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First pictures from the £1bn time machine telescope reveal faraway galaxy forming stars at ‘breathtaking rate’

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, billions of stars were born.

This picture  – one of the first to be taken by  ALMA – the world’s newest and most powerful telescope – shows an ancient galaxy forming stars at a breathtaking rate.

During such ‘starbursts’, hundreds or thousands of stars are born a year. In contrast, our galaxy, the Milky Way only sees around just one new star a year.

 ALMA images of gravitationally-lensed distant star-forming galaxies

The first image from the ALMA telescope

The first image from the ALMA telescope: This montage combines data from ALMA with images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, for five distant galaxies. The ALMA images, represented in red, show the distant, background galaxies, being distorted by the gravitational lens effect produced by the galaxies in the foreground, depicted in the Hubble data in blue.

THE BEST IS YET TO COME…

The astronomers were using only a partial array of 16 of ALMA’s full complement of 66 giant antennas, as the observatory was still under construction at an altitude of 5000 metres on the remote Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes.

When complete, ALMA will be even more sensitive, and will be able to detect even fainter galaxies.

For now, astronomers targeted the brighter ones.

They took advantage of a helping hand from nature, too: using gravitational lensing, an effect predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, where light from a distant galaxy is distorted by the gravitational influence of a nearer foreground galaxy, which acts like a lens and makes the distant source appear brighter.

The red arcs in the image represent a distant galaxy rapidly creating stars around 12billion years ago – the light generated has only just reached us on earth.

The central white dot depicts another calmer and closer galaxy.

It was already known that starbursts – bright and brief periods of rapid star formation – were much more common in the early universe than today but scientists had struggled to date them.

The latest images, taken by a stunning series of radio antennae on plateau 16,400ft above the Chile’s Atacama desert, reveal that such intense periods of stellar birth occurred earlier in the universe than thought.

Data from more than two dozen galaxies shows that on average, the starbursts took place 12 billion years ago, when the universe was just under two billion years old.

This is a full billion years earlier than previous studies had indicated.

Two of the galaxies are the most distant of their kind ever seen – so far away that the light in the form of radio waves captured by ALMA started their journey just a billion years after the Big Bang.

In one of these, water was detected- the most distant observation of water in the cosmos to date.

Some of the distant star-forming galaxies are as bright as 40 million million suns, the journal Nature reports.

The picture was taken by capturing light emitted in the form of radio waves by gases in the galaxy and measuring  and warping  the light’s waves.

By taking into account stretching caused by the expansion of the universe, astronomers can work out how long the light’s journey has taken and so place a galaxy at the right point in cosmic history.

How it works:

How it works: This schematic image represents how light from a distant galaxy is distorted by the gravitational effects of a nearer foreground galaxy, which acts like a lens and makes the distant source appear distorted, but brighter, forming characteristic rings of light, known as Einstein rings. An analysis of the distortion has revealed that some of the distant star-forming galaxies are as bright as 40 trillion Suns, and have been magnified by the gravitational lens by up to 22 times.

Lead researcher, Joaquin Vieria, of the California Institute of Technology in the US, said: ‘The more distant the galaxy, the further back in time one is looking, so by measuring their distances we can piece together a timeline of how vigorously the universe was making new stars at different stages in its 13.7billion year history.’

The ALMA observatory, which is part-funded by Britain through the Science and Technology Facilities Council, was officially launched today.#

This picture was taken while it was still under construction and so drew on just 16 of the telescope’s 66 giant radio antennae.

But when operating at full power, the resulting images should be ten times sharper than those of the Hubble space telescope.

To get such pictures from a single land-based radio telescope, it would have to be ten miles wide.

Researcher Carlos De Breuck, of the European Southern Observatory, said the results show that ‘ALMA is a powerful new player in the field’.

Leicester University astronomer Professor Andrew Blain, who wrote an accompanying article for Nature, said: ‘With sharper imaging than the Hubble Space Telescope, and the ability to measure the different parts of a faraway galaxy independently, ALMA is starting to give us a much more complete picture of the growth and formation of our universe.’

The array of 66 telescopes is being built in Chile because it is one of the few places in the world where it is still possible to find a high, dry location unaffected by pollution from artificial light.

Under construction: Four of the first ALMA antennas at the Array Operations Site (AOS), located at 5000 metres altitude on the Chajnantor plateau, in the II Region of Chile

Under construction: Four of the first ALMA antennas at the Array Operations Site (AOS), located at 5000 metres altitude on the Chajnantor plateau, in the II Region of Chile

Radio telescope antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) project, in the Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, on March 12,2013.

Radio telescope antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) project, in the Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, on March 12,2013.

How the ALMA telescope works

How the ALMA telescope works

Dryness is particularly important as moisture in the air absorbs the radio waves the dishes are trying to capture.

