Recent Postings from Special Topics

BICEP2+Planck Press release

Bottom line:

No evidence for primordial gravitational waves:

(mars 2013)
(février 2014)
(décembre 2014)
(janvier 2015)
r < 0.11 r = 0.16-0.20 r < 0.11 r < 0.13

Wind-driven circulation in Titan's seas

A higher-than-predicted measurement of iron opacity at solar interior temperatures

“A higher-than-predicted measurement of iron opacity at solar interior temperatures” by Bailey et al.

Nearly a century ago it was recognized1 that radiation absorption by stellar matter controls the internal temperature profiles within stars. Laboratory opacity measurements, however, have never been performed at stellar interior conditions, introducing uncertainties in stellar models2, 3, 4, 5. A particular problem arose2, 3, 6, 7, 8 when refined photosphere spectral analysis9, 10 led to reductions of 30–50 per cent in the inferred amounts of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in the Sun. Standard solar models11 using the revised element abundances disagree with helioseismic observations that determine the internal solar structure using acoustic oscillations. This could be resolved if the true mean opacity for the solar interior matter were roughly 15 per cent higher than predicted2, 3, 6, 7, 8, because increased opacity compensates for the decreased element abundances. Iron accounts for a quarter of the total opacity2, 12 at the solar radiation/convection zone boundary. Here we report measurements of wavelength-resolved iron opacity at electron temperatures of 1.9–2.3 million kelvin and electron densities of (0.7–4.0) × 1022 per cubic centimetre, conditions very similar to those in the solar region that affects the discrepancy the most: the radiation/convection zone boundary. The measured wavelength-dependent opacity is 30–400 per cent higher than predicted. This represents roughly half the change in the mean opacity needed to resolve the solar discrepancy, even though iron is only one of many elements that contribute to opacity.

Planck 2014 results

Planck Press Release Dec 1 2014 (in French, en francais)

Planck press release (now with polarization!) includes two more technical pages (both in French):

Dark Matter and (if I read the bottom panel correctly) no B-Modes and lensing B-modes

and Neutrinos (looks like N_eff ~ 3):

Solar nebula magnetic fields recorded in the Semarkona meteorite

PDF, Supplementary PDF


Magnetic fields are proposed to have played a critical role in some of the most enigmatic processes of planetary formation by mediating the rapid accretion of disk material onto the central star and the formation of the first solids. However, there have been no experimental constraints on the intensity of these fields. Here we show that dusty olivine-bearing chondrules from the Semarkona meteorite were magnetized in a nebular field of 54 ± 21 μT. This intensity supports chondrule formation by nebular shocks or planetesimal collisions rather than by electric currents, the x-wind, or other mechanisms near the sun. This implies that background magnetic fields in the terrestrial planet-forming region were likely 5-54 μT, which is sufficient to account for measured rates of mass and angular momentum transport in protoplanetary disks.

Unusual Activity in the Atmosphere of Uranus in 2014

Announced at DPS. No paper posted yet. UCB Press release:



Uranus continues to evolve as it progresses through the post-equinoctial season. Images taken on 5 and 6 August 2014 at the 10-m Keck 2 telescope show significant atmospheric activity in the planet’s northern (currently sun-facing) hemisphere. Although Keck’s adaptive optics system was underperforming (resulting in artifacts and some blurring), many discrete features were visible on the planet at H (1.6 microns) and K’ (2.2 microns). Many of these features reached altitudes above the 1-bar level, as evidenced by their detection at K’. One feature breaks the record as the brightest ever detected or Uranus at K’, producing 30% of the total light reflected by the planet in that filter, compared to 12% for the previous record in 2005 (Sromovsky et al., Icarus 192, 558-575, 2007). The 2014 feature’s morphology was similar at both K’ and H, suggestive of an underlying vortex (e.g., Hammel et al., Icarus 201, 257-271, 2009). However, the feature’s brightest region in K’ is not particularly bright in H; i.e, although it is relatively high in altitude, it does not have a high optical depth. The total light fraction at H is only 2-3%, compared to the 4-5% found for the 2005 feature. Thus, its visible-wavelength contrast may be low; this could explain why there have been no amateur follow-up detections as of this writing. The new images also reveal development of a long-expected north polar haze as well as polar cloud features. Interestingly, some discrete polar features were visible through the polar haze. This may indicate that the northern polar haze is not yet at an optical depth comparable to that of the fully-formed southern polar haze seen in pre-equinoctial years. Acknowledgements: the data presented herein were obtained at the W.M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among Caltech, University of California and NASA, and was made possible by the generous financial support of the W.M. Keck Foundation. The authors acknowledge the significant cultural role of Mauna Kea’s summit, and extend thanks to those of Hawaiian ancestry on whose sacred mountain we are privileged to be guests.

