Friday, 22 October 2010

Media release: South Africa's MeerKAT in high demand

22 October 2010
Five years before South Africa's MeerKAT telescope becomes operational, more than 43 000 hours of observing time (adding up to about five years) have already been allocated to radio astronomers from Africa and around the world, who have applied for time to do research with this unique and world-leading instrument. Surveys of radio pulsars and hydrogen gas in the deep universe came out on top in the first round of allocating MeerKAT's observing time. 

MeerKAT is South Africa's precursor telescope to the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) and will consist of 64 Gregorian offset dishes, each 13.5 m in diameter. A MeerKAT engineering test bed of seven dishes (KAT-7) is already complete on site in the Karoo region of South Africa's Northern Cape Province. 

Following an October 2009 invitation to the world's radio astronomers to apply for MeerKAT telescope time to perform large survey projects, 21 proposals, involving more than 500 astronomers from around the world (59 from Africa), were received. A Time Allocation Committee made up of local and international experts rated the proposals on the basis of scientific merit, technical and operational feasibility, the extent to which MeerKAT has a unique role for the proposed observations or is an essential component in a larger campaign, and the resources each group was prepared to bring to the project. 

The science objectives of the most highly rated projects also happen to be the prime science drivers for the first phase of the SKA telescope itself, confirming MeerKAT's designation as an SKA precursor instrument. Observing time has been allocated to:
  • Nearly 8 000 hours to a proposal to test Einstein's theory of gravity and investigate the physics of enigmatic neutron stars. This radio pulsar timing survey will be led by Professor Matthew Bailes at the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing in Australia.
  • Another 5 000 hours jointly to two proposals to survey the distant universe with MeerKAT. This ultra-deep survey of neutral hydrogen gas in the early universe will be led by Dr Sarah Blyth and Dr Benne Holwerda, both at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, in partnership with Dr Andrew Baker at Rutgers University in the US. The American team, involving several South African team members, called their proposal "LADUMA!" - an acronym for Looking at the Distant Universe with MeerKAT Array, but also a South African expression of delight when a goal is scored in football).
Eight other proposals were rated highly and have also been allocated time on the MeerKAT. They are:
  • MESMER: MeerKAT Search for Molecules in the Epoch of Re-ionisation, led by Dr Ian Heywood, University of Oxford in the UK - 6500 hours.
  • MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey, led by Dr Yashwant Gupta and Dr Raghunathan Srianand, both associated with the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India - 4 000 hours.
  • MHONGOOSE: MeerKAT HI Observations of Nearby Galactic Objects: Observing Southern Emitters, led by Professor Erwin de Blok at the University of Cape Town in South Africa - 6 000 hours.
  • TRAPUM: Transients and Pulsars with MeerKAT, led jointly by Dr Benjamin Stappers at the Joddrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, UK and Professor Michael Kramer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany - 3 080 hours.
  • A MeerKAT HI Survey of the Fornax Cluster, led by Dr Paolo Serra at ASTRON, an astronomy research institute in The Netherlands - 2 450 hours.
  • MeerGAL: A MeerKAT High Frequency Galactic Plane Survey, led jointly by Dr Mark Thompson, University of Hertfordshire in the UK and Dr Sharmilla Goedhart of the South African MeerKAT team - 3 300 hours.
  • MIGHTEE: MeerKAT International GigaHertz Tiered Extragalactic Exploration Survey, led by Dr Kurt van der Heyden, University of Cape Town with Dr Matt Jarvis who represents both the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and the University of Hertfordshire in the UK - 1 950 hours.
  • ThunderKAT: The Hunt for Dynamic and Explosive Radio Transients with MeerKAT, led by Professor Patrick Woudt, University of Cape Town in South Africa and Professor Rob Fender at the University of Southampton in the UK - 3 000 hours.
"In addition to these ten high priority surveys, there is a strong case for MeerKAT to participate in the world-wide VLBI (very long baseline interferometry) observations, which use telescopes all around the world, working together. "We will ensure that MeerKAT becomes affiliated to international VLBI networks and will commit time to these observations," explains Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Director of the SKA South Africa Project. 

"The Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in South Africa will lead the VLBI collaboration with all major radio astronomy observatories around the world," adds Professor Roy Booth, Associate Director: Science and Operations at the SKA South Africa Project. "MeerKAT will add considerably to the sensitivity of the global VLBI network." 

