Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hubbles 20 Greatest Discoveries: 16 - 13

What is dark energy?

Dark energy is an unknown form of energy that radiates from deep space. It behaves in the opposite manner from gravity. Rather than pulling galaxies together it pushes them apart.

2. Did anyone predict dark energy?

Dark energy is a complete surprise. However, Albert Einstein theorized the existence of a repulsive form of gravity in space that would balance the universe against normal gravity and keep it from imploding. Einstein called it the cosmological constant.

3. How does dark energy affect the universe?

Dark energy makes up the bulk of the universe's mass/energy budget. If dark energy is stable the universe will continue expanding and accelerating forever. If dark energy is unstable the universe could ultimately come unglued to the point where stars, planets and even atoms come apart, a doomsday scenario called the "big rip." Dark energy might also flip such that is becomes an attractive force and causes the universe to implode in a "big crunch."

4. How can Hubble "see" dark energy?

Hubble can measure the faint glow of distant supernovae, stars that exploded billions of years ago. Supernovae trace the expansion history of the universe, hence, how dark energy "pushed" on space over the past epochs. Every second a star explodes somewhere in the universe, so it's a matter of Hubble looking in the right place at the right time.

5. Does Hubble prove how dark energy really behaves?

These latest Hubble observations show that dark energy is not changing its behavior over time, and so may be the "constant" Einstein predicted. However, more observations are needed over the coming decade.

6. What happens to this research after Hubble stops working?

There will be a hiatus of at least several years in this type of research until some future space telescope with a wide field of view picks up where Hubble left off. This type of research cannot be done with even the largest ground-based telescopes, even those outfitted with adaptive optics for improving image quality.

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant, all that remains of a tremendous stellar explosion. Observers in China and Japan recorded the supernova nearly 1,000 years ago, in 1054.

Quasars reside in a variety of galaxies, from normal to highly disturbed. When seen through ground-based telescopes, these compact, enigmatic light sources resemble stars, yet they are billions of light-years away and several hundred billion times brighter than normal stars. The following Hubble Space Telescope images show examples of different home sites of all quasars. But all the sites must provide the fuel to power these unique light beacons. Astronomers believe that a quasar turns on when a massive black hole at the nucleus of a galaxy feeds on gas and stars. As the matter falls into the black hole, intense radiation is emitted. Eventually, the black hole will stop emitting radiation once it consumes all nearby matter. Then it needs debris from a collision of galaxies or another process to provide more fuel. The column of images on the left represents normal galaxies; the center, colliding galaxies; and the right, peculiar galaxies.

Top left: This image shows quasar PG 0052+251, which is 1.4 billion light-years from Earth, at the core of a normal spiral galaxy. Astronomers are surprised to find host galaxies, such as this one, that appear undisturbed by the strong quasar radiation.

Bottom left: Quasar PHL 909 is 1.5 billion light-years from Earth and lies at the core of an apparently normal elliptical galaxy.

Top center: The photo reveals evidence of a catastrophic collision between two galaxies traveling at about 1 million mph. The debris from this collision may be fueling quasar IRAS04505-2958, which is 3 billion light-years from Earth. Astronomers believe that a galaxy plunged vertically through the plane of a spiral galaxy, ripping out its core and leaving the spiral ring (at the bottom of the picture). The core lies in front of the quasar, the bright object in the center of the image. Surrounding the core are star-forming regions. The distance between the quasar and spiral ring is 15,000 light-years, which is one-seventh the diameter of our Milky Way. A foreground star lies just above the quasar.

Bottom center: Hubble has captured quasar PG 1012+008, located 1.6 billion light-years from Earth, merging with a bright galaxy (the object just below the quasar). The two objects are 31,000 light-years apart. The swirling wisps of dust and gas surrounding the quasar and galaxy provide strong evidence for an interaction between them. The compact galaxy on the left of the quasar also may be beginning to merge with the quasar.

Top right: Hubble has captured a tidal tail of dust and gas beneath quasar 0316-346, located 2.2 billion light-years from Earth. The peculiar-shaped tail suggests that the host galaxy has interacted with a passing galaxy that is not in the image.