Punga Mare Waves

Cassini/VIMS observes rough surfaces on Titan’s Punga Mare in specular reflection

The Science of the Movie "Interstellar"

There’s been quite a bit of chatter on the internet regarding the validity of some of the science presented in the movie. It’s not often that this little corner of astrophysics gets such a public presentation, so I figured it might be interesting for astrophysics institutions to discuss the movie for a few minutes around the water cooler.

Birth of Planets Revealed in Astonishing Detail in ALMA's 'Best Image Ever'

[NRAO Press Release]

Astronomers have captured the best image ever of planet formation around an infant star as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s (ALMA) new high-resolution capabilities.

This revolutionary new image reveals in astonishing detail the planet-forming disk surrounding HL Tau, a Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star… [abridged]


See also Phil Plait’s blog post:

Pulsations as a driver for LBV variability

Pulsations as a driver for LBV variability
Lovekin, C. C. ; Guzik, J. A.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 445, Issue 2, p.1766-1773
Published in Dec 2014

Among the most spectacular variable stars are the luminous blue variables (LBVs), which can show three types of variability. The LBV phase of evolution is poorly understood, and the driving mechanisms for the variability are not known. The most common type of variability, the S Dor instability, occurs on time-scales of tens of years. During an S Dor outburst, the visual magnitude of the star increases, while the bolometric magnitude stays approximately constant. In this work, we investigate pulsation as a possible trigger for the S Dor-type outbursts. We calculate the pulsations of envelope models using a non-linear hydrodynamic code including a time-dependent convection treatment. We initialize the pulsation in the hydrodynamic model based on linear non-adiabatic calculations. Pulsation properties for a full grid of models from 20 to 85 M were calculated, and in this paper, we focus on the few models that show either long-period pulsations or outburst-like behaviour, with photospheric radial velocities reaching 70-80 km s-1. At the present time, our models cannot follow mass-loss, so once the outburst event begins, our simulations are terminated. Our results show that pulsations alone are not able to drive enough surface expansion to eject the outer layers. However, the outbursts and long-period pulsations discussed here produce large variations in effective temperature and luminosity, which are expected to produce large variations in the radiatively driven mass-loss rates.

An ultraluminous X-ray source powered by an accreting neutron star

The majority of ultraluminous X-ray sources are point sources that are spatially offset from the nuclei of nearby galaxies and whose X-ray luminosities exceed the theoretical maximum for spherical infall (the Eddington limit) onto stellar-mass black holes12. Their X-ray luminosities in the 0.5–10 kiloelectronvolt energy band range from 1039 to 1041 ergs per second3. Because higher masses imply less extreme ratios of the luminosity to the isotropic Eddington limit, theoretical models have focused on black hole rather than neutron star systems12. The most challenging sources to explain are those at the luminous end of the range (more than 1040 ergs per second), which require black hole masses of 50–100 times the solar value or significant departures from the standard thin disk accretion that powers bright Galactic X-ray binaries, or both. Here we report broadband X-ray observations of the nuclear region of the galaxy M82 that reveal pulsations with an average period of 1.37 seconds and a 2.5-day sinusoidal modulation. The pulsations result from the rotation of a magnetized neutron star, and the modulation arises from its binary orbit. The pulsed flux alone corresponds to an X-ray luminosity in the 3–30 kiloelectronvolt range of 4.9 × 1039 ergs per second. The pulsating source is spatially coincident with a variable source4 that can reach an X-ray luminosity in the 0.3–10 kiloelectronvolt range of 1.8 × 1040 ergs per second1. This association implies a luminosity of about 100 times the Eddington limit for a 1.4-solar-mass object, or more than ten times brighter than any known accreting pulsar. This implies that neutron stars may not be rare in the ultraluminous X-ray population, and it challenges physical models for the accretion of matter onto magnetized compact objects.

