Tag: University of California (page 1 of 3)

Astronomers find baby blue galaxy close to dawn of time

NASA, ESA, P. OESCH AND I. MOMCHEVA (YALE UNIVERSITY), AND THE 3D-HST AND HUDF09/XDF TEAMS
Astronomers have discovered a baby blue galaxy that is the furthest away in distance and time - 13.1 billion years - that they’ve ever seen. Photo: Pascal Oesch and Ivelina Momcheva, NASA, European Space Agency via AP


Excerpt from smh.com.au

A team of astronomers peering deep into the heavens have discovered the earliest, most distant galaxy yet, just 670 million years after the Big Bang.

Astronomers have discovered a baby blue galaxy that is the furthest away in distance and time - 13.1 billion years - that they’ve ever seen.
Close-up of the blue galaxy

The findings, described in Astrophysical Journal Letters, reveal a surprisingly active, bright galaxy near the very dawn of the cosmos that could shed light on what the universe, now 13.8 billion years old, was really like in its young, formative years.

"We're actually looking back through 95 per cent of all time to see this galaxy," said study co-author Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"It's really a galaxy in its infancy ... when the universe was in its infancy."

Capturing an image from a far-off light source is like looking back in time. When we look at the sun, we're seeing a snapshot of what it looked like eight minutes ago.

The same principle applies for the light coming from the galaxy known as EGS-zs8-1. We are seeing this distant galaxy as it existed roughly 13.1 billion years ago.

EGS-zs8-1 is so far away that the light coming from it is exceedingly faint. And yet, compared with other distant galaxies, it is surprisingly active and bright, forming stars at roughly 80 times the rate the Milky Way does today.

This precocious little galaxy has built up the mass equivalent to about 8 billion suns, more than 15 per cent of the mass of the Milky Way, even though it appears to have been in existence for a mere fraction of the Milky Way's more than 13 billion years.

"If it was a galaxy near the Milky Way [today], it would be this vivid blue colour, just because it's forming so many stars," Illingworth said.

One of the many challenges with looking for such faint galaxies is that it's hard to tell if they're bright and far, or dim and near. Astronomers can usually figure out which it is by measuring how much that distant starlight gets stretched, "redshifted", from higher-energy light such as ultraviolet down to optical and then infrared wavelengths. The universe is expanding faster and faster, so the further away a galaxy is, the faster it's going, and the more stretched, or "redder", those wavelengths of light will be.

The astronomers studied the faint light from this galaxy using NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. But EGS-zs8-1 seemed to be too bright to be coming from the vast distances that the Hubble data suggested.

To narrow in, they used the MOSFIRE infrared spectrograph at the Keck I telescope in Hawaii to search for a particularly reliable fingerprint of hydrogen in the starlight known as the Lyman-alpha line. This fingerprint lies in the ultraviolet part of the light spectrum, but has been shifted to redder, longer wavelengths over the vast distance between the galaxy and Earth.

It's a dependable line on which to base redshift (and distance) estimates, Illingworth said - and with that settled, the team could put constraints on the star mass, star formation rate and formation epoch of this galaxy.

The telltale Lyman-alpha line also reveals the process through which the universe's haze of neutral hydrogen cleared up, a period called the epoch of reionisation. As stars formed and galaxies grew, their ultraviolet radiation eventually ionised the hydrogen and ended the "dark ages" of the cosmos.

Early galaxies-such as EGS-zs8-1 - are "probably the source of ultraviolet radiation that ionised the whole universe", Illingworth said.

Scientists have looked for the Lyman-alpha line in other distant galaxies and come up empty, which might mean that their light was still being blocked by a haze of neutral hydrogen that had not been ionised yet.

But it's hard to say with just isolated examples, Illingworth pointed out. If scientists can survey many galaxies from different points in the universe's very early history, they can have a better sense of how reionisation may have progressed.

"We're trying to understand how many galaxies do have this line - and that gives us some measure of when the universe itself was reionised," Illingworth said.

