HiPACC Computational Astronomy Press Room. From: UCLA

The Press Room highlights computational astronomy work around the UC-HiPACC consortium; the wording of the short summaries on this page is based on wording in the individual releases or on the summaries on the press release page of the original source. Press releases below appear in reverse chronological order (most recent first); they can also be displayed by UC campus or DOE lab by clicking on the desired venue at the bottom of the left-hand column.

November 3, 2014 — UCLA astronomers solve puzzle about bizarre object at the center of our galaxy

 Milky Way’s black hole deprived of snack
Telescopes at the Keck Observatory use adaptive optics, which enabled UCLA astronomers to discover that G2 is a pair of binary stars that merged together. Credit: Ethan Tweedie
UCLA 11/3/2014—For years, astronomers have been puzzled by a bizarre object dubbed G2 in the center of the Milky Way that was believed to be a hydrogen gas cloud headed toward our galaxy’s enormous black hole, to be gobbled. Having studied it during its closest approach to the black hole in 2013 and 2014, UCLA astronomers believe that they have solved the riddle. Now UCLA professor of physics and astronomy Andrea Ghez and coauthors have determined that G2 is most likely a pair of binary stars that had been orbiting the black hole in tandem and merged together into an extremely large star, cloaked in gas and dust — its movements choreographed by the black hole’s powerful gravitational field. Their findings are published The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Astronomers had figured that if G2 had been a hydrogen cloud, it could have been torn apart by the black hole, and that the resulting celestial fireworks would have dramatically changed the state of the black hole. Instead, G2 survived and continued happily on its orbit; a simple gas cloud would not have done that. She says G2 suffered an abrasion to its outer layer during the close call, but otherwise will be fine.

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July 29, 2014 — Mercury’s magnetic field tells scientists how its interior is different from Earth’s

Core problem: Mercury’s off-kilter magnetic fiel
Mercury, with colors enhanced to emphasize the chemical, mineralogical and physical differences among the rocks that make up its surface. Credit: NASA
UCLA 7/29/2014—Mercury’s magnetic field is bizarre: it is approximately three times stronger at its northern hemisphere than at its southern one, revealed measurements from NASA’s Messenger spacecraft. A team led by Hao Cao, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar working in the laboratory of Christopher T. Russell, created a mathematical model to explore how the dynamics of Mercury’s core contribute to this unusual phenomenon. Among factors Hao and his colleagues considered were how fast Mercury rotates and the chemistry and complex motion of fluid inside the planet. The planetary physicists found Mercury’s asymmetric magnetic field provides evidence that iron turns from a liquid to a solid at the core’s outer boundary. Their research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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August 5, 2014 — Construction to begin in Hawaii on world’s most advanced telescope

Construction to begin on Thirty Meter Telescope
TMT at night, artist’s conception. Credit: www.tmt.org
UCLA, 8/5/2014—With the recent approval of a sublease by Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources, initial construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope—destined to be the most advanced and powerful optical telescope in the world—can now begin later this year. The board's final go-ahead, received July 25, moves the University of California a step closer to peering deeper into the cosmos than ever before. Work on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), named for its 30-meter primary mirror—three times the diameter of the largest existing telescopes—will take place atop Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano. The TMT’s scientific operations are slated to start in 2022.

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April 1, 2014 — Misleading mineral may have led to overestimate of water in moon

Simulation reveals not-so-much water in Moon
UCLA 4/1/14 —The amount of water present in the Moon may have been overestimated by scientists studying the mineral apatite, says a team of researchers led by Jeremy Boyce of the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences. Boyce and his colleagues created a computer model to accurately predict how apatite would have crystallized from cooling bodies of lunar magma early in the Moon’s history. Their simulations revealed that the unusually hydrogen-rich apatite crystals observed in many lunar rock samples may not have formed within a water-rich environment, as was originally expected. This study, published in Science, shows that scientists still have much to learn about the composition and environment of the early Moon.

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March 10, 2014 — Possible evidence for dark matter particle presented at UCLA physics symposium

Possible evidence for dark matter particle
Mysterious dark matter makes up approximately 26 percent of the mass of the universe. At a major UCLA symposium attended by 190 scientists, physicists presented several analyses that participants interpreted to imply the existence of a dark matter particle. Credit: NASA/Hubble
UCLA 3/10/14 - Dark matter, the mysterious substance estimated to make up approximately more than one-quarter of the mass of the universe, is crucial to the formation of galaxies, stars and even life but has so far eluded direct observation.At a recent UCLA symposium attended by 190 scientists from around the world, physicists presented several analyses that participants interpreted to imply the existence of a dark matter particle. Read full UCLA press release

March 6, 2014 — Astronomers witness mysterious, never-before-seen disintegration of asteroid

Astronomers witness disintegration of asteroid
This series of Hubble Space Telescope images reveals the breakup of an asteroid over a period of several months in late 2013.
UCLA 3/6/14 – Astronomers have witnessed for the first time the breakup of an asteroid into as many as 10 smaller pieces. Though fragile comet nuclei have been seen falling apart as they near the sun, nothing resembling this type of breakup has been observed before in the asteroid belt. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed the demolition. The discovery was published online March 6 in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Read full UCLA press release

January 13, 2014 — World's most powerful planet-finder turns skyward with help from UCLA astronomers. First of 3 releases about GPI.

Gemini Planet Imager: First of 3 releases.
GPI's image of dust disk orbiting HR4796A
UCLA — he Gemini Planet Imager (GPI)—a powerful tool for studying dusty, planet-forming disks around young stars—is the most advanced instrument of its kind to be deployed on one of the world's biggest telescopes, the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile. The GPI was designed and built to examine faint planets next to bright stars and probe their atmospheres. One of its major scientific components, the Integral Field Spectrometer (IFS), was built at UCLA's Infrared Laboratory for Astrophysics. The IFS detects infrared (heat) radiation from young planets in wide orbits around other stars, planets that are equivalent to giant planets in our own solar system not long after their formation.

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December 18, 2013 — Scientists solve a decades-old mystery in the Earth's upper atmosphere

Mystery in the Earth's upper atmosphere solved
Schematic illustration of electron acceleration by “chorus”
UCLA — New research resolves decades of scientific controversy over the origin of the extremely energetic ultra-relativistic electrons in the Earth's near-space environment and is likely to influence our understanding of planetary magnetospheres throughout the universe. Understanding these mechanisms has important practical applications because this radiation can pose a significant hazard to satellites, spacecraft, and astronauts. The team’s detailed modeling demonstrates the remarkable efficiency of natural wave acceleration in the Earth's near-space environment.

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November 21, 2013 — Evidence of jet of high-energy particles from Milky Way’s black hole found by astronomers

New evidence for Milky Way black hole
Sagittarius A* in the center of the Milky Way galaxy
For decades, astronomers have sought strong evidence that the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is producing a jet of high-energy particles. Based on new results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array radio telescope, they now have it.

View full UCLA press release.

September 26, 2013 — Lunar orbiters discover source of space weather near Earth

Lunar orbiters discover source of space weather ne
Process of magnetic reconnection, which powers the phenomena known as space weather.
Solar storms—powerful eruptions of solar material and magnetic fields into interplanetary space—can cause what is known as “space weather” near Earth, resulting in hazards that range from interference with communications systems and GPS errors to extensive power blackouts and the complete failure of critical satellites. Researchers from University of California, Los Angeles, and two other institutions have measured the release of this magnetic energy close up using an unprecedented alignment of six Earth-orbiting spacecraft and NASA's first dual lunar orbiter mission, ARTEMIS.

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September 22, 2013 — UCLA scientists explain the formation of unusual ring of radiation in space

UCLA scientists explain the formation of unusual r
Model showing third radiation ring (red)
Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in 1958, space scientists have believed these belts encircling the Earth consist of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles: an inner ring of high-energy electrons and energetic positive ions and an outer ring of high-energy electrons. In February, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring: a narrow one that briefly appeared between the inner and outer rings in September 2012 and persisted for a month. Now, research geophysicists at University of California, Los Angeles performed simulations with a model of the Earth's radiation belts, which revealed that completely different populations of particles exist in space that change on different timescales, are driven by different physics, and show very different spatial structures.

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August 1, 2013 — Mission to build world's most advanced telescope reaches major milestone

Mission to build world's most advanced telescope r
Artist's rendering of Thirty Meter Telescope
With the signing last week of a master agreement for the Thirty Meter Telescope — destined to be the most advanced and powerful optical telescope in the world — the University of California moved a step closer to peering deeper into the cosmos than ever before.

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June 30, 2013 — How did a third radiation belt appear in the Earth's upper atmosphere?

How did a third radiation belt appear in the Earth
NASA's Van Allen probes
UCLA space scientists have determined what caused the mysterious ring to appear in the Van Allen radiation belts in September 2012 and then quickly dissipate.