Data Smashing

Data Smashing

Ishanu Chattopadhyay, Hod Lipson
ArXiv: 1401.0742

Investigation of the underlying physics or biology from empirical data requires a quantifiable notion of similarity – when do two observed data sets indicate nearly identical generating processes, and when they do not. The discriminating characteristics to look for in data is often determined by heuristics designed by experts, e.g., distinct shapes of “folded” lightcurves may be used as “features” to classify variable stars, while determination of pathological brain states might require a Fourier analysis of brainwave activity. Finding good features is non-trivial. Here, we propose a universal solution to this problem: [...] In our examples, the data smashing principle, without access to any domain knowledge, meets or exceeds the performance of specialized algorithms tuned by domain experts.

Water vapor absorption in the clear atmosphere of a Neptune-sized exoplanet

J. Fraine, D. Deming, B. Benneke, H. Knutson, A. Jordan, N. Espinoza, N. Madhusudhan, A. Wilkins & K. Todorov

Transmission spectroscopy has so far detected atomic and molecular absorption in Jupiter-sized exoplanets, but intense efforts to measure molecular absorption in the atmospheres of smaller (Neptune-sized) planets during transits have revealed only featureless spectra1, 2, 3, 4. From this it was concluded that the majority of small, warm planets evolve to sustain atmospheres with high mean molecular weights (little hydrogen), opaque clouds or scattering hazes, reducing our ability to observe the composition of these atmospheres1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Here we report observations of the transmission spectrum of the exoplanet HAT-P-11b (which has a radius about four times that of Earth) from the optical wavelength range to the infrared. We detected water vapour absorption at a wavelength of 1.4 micrometres. The amplitude of the water absorption (approximately 250 parts per million) indicates that the planetary atmosphere is predominantly clear down to an altitude corresponding to about 1 millibar, and sufficiently rich in hydrogen to have a large scale height (over which the atmospheric pressure varies by a factor of e). The spectrum is indicative of a planetary atmosphere in which the abundance of heavy elements is no greater than about 700 times the solar value. This is in good agreement with the core-accretion theory of planet formation, in which a gas giant planet acquires its atmosphere by accreting hydrogen-rich gas directly from the protoplanetary nebula onto a large rocky or icy core6.

Use “Dead Weight” on Mars Spacecraft to Advance Science and Technology

NASA is looking for creative yet practical ideas to find a dual purpose for Balance mass (“dead weight”) that is jettisoned from Mars landers like the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to balance the spacecraft during entry and landing. Payloads replacing Balance mass should perform some type of scientific or technological function adding to our knowledge base while closely matching the volume and weight characteristics of the original Balance mass. Ideas are welcomed from all disciplines. This Challenge requires only a written proposal.

Cash awards up to $1 million.

AMS-02 Press Release on CR Electrons and Positrons

CERN press release including updated positron fraction results

High Statistics Measurement of the Positron Fraction in Primary Cosmic Rays of 0.5–500 GeV with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the International Space Station

Phys. Rev. Lett. 113, 121101 – Published 18 September 2014
L. Accardo et al. (AMS Collaboration)

Electron and Positron Fluxes in Primary Cosmic Rays Measured with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the International Space Station

Phys. Rev. Lett. 113, 121102 – Published 18 September 2014
M. Aguilar et al. (AMS Collaboration)

Neutrinos from the primary proton–proton fusion process in the Sun

Borexino Collaboration

In the core of the Sun, energy is released through sequences of nuclear reactions that convert hydrogen into helium. The primary reaction is thought to be the fusion of two protons with the emission of a low-energy neutrino. These so-called pp neutrinos constitute nearly the entirety of the solar neutrino flux, vastly outnumbering those emitted in the reactions that follow. Although solar neutrinos from secondary processes have been observed, proving the nuclear origin of the Sun’s energy and contributing to the discovery of neutrino oscillations, those from proton–proton fusion have hitherto eluded direct detection. Here we report spectral observations of pp neutrinos, demonstrating that about 99 per cent of the power of the Sun, 3.84 × 1033 ergs per second, is generated by the proton–proton fusion process.