"One [galaxy] is interesting, but it's when you have 50 that you can really say something about what galaxies were really like then."
As astronomers push the limits of current telescopes and await the completion of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch in 2018, scientists may soon find more of these galaxies even closer to the birth of the universe than this new record breaker.

"You don't get to be record holder very long in this business," Illingworth said, "which is good because ultimately we are trying to learn about the universe. So more is better."

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Astronomers Measure Distance to Farthest Galaxy Yet



The farthest confirmed galaxy observed to date was identified in this Hubble image of a field of galaxies.  The inset image of the galaxy has been colored blue as suggestive of its young stars. Credit NASA/European Space Agency/Yale/University of California, Santa Cruz


Excerpt from nytimes.com

Leapfrogging backward in time to when the universe was apparently feeling its oats, a group of astronomers reported Tuesday that they had measured a bona fide distance to one of the farthest and thus earliest galaxies known.

The galaxy, more than a few billion light-years on the other side of the northern constellation Boötes, is one of the most massive and brightest in the early universe and goes by the name of EGS-zs8-1. 
It flowered into stardom only 670 million years after the Big Bang.
The light from that galaxy has taken 13 billion years to reach telescopes on Earth. By now, however, since the universe has continued to expand during that time, the galaxy is about 30 billion light-years away, according to standard cosmological calculations.
The new measurements allow astronomers to see the galaxy in its infancy. Despite its relative youth, however, it is already about one-sixth as massive as the Milky Way, which is 10 billion years old. And it is getting bigger, making stars 80 times faster than the Milky Way is making them today. The discovery was reported in The Astrophysical Journal by Pascal Oesch of Yale University and his colleagues.

By the rules of the expanding universe, the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is retreating from us, measured by the “redshift” of its light being broadened to longer wavelengths, the way an ambulance siren seems to lower its pitch as it goes by.

In the past few years, as astronomers have raced one another into the past with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, galaxies have been found that appear even more distant. Those measurements, however, were estimates based on the colors of the objects — so-called photometric redshifts.

The new galaxy stuck out in a survey of distant galaxies by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes known as Candels, for Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey. Its redshift was precisely measured with a powerful spectrograph known as Mosfire — Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infrared Exploration — on Keck 1, one of a pair of 10-meter-diameter telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That makes it the highest redshift confirmed in this way, said Garth Illingworth, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the astronomers in the study.

How galaxies were able to form and grow so rapidly after the lights came on in the universe is a mystery that will be addressed by a coming generation of instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope, a goliath planned for Mauna Kea, already home to a dozen telescopes.

Recently, however, construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, a $1.4 billion project, has been halted by protests by Hawaii residents who feel their mountain has been abused. An echo of that controversy appears in the new paper, in which Dr. Oesch and his colleagues write: “The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.”

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Radiation from long Mars journey could damage astronauts’ brains