Bottom right: Hubble has captured evidence of a dance between two merging galaxies. The galaxies may have orbited each other several times before merging, leaving distinct loops of glowing gas around quasar IRAS13218+0552. The quasar is 2 billion light-years from Earth. The elongated core in the center of the image may comprise the two nuclei of the merging galaxies.

Deepest View of Space Yields Young Stars in Andromeda Halo

MAY 7, 2003: Relying on the deepest visible-light images ever taken in space, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have reliably measured the age of the spherical halo of stars surrounding the neighboring Andromeda galaxy (M31). To their surprise, they have discovered that approximately one-third of the stars in Andromeda's halo formed only 6 to 8 billion years ago. That's a far cry from the 11-to-13 billion-year age of the stars in the Milky Way's halo.

Why is there a difference in the age range of the stars in the Andromeda and Milky Way halos?

Astronomers think that the collision with another large galaxy or the ravaging of several smaller galaxies scattered the young stars into Andromeda's halo. The newly discovered younger stars in Andromeda's halo are richer in heavier elements than those in our Milky Way's halo, or in most of the small dwarf galaxies that surround the Milky Way. The stars' age spread and chemical make-up suggests three possibilities: (1) Collisions destroyed the young disk of Andromeda and dispersed many of its stars into the halo; (2) a single collision destroyed a relatively massive invading galaxy and dispersed its stars and some of Andromeda's disk stars into the halo; and/or (3) many stars formed during the collision itself. Astronomers say it will take more detailed observations to unravel the evidence of these early cataclysmic events.

2. Why do astronomers call these observations the "deepest visible-light images ever taken in space"?

Astronomers needed to make several hundred exposures to survey the bright and the faint stars in Andromeda's halo. The image shown here was made from 250 separate exposures. The observations were taken from Dec. 2, 2002 to Jan. 11, 2003 with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), but the total exposure time was 3.5 days. Astronomers needed the lengthy observations because the halo's ordinary Sun-like stars are very faint. In fact, before using the ACS to tackle the halo stars, astronomers had observed only the brightest ones. The sharp eyes of the ACS, however, uncovered about 300,000 stars that astronomers had never seen before.

Getting close

We shoot on Bulla the Movie in a few days time. Pre production is going well, but there are a couple of tricky locations still outstanding.

Still, we've nailed some great ones, so can;t wait to see what they do with them! :)

This is Bulla, from some previous clips from the 11 O'clock Show in the 1990's where he was a regular character.

And from a recent short film they made.

Its Alive!

It may not quite be "Frankenstein," but for the first time scientists have created an organism controlled by completely human-made DNA.

Using the tools of synthetic biology, scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute installed a completely artificial genome inside a host cell without DNA. Like the bolt of lightning that awakened Frankenstein, the new genome invigorated the host cell, which began to grow and reproduce, albeit with a few problems.

The research marks a technical milestone in the synthesis and implantation of artificial DNA. Venter expects the research will lead to cheaper drugs, vaccines and biofuels in several years — and dozens of other companies and researchers are working toward the same goal.

It may not quite be "Frankenstein," but for the first time scientists have created an organism controlled by completely human-made DNA.

Using the tools of synthetic biology, scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute installed a completely artificial genome inside a host cell without DNA. Like the bolt of lightning that awakened Frankenstein, the new genome invigorated the host cell, which began to grow and reproduce, albeit with a few problems.

The research marks a technical milestone in the synthesis and implantation of artificial DNA. Venter expects the research will lead to cheaper drugs, vaccines and biofuels in several years — and dozens of other companies and researchers are working toward the same goal.

No machine can turn out a single piece of DNA anywhere close to that long, however. Instead, Venter and his colleagues started with many relatively small pieces of DNA. Then the scientists transferred DNA pieces back and forth between a yeast cell and E. coli bacteria, turning the many short pieces into fewer but longer DNA segments.