"We would also like to explore the potential for SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and for collaboration with NASA on downloading information from their space probes sent to other planets," Dr Fanaroff adds as another key science objective for MeerKAT.

The teams who have submitted the successful proposals will be invited to work with the MeerKAT team throughout the design phase of the telescope, and to become involved in the project's human capacity building programme. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Newly discovered massive galaxy cluster wins heavyweight title

Astronomers using the South Pole Telescope report that they have discovered the most massive galaxy cluster yet seen at a distance of 7 billion light-years. The cluster (designated SPT-CL J0546-5345) weighs in at around 800 trillion Suns, and holds hundreds of galaxies.

“This galaxy cluster wins the heavyweight title. It’s among the most massive clusters ever found at this distance,” said Mark Brodwin, a Smithsonian astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Brodwin is first author on the paper announcing the discovery, which appeared in the Astrophysical Journal.

Redshift measures how light from a distant object has been stretched by the universe’s expansion. Located in the southern constellation Pictor (the Painter), the cluster has a redshift of z=1.07. This puts it at a distance of about 7 billion light-years, meaning we see it as it appeared 7 billion years ago, when the universe was half as old as now and our solar system didn’t exist yet. more

Space Photos This Week: Cosmic Spiral, Eclipsed Sun, More...

Galaxy is most distant object yet

The faintest of faint dots - a signal from the edge of the observable Univers. A tiny faint dot in a Hubble picture has been confirmed as the most distant galaxy ever detected in the Universe.
This collection of stars is so far away its light has taken more than 13 billion years to arrive at Earth. 

Astronomers used the Very Large Telescope in Chile to follow up the Hubble observation and make the necessary detailed measurements. 

They tell the journal Nature that we are seeing the galaxy as it was just 600 million years after the Big Bang. more

In pictures: Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

A stunning silhouette of active leafcutter ants in Costa Rica wins the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. Earth News

Source: BBC News

New International Standard For Spacecraft Docking

The initial IDSS definition document will be released into the public domain on 25 October. It will contain a preliminary description of the physical features and design loads of the standard docking interface.

by Staff Writers Paris, France (ESA) Oct 21, 2010
Partners in the International Space Station programme have agreed on a new standard for docking systems, which will be capable also of implementing berthing. The agreement allows a range of compatible, but not necessarily identical, mechanisms for spacecraft docking. A first agreed version of the Interface Definition Document will be released on 25 October.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Donderdagaand is dit Sterre en Planete op RSG

Maak `n knoop iewers!

Donderdagaand om 20:30 is dit die Sterre en Planete uitsending op RSG.

Los bietjie die Televisie en trek die radio nader.

En as jy regtig nie kan luister nie, kan jy gerus die MP3 aflaai en later na die uitsending luister.

Workers scramble to fix space shuttle leak

by Staff WritersCape Canaveral, Fla. (UPI) Oct 19, 2010
Workers at the Kennedy Space Center are working to stop a leak on the Discovery space shuttle that could affect its scheduled Nov. 1 launch, NASA says. A slight vapor leak in the shuttle's Orbital Maneuvering System tanks and lines was discovered, and technicians attempted to stop it by replacing a flight cap but the effort was unsuccessful, reported Tuesday.
On Monday launch managers ordered the tanks and lines drained of toxic fuels so workers could access flange seals in the system for possible replacement.

...further reading

Green Comet Visible This Week

Comet's Green Halo

Photograph courtesy Gregg L. Ruppel

Blurred stars seem to cut through the green halo of comet 103P/Hartley 2 in a five-minute-exposure photograph taken through a backyard telescope in the United States on Saturday. In recent weeks the comet has been drawing closer to Earth, and Hartley 2 will make its closest pass tomorrow, offering prime viewing via binoculars and telescopes. (See comet pictures.)

More information 

Local information, from Skytools software with a 8 inch Orion Skyquest

On this night (20/21 October 2010)  103P/Hartley is best visible between 04:12 and 04:32, with the optimum view at 04:13. Look for it in Auriga, fairly high in the northern sky during morning twilight. It is easy visually in the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Dob. Use the Ultima 42mm for optimum visual detection. It is magnitude 6.2 with a diameter of 21.0'.