Speaking at the observatory’s official opening ceremony, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, said: ‘One of our many natural resources is Chile’s spectacular night sky.

‘I believe that science has been a vital contributor to the development of Chile in recent years. I am very proud of our international collaborations in astronomy, of which ALMA is the latest, and biggest outcome.’

ALMA’s UK project manager, Professor Brian Ellison,  of the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, said: ‘The difficulty of constructing an instrument of the scale of ALMA, and that is located in a challenging environment, should not be underestimated.

‘It is a testament to the vision, skill and perseverance of all those involved that not only is construction complete, but early operation is producing outstanding science.

‘I am delighted and proud that the UK, through a variety of institutes and organisations participating at various stages of the project’s development and construction, has made a large and very successful contribution to ALMA, both scientifically and technically.

‘The Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs once said that “….every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…..and one is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career’.

‘The advent of ALMA will undoubtedly revolutionise our view of the Universe and for me, it represents working on a revolutionary product 66 times over.’

Dr Thomas Greve, from University College London, and one of two British scientists who contributed to the Nature paper, said: ‘Our study has shown that little more than one billion years after the Big Bang, extreme starburst galaxies in the Universe, forming stars at a rate of more than a thousand per year, were a much more commonplace occurrence than previously thought.

‘This runs counter to the traditional understanding of massive galaxies forming gradually over much longer periods of time.

‘This is a discovery that only ALMA, with its incredible observing capabilities, could have made.’

British science and engineering has benefited from £40million of contracts from ALMA.

Experts at the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire made the half-ton cooling systems at the heart of each dish, other contributions include vital software for processing the information gathered by the telescope and material for the actual dishes.

ALMA is located 5,000 meters above Andes El Llano de Chajnantors plateau, some 50 km of San Pedro de Atacama in Chiles Second Region, in Antofagasta
ALMA is located 5,000 meters above Andes El Llano de Chajnantors plateau, some 50 km of San Pedro de Atacama in Chiles Second Region, in Antofagasta
Babak Tafreshi, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, has captured the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) under the southern sky in another breathtaking image
Babak Tafreshi, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, has captured the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) under the southern sky in another breathtaking image

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Space

The new telescopes are about to transform the hunt for alien life and our understanding of the universe

From strategic points, on Earth and in space, the next telescopes will depend on next-generation technologies in their attempts to answer some of the most important questions of scientists about dark matter, the expansion of the universe and extraterrestrial life.

Some will provide 100 times more information than today’s most powerful tools for observing the heavens.

The first of these telescopes, the highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope from NASA , will be released in 2021, and then start scanning the atmospheres of distant worlds for clues about extraterrestrial life. Already in 2022, other new telescopes in space will take unprecedented observations of the heavens, while observatories on Earth look back to the ancient universe.

This is what is in process and what these new tools could reveal.

Since its launch in 1990, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered new planets, revealed strange galaxies and provided new insights into the nature of black holes.

It also found that the universe is expanding faster than scientists imagined.

However, many questions remain to be answered. How has the universe evolved over time? Why can’t we see 95% of it? If there are aliens, where are they?

The next generation of telescopes – in space and on land – will try to fill these gaps in our knowledge.

First, NASA is building the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to observe the history of the universe.

It will study how the first stars and galaxies formed, how planets are born and where there could be life in the universe.

The next telescope is fully assembled and now faces a long testing process at the Northrop Grumman facility in California before its launch on March 30, 2021.

A 21-foot-wide beryllium mirror will help the James Webb telescope observe distant galaxies in detail and capture extremely weak signals within our own galaxy.

The farther you look into space, the more the telescope will look back in time, so it could even detect the first flashes of the Big Bang.

JWST will also observe in detail young and distant galaxies that we have never seen before.

Thanks to the new infrared technology, the telescope was able to provide an unprecedented view of the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way.

These images could help answer questions about how the galaxy formed and its black hole.

“Do the black hole comes first and stars form around it? Do the stars come together and collide to form the black hole? These are questions we want to answer, ”said Jay Anderson, a JWST scientist, in an October press release.

JWST will also look for signs of alien life in the atmospheres of exoplanets (the term for planets outside our solar system) – but only those larger than Earth.

By measuring the intensity of the light from the stars that crosses the atmosphere of a planet, the telescope could calculate the composition of that atmosphere.

Scientists have already identified more than 4,000 exoplanets.

But so far, they have not been able to study most of the atmospheres of these planets to look for signs of life, also known as “biosignatures.”

If an exoplanet’s atmosphere contains methane and carbon dioxide, for example, those are clues that there could be life there. JWST will look for signals like that.

Earth’s atmosphere has a lot of oxygen because life has been producing it for billions of years. Oxygen is not stable enough to last a long time on its own, so it must be constantly produced to make it so abundant.

