Monthly Archives: May 2011

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17 Lost Pyramids Discovered by Infr-Red Satellite

Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images

Modern day San El Hakkar and infrared image of ancient Tanis  
The infrared image on the right reveals the ancient city streets of Tanis near modern-day San El Hagar
Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.
Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids.
The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak.

satellite image of pyramid  
An infra-red satellite image shows a buried pyramid, located in the centre of the highlight box.

She says she was amazed at how much she and her team has found.
“We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the “Aha!” moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we’d found and I couldn’t believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt.
“To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist,” she said.
The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 700km above the earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1m in diameter on the earth’s surface.
Infra-red imaging was used to highlight different materials under the surface.
Test excavations Ancient Egyptians built their houses and structures out of mud brick, which is much denser than the soil that surrounds it, so the shapes of houses, temples and tombs can be seen.
“It just shows us how easy it is to underestimate both the size and scale of past human settlements,” says Dr Parcak.
And she believes there are more antiquities to be discovered:
“These are just the sites [close to] the surface. There are many thousands of additional sites that the Nile has covered over with silt. This is just the beginning of this kind of work.”
BBC cameras followed Dr Parcak on her “nervous” journey when she travelled to Egypt to see if excavations could back up what her technology could see under the surface.
In the BBC documentary Egypt’s Lost Cities, they visit an area of Saqqara (Sakkara) where the authorities were not initially interested in her findings.
But after being told by Dr Parcak that she had seen two potential pyramids, they made test excavations, and they now believe it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.

An infra-red satellite image reveals the city of Tanis

But Dr Parcak said the most exciting moment was visiting the excavations at Tanis.
“They’d excavated a 3,000-year-old house that the satellite imagery had shown and the outline of the structure matched the satellite imagery almost perfectly. That was real validation of the technology.”
The Egyptian authorities plan to use the technology to help – among other things – protect the country’s antiquities in the future.
During the recent revolution, looters accessed some well-known archaeological sites.

Dr Sarah Parcak Space Archaeologist
“We can tell from the imagery a tomb was looted from a particular period of time and we can alert Interpol to watch out for antiquities from that time that may be offered for sale.”

She also hopes the new technology will help engage young people in science and will be a major help for archaeologists around the world.
“It allows us to be more focused and selective in the work we do. Faced with a massive site, you don’t know where to start.
“It’s an important tool to focus where we’re excavating. It gives us a much bigger perspective on archaeological sites. We have to think bigger and that’s what the satellites allow us to do.”
“Indiana Jones is old school, we’ve moved on from Indy, sorry Harrison Ford.” 

Egypt’s Lost Cities is on BBC One on Monday 30 May at 2030 BST.


Arm’s Trace: Astronomers Spot a Newfound Piece of the Milky Way Galaxy

A looping spiral arm of gas some 70,000 light-years away seems to preserve the galaxy’s spiral symmetry

New spiral arm segment of the Milky Way  
ARM AND ARM: A simplified schematic view of the Milky Way Galaxy, showing only the two large spiral arms believed to originate at either end of the central bar. The gray segments are extrapolations between actual observations. Image: COURTESY THOMAS DAME

Fantastically detailed, visually arresting photographs of Andromeda, a spiral galaxy that lies 2.5 million light-years from Earth, have been available for years. But getting a full panorama of our own Milky Way Galaxy is considerably more difficult. Nestled in the thick of the galaxy, we are unable to see it from the outside. For astronomers trying to map out the Milky Way’s structure in detail, the exercise is a bit like trying to figure out what one’s own face looks like—without the aid of a mirror.

That means that new discoveries are still possible in our own cosmic backyard, a fact made apparent by a new study that identifies a previously unseen spiral arm of the Milky Way. The newfound structure, some 70,000 light-years away, may be the continuation of a major, previously known spiral arm, part of which is visible much closer to Earth. Thomas Dame and Patrick Thaddeus of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announce the finding in a study that is set to appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Astronomers can map distant galactic structures using telescope dishes operating in the microwave or radio bands that can identify spectral signatures of specific atoms or molecules. Dame and Thaddeus found the new appendage by tracing the well-known Scutum–Centaurus arm to where it ought to extend on the far side of the galaxy. Something tantalizing showed up in telescope surveys that had scanned the galaxy for microwave emissions from hydrogen atoms. But with so much hydrogen in the galaxy, discrete structures can be hard to identify, and false positives abound. “You can pick up all kinds of patterns in the wallpaper” with hydrogen, Dame says.

