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The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer, Germany
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The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has begun!
An IAU Press Release gives a general idea while a blog records early successes - and literally thousands of stories and other sites are linked from this special blog (which is in German, but the majority of links goes to English-language sites).
Update # 323 of Sunday, January 11, 2009
Evidence presented against - any! - role of an impact in dino death / Mysterious radio background found by balloon detector / Dimmest star-like objects discovered

Death of dinosaurs (and everyone else) solely to blame on Deccan volcanism?

Field studies in India show eruptions 65 Myr ago came in 30 "mega-flow" pulses / K/T boundary mass extinction coincides with main phase of Deccan volcanism / Each pulse sent as much SO2 into the atmosphere as the Chicxulub impact / The latter does not coincide with any extinction in detail / Hypothesis: one needs many volcanic pulses in short succession to cause a mass extinction

They have been around for 5+ years and caused quite a stir in the mass extinction community (see this article from 2003 and these links from 2006): a handful of geologists around Gerda Keller who are seeing evidence that the famous Chicxulub impact in Mexico came 300,000 years before the mass extinction at the Cretaceous/Tertitary Boundary (KTB) 65 Myr ago which among many other life forms also erased the dinosaurs. Instead they are focusing on major volcanic activity in India at the same time which caused the Deccan Traps that others before had blamed for the mass extinction. At a news conference at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 15 Keller and colleagues have now presented new evidence for their view - which would overturn the quarter-century old view that the impact (and only it) was the culprit in the best-studied mass extinction of all.

The geological details are far too complex to discuss here, but in a nutshell the study of the Deccan basalts has now shown that they were deposited in some 30 "mega-flows" or volcanic pulses that each lasted only a few decades - thus all the lava came out in only 10 to 50,000 years instead of a million. With each volcanic burp some 10 to 150 gigatons of SO2 were released into the atmosphere (over 10,000 tons in total) while the Chicxulub impact managed to release only 50 to 500 gigatons. (Mankind, by the way, releases some 0.12 Gt/a with its industry, a declining number.) Thus the Deccan volcanism was equivalent to "tens of Chicxulubs", as the team put it in the news conference. The importance of the SO2: Atmospheric chemistry turns it into sulfate aerosols which then become the main agent - through various means - of the biosphere crisis. (Those weren't discussed in detail, but global dimming, acid rain etc. play roles here.)

Now there have been other major volcanic episodes in history that are not linked to mass extinctions, even though the total amount of SO2 released must have been similar. The key may be the sequence of events, with one big burst after another, giving the biosphere no time to recover. Indeed the specific sequence now seen in India shows species dying with each mega-flow, with the K/T mass extinction coinciding with the first of the four longest lava eruptions. Further eruptions after the K/B border seems to have delayed the recovery of life. In contrast no biological effects whatsoever(!) are seen in the strata - both in Texas and Mexico - coinciding with the (by itself) uncontroversial Chicxulub impact. Thus, as Keller puts it, the latter has been "vastly overestimated" in K/T studies while the Deccan volcanism was "vastly underestimated". There were no opposing views presented at the press conference - which (together with the actual data presented at the AGU conference) may or may not mark a milestone in the long debate ...

Coverage by SFG, LS, SpW, Wir., KSJ, DLF.

12,900 year-old nanodiamond-rich soil

may have been found in 6 U.S. sites - but an impact role is as controversial as ever: U. of Or. PR, Real Climate, NYT, WP, LAT, ScAm, BBC, FIB, SB, NaB, AT, HAp, KSJ. More unproven impact speculations: NwS.
Giant Breach in Earth's Magnetic Field - the five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist: S@N.

Asteroids with an Earth-like crust: meteorites as evidence

Two rare meteorites found in Antarctica two years ago are from a previously unknown, ancient asteroid with an outer layer or crust similar in composition to the crust of Earth's continents: UMD and CI Releases, ScN.
Cosmic diamonds may be hidden in 'carbon onions' - could explain why astronomers have seen very little diamond dust in the universe: NwS.