In the following 30 days this object is easy visually from October 21, and again from October 31 on, with the best view coming on November 3. During this period it will reach peak brightness of magnitude 6.2 on October 22 and rapidly move higher in the sky.

103P/Hartley will next reach perihelion in late October. Also in late October this comet will pass within 0.1 AU of the earth.

At this stage the almost full moon is a big factor in seeing this ball of ice. (Hannes Pieterse)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Astronomical Handbook for Southern Africa

Hierdie nuttige handleiding is November-maand op die rakke sê Struik-uitgewers. Dit is `n moet-hê publikasie. Dit gee vir jou maand-vir-maand inligting wat bo in die naghemel aangaan.  En nog baie meer.

Dit word vir R85.00 adverteer. Die Skyguide sal waarskynlik by die groter boekwinkels te koop wees. Ons sal laat weet as dit op die rakke is.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Local Astronomy News

NASA uses Photoshop! It's a conspiracy!

The beauty of the Orion Nebula can only be seen after some image processing. To the naked eye, the nebula looks very dull. Click to enlarge this image.

  • A media frenzy ensued when some media outlets reported that NASA had Photoshopped an image of Saturn's moons.
  • Raw images from space need calibration before being released to the public, not unlike red eye removal from your family photos.

    Read the story      

    Source:  DiscoveryNews

Orbital debris from Chinese satelite tops 3,000 pieces

Image: A view of the Chinese orbital debris problem. Only China's space debris plotted
Click to enlarge

Three and a half years after China intentionally blew up a satellite as part of a weapons test, 97 percent of the debris remains in orbit, posing “distinct hazards to hundreds of operational satellites,” writes NASA in its October issue of Orbital Debris Quarterly News.
The number of pieces of debris from the Fengyun-1C spacecraft surpassed the 3,000 mark last month. The tally as of mid-September was 3,037 objects -- roughly 22 percent of all the cataloged objects in low-Earth orbit, reports the Orbital Debris Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston

More space debris news:

NASA: Dress rehearsal for Shuttle Discovery's last launch

With mixed feelings, the shuttle Discovery crew and the NASA launch team on Friday wrapped up a dress rehearsal for the planned Nov. 1 liftoff on Discovery's last space voyage, an 11-day mission to delivery a storage pod and spare parts to the International Space Station.

Discovery, which will be making its 39th flight, has been NASA's fleet leader in terms of number of missions and also for making both return-to-flight test runs following the Challenger and Columbia accidents in 1986 and 2003, respectively. Now it's fleet leader into retirement, with sisterships Endeavour and Atlantis expected to make their swan songs in February and June 2011.

Deep space drama: Top 10 views of the southern skies

The birth of stars

This colour composite image of the nebula RCW120 shows an expanding bubble of ionised gas 10 light years across. It causes surrounding material to collapse into dense clumps from which stars are born. The original images taken with the LABOCA camera on the 12-metre Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope.

(Image: ESO/APEX/DSS2/SuperCosmos/Deharveng (LAM)/Zavagno (LAM))

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) operates some of the world's most advanced ground-based telescopes, including the Very Large Telescope array (VLT) and the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert, Chile. They recently posted their top 100 images

Pyramid of Venus

Rover nears 24 km of driving on Mars

 MERB total odometry now reads in excess of 23,991.43 meters (23.99 kilometers, or 14.91 miles).

Source: MarsDaily

by Staff WritersPasadena CA (JPL) Oct 15, 2010
Opportunity drove only once this past week, nearing the 24-kilometer (15-mile) odometry mark.
On Sol 2382 (Oct. 6, 2010), the rover covered over 94 meters (308 feet) on her trek to Endeavour crater. With the use of autonomous navigation, the rover collects many more data products which fill the available flash memory.

More info

For First Time Ever, Asteroid Collision Photographed

Astronomers now have the first confirmed snapshots of what appears to be the aftermath of an asteroid collision in space.
When scientists first discovered the object dubbed P/2010 A2 in the asteroid belt in January using the Rosetta spacecraft, the fact that it trailed a tail made them think it was a comet. A closer look, however, suggested it was something more peculiar -- images from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed it had a bizarre X-shape nucleus, for instance. [Photo of the odd X-shape in space.]