Excerpt from naplesnews.com

Many things would be difficult about conducting a manned mission to Mars, from designing a spacecraft that could make the 34-million-mile journey, to stocking and fueling it, to keeping its astronauts from getting flabby and bored.
On Friday, researchers shed light on another potential hurdle: figuring out a way to protect travelers’ brains from the damaging effects of cosmic rays in outer space.
When University of California, Irvine neuroscientist Charles Limoli and colleagues exposed mice to radiation similar to that astronauts would encounter far beyond Earth, the animals experienced changes in their brains that impaired their performance on tests of learning and memory, the team reported in an article — “What happens to your brain on the way to Mars” — in the journal Science Advances.
The researchers’ results suggested that astronauts could suffer cognitive impairment during an extended journey through space.
“Over the course of a two- to three-year mission, the damage would accumulate,” Limoli said. “To mitigate it, we need to understand it.”
To test the effects of space radiation on the brain, the researchers took mice to the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, which attempts to simulate radiation conditions in space. They exposed the animals to oxygen and titanium ions, atoms with their electrons stripped away that are similar to the charged particles in cosmic rays.
Six weeks later, back in California, they tested the mice’s learning and memory by placing them in pens with toys, letting them get used to their surroundings, and then making changes such as introducing a new toy. Mice that had been exposed to the radiation were less aware of or curious about the changes in their environment than controls that had not been irradiated — a sign that they had cognitive deficits.
“A smart animal will recognize the change,” Limoli said.
When the researchers later studied the animals’ brain tissue, they found that mice that performed poorly on the tests also had less dense branching in their brain cells, due to damage from the radiation. The structural changes would impede the brain’s ability to transmit signals and process information.
Limoli got involved in the NASA-backed research as an outgrowth of his work on the effects of radiation on brain cancer patients. Radiation therapy forestalls brain cancer progression, he said — but it can take a tremendous toll on the central nervous system, causing depression, anxiety and mood disorders, and deficits in learning and executive function. Pediatric patients can lose 20 to 30 I.Q. points after receiving radiation treatments to the brain.
“Doctors have gotten really good at curing cancer, but maintaining a good quality of life has been a problem,” Limoli said. “This is an unmet medical need.”
Astronauts flying to Mars and getting hit by cosmic rays, which are the remnants of supernova explosions, wouldn’t get anything close to the high doses of radiation that cancer patients receive, but they “might be prone to mistakes,” Limoli thought.
To counteract that threat during planning for a possible mission, scientists might come up with more advanced shielding options — perhaps embedded in helmets — or drug treatments that might ameliorate radiation’s impacts on the brain, similar to the ones Limoli is exploring for cancer patients.

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Lab for genetic modification of human embryos just $2,000 away – report


Reuters / Christian Charisius



Reuters

With the right expertise in molecular biology, one could start a basic laboratory to modify human embryos using a genome-editing computer technique all for a couple thousand dollars, according to a new report.

Genetic modification has received heightened scrutiny recently following last week’s announcement that Chinese researchers had, for the first time, successfully edited human embryos’ genomes. 
The team at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, used CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats), a technique that relies on “cellular machinery” used by bacteria in defense against viruses. 

This machinery is copied and altered to create specific gene-editing complexes, which include the wonder enzyme Cas9. The enzyme works its way into the DNA and can be used to alter the molecule from the inside. The combination is attached to an RNA guide that takes the gene-editing complex to its target, telling Cas9 where to operate. 

Use of the CRISPR technique is not necessarily relegated to the likes of cash-flush university research operations, according to a report by Business Insider. 


Geneticist George Church, who runs a top CRISPR research program at the Harvard Medical School, said the technique could be employed with expert knowledge and about half of the money needed to pay for an average annual federal healthcare plan in 2014 -- not to mention access to human embryos. 

"You could conceivably set up a CRISPR lab for $2,000,” he said, according to Business Insider. 

Other top researchers have echoed this sentiment. 

"Any scientist with molecular biology skills and knowledge of how to work with [embryos] is going to be able to do this,” Jennifer Doudna, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, recently told MIT Tech Review, which reported that Doudna co-discovered how to edit genetic code using CRISPR in 2012. 

Last week, the Sun Yat-Sen University research team said it attempted to cure a gene defect that causes beta-thalassemia (a genetic blood disorder that could lead to severe anemia, poor growth, skeletal abnormalities and even death) by editing the germ line. For that purpose they used a gene-editing technique based on injecting non-viable embryos with a complex, which consists of a protective DNA element obtained from bacteria and a specific protein. 

"I suspect this week will go down as a pivotal moment in the history of medicine," wrote science journalist Carl Zimmer for National Geographic.


Response to the new research has been mixed. Some experts say the gene editing could help defeat genetic diseases even before birth. Others expressed concern. 

“At present, the potential safety and efficacy issues arising from the use of this technology must be thoroughly investigated and understood before any attempts at human engineering are sanctioned, if ever, for clinical testing,” a group of scientists, including some who had worked to develop CRISPR, warned in Science magazine. 

Meanwhile, the director of the US National Institutes for Health (NIH) said the agency would not fund such editing of human embryo genes. 