Balloon detector finds "cosmic radio noise that booms six times louder than expected"

The ARCADE 2 instrument, carried on a balloon in 2006, has measured the absolute temperature of the sky at frequencies 3, 8, 10, 30, and 90 GHz, using an open-aperture cryogenic instrument observing at balloon altitudes with no emissive windows between the beam-forming optics and the sky. An external blackbody calibrator provides an in situ reference, and systematic errors were greatly reduced by using differential radiometers and cooling all critical components to physical temperatures approximating the CMB temperature. ARCADE's mission was to search the sky for heat from the first generation of stars. Instead, it found a cosmic puzzle: Instead of the faint signal astronomers hoped to find, "here was this booming noise six times louder than anyone had predicted." Detailed analysis ruled out an origin from primordial stars or from known radio sources, including gas in the outermost halo of our own galaxy. The source of this cosmic radio background remains a mystery.

There don't appear to be enough radio galaxies to account for the signal ARCADE detected: "You'd have to pack them into the universe like sardines," one astronomer says. "There wouldn't be any space left between one galaxy and the next." The sought-for signal from the earliest stars remains hidden behind the newly detected cosmic radio background. This noise complicates efforts to detect the very first stars, which are thought to have formed about 13 billion years ago - not long, in cosmic terms, after the Big Bang. Nevertheless, this cosmic static may provide important clues to the development of galaxies when the universe was less than half its present age. Unlocking its origins should provide new insight into the development of radio sources in the early universe. ARCADE is the first instrument to measure the radio sky with enough precision to detect this mysterious signal. The instrument's operating temperature was just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

Papers by Fixsen & al., Seiffert & al. and Kogut & al., NASA and UCSB Releases and coverage by KSJ, NYT, ScN, SC, NwS, PWB, Ast., Sp.

New NASA Balloon Successfully Flight-Tested Over Antarctica

NASA and the NSF have successfully launched and demonstrated a newly designed super pressure balloon prototype that may enable a new era of high-altitude scientific research - the super-pressure balloon ultimately will carry large scientific experiments to the brink of space for 100 days or more: NASA and NSF Releases.

Dimmest star-like objects discovered

The two faintest star-like objects ever found, a pair of twin brown dwarfs each just a millionth as bright as the Sun, have been spotted. Both of these objects are the first to break the barrier of one millionth the total light-emitting power of the sun. Astronomers had thought the pair of dim bulbs was just a single typical, faint brown dwarf with no record-smashing titles. But the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that what seemed to be a single brown dwarf is in fact twins. The brightness of the object was twice what would be expected for a brown dwarf with its particular temperature. The solution? The object must have twice the surface area. In other words, it's twins, with each body shining only half as bright, and each with a mass of 30 to 40 times that of Jupiter. Both bodies are one million times fainter than the sun in total light, and at least one billion times fainter in visible light alone.
MIT and JPL Releases, NwS, BAB.

"Brown dwarf desert" extends to the smallest stars

There are very few binaries whose components lie on different sides of the hydrogen burning limit: HST and NASA Releases, S&T.