So he and Thaddeus went looking for carbon monoxide, which is thought to be a reliable tracer of the kind of molecular gas clouds that form stars. Finding molecular clouds strung along the purported arm would verify that it was a genuine piece of the Milky Way’s structure and not a mere pattern in the wallpaper. And indeed the researchers did find several molecular clouds along the arm, one of which they mapped out in detail. It is roughly 300 light-years in diameter, with the mass of 50,000 suns. Mapping the entire arm will take years, Dame says.

The location of the arm matches where the Scutum–Centaurus arm would emerge from behind the galactic center. That region that is difficult to observe; for one thing, the galactic center is dense and roiling with activity. It is nearly impossible to see the middle span of Scutum–Centaurus behind the center that would connect the inner portion of the arm to the newfound outer portion. “We’ve apparently found it much farther out than anyone has ever traced it before,” Dame says. “If our proposition is correct, it means that the Scutum–Centaurus arm goes almost all the way around the galaxy.”

It makes sense that Scutum–Centaurus would continue outward to where the newfound structure lies; indeed, such an extension of Scutum–Centaurus would preserve the galaxy’s general symmetry. The Perseus arm, a sort of mirror image of Scutum–Centaurus whose arc carries it past the sun’s neighborhood, wraps around the galaxy in just the way it now appears Scutum–Centaurus does on the opposite side of the galaxy.

So it is not entirely unexpected that such a structure would exist; some artists’ renderings have shown Scutum–Centaurus encircling the galaxy in just the way that the new observations suggest. But seeing is believing, and the new arm has not been convincingly spotted before. “I would say that it’s been scarcely noticed,” Dame says. “A couple other people sort of drew a line through it and didn’t even mention it.”

Part of the reason the newfound spiral arm was easy to miss is that it does not sit neatly in the plane of the Milky Way. “It’s following the warp in the galaxy,” Dame says. “The galaxy is sort of—roughly speaking—like a sombrero hat.” Such warping is not uncommon on the outer fringes of spiral galaxies. “When the star density gets low, there’s less to hold it in place,” he says, and the tug of dwarf galaxies or of other perturbers can bend the disk out of shape. The new structure is at the very edge of the galaxy, where stars become scarce, but there may nonetheless be some stars there to complement the gas astronomers have detected. “It’s interesting, of course, that there are molecular clouds there,” Dame says. “It’s hard to prevent molecular clouds from forming stars.”

Supermassive Black Holes at Galactic Cores Spinning Faster than Ever in the History of the Universe?

May 24, 2011

Why are Supermassive Black Holes at Galactic Cores Spinning Faster than Ever in the History of the Universe?

6a00d8341c2c6053ef00e55051aaff8833-800wi British astronomers have found that the giant black holes in the centers of galaxies are on average spinning faster than at any time in the history of the Universe. Dr. Alejo Martinez-Sansigre of the University of Portsmouth and Prof. Steve Rawlings of the University of Oxford made the new discovery by using radio, optical and X-ray data. They publish their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

There is strong evidence that every galaxy has a massive black hole in its center that has masses of between a million and a billion Suns. They cannot be seen directly, but material swirls around the black hole in a so-called accretion disk before its final demise. That material can become very hot and emit radiation including X-rays that can be detected by space-based telescopes whilst associated radio emission can be detected by telescopes on the ground. Twin jets are often associated with black holes and their accretion disks. There are many factors that can cause these jets to be produced, but the spin of the supermassive black hole is believed to be important. However, there are conflicting predictions about how the spins of the black holes should be evolving and until now this evolution was not well understood.

Dr. Martinez-Sansigre and Professor Rawlings compared theoretical models of spinning black holes with radio, optical and X-ray observations made using a variety of instruments and found that the theories can explain the population of supermassive black holes with jets.
Using the radio observations, the two astronomers were able to sample the population of black holes, deducing the spread of the power of the jets. By estimating how they acquire material (the accretion process) the two scientists could then infer how quickly these objects are spinning.
The observations also give information on how the spins of supermassive black holes have evolved. In the past, when the Universe was half its the present size, practically all of the supermassive black holes had very low spins, whereas nowadays a fraction of them have very high spins. So on average, supermassive black holes are spinning faster than ever before.
This is the first time that the evolution of the spin of the supermassive black holes has been constrained and it suggests that those supermassive black holes that grow by swallowing matter will barely spin, while those that merge with other black holes will be left spinning rapidly.