Online networks and subjective well-being

A chemical signature of first-generation very massive stars

by W. Aoki, N. Tominaga, T. C. Beers, S. Honda, Y. S. Lee

Numerical simulations of structure formation in the early universe predict the formation of some fraction of stars with several hundred solar masses. No clear evidence of supernovae from such very massive stars has, however, yet been found in the chemical compositions of Milky Way stars. We report on an analysis of a very metal-poor star SDSS J001820.5–093939.2, which possesses elemental-abundance ratios that differ significantly from any previously known star. This star exhibits low [α-element Fe] ratios and large contrasts between the abundances of odd and even element pairs, such as scandium/titanium and cobalt/nickel. Such features have been predicted by nucleosynthesis models for supernovae of stars more than 140 times as massive as the Sun, suggesting that the mass distribution of first-generation stars might extend to 100 solar masses or larger.

A 400-solar-mass black hole in the galaxy M82

by Dheeraj R. Pasham, Tod E. Strohmayer & Richard F. Mushotzky

M82 X-1, the brightest X-ray source in the galaxy M82, has been thought to be an intermediate-mass black hole (100 to 10,000 solar masses) because of its extremely high luminosity and variability characteristics1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, although some models suggest that its mass may be only about 20 solar masses3, 7. The previous mass estimates were based on scaling relations that use low-frequency characteristic timescales which have large intrinsic uncertainties8, 9. For stellar-mass black holes, we know that the high-frequency quasi-periodic oscillations (100–450 hertz) in the X-ray emission that occur in a 3:2 frequency ratio are stable and scale in frequency inversely with black hole mass with a reasonably small dispersion10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. The discovery of such stable oscillations thus potentially offers an alternative and less ambiguous means of mass determination for intermediate-mass black holes, but has hitherto not been realized. Here we report stable, twin-peak (3:2 frequency ratio) X-ray quasi-periodic oscillations from M82 X-1 at frequencies of 3.32 ± 0.06 hertz and 5.07 ± 0.06 hertz. Assuming that we can extrapolate the inverse-mass scaling that holds for stellar-mass black holes, we estimate the black hole mass of M82 X-1 to be 428 ± 105 solar masses. In addition, we can estimate the mass using the relativistic precession model, from which we get a value of 415 ± 63 solar masses.

Spectral Calibration in the Mid-Infrared: Challenges and Solutions

Spectral Calibration in the Mid-Infrared: Challenges and Solutions

G.C. Sloan (Cornell), T.L. Herter (Cornell), V. Charmandaris (Univ. of Crete), K. Sheth (NRAO), M. Burgdorf (HE Space Operations, Bremen), and J.R. Houck (Cornell)

2014, AJ, in press.

Full manuscript available locally (PDF).

The 53 IRS spectra described in this paper are available on this website.

We present spectra obtained with the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) on the Spitzer Space Telescope of 33 K giants and 20 A dwarfs to assess their suitability as spectrophotometric standard stars. The K giants confirm previous findings that the strength of the SiO absorption band at 8 um increases for both later optical spectral classes and redder (B-V)0 colors, but with considerable scatter. For K giants, the synthetic spectra underpredict the strengths of the molecular bands from SiO and OH. For these reasons, the assumed true spectra for K giants should be based on neither the assumption that molecular band strengths in the infrared can be predicted accurately from optical spectral class or color nor synthetric spectra. The OH bands in K giants grow stronger with cooler stellar temperatures, and they are stronger than predicted by synthetic spectra. As a group, A dwarfs are better behaved and more predictable than the K giants, but they are more likely to show red excesses from debris disks. No suitable A dwarfs were located in parts of the sky continuously observable from Spitzer, and with previous means of estimating the true spectra of K giants ruled out, it was necessary to use models of A dwarfs to calibrate spectra of K giants from observed spectral ratios of the two groups and then use the calibrated K giants as standards for the full database of infrared spectra from Spitzer. We also describe a lingering artifact that affects the spectra of faint blue sources at 24 µm.


Velocity anti-correlation of diametrically opposed galaxy satellites in the low-redshift Universe

Neil G. Ibata, Rodrigo A. Ibata, Benoit Famaey & Geraint F. Lewis

Recent work has shown that the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies both possess the unexpected property that their dwarf satellite galaxies are aligned in thin and kinematically coherent planar structures. It is interesting to evaluate the incidence of such planar structures in the larger galactic population, because the Local Group may not be a representative environment. Here we report measurements of the velocities of pairs of diametrically opposed satellite galaxies. In the local Universe (redshift z < 0.05), we find that satellite pairs out to a distance of 150 kiloparsecs from the galactic centre are preferentially anti-correlated in their velocities (99.994 per cent confidence level), and that the distribution of galaxies in the larger-scale environment (out to distances of about 2 megaparsecs) is strongly clumped along the axis joining the inner satellite pair (>7σ confidence). This may indicate that planes of co-rotating satellites, similar to those seen around the Andromeda galaxy, are ubiquitous, and their coherent motion suggests that they represent a substantial repository of angular momentum on scales of about 100 kiloparsecs.