Mars Update

Mars Express ESA Releases of Dec. 18 and Dec. 11. Beagle failure explained? NwS, BBC. 5 yr anniversary: IvS. MRO primary mision completed. 1633 new images in the PDS, Brown Univ. Release of Dec. 18, JPL Releases / HiBlog of Dec. 18i [NASA], Dec. 16 and Dec. 11 [NASA], UA Release of Dec. 8, pictures # 10446_1255, 10354_2165 and 117... 32, 31, 30, 29 and 28 and coverage of Jan. 8: UT. Jan. 5: NYT. Jan. 2: NwS. Dec. 31: AE. Dec. 23: UT. Dec. 20: ST. Dec. 19: KSJ, SFG, BBC, NwS, St. Dec. 18: SFG. Dec. 15: OH. Dec. 12: SC. Dec. 11: CbS. Dec. 10: PSB. MER NASA Press Releases of Dec. 29 [JPL] and Dec. 19, Univ. of Calgary PR of Jan. 7, NASA Video of Dec. 23, recent amateur Santorini and Bonestell panoramas, pictures #117... 46, 45, 44, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38 and 37, a JPL poster celebrating 5 yrs on Mars, a blog with 5 years delay by a MER engineer and coverage of Jan. 11: G. Jan. 10: CS. Jan. 9: KSJ, NwS, SC. PSB. Jan. 8: PSB. Jan. 7: PSB. Jan. 6: PSB. Jan. 5: KSJ, CS, NaB. Jan. 4: T, ScN. Jan. 3: BBC, SC, X, Syr., PSB, UT. Jan. 2: SMH, CL. Dec. 31: PS, UT. Dec. 30: CoD. Dec. 29: PSB. Phoenix HiBlog entry of Jan. 1 (Dec. 21 HiRISE pic), JPL Press Release of Dec. 15, Smith statement of Dec. 24, pictures # 117... 34, 25, 24, 23, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15 and 11 and coverage of Jan. 9: CL. Jan. 2: UT. Dec. 24: PSB. Dec. 19: PSB. Dec. 16: PSB. Dec. 15: SC, CLU, SpR. Dec. 11: PSB (also NW). Dec. 8: Frb. Phobos-Grunt to launch in October: SC. Earlier: UPI. MSL cost: LAT. U.S., ESA joining Mars forces: NwS. Mars balloon prototype failure aftermath: DLF. 2008 Mars discoveries: SC.

Saturn Update

CICLOPS Release of Dec. 15 [JPL], JPL Release of Dec. 15, pictures released on Dec. 15, pictures #111... 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35 and 33, #107... 02, 01 and 00 and #105... 30 and coverage of Jan. 5: arB. Jan. 3: CoD. Jan. 2: CNNB. Dec. 31: UT. Dec. 30: SC. Dec. 18: SFG, KSJ. Dec. 17: PSB, Dsc. Dec. 16: BBC (other pc), Tel. Dec. 15: Wir., PSB, UT. BAB. Dec. 10: PSB, NwS. Heating the oceans of distant moons such as Jupiter's Europa: UW News, AT.

ISS etc. Update

NASA's betting future ISS logistics on two private rockets that don't even exist yet. NASA Releases and official blog entries of Jan. 9, Dec. 30, Dec. 23 (other topic) and Dec. 17, MIT Statement of Dec. 15, DLR PM of Dec. 22, Uni Bath PR of Dec. 11, Orbital Sciences PR of Dec. 23, SPACE-X PR of Dec. 23, a nice picture of Endeavour on the 747 and more "big picture"s, a Worden speech of Dec. 11, Griffin's Jan. 8 speech and coverage of Jan. 11: NW. Jan. 10: TAB, Sp. Jan. 9: Sp. Jan. 8: SC, NW (earlier), SpP (earlier), NwS. Jan. 7: ScAm, NW, FT, ST. Jan. 6: MSNBC vs. Exm. vs. SpP (other story), NW. Jan. 5: WP, SpR, NW. Jan. 3: ST. Jan. 2: SpP, Sp. Jan. 1: BAB. Dec. 31: HT, LAT, BBC, AP, KSJ, ST, TS. Dec. 30: SN, NYT, OS, AP, BBC (other story), SC (earlier), SpP, KSJ, NW, BAB. Dec. 29: NYT, BBC, AW&ST, Sp. Dec. 26: MF. Nov. Dec. 25: NwS. Dec. 24: SpP, NaB, NSp, ST, Sp. Dec. 23: OS, SN, Tel., SC (other story), Exa., NW, ST, Sp. Dec. 22: SN, ScAm, AW&ST, Arab News, SpR. Dec. 21: SN. Dec. 20: Tel. Dec. 19: DM, SpW, OS OpEd. Dec. 18: SC. Dec. 17: CS, Tel., AP, NW, UT. Dec. 16: SpP, NwSB. Dec. 15: WP. Dec. 14: OS, FT, DK. Dec. 13: ST. Dec. 12: ScAm, HuffPo, NW, KSJ, UT, ST. Dec. 11: T, SC, NW, WPB, NaB, ABCB, BAB. Dec. 10: The Decanter, ST. Dec. 9: FT. Dec. 8: SpR. Shenzhou subsatellite mission finished: X (more). HST SM - spare part passes test; NICMOS will work again soon. UW Release of Dec. 31, Status of Dec. 19 and coverage of Jan. 6: TS. Dec. 19: FT, SC, SB. Dec. 10: CV. ISRO to redesign Soyuz for its manned space mission: PTI.

