Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Keeping an Eye on the Universe

16.01.2012
Astronomers from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona have released the largest data set ever collected that documents the brightening and dimming of stars and other celestial objects ­ 200 million in total.

The University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey keeps a watchful eye on asteroids that might cross the Earth's path. A byproduct of that effort is the largest database compiling the brightnesses of 200 million objects in the universe, including supernovae and stars torn up by super-massive black holes.

The night sky is filled with objects such as asteroids that dash across the sky and others ­ such as exploding stars and variable stars ­ that flash, dim, and brighten. Studying such phenomena can help astronomers better understand the evolution of stars, massive black holes in the centers of galaxies, and the structure of the Milky Way.

These types of objects also were essential for the recent discovery of dark energy ­ the mysterious energy that dominates the expansion of the universe ­ that earned last year's Nobel Prize.

Using images obtained by the UA's asteroid-hunting Catalina Sky Survey, the Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey, or CRTS, lets CalTech astronomers systematically scan the heavens for these dynamic objects, resulting in an unprecedented data set that will allow scientists worldwide to pursue new research.

"Exploring variable objects and transient phenomena like stellar explosions is one of the most vibrant and growing research areas in astrophysics," said S. George Djorgovski, professor of astronomy at Caltech and principal investigator on the CRTS. "In many cases, this yields unique information needed to understand these objects."

The new data set is based on observations taken with the 0.7-meter telescope on Mt. Bigelow in Arizona. The observations were part of the Catalina Sky Survey, a search for Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs ­ asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth ­ conducted by astronomers at the UA.

By repeatedly taking pictures of large swaths of the sky and comparing these images to previous ones, the CRTS is able to monitor the brightness of about half-billion objects, allowing it to search for those that dramatically brighten or dim. In this way, the CRTS team identified tens of thousands of variables, maximizing the science that can be gleaned from the original data.

The new data set contains the so-called brightness histories of a total of
200 million stars and other objects, incorporating more than 20 billion independent measurements.

"This set of objects is an order of magnitude larger than the largest previously available data sets of their kind," said Andrew Drake, a staff scientist at Caltech and lead author on a poster presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin on Jan. 12.

"It will enable many interesting studies by the entire astronomical community."

One of the unique features of the survey, Drake said, is that it emphasizes an open-data philosophy. "We discover transient events and publish them electronically in real time, so that anyone can follow them and make additional discoveries."

"It is a good example of scientific-data sharing and reuse," Djorgovski added. "We hope to set an example of how data-intensive science should be done in the 21st century."

The data set includes more than 1,000 exploding stars called supernovae, including many unusual and novel types, as well as hundreds of so-called cataclysmic variables, pairs of stars in which one spills matter onto another, called a white dwarf; tens of thousands of other variable stars; and dwarf novae, which are binary stars that dramatically change in brightness.

"We take hundreds of images every night from each of our telescopes as we search for hazardous asteroids," said Edward Beshore, principal investigator of the UA's asteroid-hunting CSS. "As far back as 2005, we were asking if these data could be useful to the community of astronomers.

We are delighted that we could forge this partnership. In my estimation, it has been a great success and is a superb example of finding ways to get greater value from taxpayers' investments in basic science."

The team said it soon plans to release additional data taken with a 1.5-meter telescope on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona and a 0.5-meter telescope in Siding Spring in Australia.

In addition to Djorgovski, Drake and Beshore, the team includes staff scientist Ashish Mahabal, computational scientist Matthew Graham, postdoctoral scholar Ciro Donalek and research scientist Roy Williams from Caltech.

Researchers from other institutions include Steve Larson, Andrea Boattini, Alex Gibbs, Al Grauer, Rik Hill and Richard Kowalski from the UA; Mauricio Catelan from Universidad Catholica in Chile; Eric Christensen from the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii; and Jose Prieto from Princeton University.

The Caltech research is supported by the National Science Foundation. The work done at the UA is supported by NASA.

LINKS:
Catalina Sky Survey: http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/css
Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey: http://crts.caltech.edu
CONTACTS:
Edward Beshore
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Steward Observatory The University of Arizona
520-621-4900
ebeshore@lpl.arizona.edu
Deborah Williams-Hedges
California Institute of Technology
debwms@caltech.edu
626-395-3227
Daniel Stolte
University Communications
The University of Arizona
520-626-4402
stolte@email.arizona.edu

Daniel Stolte | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.arizona.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Six-decade-old space mystery solved with shoebox-sized satellite called a CubeSat
15.12.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht NSF-funded researchers find that ice sheet is dynamic and has repeatedly grown and shrunk
15.12.2017 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>