"Further observations made with telescopes in the Canary Islands allowed us to determine the orbit of the two stars and deduce both the masses of the two stars and their separation. This was when the biggest surprise was revealed," co-author Romano Corradi, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, said in a press release.

The next shocker was that the two stars were white dwarfs - tiny, extremely dense stars with a total mass about 1.8 times that of the Sun. The fact that there are two stars supports the theory that double central stars may explain the odd shapes of some of these nebulae.

They've also found that the stars orbit every 4 hours and due to the emission of gravitational waves, they are slowly spiraling into one another. Within the next 700 million years, these stars will merge and under the stress of their combined mass, explode in a giant supernova.

"Until now, the formation of supernovae Type Ia by the merging of two white dwarfs was purely theoretical," said co-author David Jones, an ESO Fellow at the time the data were obtained. "The pair of stars in Henize 2-428 is the real thing!"

"It's an extremely enigmatic system," added lead researcher Santander-García. "It will have important repercussions for the study of supernovae Type Ia, which are widely used to measure astronomical distances and were key to the discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating due to dark energy."

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Scientists discover organism that hasn’t evolved in more than 2 billion years

Nonevolving bacteria
These sulfur bacteria haven't evolved for billions of years.
Credit: UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life

Excerpt from natmonitor.com
By Justin Beach

If there was a Guinness World Record for not evolving, it would be held by a sulfur-cycling microorganism found off the course of Australia. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have not evolved in any way in more than two billion years and have survived five mass extinction events.
According to the researchers behind the paper, the lack of evolution actually supports Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
The researchers examined the microorganisms, which are too small to see with the naked eye, in samples of rocks from the coastal waters of Western Australia. Next they examined samples of the same bacteria from the same region in rocks 2.3 billion years old. Both sets of bacteria are indistinguishable from modern sulfur bacteria found off the coast of Chile.

“It seems astounding that life has not evolved for more than 2 billion years — nearly half the history of the Earth. Given that evolution is a fact, this lack of evolution needs to be explained,” said J. William Schopf, a UCLA professor of earth, planetary and space sciences in the UCLA College who was the study’s lead author in a statement.
Critics of Darwin’s theory of evolution might be tempted to jump on this discovery as proof that Darwin was wrong, but that would be a mistake.
Darwin’s work focused more on species that changed, rather than species that didn’t. However, there is nothing in Darwin’s work that states that a successful species that has found it’s niche in an ecosystem has to change. Unless there is change in the ecosystem or competition for resources there would be no reason for change.
“The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes, which is consistent with Darwin. These microorganisms are well-adapted to their simple, very stable physical and biological environment. If they were in an environment that did not change but they nevertheless evolved, that would have shown that our understanding of Darwinian evolution was seriously flawed.” said Schopf, who also is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life.
It is likely that there were genetic mutations in the organisms. Mutations are fairly random and happen in all species, but unless those mutations are improvements that help the species function better in the environment, they usually do not get passed on.
Schopf said that the findings provide further proof that Darwin’s ideas were right.
The oldest fossils analyzed for the study date back to the Great Oxidation Event. This event, which occurred between 2.2 and 2.4 billion years ago, saw a substantial increase in Earth’s oxygen levels. That period also saw an increase in sulfates and nitrates, which is all that the microorganisms would have needed to survive and reproduce.
Shopf and his team used Raman spectroscopy, which allows scientists to examine the composition and chemistry of rocks as well as confocal laser scary microscopy to generate 3-D images of fossils embedded in rock.
The research was funded by NASA Astrobiology Institute, in the hope that it will help the space agency to find life elsewhere.

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Mysterious radio signal from space caught live for first time

Excerpt from foxnews.com

Astronomers in Australia have picked up an “alien” radio signal from space for the first time as it occurred. The signal, or radio “burst”, was discovered on May 15, 2014, though it’s just being reported by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “The burst was identified within 10 seconds of its occurrence,” said Emily Petroff, a doctoral student from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology. “The importance of the discovery was recognized very quickly and we were all working very excitedly to contact other astronomers and telescopes around the world to look at the location of the burst.”
Emerging from an unknown source, these bursts are bright flashes of radio waves that emit as much energy in a few milliseconds as the sun does in 24 hours.  “The first fast radio burst was discovered in 2007,” Petroff tells FoxNews.com, “and up until our discovery there were 8 more found in old or archival data.” While researchers use telescopes in Hawaii, India, Germany, Chile, California, and the California Islands to search for bursts, it is the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Eastern Australia that is the first to catch one as its happening.
The cause of these mysterious signals remains unknown, with possible theories ranging from black holes to alien communication. However, UFO hunters shouldn’t get too excited. According to Petroff, “We're confident that they're coming from natural sources, that is to say it's probably not aliens, but we haven't solved the case completely. The two most promising theories at the moment are that these bursts could be produced either by a star producing a highly energetic flare, or from a neutron star collapsing to make a black hole. Both of these things would be from sources in far-away galaxies just reaching us from billions of light years away.”
Catching the bursts as they happen is key to finding the source, and though Petroff’s team scrambled upon making their discovery, they didn’t move fast enough to find the afterglow and pin down the cause. “Finding one in real-time has been the goal for a while because we would then be able to act on it and mobilize other telescopes to look that way,” Petroff says. “We did this in the case of this real-time discovery, but we didn't get on the target until about eight hours later with other telescopes, at which time nothing was found.” However, they were able to eliminate a few possible causes, such as gamma-ray bursts from exploding stars and supernovae. Also, the team was able to determine that the source had been near an object with a sizeable magnetic field from the way the wavelengths were polarized.
While the source of the fast radio burst remains a mystery, the team remains hopeful that they can learn from their mistakes and one day solve the case. “All we can do is learn from our experience with this discovery and create a more efficient system for next time,” Petroff says. “We still spend a large amount of time looking for fast radio bursts with the Parkes telescope and the next time we are in the right place at just the right time, we'll be able to act faster than ever before and hopefully solve the mystery once and for all!”

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New Telescope in Chile Now Searching for Alien Planets

The NGTS telescopes operating at ESO Paranal, Chile (Credit: ESO/ G. Lambert)

Excerpt from  space.com

A new alien-planet–hunting telescope has just come online in Chile, and it could help scientists peer into the atmospheres of relatively small planets circling nearby stars.

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS for short) — located at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Paranal Observatory — is designed to seek out planets two to eight times the diameter of Earth as they pass in front of their stars. Such a planet will cause the light of the star to dip ever so slightly when passing in front of it, allowing the telescope to detect the planet during its transit.

"We are excited to begin our search for small planets around nearby stars," Peter Wheatley, an NGTS project lead from the University of Warwick, U.K., said in as statement. "The NGTS discoveries, and follow-up observations by telescopes on the ground and in space, will be important steps in our quest to study the atmospheres and composition of small planets such as the Earth."
The instrument is designed to measure the brightness of stars more accurately than any other ground-based wide-field survey, ESO officials said. The NGTS is made up of 12 telescopes that will operate robotically, according to ESO. Astronomers using the survey hope to find small, bright planets in order to learn more about the densities of them.

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Three Earth-like planets sighted around nearby star

This artistic impression shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. By analyzing data captured by the Kepler spacecraft, a UA-led team of researchers has discovered three new Earth-size planets orbiti...

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