Commenting on the new results, Dr Martinez-Sansigre said: “The spin of black holes can tell you a lot about how they formed. Our results suggest that in recent times a large fraction of the most massive black holes have somehow spun up. A likely explanation is that they have merged with other black holes of similar mass, which is a truly spectacular event, and the end product of this merger is a faster spinning black hole.”

Professor Rawlings adds: “Later this decade we hope to test our idea that these supermassive black holes have been set spinning relatively recently. Black hole mergers cause predictable distortions in space and time — so-called gravitational waves. With so many collisions, we expect there to be a cosmic background of gravitational waves, something that will change the timing of the pulses of radio waves that we detect from the remnants of massive stars known as pulsars. If we are right, this timing change should be picked up by the Square Kilometre Array, the giant radio observatory due to start operating in 2019.”
The Daily Galaxy via the Royal Astronomical Society and

Image top of page: The super-massive black hole at the  core of the Sombrero Galaxy has a mass 1 billion times the mass of our sun.

Radio Telescopes Capture Best-Ever Snapshot of Black Hole Jets

Radio Telescopes Capture Best-Ever Snapshot of Black Hole Jets

Centaurus A is a giant elliptical active galaxy 12 million light-years away. At its heart lies a black hole with a mass of 55 million suns. Now, the TANAMI project has provided the best-ever image of particle jets powered by the black hole, revealing features as small as 15 light-days across. The jets feed vast lobes of radio emitting gas that reach far beyond the visible galaxy.

Centaurus A Merging X-ray data (blue) from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory with microwave (orange) and visible images reveals the jets and radio-emitting lobes emanating from Centaurus A’s central black hole. Credit: ESO/WFI (visible); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (microwave); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)
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side-by-side images of Centaurus A and it's black hole particle jet Left: The giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5128 is the radio source known as Centaurus A. Vast radio-emitting lobes (shown as orange in this optical/radio composite) extend nearly a million light-years from the galaxy. Credit: Capella Observatory (optical), with radio data from Ilana Feain, Tim Cornwell, and Ron Ekers (CSIRO/ATNF), R. Morganti (ASTRON), and N. Junkes (MPIfR). Right: The radio image from the TANAMI project provides the sharpest-ever view of a supermassive black hole’s jets. This view reveals the inner 4.16 light-years of the jet and counterjet, a span less than the distance between our sun and the nearest star. The image resolves details as small as 15 light-days across. Undetected between the jets is the galaxy’s 55-million-solar-mass black hole. Credit: NASA/TANAMI/Müller et al.
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Centauri A in visible light The elliptical galaxy NGC 5128, host of the Centaurus A radio source, as it appears in visible light. The galaxy is located about 12 million light-years away and is one of the closest that sports an active supermassive black hole. Credit: Capella Observatory
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map of radio telescopes around the pacific The TANAMI array consists of nine radio telescopes located on four continents. By combining data from the individual telescopes, astronomers can acquire images with the sharpness of a single telescope some 6,200 miles (10,000 km) across — about 80 percent of Earth’s diameter. Credit: Matthias Kadler (Univ. of Würzburg) and J. Wilms (Univ. of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
› Larger image An international team, including NASA-funded researchers, using radio telescopes located throughout the Southern Hemisphere has produced the most detailed image of particle jets erupting from a supermassive black hole in a nearby galaxy.

“These jets arise as infalling matter approaches the black hole, but we don’t yet know the details of how they form and maintain themselves,” said Cornelia Mueller, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.

The new image shows a region less than 4.2 light-years across — less than the distance between our sun and the nearest star. Radio-emitting features as small as 15 light-days can be seen, making this the highest-resolution view of galactic jets ever made. The study will appear in the June issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics and is available online.

Mueller and her team targeted Centaurus A (Cen A), a nearby galaxy with a supermassive black hole weighing 55 million times the sun’s mass. Also known as NGC 5128, Cen A is located about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus and is one of the first celestial radio sources identified with a galaxy.

Seen in radio waves, Cen A is one of the biggest and brightest objects in the sky, nearly 20 times the apparent size of a full moon. This is because the visible galaxy lies nestled between a pair of giant radio-emitting lobes, each nearly a million light-years long.

These lobes are filled with matter streaming from particle jets near the galaxy’s central black hole. Astronomers estimate that matter near the base of these jets races outward at about one-third the speed of light.

Using an intercontinental array of nine radio telescopes, researchers for the TANAMI (Tracking Active Galactic Nuclei with Austral Milliarcsecond Interferometry) project were able to effectively zoom into the galaxy’s innermost realm.