Published BICEP2 Results

Slightly revised from

Just one proposal per year, please, NSF tells astronomers

Later this summer, NSF’s astronomy division intends to announce a new policy that will “strongly encourage” scientists to submit just a single proposal for each annual funding cycle. The voluntary cap is designed to boost success rates, which would please applicants. It’s also meant to ease the workload and frustration levels of peer reviewers poring over proposals that they know have little chance of getting funded.

“It’s a first step,” says James Ulvestad, director of NSF’s astronomy division. If it doesn’t achieve the desired effect, he adds, “we may have to make it mandatory in 2016 for the sake of reviewers’ sanity.”

Science 20 June 2014:
Vol. 344 no. 6190 p. 1328
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6190.1328

A Wolf-Rayet-like progenitor of SN 2013cu from spectral observations of a stellar wind

Gal-Yam et al. 2014

The explosive fate of massive Wolf-Rayet stars (WRSs) is a key open question in stellar physics. An appealing option is that hydrogen-deficient WRSs are the progenitors of some hydrogen-poor supernova explosions of types IIb, Ib and Ic (ref. 2). A blue object, having luminosity and colours consistent with those of some WRSs, has recently been identified in pre-explosion images at the location of a supernova of type Ib (ref. 3), but has not yet been conclusively determined to have been the progenitor. Similar work has so far only resulted in non-detections. Comparison of early photometric observations of type Ic supernovae with theoretical models suggests that the progenitor stars had radii of less than 1012 centimetres, as expected for some WRSs. The signature of WRSs, their emission line spectra, cannot be probed by such studies. Here we report the detection of strong emission lines in a spectrum of type IIb supernova 2013cu (iPTF13ast) obtained approximately 15.5 hours after explosion (by `flash spectroscopy’, which captures the effects of the supernova explosion shock breakout flash on material surrounding the progenitor star). We identify Wolf-Rayet-like wind signatures, suggesting a progenitor of the WN(h) subclass (those WRSs with winds dominated by helium and nitrogen, with traces of hydrogen). The extent of this dense wind may indicate increased mass loss from the progenitor shortly before its explosion, consistent with recent theoretical predictions.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics

Discussion of

The different neighbours around Type-1 and Type-2 active galactic nuclei

Beatriz Villaroel and Andreas J. Korn, 2014, Nature Physics, “The different neighbours around Type-1 and Type-2 active galactic nuclei”

News and Views
Martin Gaskell, “Astronomy: Unifying active galactic nuclei”


Abstract: One of the most intriguing open issues in galaxy evolution is the structure and evolution of active galactic nuclei (AGN) that emit intense light believed to come from an accretion disk near a super massive black hole12. To understand the zoo of different AGN classes, it has been suggested that all AGN are the same type of object viewed from different angles3. This model—called AGN unification—has been successful in predicting, for example, the existence of hidden broad optical lines in the spectrum of many narrow-line AGN. But this model is not unchallenged4 and it is debatable whether more than viewing angle separates the so-called Type-1 and Type-2 AGN. Here we report the first large-scale study that finds strong differences in the galaxy neighbours to Type-1 and Type-2 AGN with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS; ref. 5) Data Release 7 (DR7; ref. 6) and Galaxy Zoo78. We find strong differences in the colour and AGN activity of the neighbours to Type-1 and Type-2 AGN and in how the fraction of AGN residing in spiral hosts changes depending on the presence or not of a neighbour. These findings suggest that an evolutionary link between the two major AGN types might exist.


