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How To Make Buckyballs In Space

Fullerenes are very large carbon molecules, such as C60 and C70. It has been difficult to understand how such large, complicated  molecules can form in space. Recently, a group of UArizona scientists (J. J. Bernal, P. Haenecour, T. J. Zega, and L. M. Ziurys) in Astronomy, Arizona Radio Observatory, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Planetary Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering, and their colleagues, published laboratory research and meteorite research that provides a mechanism for making this complicated molecule in space. Nature Magazine also published a "News & Views" article on this work. We are pleased that Regents' Professor Lucy Ziurys (Astronomy Dept, and Dept of Chemistry and Biochemistry) and her colleagues have given us a summary of the work:

"The recent detection of the fullerene molecules C60 and C70 in the planetary nebula Tc 1 and other interstellar and circumstellar sources has revolutionized our notion of the chemical complexity in space. The formation of these very complex molecules, by interstellar standards has been difficult to explain in the hydrogen-rich environment of interstellar space, given that they are composed of pure carbon. Our paper puts forth a new, facile mechanism for formation of interstellar C60 based on new laboratory results. Our work suggests that C60 and other fullerenes are produced from the shock heating of silicon carbide (SiC) grains, commonly formed in circumstellar envelopes of evolved stars. Using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), analog SiC grains were heated and bombarded with high energy ions, mimicking the environment in circumstellar envelopes. TEM images showed that silicon was leached from the grain surface, leaving layers of graphite behind. Where surface defects were present, spherical and hemispherical carbon nanobuds appeared with the diameter of C60. Furthermore, our analysis of a presolar grain extracted from a meteorite revealed a silicon carbide center surrounded by graphite, consistent with our lab experiments. These results demonstrate that fullerenes can be readily formed from SiC grains in ejecta from evolves stars and subsequently delivered into the ISM. "

Dr. Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil Named a 2020 TED Senior Fellow

The Astronomy Department is pleased to share the wonderful news that Dr. Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil of Steward Observatory and the Department of Astronomy has been selected as a 2020 TED Senior Fellow. You can read more about Burçin’s selection as one of ten Senior Fellows, as well as the new TED Fellows HERE.

Congratulations, Burçin!

Image Credits: Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil (left) Ryan Beauchemin (right)

Regents' Professor Induction Ceremony

On January 13, 2020, Professor Lucy Ziurys of Astronomy and Chemistry and Biochemistry was inducted as a Regents' Professor. "The designation of Regents Professor is an honored position reserved for faculty scholars of exceptional ability who have achieved national and international distinction.  The title Regents Professor serves as recognition of the highest academic merit and is awarded to faculty members who have made a unique contribution to the quality of the University through distinguished accomplishments in teaching scholarship, research or creative work." We show here three photos: The first is of former UA President John Schaefer introducing Dr. Ziurys. The second shows Lucy with UA President Robbins and Arizona Regent Ron Shoopman. The third shows Lucy with the other assembled dignitaries on stage. Congratulations, Lucy!

Testing Dark Matter by Looking for the Large Magellanic Cloud's Effect on the Milky Way

A recent research paper by grad student Nicolas Garavito-Camargo, professor Gurtina Besla, and collaborators has been picked up by AAS Nova. In it, they explore the effects of the gravitational interaction between the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Milky Way.

The following is a brief summary of the research:

The interaction between the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud provides a unique opportunity to test for the existence of dark matter. As a recently accreted, massive dwarf galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud induced a dark matter wake in the stellar and dark matter particles of the Milky Way halo. This article presents a suite of 8 high-resolution N-body simulations of the interaction between the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud to analyze the properties of the wake. These simulations show that the dark matter wake has a particular 6D (3 physical coordinates, radial velocity, and 2 proper motions)  kinematic signature that could be observable with current and next-generation surveys. The detection on the wake would confirm the existence of dark matter and potentially constrain the identity of the dark matter particle itself.

DESI Spectrograph on the Kitt Peak 4m Sees First Light: UArizona has Played a Significant Role

The new DESI spectrograph on the Mayall 4m telescope on Kitt Peak has seen first light. You can read the UArizona UANews press release HERE, and the Sky & Telescope article HERE.

Quoting from the UArizona press release: A new instrument mounted atop a telescope in Arizona aimed its robotic array of 5,000 fiber-optic “eyes” at the night sky to capture the first images of its unique view of galaxy light. It was the first test of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or  DESI, which is designed to explore the mystery of dark energy that makes up about 68% of the universe and is speeding up its expansion.

"DESI will give us a three-dimensional map of galaxies, quasars and intergalactic gas over a very large part of the universe," said Xiaohui Fan, a Regents Professor of astronomy at Steward Observatory. "By looking at that map, we can see how the structure of the universe has changed with cosmic time, and that gives us an idea of how fast the universe is expanding at any given time."

Fan explained that DESI can map 20 times more quasars and galaxies than previous surveys, which were limited to a fairly small number of snapshots over the course of the history of the cosmos.

"This survey will cover its history almost continuously, and that will allow us to measure the effect of dark energy with much better precision than before," he said.

UArizona scientists helped lay the groundwork for the DESI project by conducting an imaging survey that was used to identify the targets on which DESI will train its robotic eyes. The survey was completed using more than 360 nights of observing time on the university's Bok Telescope, which is located next to the Mayall Telescope on Kitt Peak.

The DESI collaboration has participation from nearly 500 researchers at 75 institutions in 13 countries, including more than a dozen UArizona students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members.

Each of the ten planned spectrographs is equipped with three cameras, one each for ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelengths.The UV channel for each spectrograph contains a thinned, UV/Blue-sensitive, 4096x4096 CCD produced at  UArizona's Imaging Technology Lab. ITL is directed by Dr. Michael Lesser, a Steward Observatory faculty member.

The spectra obtained with DESI will inform science that goes beyond the study of dark energy, according to Steward Observatory Director Buell Jannuzi. In addition to probing quasars and galaxies, DESI will take spectra of stars and help answer questions about the nature of dark matter, which is invisible but thought to far surpass the amount of visible matter in the universe. In addition, the survey will help scientists to better understand the evolution of galaxies and quasars over time, all questions that UArizona researchers are working on, he said.

"With DESI we are creating a legacy dataset that will support all kinds of astrophysics in the future," Jannuzi said.

(The figure on the front page of this article shows the ten robot positioners mounted at the top of the prime focus of the Mayall 4m telescope (photo courtesy NOAO). We also thank Daniel Stolte.)

Astrophoto Videos from Adam Block

Astrophotographer Adam Block of Steward Observatory has produced two videos using the Pomenis 180mm astrograph for wide-field imaging and the Mt Lemmon Sky Center telescopes for the higher-resolution imaging. The first video, HERE, is of the region of the constellation of Orion. The second, HERE, is of the region of the constellation Serpens. You can see more images HERE. The movies, images and cover photo here are all courtesy/copyright Adam Block.


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