“Research using genomic editing technologies can and are being funded by NIH,” Francis Collins said Wednesday. “However, NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes ... has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed.”

Although the discovery of CRISPR sequences dates back to 1987 – when it was first used to cure bacteria of viruses – its successes in higher animals and humans were only achieved in 2012-13, when scientists achieved a revolution by combining the resulting treatment system with Cas9 for the first time. 


On April 17, the MIT’s Broad Institute announced that has been awarded the first-ever patent for working with the Crisp-Cas9 system. 

The institute’s director, Eric Lander, sees the combination as “an extraordinary, powerful tool. The ability to edit a genome makes it possible to discover the biological mechanisms underlying human biology.”

The system’s advantage over other methods is in that it can also target several genes at the same time, working its way through tens of thousands of so-called 'guide' RNA sequences that lead them to the weapon to its DNA targets. 

Meanwhile, last month in the UK, a healthy baby was born from an embryo screened for genetic diseases, using karyomapping, a breakthrough testing method that allows doctors to identify about 60 debilitating hereditary disorders.

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Local Lick Observatory Astronomers Discover ‘Supersized Earths’ Surrounding Relatively Nearby Star


A telescope at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton. (CBS)
A telescope at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton. (CBS)


Excerpt from cbslocal.com


SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Astronomers at the Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton have confirmed the existence of three planets described as “supersized Earths” orbiting a star 54 light years away.
Researchers from the University of California, University of Hawaii, the University of California Observatories and Tennessee State University have been working for years to confirm the planets were there.

The planets orbit a star called HD 7924. They orbit at a distance closer than Mercury orbits our sun (35.9 million miles), and complete their orbits in five, 15 and 24 days, respectively.
“The three planets are unlike anything in our solar system, with masses seven to eight times the mass of Earth and orbits very close to their host star,” UC Berkeley graduate student Lauren Weiss said in a written statement.

The researchers used a robotic telescope called the “Automated Planet Finder,” which searches for planets around nearby stars that could be suitable for life. Most distant planets discovered by astronomers so far are gas giants like Jupiter.

Astronomers first found evidence of planets surrounding HD 7924 six years ago. The planets are not visible to the naked eye.

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Citizen Scientists Find Green Blobs in Hubble Galaxy Shots





Excerpt from wired.com

In 2007, A Dutch schoolteacher named Hanny var Arkel discovered a weird green glob of gas in space. Sifting through pictures of galaxies online, as part of the citizen science project Galaxy Zoo, she saw a cloud, seemingly glowing, sitting next to a galaxy. Intrigued, astronomers set out to find more of these objects, dubbed Hanny’s Voorwerp (“Hanny’s object” in Dutch). Now, again with the help of citizen scientists, they’ve found 19 more of them, using the Hubble space telescope to snap the eight haunting pictures in the gallery above.



Since var Arkel found the first of these objects, hundreds more volunteers have swarmed to help identify parts of the universe in the Galaxy Zoo gallery. To find this new set, a couple hundred volunteers went through nearly 16,000 pictures online (seven people went through all of them), clicking yes/no/maybe as to whether they saw a weird green blob. Astronomers followed up on the galaxies they identified using ground-based telescopes, and confirmed 19 new galaxies surrounded by green gas.



What causes these wispy tendrils of gas to glow? Lurking at the center of each of these galaxies is a supermassive black hole, millions to billions times as massive as the sun, with gravity so strong that even light can’t escape them. As nearby gas and dust swirls into the black hole, like water circling a drain, that material heats up, producing lots of radiation—including powerful ultraviolet. Beaming out from the galaxy, that ultraviolet radiation strikes nearby clouds of gas, left over from past collisions between galaxies. And it makes the clouds glow an eerie green. “A lot of these bizarre forms we’re seeing in the images arise because these galaxies either interacted with a companion or show evidence they merged with a smaller galaxy,” says William Keel, an astronomer at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.