Properties of galaxies reproduced by a hydrodynamic simulation

by M. Vogelsberger, S. Genel, V. Springel, P. Torrey, D. Sijacki, D. Xu, G. Snyder, S. Bird, D. Nelson & L. Hernquist

Previous simulations of the growth of cosmic structures have broadly reproduced the ‘cosmic web’ of galaxies that we see in the Universe, but failed to create a mixed population of elliptical and spiral galaxies, because of numerical in- accuracies and incomplete physical models. Moreover, they were unable to track the small-scale evolution of gas and stars to the present epoch within a representative portion of the Universe. Here we report a simulation that starts 12 million years after the Big Bang, and traces 13 billion years of cosmic evolution with 12 billion resolution elements in a cube of 106.5 megaparsecs a side. It yields a reasonable population of ellipticals and spirals, reproduces the observed distribution of galaxies in clusters and characteristics of hydrogen on large scales, and at the same time matches the ‘metal’ and hydrogen content of galaxies on small scales.


Tegmark Inflation Chapter

Guest post by Max Tegmark on Sean Carroll’s blog Preposterous Universe about inflation.

Discovery of a ~250 K Brown Dwarf at 2 pc from the Sun

Abstract: Through a previous analysis of multi-epoch astrometry from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), I identified WISE J085510.83–071442.5 as a new high proper motion object. By combining astrometry from WISE and the Spitzer Space Telescope, I have measured a proper motion of 8.1 ± 0.1” yr–1 and a parallax of 0.454 ± 0.045” ($2.20^{+0.24}_{-0.20}$ pc) for WISE J085510.83–071442.5, giving it the third highest proper motion and the fourth largest parallax of any known star or brown dwarf. It is also the coldest known brown dwarf based on its absolute magnitude at 4.5 μm and its color in [3.6]-[4.5]. By comparing M 4.5 with the values predicted by theoretical evolutionary models, I estimate an effective temperature of 225-260 K and a mass of 3-10 M Jup for the age range of 1-10 Gyr that encompasses most nearby stars.


An Earth-Sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Cool Star

Quintana et al., Science, 18 April 2014

The quest for Earth-like planets is a major focus of current exoplanet research. Although planets that are Earth-sized and smaller have been detected, these planets reside in orbits that are too close to their host star to allow liquid water on their surfaces. We present the detection of Kepler-186f, a 1.11 ± 0.14 Earth-radius planet that is the outermost of five planets, all roughly Earth-sized, that transit a 0.47 ± 0.05 solar-radius star. The intensity and spectrum of the star’s radiation place Kepler-186f in the stellar habitable zone, implying that if Kepler-186f has an Earth-like atmosphere and water at its surface, then some of this water is likely to be in liquid form.

The bathymetry of a Titan sea

A Necro-Biological Explanation for the Fermi Paradox

Liquid water on Enceladus

The Gravity Field and Interior Structure of Enceladus

L. Iess, D. J. Stevenson, M. Parisi, D. Hemingway, R. A. Jacobson, J. I. Lunine, F. Nimmo, J. W. Armstrong, S. W. Asmar, M. Ducci, P. Tortora

Science, 4 April 2014
Vol. 344 no. 6179 pp. 78-80
DOI: 10.1126/science.1250551

Editor’s Summary: Saturn’s moon Enceladus has often been the focus of flybys of the Cassini spacecraft. Although small—Enceladus is roughly 10 times smaller than Saturn’s largest moon, Titan—Enceladus has shown hints of having a complex internal structure rich in liquid water. Iess et al. used long-range data collected by the Cassini spacecraft to construct a gravity model of Enceladus. The resulting gravity field indicates the presence of a large mass anomaly at its south pole. Calculations of the moment of inertia and hydrostatic equilibrium from the gravity data suggest the presence of a large, regional subsurface ocean 30 to 40 km deep.

Testing the Limits of Accretion

Felix proposes to discuss these papers at our next meeting (click the links to download the PDF [access to Science Mag. required]):

Soria et al.:


A Sedna-like body with a perihelion of 80 astronomical units

The observable Solar System can be divided into three distinct regions: the rocky terrestrial planets including the asteroids at 0.39 to 4.2 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun (where 1 AU is the mean distance between Earth and the Sun), the gas giant planets at 5 to 30 AU from the Sun, and the icy Kuiper belt objects at 30 to 50 AU from the Sun. The 1,000-kilometre-diameter dwarf planet Sedna was discovered ten years ago and was unique in that its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) is 76 AU, far greater than that of any other Solar System body1. Formation models indicate that Sedna could be a link between the Kuiper belt objects and the hypothesized outer Oort cloud at around 10,000 au from the Sun2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Here we report the presence of a second Sedna-like object, 2012 VP113, whose perihelion is 80 au. The detection of 2012 VP113 confirms that Sedna is not an isolated object; instead, both bodies may be members of the inner Oort cloud, whose objects could outnumber all other dynamically stable populations in the Solar System.