Once the synthetic DNA segment reached the desired length the scientists injected it into a Mycoplasma bacterium that had had its own DNA removed earlier. Needless to say, the process of assembling such a lengthy piece of synthetic DNA was complicated.

"I hope the day comes when making genomes is something everyone can do," said Pamela Silver, a systems biologist at Harvard Medical School.

Some genes suffered glitches
The new, synthetic DNA "booted up" the bacterium, but not without a few problems: Several of the synthesized genes didn't work properly. And the genes that did work didn't do anything particularly useful, at least by human standards.

The Mycoplasma bacteria grew and reproduced, but that was about all. Within several years however, Venter and his colleagues hope to create more exciting bacteria that will speed up the production and drive down the costs of biofuels, vaccines and drugs.

Venter has teamed up with a major oil and gas company, and a pharmaceutical company, to help realize these goals.

Venter's work falls into a nascent field of science known as synthetic biology. Synthetic biology builds on the decades-old field of genetic engineering. Unlike genetic engineering, where scientists introduce a handful of new genes into an organism, synthetic biology aims to reprogram entire organisms, including bacteria and viruses.

The creation and insertion of a synthetic genome more than 1 million base pairs is a technical landmark, said Frances Arnold, a synthetic biologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He said the feat showcases scientists' ability to precisely manipulate long sections of DNA.

But before consumers see any benefit several significant hurdles have to be solved. One of the biggest problems is that scientists are still searching for the specific genetic code to produce cheap drugs, biofuel and other products.

"We can write anything we want," said Arnold. "The problem is that we don't know what to write."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hubbles 20 Greatest Discoveries: 20 - 17

17. Hubble Maps the Cosmic Web of "Clumpy" Dark Matter in 3-D

This three-dimensional map offers a first look at the web-like large-scale distribution of dark matter, an invisible form of matter that accounts for most of the universe's mass. This milestone takes astronomers from inference to direct observation of dark matter's influence in the universe. Because of the finite speed of light, regions furthest away are also seen as they existed a long time ago. The map stretches halfway back in time to the beginning of the universe.

The map reveals a loose network of dark matter filaments, gradually collapsing under the relentless pull of gravity, and growing clumpier over time. This confirms theories of how structure formed in our evolving universe, which has transitioned from a comparatively smooth distribution of matter at the time of the big bang. The dark matter filaments began to form first and provided an underlying scaffolding for the subsequent construction of stars and galaxies from ordinary matter. Without dark matter, there would have been insufficient mass in the universe for structures to collapse and galaxies to form.

[Top] - Three slices through the evolving distribution of dark matter. The dataset is created by splitting the background source galaxy population into discrete epochs of time (like cutting through geologic strata), looking back into the past. This is calibrated by measuring the cosmological redshift of the lensing galaxies used to map the dark matter distribution, and binning them into different time/distance "slices". Each panel represents an area of sky nine times the angular diameter of the full Moon. Note that this fixed angle means that the survey volume is a really a cone, and that the physical area of the slices increases (from 19 Mpc on a side to 31 Mpc on a side) from left to right.

[Bottom] - When the slices across the universe and back into time are combined, they make a three-dimensional map of dark matter in the universe. The three axes of the box correspond to sky position (in right ascension and declination), and distance from the Earth increasing from left to right (as measured by cosmological redshift). Note how the clumping of the dark matter becomes more pronounced, moving right to left across the volume map, from the early universe to the more recent universe.

The dark matter distribution was mapped with Hubble Space Telescope's largest ever survey of the universe, the Cosmic Evolution Survey ("COSMOS"). To compile the COSMOS survey, Hubble photographed 575 adjacent and slightly overlapping views of the universe using the Advanced Camera for Surveys' (ACS) Wide Field Camera onboard Hubble. It took nearly 1,000 hours of observations. The distances to the galaxies were determined from their spectral redshifts, using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii.