“Advanced computer techniques allow us to combine data from the individual telescopes to yield images with the sharpness of a single giant telescope, one nearly as large as Earth itself,” said Roopesh Ojha at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The enormous energy output of galaxies like Cen A comes from gas falling toward a black hole weighing millions of times the sun’s mass. Through processes not fully understood, some of this infalling matter is ejected in opposing jets at a substantial fraction of the speed of light. Detailed views of the jet’s structure will help astronomers determine how they form.

The jets strongly interact with surrounding gas, at times possibly changing a galaxy’s rate of star formation. Jets play an important but poorly understood role in the formation and evolution of galaxies.

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has detected much higher-energy radiation from Cen A’s central region. “This radiation is billions of times more energetic than the radio waves we detect, and exactly where it originates remains a mystery,” said Matthias Kadler at the University of Wuerzburg in Germany and a collaborator of Ojha. “With TANAMI, we hope to probe the galaxy’s innermost depths to find out.”

Ojha is funded through a Fermi investigation on multiwavelength studies of Active Galactic Nuclei.

The astronomers credit continuing improvements in the Australian Long Baseline Array (LBA) with TANAMI’s enormously increased image quality and resolution. The project augments the LBA with telescopes in South Africa, Chile and Antarctica to explore the brightest galactic jets in the southern sky.

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the U.S. The Australia Long Baseline Array is part of the Australia Telescope National Facility, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operation as a National Facility managed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

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Planets with No Orbit – the Free-Floating Planet

So many lonely planets with no star to guide them

Our Galaxy may be full of worlds without a sun to call their own.

planetFree-floating planets may be more common in our Galaxy than stars.NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt”

Scattered about the Milky Way are floating, Jupiter-mass objects, which are likely to be planets wandering around the Galaxy’s core instead of orbiting host stars. But these planets aren’t rare occurrences in the interstellar sea: the drifters might be nearly twice as numerous as the most common stars.
“This is an amazing result, and if it’s right, the implications for planet formation are profound,” says astronomer Debra Fischer at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
To find the wanderers, scientists turned their telescopes towards the Galactic Bulge surrounding the centre of the Milky Way. Using a technique called gravitational microlensing, they detected 10 Jupiter-mass planets wandering far from light-giving stars. Then they estimated the total number of such rogue planets, based on detection efficiency, microlensing-event probability and the relative rate of lensing caused by stars or planets. They concluded that there could be as many as 400 billion of these wandering planets, far outnumbering main-sequence stars such as our Sun. Their work is published today in Nature1.

Unexpected bounty

Study author Takahiro Sumi, an astrophysicist at Osaka University in Japan, says the deduced number of homeless exoplanets surprised him. “The existence of free-floating planets has been predicted by planetary formation theory, but nobody knew how many there are,” he says.
And because current theories of planet formation hold that lower-mass planets are more readily flung from developing planetary systems than are higher-mass planets, there could be a huge number of lighter planets on the loose. “They might be littering the Galaxy,” says Fischer.
Sumi and scientists from the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) and Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) collaborations used gravitational microlensing to detect the planets. Microlensing involves measuring changes in the brightness of distant, background stars as a passing planet’s gravity bends and magnifies the starlight. As a result, the star brightens and fades in a pattern distinct from random twinkling, and the duration of brightening indicates the mass of the magnifying object.
Gregory Laughlin, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, says the authors have done a good job of ruling out other possible explanations for the light-distorting objects. But he adds that it’s difficult to speculate about the number of unbound, lower-mass planets on the basis of the wandering Jupiters, because that assumes that they were formed by a similar mechanism to planets in our neighbourhood. “I think we might be seeing a different formation mechanism here, something more similar to that of a tiny star than a giant planet,” he says. “But that’s just a hypothesis.”

Life on the road

Planetary scientist David Stevenson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena has considered how the temperatures on ejected planets might compare with those on star-bound bodies2. If Jupiter were kicked out of the Solar System, its surface temperature would drop by only about 15 kelvin, he says – although it would still be unsuitable for supporting life. However, “when you eject a planet that is quite massive, it could have carried along an orbiting body”, Stevenson adds. “And that might be a more attractive possibility for life.”