A ring system detected around the Centaur (10199) Chariklo

Hitherto, rings have been found exclusively around the four giant planets in the Solar System. Rings are natural laboratories in which to study dynamical processes analogous to those that take place during the formation of planetary systems and galaxies. Their presence also tells us about the origin and evolution of the body they encircle. Here we report observations of a multichord stellar occultation that revealed the presence of a ring system around (10199) Chariklo, which is a Centaur—that is, one of a class of small objects orbiting primarily between Jupiter and Neptune—with an equivalent radius of 124 $\pm$ 9 kilometres. There are two dense rings, with respective widths of about 7 and 3 kilometres, optical depths of 0.4 and 0.06, and orbital radii of 391 and 405 kilometres. The present orientation of the ring is consistent with an edge-on geometry in 2008, which provides a simple explanation for the dimming of the Chariklo system between 1997 and 2008, and for the gradual disappearance of ice and other absorption features in its spectrum over the same period. This implies that the rings are partly composed of water ice. They may be the remnants of a debris disk, possibly confined by embedded, kilometre-sized satellites.

Putative Indigenous Carbon-Bearing Alteration Features in Martian Meteorite Yamato 000593

We report the first observation of indigenous carbonaceous matter in the martian meteorite Yamato 000593. The carbonaceous phases are heterogeneously distributed within secondary iddingsite alteration veins and present in a range of morphologies including areas composed of carbon-rich spheroidal assemblages encased in multiple layers of iddingsite. We also observed microtubular features emanating from iddingsite veins penetrating into the host olivine comparable in shape to those interpreted to have formed by bioerosion in terrestrial basalts.

Key Words: Meteorite—Yamato 000593—Mars—Carbon.

Astrobiology 14, 170–181.

Hydrous mantle transition zone indicated by ringwoodite included within diamond

The ultimate origin of water in the Earth’s hydrosphere is in the deep Earth—the mantle. Theory and experiments have shown that although the water storage capacity of olivine-dominated shallow mantle is limited, the Earth’s transition zone, at depths between 410 and 660 kilometres, could be a major repository for water, owing to the ability of the higher-pressure polymorphs of olivine—wadsleyite and ringwoodite—to host enough water to comprise up to around 2.5 per cent of their weight. A hydrous transition zone may have a key role in terrestrial magmatism and plate tectonics, yet despite experimental demonstration of the water-bearing capacity of these phases, geophysical probes such as electrical conductivity have provided conflicting results, and the issue of whether the transition zone contains abundant water remains highly controversial. Here we report X-ray diffraction, Raman and infrared spectroscopic data that provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence for the terrestrial occurrence of any higher-pressure polymorph of olivine: we find ringwoodite included in a diamond from Juína, Brazil. The water-rich nature of this inclusion, indicated by infrared absorption, along with the preservation of the ringwoodite, is direct evidence that, at least locally, the transition zone is hydrous, to about 1 weight per cent. The finding also indicates that some kimberlites must have their primary sources in this deep mantle region.

Apologies for the nature paywall.

Super-Eddington Mechanical Power of an Accreting Black Hole in M83


Mass accretion onto black holes releases energy in the form of radiation and outflows. While the radiative flux cannot substantially exceed the Eddington limit, at which the outgoing radiation pressure impedes the inflow of matter, it remains unclear whether the kinetic energy flux is bounded by this same limit. Here we present the detection of a radio/optical structure, powered by outflows from a non-nuclear black hole. Its accretion disk properties indicate that this black hole is less than 100 solar masses. The optical/IR line emission implies an average kinetic power of 3 × 1040 erg s−1, higher than the Eddington luminosity of the black hole. These results demonstrate kinetic power exceeding the Eddington limit over a sustained period, which implies greater ability to influence the evolution of the black hole’s environment.

The observable signature of late heating of the Universe during cosmic reionization

Felix will lead a discussion on the recent Nature paper (click here to get the article), which is about role of HMXBs in the reionisation of the universe.


You need to log in to vote

The blog owner requires users to be logged in to be able to vote for this post.

Alternatively, if you do not have an account yet you can create one here.

Powered by Vote It Up

^ Return to the top of page ^