The eight in this gallery, captured with Hubble, are especially weird. That’s because the quasar, the black-hole engine that’s supposed to be churning out the ultraviolet radiation, is dim—too dim, in fact, to be illuminating the green gas. Apparently, the once-bright quasar has faded. But because that UV light takes hundreds of thousands of years to travel, it can continue to illuminate the gas long after its light source has died away.  


Hubble finds phantom objects close to dead quasars

That glowing gas can tell astronomers a lot about the quasar that brought it to light. “What I’m so excited about is the fact that we can use them to do archaeology,” says Gabriela Canalizo, an astronomer at the University of California, Riverside, who wasn’t part of the new research. Because the streaks of gas are so vast, stretching up to tens of thousands of light years, the way they glow reveals the history of the radiation coming from the quasar. As the quasar fades, so will the gas’s glow, with the regions of gas closer to the quasar dimming first. By analyzing how the glow dwindles with distance from the quasar, astronomers can determine how fast the quasar is fading. “This was something we’ve never been able to do,” Canalizo says.

Measuring how fast the quasar fades allows astronomers to figure out exactly what’s causing it to turn off in the first place. “What makes them dim is running out of material to eat,” Canalizo says. That could happen if the quasar is generating enough radiation to blow away all the gas and dust surrounding the black hole—the same gas and dust that feeds it. Without a steady diet, the quasar is powerless to produce radiation. Only if more gas happens to make its way toward the black hole can the quasar turn on again. The glowing gas can provide details of this process, and if other mechanisms are at play.

With more powerful telescopes, astronomers will likely find many more. Hanny’s Verwoort, it turns out, may not be that weird after all.

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Jupiter May Be Behind The Mysterious ‘Gaping Hole’ In Our Solar System

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comWhen astronomers began studying other solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy back in the 1990s, they noticed something peculiar: most of these systems have big planets that circle their host stars in tight orbits, a fin...

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How Quantum Physics will change your life and amaze the world!

 Excerpt from educatinghumanity.com "Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not yet understood it."Niels Bohr10 Ways Quantum Physics Will Change the WorldEver want to have a "life do over", teleport, time travel, have your computer wor...

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Biologists fear DNA editing procedure can alter human DNA




Excerpt from themarketbusiness.com

A group of biologists was alarmed with the use a new genome-editing technique to modify human DNA in a way that it can become hereditary.
The biologists worry that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead with it before its safety can be weigh up. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.


“You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue,” said David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of the group whose paper on the topic was published in the journal Science.

Ethicists have been concerned for decades about the dangers of altering the human germ line — meaning to make changes to human sperm, eggs or embryos that will last through the life of the individual and be passed on to future generations. Until now, these worries have been theoretical. But a technique invented in 2012 makes it possible to edit the genome precisely and with much greater ease. The technique has already been used to edit the genomes of mice, rats and monkeys, and few doubt that it would work the same way in people.

The new genome-editing technique holds the power to repair or enhance any human gene. “It raises the most fundamental of issues about how we are going to view our humanity in the future and whether we are going to take the dramatic step of modifying our own germline and in a sense take control of our genetic destiny, which raises enormous peril for humanity,” said George Daley, a stem cell expert at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the group.

The biologists writing in Science support continuing laboratory research with the technique, and few if any scientists believe it is ready for clinical use. Any such use is tightly regulated in the United States and Europe. American scientists, for instance, would have to present a plan to treat genetic diseases in the human germline to the Food and Drug Administration.

The paper’s authors, however, are concerned about countries that have less regulation in science. They urge that “scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germ line genome modification for clinical application in humans” until the full implications “are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.”

Though such a moratorium would not be legally enforceable and might seem unlikely to exert global sway, there is a precedent. In 1975, scientists worldwide were asked to refrain from using a method for manipulating genes, the recombinant DNA technique, until rules had been established.

“We asked at that time that nobody do certain experiments, and in fact nobody did, to my knowledge,” said Baltimore, who was a member of the 1975 group. “So there is a moral authority you can assert from the U.S., and that is what we hope to do.”

