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 New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon
16.07.2018 | University of California - Santa Cruz

nachricht Scientists discover Earth's youngest banded iron formation in western China
12.07.2018 | University of Alberta

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 evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides

16.07.2018 | Life Sciences

New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon

16.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>