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April 22, 2013 — UCLA space scientists find way to monitor elusive collisions in space

UCLA space scientists find way to monitor elusive
Christopher T. Russell
Asteroids collide frequently with other solar system objects, but scientists are not always able to detect such impacts from Earth, nor track their resultant potentially hazardous debris. Based on nearly 30 years of observations, UCLA space scientists have devised a way to monitor collisions in interplanetary space by using a new method to determine the mass of magnetic clouds that result from the impacts—and where to look first to find possibly dangerous debris.

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October 4, 2012 — UCLA astronomers discover star racing around black hole at center of our galaxy

Star racing around black hole
Keck telescopes observe the center of our galaxy
By Stuart Wolpert

UCLA astronomers report the discovery of a remarkable star that orbits the enormous black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy in a blistering 11-and-a-half years — the shortest known orbit of any star near this black hole.

The star, known as S0-102, may help astronomers discover whether Albert Einstein was right in his fundamental prediction of how black holes warp space and time, said research co-author Andrea Ghez, leader of the discovery team and a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy who holds the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics.

The research is published Oct. 5 in the journal Science.

view full UCLA Press Release

October 24, 2012 — Astronomers report dark matter 'halos' may contain stars, disprove other theories

Astronomers report dark matter 'halos' may contain
The image on the left shows a portion of our sky, called the Boötes field, in infrared light, while the image on the right shows a mysterious, background infrared glow captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope in the same region of sky. Using Spitzer, researchers were able to detect this background glow, which spreads across the whole sky, by masking out light from galaxies and other known sources of light.
By Stuart Wolpert

Could it be that dark matter "halos" — the huge, invisible cocoons of mass that envelop entire galaxies and account for most of the matter in the universe — aren't completely dark after all but contain a small number of stars? Astronomers from UCLA, UC Irvine and elsewhere make a case for that in the Oct. 25 issue of the journal Nature.

Astronomers have long disagreed about why they see more light in the universe than it seems they should — that is, why the infrared light they observe exceeds the amount of light emitted from known galaxies.

When looking at the cosmos, astronomers have seen what are neither stars nor galaxies nor a uniform dark sky but mysterious, sandpaper-like smatterings of light, which UCLA's Edward L. (Ned) Wright refers to as "fluctuations." The debate has centered around what exactly the source of those fluctuations is.

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October 31, 2012 — Protoplanet Vesta: Forever young?

Protoplanet Vesta: Forever young?
This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft features the distinctive crater Canuleia on the protoplanet Vesta. Canuleia, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter, is distinguished by the rays of bright material that streak out from it.
By Jia-Rui C. Cook and Stuart Wolpert

Like a movie star constantly retouching her makeup, the protoplanet Vesta is continually stirring its outermost layer and presenting a young face.

New data from NASA's Dawn mission show that a common form of weathering that affects many airless bodies like Vesta in the inner solar system, including the moon, surprisingly doesn't age the protoplanet's outermost layer.

The data also indicate that carbon-rich asteroids have been splattering dark material on Vesta's surface over a long span of the body's history.

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July 18, 2012 — Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope report the earliest spiral galaxy ever seen

Hubble: Earliest spiral galaxy
Galaxy BX442 and its companion dwarf galaxy.
By Stuart Wolpert

Astronomers have witnessed for the first time a spiral galaxy in the early universe, billions of years before many other spiral galaxies formed. In findings reported July 19 in the journal Nature, the astronomers said they discovered it while using the Hubble Space Telescope to take pictures of about 300 very distant galaxies in the early universe and to study their properties. This distant spiral galaxy is being observed as it existed roughly three billion years after the Big Bang, and light from this part of the universe has been traveling to Earth for about 10.7 billion years.

"As you go back in time to the early universe, galaxies look really strange, clumpy and irregular, not symmetric," said Alice Shapley, a UCLA associate professor of physics and astronomy, and co-author of the study. "The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks. Our first thought was, why is this one so different, and so beautiful?"

Galaxies in today’s universe divide into various types, including spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way, which are rotating disks of stars and gas in which new stars form, and elliptical galaxies, which include older, redder stars moving in random directions. The mix of galaxy structures in the early universe is quite different, with a much greater diversity and larger fraction of irregular galaxies, Shapley said...