Recombinant DNA was the first in a series of ever-improving steps for manipulating genetic material. The chief problem has always been one of accuracy, of editing the DNA at precisely the intended site, since any off-target change could be lethal. Two recent methods, known as zinc fingers and TAL effectors, came close to the goal of accurate genome editing, but both are hard to use. The new genome-editing approach was invented by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden.

Their method, known by the acronym Crispr-Cas9, co-opts the natural immune system with which bacteria remember the DNA of the viruses that attack them so they are ready the next time those same invaders appear. Researchers can simply prime the defense system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will then destroy the matching DNA sequence in any genome presented to it. Doudna is the lead author of the Science article calling for control of the technique and organized the meeting at which the statement was developed.

Though highly efficient, the technique occasionally cuts the genome at unintended sites. The issue of how much mistargeting could be tolerated in a clinical setting is one that Doudna’s group wants to see thoroughly explored before any human genome is edited.

Scientists also say that replacing a defective gene with a normal one may seem entirely harmless but perhaps would not be.
“We worry about people making changes without the knowledge of what those changes mean in terms of the overall genome,” Baltimore said. “I personally think we are just not smart enough — and won’t be for a very long time — to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual.”
Many ethicists have accepted the idea of gene therapy, changes that die with the patient, but draw a clear line at altering the germline, since these will extend to future generations. The British Parliament in February approved the transfer of mitochondria, small DNA-containing organelles, to human eggs whose own mitochondria are defective. But that technique is less far-reaching because no genes are edited.

There are two broad schools of thought on modifying the human germline, said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Doudna group. One is pragmatic and seeks to balance benefit and risk. The other “sets up inherent limits on how much humankind should alter nature,” she said. 
Some Christian doctrines oppose the idea of playing God, whereas in Judaism and Islam there is the notion “that humankind is supposed to improve the world.” She described herself as more of a pragmatist, saying, “I would try to regulate such things rather than shut a new technology down at its beginning.”

Other scientists agree with the Doudna group’s message.
“It is very clear that people will try to do gene editing in humans,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a stem cell biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not a member of the Doudna group. “This paper calls for a moratorium on any clinical application, which I believe is the right thing to do.”
Writing in Nature last week, Edward Lanphier and other scientists involved in developing the rival zinc finger technique for genome editing also called for a moratorium on human germline modification, saying that use of current technologies would be “dangerous and ethically unacceptable.”

The International Society for Stem Cell Research said Thursday that it supported the proposed moratorium.

The Doudna group calls for public discussion but is also working to develop some more formal process, such as an international meeting convened by the National Academy of Sciences, to establish guidelines for human use of the genome-editing technique.

“We need some principled agreement that we want to enhance humans in this way or we don’t,” Jaenisch said. “You have to have this discussion because people are gearing up to do this.”

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Exoplanet Bonanza Boosts Count by 1,200

Excerpt from news.discovery.comDozens of candidate worlds reside within the "habitable zones" of their parent stars. THE GIST - NASA's Kepler telescope has found more than 1,200 extrasolar planet candidates. - Smaller worlds, like Earth,...

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Warp in spacetime lets astronomers watch the same star explode four times



Excerpt from csmonitor.com

Thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured four images of the same supernova explosion.

For the first time, a cosmic magnifying glass has allowed scientists to see the same star explosion four times, possibly offering a revealing glimpse into these explosive stellar deaths and the nature of the accelerating universe.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have captured four images of a supernova explosion in deep space thanks to a galaxy located between Earth and the massive star explosion. You can see how Hubble saw the supernova in this NASA video. The galaxy cluster warped the fabric of space and time around it — like a bowling ball placed on a bed sheet — allowing scientists to see the supernova in four images.

"It was predicted 50 years ago that a supernova could be gravitationally lensed like this, but it's taken a long time for someone to find an example," lead study author Patrick Kelly, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley told Space.com. "It's fun to have been able to find the first one." 