Slow-down in galaxy cluster growth gives new handle on Dark Energy

Since 5.5 Gyr ago the growth of galaxy clusters - as monitored in X-rays - has slowed down markedly, in pattern that can only be explained with Dark Energy present, thus confirming and expanding on the 11-year old supernova technique: paper by Vikhlinin & al., his homepage, a Chandra Press Release, some visuals and coverage by KSJ, ScAm, S&T, NYT, ScN, NPR, NwS, Ec., CSM, SC, AT, NaB, UT, CV, TwP, WuA, SpD, BAB.

Earth not center of the universe, surrounded by 'dark energy' - new WMAP analysis: UBC, Caltech and JPL Releases. Before the Big Bang: Caltech PR. Dark Matter also still a mystery: SC, NB. Hubble Constant: CIW PR.

Most distant water yet seen in the Universe found

in a galaxy more than 11 billion light-years from Earth; previously, the most distant water had been seen in a galaxy less than 7 billion light-years from Earth: paper by Impellizzeri et al., MPG [German], MPIfR, Uni Bonn and, NRAO Releases, NwS, SpW, KSJ, BdW, AI. An ongoing X-ray survey Swift is revealing differences between nearby active galaxies and those located about halfway across the universe: NASA Release, UT. Inner parts of the disc around a supermassive black hole 10 billion light-years away scrutinized: ESO Release. SMBH & galaxy growth: NRAO Release, SD, S&T, NwS, BBC, LAT, SC, ST, KL, Sp.

Mass of Milky Way 50% higher? According to radio data it is rotating about 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously understood: NRAO Release, KSJ, ScN, NYT (and an Oped!), BBC, T, SC, AsN, AT, UT, ST, Sp., BdW. New HST/Spitzer view of galactic center region: HST and UA Releases, ScN, NwS, UT, SpW, BAB. Four arms? U Iowa PR. Two protostars located only a few light-years from the galactic center: CfA Release, PW, SC.

Old Galactic Center paper suddenly in the news - the study (nothing qualitatively new but improved precision) was already highlighted in Update #321 (1st small item) but got a press release (and coverage) only now: ESO and MPG Releases, BBC (also criticized here!), LAT, CSM, NwS, G, SC, NaB, AsB, AE, UT, DG, SkM.

Star with 200,000 K surface temperature found

KPD 0005+5106 is so hot that its photosphere exhibits emission lines in the ultraviolet spectrum, a phenomenon that has never been seen before: A&A and Uni Tuebingen Releases, SC. Six dead white dwarf stars littered with the remains of shredded asteroids: Spitzer PR, NG, SC, UT.

HST images of 14 young "ballistic" stars racing through the Galaxy: Hubble and JPL Releases, NwS, NG, SC.

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has discovered 12 new gamma-ray-only pulsars and has detected gamma-ray pulses from 18 others: NASA PR, S&T, NwS, UT. How many recurrent supernovae? LSU PR, TP. Mystery object SCP 06G6 remains a mystery: HST Release, NG, UT.