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July 05, 2012 — Astronomers discover Houdini-like vanishing act in space

Disappearing Dust Discovered
Dust today, gone tomorrow. Lynette Cook
By Stuart Wolpert

Astronomers report a baffling discovery never seen before: An extraordinary amount of dust around a nearby star has mysteriously disappeared.

"It's like the classic magician's trick — now you see it, now you don't," said Carl Melis, a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Diego and lead author of the research. "Only in this case, we're talking about enough dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone!"

"It's as if the rings around Saturn had disappeared," said co-author Benjamin Zuckerman, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. "This is even more shocking because the dusty disc of rocky debris was bigger and much more massive than Saturn's rings. The disc around this star, if it were in our solar system, would have extended from the sun halfway out to Earth, near the orbit of Mercury."

The research on this cosmic vanishing act, which occurred around a star some 450 light years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Centaurus, appears July 5 in the journal Nature.

"A perplexing thing about this discovery is that we don't have a satisfactory explanation to address what happened around this star," said Melis, a former UCLA astronomy graduate student. "The disappearing act appears to be independent of the star itself, as there is no evidence to suggest that the star zapped the dust with some sort of mega-flare or any other violent event."...

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May 10, 2012 — You're beautiful, Vesta

You're beautiful, Vesta
Craters on Vesta
NASA's UCLA-led Dawn mission shows protoplanet's surprising surface

When UCLA's Christopher T. Russell looks at the images of the protoplanet Vesta produced by NASA's Dawn mission, he talks about beauty as much as he talks about science.

"Vesta looks like a little planet. It has a beautiful surface, much more varied and diverse than we expected," said Russell, a professor in UCLA's Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the Dawn mission's principal investigator. "We knew Vesta's surface had some variation in color, but we did not expect the diversity that we see or the clarity of the colors and textures, or their distinct boundaries. We didn't find gold on Vesta, but it is still a gold mine."

Dawn has been orbiting Vesta and collecting data on the protoplanet's surface since July 2011. Vesta, which is in the doughnut-shaped asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is currently some 321 million miles from Earth.

The journal Science publishes six papers about Vesta on May 11. Russell is a co-author on all of them...

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May 09, 2012 — UCLA's Andrea Ghez, Terence Tao elected to American Philosophical Society

American Philosophical Society
Tao (left) and Ghez
By Stuart Wolpert

Renowned UCLA scientists Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy, and Terence Tao, a professor of mathematics, have been elected to the American Philosophical Society, the country's oldest learned society, which recognizes extraordinary achievements in science, letters and the arts.

Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, the society's members have included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, Linus Pauling and Margaret Mead.

Next week, Ghez and Tao will be in Lund, Sweden, for another honor: Each will receive the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' prestigious Crafoord Prize in the presence of the king and queen of Sweden. The prize recognizes extraordinary achievements in mathematics, astronomy and other fields.

Joseph Rudnick, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences, has called Ghez and Tao "two of UCLA's true superstars — indeed, two of the world's intellectual superstars."...

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April 11, 2012 — 'Time machine' will study the early universe

UCLA's 'Time Machine'
MOSFIRE image of colliding Atennae galaxies
UCLA's Ian McLean, colleagues build most advanced instrument of its kind

By Stuart Wolpert

A new scientific instrument, a "time machine" of sorts, built by UCLA astronomers and colleagues, will allow scientists to study the earliest galaxies in the universe, which could never be studied before.

The five-ton instrument, the most advanced and sophisticated of its kind in the world, goes by the name MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration) and has been installed in the Keck I Telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

MOSFIRE gathers light in infrared wavelengths — invisible to the human eye — allowing it to penetrate cosmic dust and see distant objects whose light has been stretched or "redshifted" to the infrared by the expansion of the universe.

"The instrument was designed to study the most distant, faintest galaxies," said UCLA physics and astronomy professor Ian S. McLean, project leader on MOSFIRE and director of UCLA's Infrared Laboratory for Astrophysics. "When we look at the most distant galaxies, we see them not as they are now but as they were when the light left them that is just now arriving here. Some of the galaxies that we are studying were formed some 10 billion years ago — only a few billion years after the Big Bang. We are looking back in time to the era of the formation of some of the very first galaxies, which are small and very faint. That is an era that we need to study if we are going to understand the large-scale structure of the universe."

With MOSFIRE, it will now become much easier to identify faint galaxies, "families of galaxies" and merging galaxies. The instrument also will enable detailed observations of planets orbiting nearby stars, star formation within our own galaxy, the distribution of dark matter in the universe and much more...

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