Beautiful night, it was clear, still, cold and moonless. Somewhat typically however I struggled with alignment, so I only managed maximum 105 second exposures. Even then there was a little star trailing, so I definitely didn't make the most of the great conditions. Shame. Alignment really does seem to be the limiting factor at the moment - I need to find a setup routine that works for me. Still, given that I'm fairly happy with this result.
About 1hr 25mn of exposure data. Plus a limited amount of darks, flats and bias.
Through various means, astronomers have now confirmed over 700 exoplanets. In addition, there are nearly two and a half thousand more candidates awaiting observational confirmation - confirmation that will more than likely come for the overwhelming majority.
The Kepler mission is of course leading the way, with it's precise optics operating with the benefit of an unobstructed heliocentric orbit, and outside of our flickering atmosphere.
Kepler is now reporting tiny planets as well as the larger mulit-Jupiter mass planets. Just today the Kepler team has announced three planets all orbiting the same star with radii of just 60% to 80% that of the radius of Earth, making the smallest of them similar in size to Mars.
New Kepler planet relative sizes. Image: NASA/ Kelper
Meanwhile, as Kepler has been stealing headlines, a lesser known search for exoplanets has been in progress. A small international team has been using a technique called gravitational lensing to conduct a 6 year survey of millions of stars.
Tomorrow, in the journal Nature they will announce that their observations indicate that "planets are more common than stars". Microlensing requires a very rare chance alignment of a background and lensing star for an event to be detected. In addition, to spot a planet during the lensing event, an additional chance alignment of the planet's orbit is also needed, putting the planet between the two stars and in alignment with the earth bound observer. These unlikely requirements mean that any such detections can only be put down to one of two things; either sheer blinding good luck, or (more likely of course) a statistical likelihood from the fact that there are an awful lot of planets.
Daniel Kubas, co-lead author of the paper explains: "We used to think that the Earth might be unique in our galaxy. But now it seems that there are literally billions of planets with masses similar to Earth orbiting stars in the Milky Way"
Of course, if we consider that there are perhaps somewhere in the region 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe - as of today, and this announcement - it looks more likely than ever that there are (will be, and have been) thousands of trillions of planets. And perhaps billions of Earths!
Some of the sunsets and some of the sunrises must be spectacular! Such an amazing wonder to live in a time when these discoveries are being made - our understanding of the Universe is truly growing daily. And yet, such a shame to live in a time when these types of view live only in the imagination...
You can just make out the Gibbous phase (~75% illuminated) lit from the bottom right in these images. They are both from AVI files, the smaller one at 900mm (f7.5), and the larger using a x2 barlow making an effective 1800mm (f15). I really need to try again during a crescent phase so that it looks less like a blob of pixels...
I thought I'd see how close I could get to Tycho Crater, and here it is. Quite blurry, and over processed in an attempt to bring out some detail, but none the less, fun to try...
86.21Km in diameter and up to 4.8Km deep. You can clearly make out the main central peak which rises 1.6 kilometers above the crater floor. Best guesses are that Tycho is about 108 million years old.
I love to imagine one day a geologist and explorer climbing this peak, what an achievement that would be. The first man to climb the central peak of Tycho crater on Earth's Moon. That person's name will surely be learnt in the schools of the future...
My image is about 570 meters per pixel.
Below is a stunning NASA image of the central peak taken by their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft from just 50km above the surface (so a lot closer than my ~380,000km!).
It's difficult to pull nebulosity out of the Pleiades, it needs a lot of exposure time. This image is about an hours worth but unfortunately the moon was bright so it's made of fairly short (60 second) exposures, really it needs longer exposures to achieve greater detail.
I was photographing the nebulas in Orion tonight. I'm quite pleased with the result though it's pretty difficult to optimise to get the best out of each of the Nebulas...
From top left to bottom right you can see the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), then the Horsehead Nebula, which is also known as Barnard 33 (both of these named for obvious reasons!). The star between them by the way, is Alnitak, which is farthest west on Orion's Belt. Further down and to the right is the small Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973) and then the famous Great Orion Nebula (M42).
The Orion Nebula is about 1250 light years away from Earth and about 24 light years across. It is a star forming region where new stars are being born and their light is lighting up the surrounding dust and gas. Large telescopes have photographed protoplanetary disks which are planet forming regions around these new stars. I wonder what the distant future holds for those planets?
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN was designed with the Higgs Boson in mind. The reason for this was that scientist have known for a long time that discovery of the Higgs particle would change our understanding of the universe forever.
News this week seems to indicate that we may have taken a major step towards making that change in our understanding of physics. Exactly the type of news that fascinates me and that I love to wonder about...
The Higgs particle was proposed by Peter Higgs way back in 1962, just after the first proposal of a "standard model" (in 1960) that attempted to explain the sub-atomic quantum world. As the Standard Model of physics has evolved into an incredible explanatory tool the open slot in the theory that exists for the Higgs has remained unfilled by experimental evidence. The Standard Model in fact, has evolved so far that the Higgs (or the "hole" that exists for it) is the last to be filled. The Higgs (and anything that comes with it) will be the final component in the model.
Even though the Standard Model is the best description we have of the subatomic world, it does not explain the complete picture. The theory incorporates only three out of the four fundamental forces - omitting gravity. There are also important questions it cannot yet answer, such as what is dark matter? and what happened to the missing antimatter that should account for 50% of the universe? However, the door to answers to these questions may just have been pushed ajar!
We now have fascinating news of a tantalising glimpse or the ultra-shy Higgs Particle.
Both of the main detectors at CERN; ATLAS & CMS have uncovered evidence for it's existence. This evidence narrows the "location" of its existence to around 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) making it a lightweight particle. This means that will (almost certainly) need additional particles to complete the picture and aid the Higgs in it's important role giving matter (the specific type of energy that appears solid to us) mass. These additional particles could be highly relevant...
Perhaps surprisingly scientist at CERN don't ever expect to "see" the Higgs directly - even once they have claimed it's discovery. The Higgs particle decays so quickly that even the LHC only detects remnants of it in the aftermath of particle collisions. Essentially this means an that scientists are looking for a excess of "remnant" particles in any particular collision with which to directly infer the Higgs and it's properties. Both CMS & ATLAS have seen this excess of remnant particles in the 125 GeV range. The statistical relevance of these observations is around 2.0 sigma (1 in 50) chance of random mathematical fluctuation. The discovery won't be claimed until this relevance is down to 5.0 sigma (1 in 1 million) chance of random fluctuation. (5.0 sigma is about the same level of chance as 20 people all tossing a coin each, and every one coming down heads - I love that image!)
Scientists seem to be quite delighted with this progress and what looks like the the weight of the Higgs. Part of this enthusiasm is the space that it leaves for additional particles. Is this the key - the clue - for further physics beyond the standard model? Is this the doorway to Supersymmetry (SUSY)? Will this explain dark matter? Are there two types Higgs particle? One that connects matter to the Higgs field and one that connects Dark Matter to it's equivalent field? Will there be a non-standard model of Dark Matter physics?
If this really is the Higgs Particle that the CERN scientists are looking at, 2012 should be the year in which its discovery is formerly announced - and what an achievement that will be! After that, it seems that CERN will have opened a new door on the universe and have lined up a lot more discovering yet to come...
Discussions at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Ontario, Canada.