18. Hubble Provide Complete View of Jupiter's Auroras

19. Pluto's Two Small Moons Officially Named Nix and Hydra

A pair of small moons that NASA's Hubble Space Telescope discovered orbiting Pluto now have official names: Nix and Hydra. Photographed by Hubble in 2005, Nix and Hydra are roughly 5,000 times fainter than Pluto and are about two to three times farther from Pluto than its large moon, Charon, which was discovered in 1978.

The names were approved this week by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies.

In Greek mythology, Nyx is the goddess of the night. Among her many offspring was Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead across the river Styx into the Underworld. (Because asteroid 3908 already bears the Greek name Nyx, the IAU decided to use the Egyptian equivalent, Nix, for the name of Pluto's moon.) The mythological Hydra was a nine-headed serpent with poisonous blood. The Hydra had its den at the entrance to Hades, where Pluto and his wife Persephone entered the Underworld.

The team of researchers who selected the names, out of a list of more than two- dozen candidate names, used Hubble images to make the discovery in support of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond. Team members are based at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colo., the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.

"You're going to be hearing a lot more about Nix and Hydra in coming years, says co-leader of the discovery team, Alan Stern of SwRI. "Astronomers are already applying for telescope time to study their orbits and physical properties. And when New Horizons flies by Pluto in the summer of 2015, each moon will be mapped in detail."

In making the selection, team members explained that Nix and Hydra honor the search for new satellites and the New Horizons mission to Pluto by starting with the letters "N" and "H." The first letter of Hydra also honors the Hubble Space Telescope that was used to detect the satellites. This has historical tradition. Pluto's name begins with the letters "P" and "L" to honor Boston astronomer Percival Lowell, who inaugurated the search that led to Pluto's discovery. (Lowell did not live to see Pluto's discovery, which was made by Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory in 1930.)

20. Quaoar

OCTOBER 7, 2002: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has measured the largest object discovered in the solar system since the discovery of Pluto 72 years ago. Approximately half the size of Pluto, the icy world is called "Quaoar" (pronounced kwa-whar). Quaoar is about 4 billion miles away, more than a billion miles farther than Pluto. Like Pluto, Quaoar dwells in the Kuiper belt, an icy belt of comet-like bodies extending 7 billion miles beyond Neptune's orbit.

1. How large is "Quaoar"?

Using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, astronomers determined that "Quaoar" has a diameter of about 800 miles (1300 kilometers). Hubble's observation is the first direct measurement of a Kuiper belt object's true size. Although astronomers have discovered 500 Kuiper belt objects over the past decade, they have estimated the sizes of only the largest of them. But astronomers could not measure the true sizes of the objects because they are small, dim, and far away.

2. What is the significance of this finding?

This new object is the "biggest fish" astronomers have snagged in surveys of Kuiper belt objects. Astronomers theorize that even larger icy worlds reside in the Kuiper belt, a reservoir of material from the birth of our solar system. The Kuiper belt is a vast frontier where astronomers are just beginning to hunt for clues about the early solar system. Objects like "Quaoar" could help enlighten astronomers about the birth of our solar system planets.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Film premier

I was invited to the premier of one of the films that the guys I'm working with did last year. A comedy docu about a failed low budget film. The film that inspired this film was one I worked on 18 months ago, but thankfully it wasn't down to the Locations Dept that it went all a bit wobbly! lol

It was a great film, with all sorts of knowing wink to the wonderful world of low budget indie film making. Worth checking out if you get the chance.

And yes, it even had a red carpet! lol

Next film up

This one is an East End gangster comedy/mockumentary. Could be great fun!

So its full of East End clich├ęs. Been checking out jellied eel stalls (remember them?), Run down EE pubs, and bank vaults! More if I can post :)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Happy 20th birthday Hubble telescope

As you may know I am a huge fan of the Hubble telescope. 25th April was its 20th aniversary. The Hubble telescope has revolunionised astronomy and cosmology in the past 20 years, making discoveries that were un-heard of, and taking pictures of things only hinted at in Einsteins theory of relativity.

So over the next few post I will be posting a series of pics and articles showing what scientists believe to be the 20 most important discoveries that Hubble has made.

Happy birthday, old girl! I hope we get many more years out of you!