The supernova, which was discovered on Nov. 11, 2014, is located about 9.3 billion light-years away from Earth, near the edge of the observable universe. The researchers have named the distant supernova SN Refsdal in honor of the late Norwegian astrophysicist Sjur Refsdal, a pioneer of gravitational lensing studies. Due to gravitational lensing, "the supernova appears 20 times brighter than its normal brightness," study co-author Jens Hjorth, head of the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.
The lensing galaxy, which is about 5 billion light-years from Earth, is part of a large cluster of galaxies known MACS J1149.6+2223. In 2009, astronomers discovered that this cluster was the source of the largest known image of a spiral galaxy ever seen through a gravitational lens.

The four images of the supernova each appeared separately over the course of a few weeks. This is because light can take various paths around and through a gravitational lens, arriving at Earth at different times.

Using gravity as a lens

Gravity is created when matter warps the fabric of reality. The greater the mass of an object, the more space-time curves around that object and the stronger its gravitational pull, the discovery enshrined in Einstein's theory of general relativity, which celebrates its centennial this year.

As a result, gravity can also bend light like a lens, meaning objects see n behind powerful gravitational fields, such as those of massive galaxies, are magnified. Gravitational lensing was first discovered in 1979, and today gravitational lenses can help astronomers see features otherwise too distant and faint to detect with even the largest telescopes.

"These gravitational lenses are like a natural magnifying glass. It's like having a much bigger telescope," Kelly said in a statement. "We can get magnifications of up to 100 times by looking through these galaxy clusters."

When light is far from a gravitationally lensing mass, or if the gravitationally lensing mass is not especially large, only "weak lensing" occurs, barely distorting the light. However, when the light comes from almost exactly behind the gravitationally lensing mass, "strong lensing" can happen. 

When a strongly lensed object occupies a large patch of space — for instance, if it's a galaxy — it can get smeared into an "Einstein ring" surrounding a gravitationally lensing mass. However, strong lensing of small, pointlike items — for instance, super-bright objects known as quasars — often produces multiple images surrounding the gravitationally lensing mass, resulting in a so-called "Einstein cross."

The observations of SN Refsdal mark the first time astronomers on Earth have witnessed strong lensing of a  supernova, with four images of an exploding star arrayed as an Einstein cross.

An expanding universe

These new findings could help scientists measure the accelerating rate at which the universe is expanding, researchers say.

A computer model of the lensing cluster suggests the scientists missed chances to see the lensed supernova 50 and 10 years ago. However, the model also suggests more images of the explosion will repeat again within the next 10 years.

The timing of when all these images of the supernova arrive depends on the gravitational pull of the matter generating the gravitational lens. So, by measuring those times, the researchers hope to map how visible normal matter and invisible dark matter is distributed in the lensing galaxy.

Dark matter is currently one of the greatest mysteries in science, a poorly understood substance thought to make up five-sixths of all matter in the universe. A better understanding of how dark matter is behaving in this gravitationally lensing cluster might help shed light on the material's nature, Kelly said.

Analyzing when the images arrive could also help scientists pinpoint the rate at which the universe is expanding. Although there are already several ways to measure the cosmic expansion rate, "there has been a lot of heated debate between different methods, so it'd be interesting to see how this new technique might affect the area," Kelly said. "It's always nice to have completely independent measurements of the same quantity."

The scientists detailed their findings in the March 6 issue of the journal Science.

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Hubble’s ‘Einstein Cross’ Marks the Space-Warping Spot


Image: Einstein Cross revealed
Flash from the supernova's blast has been warped into four points of light surrounding an elliptical galaxy in a cluster called MACS J1149.2+2223, which is 5 billion light-years away in the constellation Leo.


Excerpt from nbcnews.com
By Alan Boyle


One hundred years after Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided a demonstration of the theory at work: a picture of a distant galaxy so massive that its gravitational field is bending the light from an even more distant supernova. 

The image, released Thursday, shows how the flash from the supernova's blast has been warped into four points of light surrounding an elliptical galaxy in a cluster called MACS J1149.2+2223, which is 5 billion light-years away in the constellation Leo. 

