Astronomy Roundup

Twitter has brought news of an astroimager by the name of Christopher Go, working in the island of Cebu in the Philippines. He and his C11 telescope have been making some stunning images of Saturn recently (as well as other targets).

A record breaking galaxy cluster has been discovered, a whopping 9.6 billion light years away from us. The cluster, SXDF-XCLJ0218-0510, has been confirmed to be so distance through spectroscopic redshift, which identifies spectral features, compares them to their rest position and determines what sort of redshift must’ve be registering to put them at the wavelength they appear to be. Because of the expansion of the universe, things further away from us recede from us at greater speeds, registering in the Doppler shift of their light towards the red. The XMM-Newton x-ray telescope has confirmed the Subaru results and suggests that the distant cluster may well be formed of galaxies that were already pretty old before the light left them. The previous record holder, XMMXCS J2215.9-1738, lay 9.2 billion years from us. Another cluster, JKCS 041, has been registered at 10.2 billion light years away, but using a less reliable method called photometric redshift, which makes assumptions about what the shape of the spectrum of the galaxies in the cluster is.

Schools and science clubs in the UK are offered the chance to win an hour of observing time with the Gemini telescope. To enter the competition, pick a target in the southern sky that you find interesting and in less than 500 words explain why you think your target should be picked over others, and what you would like to see from the observations. Submit your answers through this website and do so before the closing date of the 21st of May.

Meanwhile, kids in America can experience real working ‘laboratories’ (of one type or another) on National Lab Day on May 12th.

For those of all ages in London, the Royal Astronomical Society lunchtime lecture tomorrow at Burlington House, Piccadilly, is on “Landing on Titan” by professor John Zarnecki. Doors open at 12:15, a video will be shown until the lecture starts at 13:00, talk and questions will together run until around 14:00.

Hopefully that mix of experiments and grand tours of the solar system should shut up a few voices such as this one who moan about theory being utterly displaced from experiment. Perhaps if such journalists were prepared to fully explain theories and experiments in terms of one another a better understanding might come about. It might also be instructive to remember there was two hundred years between Newton and Einstein, so demanding the next Relativity a mere century after the last one might be pushing it a bit.

In a rather unusual piece of making observations of astrophysical significance, some divers have discovered a new shipwreck. The reason why this is important is not all observatories in the world look for light. Not even light of wavelengths beyond the visible. Some look for particle radiation and this includes the ‘ghostly’ neutrino particles that rarely interact with ordinary matter. A neutrino observatory, such as the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events, or CUORE, must be isolated from all things that would create noise in their detectors. So no light or other forms of radiation. The observatories, rather than being open mirrors facing the heavens are located deep in mineshafts covered in lead to blot everything that could possibly get in there out except for these particles that see the bulk of the Earth as little more than a tenuous gas they can flit through. But the lead used to block incoming radiation tends to carry a little of its own when first pulled from the ground. If its left for a couple of thousand years, then the radiation levels fall – as has happened with the lead that this ancient shipwreck was carrying from one place to another. It is now being cleaned a readied for use at quite an extreme end of astronomy, looking for evidence of a neutrino-less double-beta decay. This is a very rare event that would have to be observed a few times before being accepted as happened and could show us what the mass of a neutrino actually is.

Speaking of old wrecks, the Science and Technology Facilities Council have been publishing stuff again. This time an analysis of how well and what career paths people take after completion of PhDs. The people surveyed took part long before the STFC was even dreamed of, so might be interesting to see how things change over the years. The idea is to quantify the ‘impact’ of such training on the wider economy and society.

Finally, a couple of ‘fun’ things. Richard Wiseman has published the ‘Moon Skull Illusion’ on his blog, which shows the mirrored image of an astronaut on the Moon, before the Earth, apparently making the shape of a skull. And the PhD Comics website has published a sketch or two about the author’s visit to the Very Large Array.

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