Unbound Earth-mass planets might still be capable of carrying liquid water, Stevenson says, even in the frozen reaches of interstellar space – as long as they have a heat-trapping hydrogen atmosphere. “That can bring the surface temperature up to 300 kelvin [about 27 °C],” he says. “And then you can have oceans.”
Study author David Bennett, an astrophysicist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, agrees that life could exist on these wandering worlds. He says that the next steps in the search include confirming the absence of host stars and looking through new data for the footprints of smaller, Saturn- or Neptune-mass planets.
In the future, drifting Earth-mass planets could be detected using NASA’s planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a space-based telescope capable of resolving the more rapid bright blips associated with lower-mass objects. “Detecting Earth-mass unbound planets?” says Scott Gaudi, an astrophysicist at the Ohio State University in Columbus. “That would be very interesting.” 

  • References

    1. The Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) Collaboration & The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) Collaboration. Nature 473, 349-352 (2011).
    2. Stevenson, D. J. Nature 400, 32 (1999).

Something is coming. Does NASA know about this ‘something’? Well, yes they do, but only to a certain extent. Everyone thinks that NASA has all the answers and that they know everything but for some reason or another has decided to keep quiet. I do not think that is the case. I believe there is a lot out there that NASA and the
other space agencies like the ESA and JAXA are clueless about. After all, the universe is immense beyond belief, and possibly infinite. My belief is that these space agencies keep quiet because they do not know everything, and therefore they refuse to disclose certain subjects, discoveries and events until they have a firmer grasp of the situations or discoveries.

They are in a quandary. What if an event comes along that has never been explored by modern science? What of newly made discoveries that were thought to be impossible, yet are manifesting in our own solar system, and quickly? And what if these events are hard to ‘see’ with present equipment, present satellites and telescopes, present technology? A vast problem arises. Nothing is set in stone. The event can cause completely unknown processes in our solar system to begin taking place. The solutions to these processes are out of reach, even to NASA. Even the time-frame as to exactly when the processes will begin influencing terrestrial changes is impossible to track down. Why? Not enough data and not enough time to accumulate data.

– Chad Adams

Morals and Ethics Controlled by Magnets

Scientists discover moral compass in the brain which can be controlled by magnets

By David Derbyshire

Normal anatomy of the brain and head.

The moral compass, technically named the right temporo-parietal junction, lies just behind the right ear in the brain

Scientists have discovered a real-life ‘moral compass’ in the brain that controls how we judge other people’s behaviour.

The region, which lies just behind the right ear, becomes more active when we think about other people’s misdemeanours or good works.

In an extraordinary experiment, researchers were able to use powerful magnets to disrupt this area of the brain and make people temporarily less moral.

The study highlights how our sense of right and wrong isn’t just based on upbringing, religion or philosophy – but by the biology of our brains.

Dr Liane Young, who led the study, said: ‘You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour. To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgements is really astonishing.’

The moral compass lies in a part of the brain called the right temporo-parietal junction. It lies near the surface of the brain, just behind the right ear.

The researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a non-invasive technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation to disrupt the area of the brain.

The technique generates a magnetic field on a small part of the skull which creates weak electric currents in the brain. These currents interfere with nearby brain cells and prevent them from firing normally.

In the first experiment, 12 volunteers were exposed to the magnetic field for 25 minutes before they were given a series of ‘moral maze’ style scenarios.

For each of the 192 scenarios, they were asked to make a judgement about the character’s actions on a scale of 1 for ‘absolutely forbidden’ to 7 for ‘absolutely permissible’.

In the second experiment, the magnetic field was applied to their heads at the time they were asked to weigh up the behaviour of the characters in the scenario.

In both experiments, the magnetic field made the volunteers less moral.

One scenario described a man who let his girlfriend walk over a bridge he knew was unsafe. The girl survived unharmed.

Under normal conditions, most people rate the man’s behaviour as unacceptable. But after getting the magnetic pulse, the volunteers tended to see nothing wrong with his actions – and judged his behaviour purely on whether his girlfriend survived.

Another scenario described two girls visiting a chemical plant where one girl asks her friend to put sugar in her coffee.

The friend uses powder from a jar marked ‘toxic’ – but as the powder turns out to be sugar, the girls if unharmed.

Volunteers with a disrupted moral compass tended to rate the girl’s behaviour as permissible because her friend was not injured – even though she was aware the powder came from a jar labelled toxic.

Throughout the experiment, irresponsible or deliberate actions that might have resulted in harm were seen as morally acceptable if the story had a ‘happy ending’, they reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not the first time that scientists have found parts of the brain that specialise in ethics and morality. Last year American scientists claimed to have found a “god spot” – a region of the brain that controls religious belief.

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Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – Cosmic Ray Detector

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