"It really threw me for a loop when I spotted the four images surrounding the galaxy," Patrick Kelly, an astronomer from the University of California at Berkeley, said in a news release. "It was a complete surprise." 

Maybe it shouldn't have been. The configuration is known as an Einstein Cross. It's a well-known but rarely seen effect of gravitational lensing, which is in line with Einstein's assertion that a massive object warps the fabric of space-time — and thus warps the path taken by light rays around the object. 

In this case, the light rays are coming from a stellar explosion that's directly behind the galaxy, but 4.3 million light-years more distant. Computer models suggest that the four-pointed cross will eventually fade away, to be followed within the next five years by the reappearance of the supernova's flash as a single image. 

Kelly is part of a research collaboration known as the Grism Lens Amplified Survey from Space, or GLASS. The collaboration is working with the Frontier Field Supernova team, or FrontierSN, to analyze the exploding star. He's also the lead author of a paper on the phenomenon that's being published this week by the journal Science as part of a package marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein's general relativity theory. 

The researchers suggest that a high-resolution analysis of the gravitational lensing effect can lead to better measurements of cosmic distances and galactic masses, including the contribution from dark matter. The Hubble team says the faraway supernova has been named "Refsdal" in honor of Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who proposed using time-delayed images from a lensed supernova to study the expansion of the universe. 

"Astronomers have been looking to find one ever since," UCLA astronomer Tommaso Treu, the GLASS project's principal investigator, said in Thursday's news release. "The long wait is over!" 

The Einstein Cross is the subject of a Google+ Hangout at 3 p.m. ET Thursday, presented by the Hubble science team. You can watch the event now or later via YouTube. Check out a preprint version of the Science report.

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Striking Similarities Between Brain Cells and Our Universe



The two pictures below illustrate the similarities. The top picture shows the neural network of a brain cell; the bottom picture shows the distribution of dark matter in the universe as simulated by Millennium Simulation.


Excerpt from  themindunleashed.org


The structures of the universe and the human brain are strikingly similar.

In the Eastern spiritual discipline of Daoism, the human body has long been viewed as a small universe, as a microcosm. As billion-dollar investments are made in the United States and Europe to research brain functioning, the correlations between the brain and the universe continue to emerge.

The two pictures below illustrate the similarities. The top picture shows the neural network of a brain cell; the bottom picture shows the distribution of dark matter in the universe as simulated by Millennium Simulation.

The pictures show a structural similarity in terms of connections and distribution of matter in the brain and in the universe. The photo on the left is a microscopic view, the one on the right is a macroscopic view.

The brain is like a microcosm.

A study conducted by Dmitri Krioukov of the University of California and a team of researchers published in Nature last year shows striking similarities between neural networks in the brain and network connections between galaxies.

Krioukov’s team created a computer simulation that broke the known universe down into tiny, subatomic units of space-time, explained Live Science. The simulation added more space-time units as the history of the universe progressed. The developing interactions between matter in galaxies was similar to the interactions that comprise neural networks in the human brain.
Physicist Kevin Bassler of the University of Houston, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science that the study suggests a fundamental law governing these networks.

In May 2011, Seyed Hadi Anjamrooz of the Kerman University of Medical Sciences and other Iranian medical scientists published an article in the International Journal of the Physical Sciences on the similarities between cells and the universe. They explain that a black hole resembles the cell nucleus. A black hole’s event horizon—a sort of point of no return where the gravitational pull will suck objects into the black hole—also resembles the nuclear membrane.

The event horizon is double-layered, as is the nuclear membrane. Much like the event horizon, which prevents anything that enters from leaving, the nuclear membrane separates cell fluids, preventing mixing, and regulates the exchange of matter between the inside and outside of the nucleus. Black holes and living cells also both emit pockets of electromagnetic radiation, among other similarities.

The researchers wrote: “Nearly all that exists in the macrouniverse is mirrored in a biological cell as a microuniverse. Simply put, the universe can be pictured as a cell.”

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