The combination of carbon dioxide and methane (as in Earth’s atmosphere) is even more revealing, especially if there is no carbon monoxide.

This is because carbon dioxide and methane would normally react with each other to produce new compounds. So if they exist separately, something is likely to produce them constantly. That something could be a volcano, but as far as we know, only one way of life could release that amount of methane without also shedding carbon monoxide.

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Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Scientists already had indications that there was a large ocean beneath the ice sheet of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Now, with this finding, it could become the first habitable place of our Solar System, in addition to the Earth.

Europa Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter's moon Europa

Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft took the first foreground images of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.

These revealed brown cracks that cut the icy surface of the moon, which gives Europa the appearance of a venous eyeball.

Missions to the outer solar system in subsequent decades have accumulated enough additional information about Europa to make it a priority research objective in NASA’s search for life.

What makes this moon so attractive is the possibility that it has all the necessary ingredients for life.

Scientists have evidence that one of these ingredients, liquid water, is present beneath the icy surface and that it can sometimes break into space in huge geysers.

But nobody has been able to confirm the presence of water in these plumes by directly measuring the water molecule itself, until now …

Recently, a team led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has detected water vapor for the first time on the surface of Europa.

To do this, the vapor was measured by observing this moon through one of the largest telescopes in the world, the WM Keck Observatory on top of the Mauna Kea volcano, Hawaii.

Confirming that there is water vapor over Europa helps scientists better understand the inner workings of the moon.

For example, it helps support an idea: that there is an ocean of liquid water, possibly twice as large as Earth’s, splashing beneath the ice sheet of miles of this moon – an idea that is almost a certainty.

Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter's moon Europa
Left: the image of Europa taken 2.9 million km by the Voyager 1 probe, on March 2, 1979. Center: color image was taken on July 9, 1979, by the Voyager 2 probe. Right: view of Europa made with images taken by the Galileo probe in the late 1990s.

Some scientists suspect that another source of water for plumes could be shallow deposits of melted water ice not far below the surface of Europa.

It is also possible that Jupiter‘s strong radiation field is removing water particles from Europe’s ice sheet, although recent research argued against this mechanism as the observed water source.

«Essential chemical elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) and energy sources, two of the three requirements for life, are found throughout the solar system.

But the third, liquid water, is somewhat difficult to find beyond Earth, ”said Lucas Paganini, a NASA planetary scientist and who led the water detection investigation.

“While scientists have not yet detected liquid water directly, we have found the following best option: water in the form of steam.”

Paganini and his team reported in the journal Nature Astronomy on November 18 that they detected enough water release from Europa (2,360 kilograms per second) to fill an Olympic pool in minutes.

However, scientists also discovered that water appears infrequently; at least not in quantities large enough to detect them frequently from Earth.

In fact, surface water molecules were detected only once in 17 nights of observation.

“For me, the interesting thing about this work is not only the first direct detection of water on Europa but also the lack of it within the limits of our detection method,” Paganini concluded.

Future research

Soon we could find definitive answers about the mysteries of Europa and its habitability level.

The Clipper mission to this moon is expected to be launched in the middle of next year, to finally round off decades of investigation of other missions.

When it arrives on Europa, Clipper will orbit it and make a detailed survey of its surface, interior, atmosphere, subsurface ocean, and other characteristics.

It will also take pictures of the geysers and perform analysis of the atmospheric molecules with mass spectroscopes.

And if that were not enough, it will leave everything ready for the next step, finding an ideal place for NASA to send a robot to collect samples.

Source: NASA

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Astronauts may hibernate on trips to Mars

Sony Media

Astronauts traveling to Mars in the near future may have to hibernate, according to a European Space Agency (ESA) scientist.

Astronauts may hibernate on trips to Mars

In interview with The Telegraph, Professor Mark McCaughrean, senior science consultant to the ESA Board of Science, revealed that hibernation could reduce the need for large amounts of food during the seven-month trip to Mars.

He explained:

The idea is that you sleep while traveling and use much less consumables.

Sleep is not the same as hibernation, because if you hibernate, it lowers your body temperature and reduces everything else, oxygen, and so on.

Placing astronauts in this state can also prevent fights between astronauts during the tiring journey, according to Professor McCaughrean.

He added:

If you have 100 people within a few hundred cubic meters for seven, nine months, you will have 20 people at the end, because they will do the Hunger Games. They will kill themselves.

While the idea of ​​hibernating astronauts may seem absurd, ESA is already conducting experiments on animals.

Professor McCaughrean said:

We are now experimenting with artificial hibernation to numb someone for seven months and not worry about food. We are talking about how we would do that. You do this with animal testing and we have programs to analyze how it would happen.

However, there are several obstacles to be overcome before these tests can be performed on humans.

He even said:

We are nowhere near that, because there are all ethical questions about how you would do it.

(Source)

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