First detection of molecular gas in a GRB host galaxy - the spectrum of GRB 080607 shows absorption from hydrogen and carbon monoxide, gases associated with star-forming regions in our own galaxy: paper by Prochaska & al., NASA, UCSC and Keck Releases, ScN, *Bull, ScAm.

CO2 and H2O found/confirmed on exoplanet

Jupiter-sized HD 189733b is too hot for life, though: paper by Swain & al., NASA and ESA Releases, KSJ (earlier), eflux, ScN, SFG, S&T, BAB. eflux, ST, FAZB.

The hottest transiting planet yet discovered is WASP-12b: paper by Hebb & al., arB, S&T. Hunt is on for "Killer" Third Star in BD+20 307 Binary System: UT. Gliese 876 planets coplanar: S&T. Types of habitable planets: AB. Wobbly planets could reveal Earth-like moons: STFC PR.

Gas giants have to form in less than 5 million years or they probably won't form at all: CfA Release, S&T, BBC, Dsc., UT.i Some planets and stars, less than a third as massive as the sun, generate strong dipole fields - this should lead to very large emissions of synchrotron radiation: MPG PM, PW.

Exoplanet measurements with the Orthogonal Parallel Transfer Imaging Camera at the UH 2.2-m: IFA PR. Planet formation could lie in stellar storms rather than gravitational instability: SFSU PR. Jupiter-like Planets Could Form Around Twin Suns: RIT PR. Ocean worlds may be dying stars' last haven for life: NwS.

Another claim of the "first planet prediction since Neptune" w.r.t. Fomalhaut's planet is made in this press release - but a different case led to the same claim in January (see also more links in Update #309 small items). Also ScAm.

The next Decadal Survey for U.S. astronomy has begun

"Astro2010" will survey and prioritize ground-based and space-based astronomy and astrophysics scientific and technical activities for the period of 2010-2020: AIP FYI. Southern SDSS-style survey: NwS.

Groundbreaking for FAST, a big Chinese radio telescope: X, S&T. Taiwan part of ALMA; first antenna from Japan: NRAO Release. Extended Submillimeter Array formed, linking several Mauna Kea radio telescopes: SC.

New detector will aid dark matter search - calibration tool will reveal when hypothetical particles are detected: MIT PR. IceTop construction: Univ. Delaware Daily. CMBR studies @ the South Pole: ScN.

  • Chandrayaan's heat crisis is over. JPL Release of Dec. 17, picture 11727, more TMC pics> and coverage of Jan. 11: ToI, Hin. Jan. 8: X. Jan. 7: PSB. Jan. 4: Hin. Jan. 2: Exp. Dec. 30: Hin., TeT, LAb. Dec. 29: Ind. Dec. 25: Hin., ThI. Dec. 22: DecH. Dec. 21: TrI. Dec. 19: BBC. Dec. 12: ExB (comment). Dec. 8: Exp. 2nd mission in 2012 now defined: Hin., DomB. Kaguya coverage of Dec. 16. China's first moon probe lowers orbit for further exploration; data processing in Macao: X (earlier). Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully completes thermal vacuum testing: NASA Release. Ice on Moon? Durham PR.
  • Venus Express ESA Press Release of Dec. 18 and coverage of Jan. 5: SC. Dec. 25: SB.
  • New Horizons in hiberation again, until July 2009: Tw. (more).
  • Mapping 3D planetary surfaces that are far from round: NYT.
  • Coronas-Photon to launch on Jan. 29, a Russian orbital laboratory to study the sun's activity: Nov.
  • Fermi data on GRB photon arrival times: ScN.
  • Chandra images of SNR Cas A expanding over a few years (U Minn. and CfA Releases, S&T, Variety, NwS, HaA, Sp.) and the Tarantula Nebula.
  • Spitzer image of M 17. JWST progress: MSFC PR, S&T.
  • India to launch 'unique' satellite to study distant galaxies - Astrosat will be the country's first satellite entirely dedicated to astronomy: PTI.
  • HST image of Ganymede half hidden by Jupiter (UA PR, PSB, ABCB).

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