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Dusty Baby Solar System Gives Clues On How Our Sun And Planets Grew Up

This isn’t a clone of our Solar System, but it’s close enough. Scientists eagerly scrutinized a young star system called HD 95086 ...
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

University of Arizona Takes Over Operations of the UKIRT Telescope

Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona, along with partners University of Hawaii and Lockheed-Martin Corporation, have taken over operations and ownership of the UKIRT Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Steward's participation adds new capabilities to those of our existing suite of telescopes, and keeps this productive telescope in operation. UK scientists will continue to participate in data processing and archiving and in the completion of already-begun surveys.
For more information, read Daniel Stolte's UA News article HERE, and the Sky and Telescope article HERE.

photo courtesy Joint Astronomy Center

Astronomers Find Remarkable Diversities in Planetary Debris Systems

Circumstellar "disks" of material are both the progenitors and the outcomes of planetary system formation processes. Steward Observatory Astronomer Dr. Glenn Schneider and collaborators have now published a major Hubble Space Telescope (HST) based study of massive systems of exoplanetary, starlight-scattering, debris around a sample of nearby stars of different stellar ages and masses. Using imaging data they obtained with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph's visible-light coronagraph (suppressing the otherwise blinding glare of the starlight illuminating these circumstellar disks of orbiting debris) they found an astounding diversity in debris disk morphologies, architectures, and inferred particle properties. These images directly inform on the posited interactions between the dusty debris episodically replenished by (sometimes catastrophic) collisions of "parent" bodies, planets (unseen) co-orbiting within (and "stirring") the debris disks, and other forces intrinsic and extrinsic to the systems, as well as on the physical properties of the inter- (and exo-) planetary material. Pictures appearing on the cover of the Oct 2014 Astronomical Journal illustrate some of the structural and morphological diversity in these systems. A link to the STSCI press release can be found HERE. The UA News story can be found HERE.

Computing a Real Black Hole

The husband-and-wife research team of Feryal Ozel and Dimitrios Psaltis is using computer simulations to lay the groundwork for taking the first-ever photos of the black hole Sagittarius A*. (Photo: Bob Demers/UANews)

UA in top 5 for NASA Grants/Contracts to Universities

Top 5 universities that received NASA funding for research and development during fiscal year 2012, including the UA.
Image: M Rieke and the NIRCam team

First Light” with the new University of Arizona 12 m Radio Telescope

The official Oct 20 UA press release by Daniel Stolte can be found HERE.

A major step forward in astronomical capability for the University of Arizona took place  last week when the first spectral line measurements were conducted with the new, state-of- the-art  12 m radio telescope of the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO), part of the UA’s Steward Observatory. Radio wave emission from carbon monoxide molecules in several giant clouds of gas in our Galaxy was detected. “The results are truly outstanding given that these were the first observations ever made with a completely new and quite complex system” said ARO Director, Dr. Lucy Ziurys. “The entire team can be very proud of their achievement”

The new 12m telescope was installed in the existing ARO observatory building on Kitt Peak, replacing a venerable, but less capable antennae.  One of the three prototype antennas built and tested for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) became property of the UA on March 23, 2013. The antenna, obtained through an agreement with the European Southern Observatory (ESO), uses the most advanced technology for the radio telescopes. Performance enhancing features include the reflector surface (dish) made from panels with a rhodium skin and an instrumentation cabin constructed from light-weight carbon fiber. The new antenna moves to point at new targets with a speed ten times faster than the previous 12 m telescope used by the ARO and points more accurately by a factor of twenty. The instrument was formerly located at the site of the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, where evaluation of the ALMA prototype antennas had taken place. Last fall the antennae was partially disassembled and shipped to Kitt Peak on two large transport vehicles by Precision Heavy Haul, a Phoenix-based company. The new instrument replaces the former ARO 12 m telescope, which the UA obtained from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in 2000. 

Recommissioning of the antenna took place over the past 8 months. Several miles of wiring had to be reconnected without any errors. Over twenty large electromagnets were remounted on the telescope for the direct drive motors and a special cooling system was renovated and put into operation for the instrument cabin. The telescope was first moved under its own power and using a new computer control system in mid-July of this year. In early September, the first detector system, the ALMA Band 3 dual-polarization receiver, was mounted on the telescope. The exciting “first light” observations occurred a few days later.

“These first light measurements not only prove that the new 12 m is fully functional for scientific observations, but also represent a huge leap forward for the ARO,” said Dr Ziurys, “I would like to thank everyone, on both sides of the Atlantic, who have contributed to making this possible”. The telescope will be used for a variety of scientific projects, aimed at understanding the myriad of molecules now known to exist in outer spaces and thought to play a major role in the formation of stars and planetary systems, including our own. It will also be a key element in the Event Horizon Telescope array that will create images of supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies including the Milky Way. Scientific observations are expected to commence in October.

“I congratulate the entire ARO staff and Professor Lucy Ziurys for successfully bringing the instrument to this point in so short a time,” said Dr. Buell T. Jannuzi, Director of Steward Observatory. “We are all excited by the imminent start of science observations with this new modern facility.”



The “first light” data: spectral emission from the carbon monoxide molecule, CO, measured at the center of our Galaxy.

Image: The new 12 m telescope of the Arizona Radio Observatory in its dome at Kitt Peak.


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