Click, click, click, observers manning over 30 major telescopes in 12 countries have been taking pictures of the target white dwarf stars every 20 seconds from sundown to sunup for the past four weeks and transmitting the images to researchers at the University of Delaware.
The UD team is coordinating the global effort -- aptly named the Whole Earth Telescope (WET) -- from a command center at Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Greenville, Del.
There, for the first time, astronomers are exclusively using a software program called “Maestro,” developed by UD doctoral student James Dalessio, to automatically process the hundreds of gigabytes of images to study variations in the brightness, or temperature, of each star.
“The Whole Earth Telescope receives tens of thousands of images every day from observatories all over the world, and Maestro is saving us hours of tedious work,” says Dalessio, who has coordinated a large portion of the observing run. A native of Woodstown, N.J., Dalessio is midway through his doctoral program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UD. His work on the WET project is supported by the NASA-funded Delaware Space Grant Consortium.
“Just today, I have communicated with observatories in Croatia, Germany, South Africa, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, China, Taiwan, Texas, Arizona, Canary Islands, Hawaii, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia,” Dalessio notes. “It’s a huge team effort.”
Dalessio’s adviser, Judi Provencal, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at UD, organized the star watch, working with Gerard Vauclair, an astronomer from the Observatoire Midi-Pyrenées in Toulouse, France. Vauclair is in charge of HS0507+0434B, the target star for telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere, and Dalessio is the chief investigator for the primary southern target, EC04207-4748. Five secondary target white dwarfs also are being watched.
White dwarfs are “dead” stars because they have no source of energy. They are just radiating their residual heat into space like an electric stove that’s been turned off after cooking a meal, explains Provencal, who directs the Delaware Asteroseismic Research Center at UD.
“Astronomers can calculate how long it takes for a white dwarf to ‘cool off,’” Provencal notes. “We’ve looked around for the coolest white dwarf we can find, and then figured out how long it took to get to that temperature, and that is the age of the galaxy. Turns out to be between 9 and 11 billion years. Of course, we’d like to be more precise than that, so we need more observations.”
One byproduct of the study is a search for planets around white dwarfs. More than half the stars astronomers see in the sky have a planetary companion, Provencal says, but what will happen to these planets -- like Earth -- as their stars age and die out?
“If we find some planets around white dwarfs, perhaps these planets survived the death of their suns, and maybe some of our solar system planets will survive. So far, we haven’t found any,” she notes. “So maybe all of the planets will be ejected from the solar system to wander through interstellar space.”
Although most of the participating telescopes are manned, with observers in the dome, several are operated robotically. A telescope in Arizona is actually owned and remote-controlled by colleagues in South Korea, and the observer at the Tuebingen telescope in Germany can run his telescope from his living room, Provencal says.
In Chile, UD researchers were granted permission to use PROMPT, a series of robotic telescopes whose primary duty is to monitor gamma ray bursts, big explosions in the distant galaxy.
Whether aided by robotics or not, the Whole Earth Telescope has had its share of cosmic quirks and earthly challenges during its most recent campaign, but the cosmic collaboration is taking them in stride.
“We had an asteroid eclipse one of our stars, and we imaged what was either a distant weather balloon or satellite. Maybe it was just some aliens,” Dalessio says, smiling. “It’s been cloudy in a lot of places, and some telescopes have been closed due to snow. It’s all very exciting. When this run is over, I’ll probably need a good 24 hours of sleep.”For the link to the original article, and video, visit
Tracey Bryant | Newswise Science News
Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy