The European Southern Observatory is a 16-nation intergovernmental research organisation for astronomy. Created in 1962, ESO has provided astronomers with state-of-the-art research facilities and access to the southern sky. The organisation employs about 730 staff members and receives annual member state contributions of approximately €131 million. Its observatories are located in northern Chile.ESO has built and operated some of the largest and most technologically-advanced telescopes. These include the New Technology Telescope, an early pioneer in the use of active optics, and the Very Large Telescope , which consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 metre across, and four smaller auxiliary telescopes. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array observes the universe in the millimetre and submillimetre wavelength ranges, and is the world's largest ground-based astronomy project to date. It was completed in March 2013 in an international collaboration by Europe , North America, East Asia and Chile.Currently under construction is the European Extremely Large Telescope. It will use a 39.3-metre-diameter segmented mirror, and become the world's largest optical reflecting telescope when operational in 2024. Its light-gathering power will allow detailed studies of planets around other stars, the first objects in the universe, supermassive black holes, and the nature and distribution of the dark matter and dark energy which dominate the universe.ESO's observing facilities have made astronomical discoveries and produced several astronomical catalogues. Its findings include the discovery of the most distant gamma-ray burst and evidence for a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. In 2004, the VLT allowed astronomers to obtain the first picture of an extrasolar planet orbiting a brown dwarf 173 light-years away. The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher instrument installed in another ESO telescope led to the discovery of extrasolar planets, including Gliese 581c—one of the smallest planets seen outside the solar system. Wikipedia.
News Article | May 11, 2017
Flash Physics is our daily pick of the latest need-to-know developments from the global physics community selected by Physics World's team of editors and reporters An unexplained excess in the number of antiprotons detected by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is related to the annihilation of dark-matter particles, according to two independent studies. Dark matter is a mysterious substance that appears to account for most of the matter in the universe. While its existence can be inferred indirectly from a number of different astronomical phenomena, dark-matter particles have never been detected directly. Writing in Physical Review Letters, Alessandro Cuoco and colleagues at RWTH Aachen University in Germany describe how they analysed antiproton, proton and helium cosmic-ray detection rates by AMS – which is located on the International Space Station – and other experiments. They found that the creation of antiprotons by the annihilation of dark-matter particles with masses of about 80 GeV/C2 provided the best explanation for why AMS has detected more antiprotons than expected to be created by conventional astrophysical process. In the same issue of the journal, Ming-Yang Cui of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues describe an independent analysis of the antiproton excess, which suggests that it is the result of annihilating dark-matter particles with masses in the 40–60 GeV/C2. Science-related extracurricular activities do not encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) subjects at high school, according to a study by Pallavi Amitava Banerjee from the University of Exeter in the UK. Banerjee tracked the educational progress of 600,000 teenagers from the start of secondary school (age 11–12) to A-level examinations (age 18). By using data from the National Pupil Database and activity providers, she examined whether students were more likely to choose STEM subjects for their A-levels if they had taken part in engagement activities such as trips to labs, special practical lessons or visits to STEM centres. Presented in Review of Education, Banerjee highlights that there is little evidence linking the two. For example, the number of students taking physics A-level was 5% for students that had taken part in enrichment activities, compared with 4.3% if they had not. On the other hand, extra activities were slightly more beneficial for children ages 11–14 rather than ages 14–16. "Of course there are many factors which can affect the decisions young people make about the subjects they choose to continue studying at age 16," says Banerjee. "It is essential for policymakers to consider if whether, if these schemes are not working, perhaps the money could be spent elsewhere. Given the range of schemes being run it is also crucial to understand if any work better than others. Knowing the answer to this could help ensure money is spent on only the highest quality activities." The CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva has built its first accelerator since the completion of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2008. Linear Accelerator 4 (Linac 4), which is around 90 m long and took a decade to construct, will be used to accelerate beams of negative hydrogen ions to 160 MeV. When Linac 4 is connected to CERN's accelerator complex at the end of 2019, the 160 MeV beam will then be sent to the Proton Synchrotron Booster, which will accelerate the ions and strip the electrons away, before the resulting protons enter the Proton Synchrotron, the Super Proton Synchrotron and finally the LHC. Linac 4 will now undergo "extensive" commissioning and is expected to replace Linac 2, which has been in operation since 1978. The new accelerator will be part of CERN's High Luminosity Upgrade, which will see the LHC's luminosity increase five-fold by 2025. Astronomers in Australia will gain access to European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes in Chile in 2018 under a new agreement involving an A$26m payment to the ESO. Australia has also committed to the ongoing funding of the telescopes until 2028 at an average annual rate of A$12m and Australian astronomers and companies will be involved in developing new technologies for the telescopes. Chris Tinney at the University of New South Wales Sydney says: "Australian astronomers have been seeking access to ESO for the past two decades.” Lisa Kewley, who chairs the Australian Academy of Science National Committee for Astronomy, adds: "This is great news for the future of Australian astronomy." Nobel laureate and Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt says access to ESO's facilities and other infrastructure such as the next-generation Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope is critical to the future of Australian astronomy. Tim de Zeeuw, the ESO's director general, says: "The ESO community is well aware of Australia's outstanding instrumentation capability, including advanced adaptive optics and fibre-optic technology." He adds: "Australia's expertise is ideally matched to ESO's instrumentation programme, and ESO Member State institutions would be excited to collaborate with Australian institutions and their industrial partners in consortia developing the next generation of instruments."
News Article | May 10, 2017
In terms of the impact on science, the Australian budget, released 9 May, is “very bland,” says Les Field, science policy secretary at the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra, the nation’s leading scientific association. “There are no big spending initiatives but no major cuts,” he adds. It’s a “business-as-usual budget for science and technology,” agrees Kylie Walker, CEO of Science and Technology Australia in Canberra, which represents scientists. Overall spending on science for the fiscal year beginning 1 July and in later years, called the forward estimates, is not yet clear because support is spread across several ministries. But the plan does reveal some winners and losers. Field notes that there will be “small decreases” in years to come for the publicly funded science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), which in recent years has been hit with massive cuts that resulted in extensive job losses. “I’m profoundly disappointed at the missed opportunities” to restore support, says Kim Carr, the opposition Australian Labor Party’s shadow minister for innovation, industry, science, and research. And the government is making it difficult for the private sector to pick up the slack. The budget cuts an R&D tax incentive by $810 million over the next 3 years, Carr notes. The incentive is one of the government’s biggest programs to stimulate business investment in research and development. But the budget also includes an outlay of $74 million to promote innovation in Australia’s manufacturing sector, something Field welcomes. Higher education is also suffering, says Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, an advocacy group based in Canberra. She was referring to $2 billion in cuts to higher education announced separately from the federal budget last Monday. Large numbers of overseas students make higher education the nation’s third-largest export sector. “Universities contribute more than they receive,” she says. And although the government plans to invest heavily in air, road, and rail transport infrastructure, it has cut a program designed to support big national research facilities at universities. Astronomy, meanwhile, was a real “policy win,” Field says. The budget includes $19 million to support an Australian partnership with the European Southern Observatory, meaning “Australian astronomers will be involved in the major astronomy initiatives around the world.” The commitment also includes ongoing funding of $9 million a year over the next decade.
News Article | May 17, 2017
Fresh momentum for particle physics CERN, Europe’s particle physics laboratory, inaugurated its latest linear accelerator on 9 May. The 90-metre-long Linac 4 will produce particles with 3 times the energy possible with its 39-year-old predecessor. Once fully tested, the new accelerator will allow an upgraded version of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to collect experimental data at a much higher rate from 2021. Linac 4 will take over as the first stage in a series of accelerators that together feed the LHC and other experiments at the laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. Ebola outbreak On 12 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where nine suspected cases of the infection have been reported in the past three weeks. Health authorities are now considering whether to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine against the outbreak. The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) is discussing a potential vaccination campaign with the Congolese government that would require the approval of the WHO. India’s GM crops India’s top biotechnology regulator has approved the planting of a genetically modified (GM) breed of mustard, which would be the country’s first GM food crop. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee gave the green light to the seed — which is grown mainly for its oil — on 11 May. But before farmers can sow the mustard, India’s government will also have to approve its cultivation. And the government will need clearance from India’s Supreme Court, which is currently considering a lawsuit filed last year to prevent the mustard’s approval (see Nature 541, 267–268; 2017). Uncertain future The European Union and the United Kingdom will need at least two more years to agree on their future relationship concerning science and higher education, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on 5 May. A deal concerning Britain’s future participation in EU-funded research and student-exchange programmes is unlikely to be finalized before the United Kingdom leaves the bloc in March 2019, Barnier said at a state of the union event in Florence, Italy. The United Kingdom could continue to participate in European research collaborations as a third country, if it guarantees free movement of EU citizens. Dubious ban Turkey’s Science Academy — an independent organization of Turkish scientists — has declared the government ban on Wikipedia to be unconstitutional. The Turkish government used state-of-emergency powers to block access to Wikipedia on 29 April. It stated that the online encyclopaedia had operated a smear campaign against the country, with some pages implying that Turkey supports terrorist organizations. The academy said on 10 May that the ban deprives citizens of knowledge and open debate and that it “seriously undermines the image of Turkey in the 21st century”. Wikipedia has appealed to Turkey’s constitutional court against the ban. Arctic pact The eight nations that border the Arctic Ocean have agreed to ease rules for cross-border field research in the High North. At an Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, on 11 May, representatives of the Arctic nations promised to reduce red tape for scientists trying to collect data in the region. The legally binding agreement, signed by Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States, will also give scientists better access to Arctic research facilities such as ice-breaking ships. FDA chief Physician and venture capitalist Scott Gottlieb was sworn in as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration on 11 May, two days after his confirmation by the Senate. Gottlieb has experience at the agency, including a stint as deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs from 2005 to 2007. But he has also previously had extensive financial relationships with the industries he will now be regulating, including roles as a board member and consultant, which has concerned some consumer advocates. Political addition Cédric Villani, a flamboyant French mathematician, is to run for election to the French parliament in June. The 2010 Fields medallist, who heads the Henri Poincaré Institute in Paris, stands for election in the Saclay constituency near Paris, home to a cluster of leading French research institutions. Villani, who joined the campaign of the newly elected president Emmanuel Macron in April, was one of a list of political outsiders whom Macron’s party announced on 11 May as candidates for next month’s elections. Insel leaves Google Psychiatrist Tom Insel left Google on 5 May, 18 months after he started a mental-health programme in the company’s health-sciences division, Verily. Insel, who was formerly director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, will launch his own company, called Mindstrong, to analyse behaviour and mental illness using smartphone data. Co-founders of the company in Palo Alto, California, include Richard Klausner, a former director of the US National Cancer Institute, and Paul Dagum, who holds several patents on ‘digital phenotyping’ methods. Australian budget Australia has started the process of joining the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The government’s 2017–18 federal budget, released on 9 May, includes Aus$26.1 million (US$19.2 million) for optical astronomy research to be carried out in partnership with ESO. The agreement, which guarantees Australian access to major astronomy initiatives and facilities, includes an additional commitment of roughly Aus$12 million a year until 2027–28. Overall science spending from Australia’s federal budget will remain stable. However, government funding for universities will decrease by Aus$384.2 million (2.5%) over 2018 and 2019. Alarm underground The US Department of Energy declared a site-wide emergency at the Hanford nuclear site on 9 May after a tunnel holding contaminated waste partly collapsed. Several thousand workers at the former nuclear-weapons facility in Washington state took shelter while officials deployed a robot to investigate the damage. No contamination was detected, and by the next day, the facility had filled the hole with more than 420 cubic metres of soil. The cold war-era tunnel was one of two that led to a reprocessing plant used to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1956 to 1988. See page 266 for more. Methane control The US Senate has rejected Republican efforts to block a rule limiting methane emissions on federal lands. Three Republicans joined all 48 Democrats in the 51–49 vote on 10 May. The rule, issued in November under former president Barack Obama, requires oil and gas operators to reduce flaring by half on public and tribal lands. Companies must also limit methane venting and regularly inspect equipment for leakage. The US Department of the Interior estimated that the rule would reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by up to 35%. Empty run NASA will not put astronauts on the first full flight of its new heavy-lift rocket, the agency announced on 12 May. That test will also come at least a year later than expected, no earlier than 2019. When complete, the Space Launch System will be the first rocket capable of carrying people beyond low Earth orbit since the Saturn V, which flew astronauts to the Moon from 1968 to 1972. Earlier this year, NASA had looked into whether it could put astronauts on the first test that will couple the enormous rocket to its Orion crew capsule. But cost and schedule delays mean that it will be easier to fly that first mission without astronauts. By 2040, one-third of cases of tuberculosis (TB) in Russia could be drug resistant, according to a study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. And in India, multi-drug resistance could soar to 12.4% of TB cases. Increased drug resistance in high-burden countries will mostly result from person-to person infections, rather than from non-resistant strains acquiring resistance, the study predicts. Globally, some 10.4 million new cases of TB currently cause around 1.8 million deaths per year. 21–23 May Theoretical physicists gather at a conference in Jerusalem on recent work in general relativity.
News Article | May 21, 2017
Astronomers have developed a method for observing the region where planets form using molecules of carbon monoxide. Planets form in flared disks of gas and dust—small particles composed of dust and ice—surrounding young stars. More specifically, planets form in the midplane of this disk, or the middle of the disk viewed edge-on. Until now, astronomers have not been able to observe this midplane because gases in the disk were too opaque. “We have previously observed disks in the process of making planets but our observations were only scratching the surface,” says Edwin Bergin, chair of the University of Michigan’s astronomy department. “When we inferred density, temperature, and gravitational velocity—what the physics of planet birth are—we weren’t sampling the region where planets are being born.” Instead, researchers had to rely on observations made on the surface of the disk. Now, Bergin and his team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Ke Zhang, have developed a method that allows them to peer into that midplane—in this case, a disk about 180 light years away with a star about 0.8 times the mass of our own sun. To observe temperature and other conditions of planet birth, astronomers could use molecular hydrogen, which is the most abundant molecule in a planet or star-formation region. But molecular hydrogen doesn’t emit at the cold temperatures associated with planet births. So the astronomers have to focus on a different molecule that exists alongside molecular hydrogen. They call this different molecule a “tracer molecule”—a proxy to molecular hydrogen. In this paper, the team uses a rare form of carbon monoxide as a tracer molecule. Their findings, which appear in Nature Astronomy, show that the millimeter-wavelength light naturally emitted from this rare form of carbon monoxide clearly traces the midplane—revealing for the first time planet formation to our telescopes. In this case, the astronomers’ observations relied on the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, an international astronomy facility based in Chile that measures radio wavelengths emitted by molecules in these distant disks. Based on the distribution of this carbon monoxide, the astronomers were able to calculate how much mass is available at the planet-forming midplane. Using a different rare form of carbon monoxide, the researchers also measured the temperature of the region based on how brightly the molecule was glowing. “If you want to understand the formation of our solar system and why there are so many different exoplanet systems, we need to understand the midplane,” Zhang says. “That is the plane where you have most of the mass concentrated at—that is where the magic happens.” Another key finding of the paper is the first direct measurement of what’s called the carbon monoxide snowline. This snowline is the radius at which carbon monoxide freezes in the midplane. Beyond this radius, the heat from the star can no longer keep carbon monoxide as a vapor at the midplane and carbon monoxide freezes as ice onto the surface of dust grains. Being able to directly observe the midplane snowline is also important in understanding the conditions under which planets form, Zhang says. Carbon monoxide may have a similar role as water in the forming of our own solar system. “Water, once it condenses, adds a lot of solid mass into the building of a planet core,” Zhang says. “Water makes those solids more sticky so they can grow faster. Astronomers suspect the carbon monoxide snowline has a similar impact as the water snowline.” The researchers hope next to use their observations of this disk’s snowline to test theories about how snowlines facilitate planet formation in other disks. “With the capabilities of the Atacama Array and this new technique, astronomers can finally trace planet formation in action,” Bergin says. “This is critical information needed to confirm theories of planetary birth, and our mass accounting suggests that planet formation has begun and this disk is well on its way to making new planets.” The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array is a partnership of the European Southern Observatory, the US National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA receives funding from ESO on behalf of its member states, NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada, the National Science Council of Taiwan, NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: INFRAIA-01-2016-2017 | Award Amount: 10.51M | Year: 2017
RadioNet is a consortium of 28 institutions in Europe, Republic of Korea and South Africa, integrating at European level world-class infrastructures for research in radio astronomy. These include radio telescopes, telescope arrays, data archives and the globally operating European Network for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (EVN). RadioNet is de facto widely regarded to represent the interests of radio astronomy in Europe. A comprehensive, innovative and ambitious suite of actions is proposed that fosters a sustainable research environment. Building on national investments and commitments to operate these facilities, this specific EC program leverages the capabilities on a European scale. The proposed actions include: - Merit-based trans-national access to the RadioNet facilities for European and for the first time also for third country users; and integrated and professional user support that fosters continued widening of the community of users. - Innovative R&D, substantially enhancing the RadioNet facilities and taking leaps forward towards harmonization, efficiency and quality of exploitation at lower overall cost; development and delivery of prototypes of specialized hardware, ready for production in SME industries. - Comprehensive networking measures for training, scientific exchange, industry cooperation, dissemination of scientific and technical results; and policy development to ensure long-term sustainability of excellence for European radio astronomy. RadioNet is relevant now, it enables cutting-edge science, top-level R&D and excellent training for its European facilities; with the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) and the ESFRI-listed Square Kilometre Array (SKA) defined as global radio telescopes, RadioNet assures that European radio astronomy maintains its leading role into the era of these next-generation facilities by involving scientists and engineers in the scientific use and innovation of the outstanding European facilities.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: FP7 | Program: CP-CSA-Infra | Phase: INFRA-2012-1.1.25. | Award Amount: 10.98M | Year: 2013
Optical-infrared astronomy in Europe is in a state of transition and opportunity, with the goal of a viable structured European scale community in sight. A strong astronomical community requires access to state of the art infrastructures (telescopes), equipped with the best possible instrumentation, and with that access being open to all on a basis of competitive excellence. Further, the community needs training in optimal use of those facilities to be available to all, Critically, it needs a viable operational model, with long-term support from the national agencies, to operate those infrastructures. The most important need for most astronomers is to have open access to a viable set of medium aperture telescopes, with excellent facilities, complemented by superb instrumentation on the extant large telescopes, while working towards next generation instrumentation on the future flagship, the European Extremely Large Telescope. OPTICON has made a substantial contribution to preparing the realisation of that ambition. OPTICON supported R&D has, and is developing critical next-generation technology, to enhance future instrumentation on all telescopes. The big immediate challenge is to retain a viable set of well-equipped medium aperture telescopes. The present project is to make the proof of principle that such a situation is possible - a situation developed by OPTICON under its previous contracts, in collaboration with the EC supported strategy network ASTRONET - and set the stage for the step to full implementation.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: INFRAIA-01-2016-2017 | Award Amount: 10.01M | Year: 2017
Europe has become a global leader in optical-near infrared astronomy through excellence in space and ground-based experimental and theoretical research. While the major infrastructures are delivered through major national and multi-national agencies (ESO, ESA) their continuing scientific competitiveness requires a strong community of scientists and technologists distributed across Europes nations. OPTICON has a proven record supporting European astrophysical excellence through development of new technologies, through training of new people, through delivering open access to the best infrastructures, and through strategic planning for future requirements in technology, innovative research methodologies, and trans-national coordination. Europes scientific excellence depends on continuing effort developing and supporting the distributed expertise across Europe - this is essential to develop and implement new technologies and ensure instrumentation and infrastructures remain cutting edge. Excellence depends on continuing effort to strengthen and broaden the community, through networking initiatives to include and then consolidate European communities with more limited science expertise. Excellence builds on training actions to qualify scientists from European communities which lack national access to state of the art research infrastructures to compete successfully for use of the best available facilities. Excellence depends on access programmes which enable all European scientists to access the best infrastructures needs-blind, purely on competitive merit. Global competitiveness and the future of the community require early planning of long-term sustainability, awareness of potentially disruptive technologies, and new approaches to the use of national-scale infrastructures under remote or robotic control. OPTICON will continue to promote this excellence, global competitiveness and long-term strategic planning.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: FP7 | Program: ERC-SyG | Phase: ERC-2013-SyG | Award Amount: 13.98M | Year: 2014
Gravity is successfully described by Einsteins theory of general relativity (GR), governing the structure of our entire universe. Yet it remains the least understood of all forces in nature, resisting unification with quantum physics. One of the most fundamental predictions of GR are black holes (BHs). Their defining feature is the event horizon, the surface that light cannot escape and where time and space exchange their nature. However, while there are many convincing BH candidates in the universe, there is no experimental proof for the existence of an event horizon yet. So, does GR really hold in its most extreme limit? Do BHs exist or are alternatives needed? Here we propose to build a Black Hole Camera that for the first time will take an actual picture of a BH and image the shadow of its event horizon. We will do this by providing the equipment and software needed to turn a network of existing mm-wave radio telescopes into a global interferometer. This virtual telescope, when supplemented with the new Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), has the power to finally resolve the supermassive BH in the centre of our Milky Way the best-measured BH candidate we know of. In order to compare the image with the theoretical predictions we will need to perform numerical modelling and ray tracing in GR and alternative theories. In addition, we will need to determine accurately the two basic parameters of the BH: its mass and spin. This will become possible by precisely measuring orbits of stars with optical interferometry on ESOs VLTI. Moreover, our equipment at ALMA will allow for the first detection of pulsars around the BH. Already a single pulsar will independently determine the BHs mass to one part in a million and its spin to a few per cent. This unique combination will not only produce the first-ever image of a BH, but also turn our Galactic Centre into a fundamental-physics laboratory to measure the fabric of space and time with unprecedented precision.
Kennicutt Jr. R.C.,University of Cambridge |
Evans N.J.,University of Texas at Austin |
Evans N.J.,European Southern Observatory
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2012
We review progress over the past decade in observations of large-scale star formation, with a focus on the interface between extragalactic and Galactic studies. Methods of measuring gas contents and star-formation rates are discussed, and updated prescriptions for calculating star-formation rates are provided. We review relations between star formation and gas on scales ranging from entire galaxies to individual molecular clouds. Copyright © 2012 by Annual Reviews.