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GREETINGS FROM THE FOUNDING DIRECTOR By Robert D. Gehrz I am extremely pleased to announce the formation of the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics. The Institute brings together 24 faculty members of
GREETINGS FROM THE FOUNDING DIRECTOR By Robert D. Gehrz I am extremely pleased to announce the formation of the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics. The Institute brings together 24 faculty members of the School of Physics and Astronomy conducting research in astrophysics, cosmology, planetary science, and space science under a unified banner within the School. The Institute will administer the University s undergraduate and graduate programs in astrophysics, and will help coordinate astrophysics research in the former Department of Astronomy with the growing astrophysics program in the physics portion of the School. The Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics consolidates the University of Minnesota s multimillion dollar annual investment in astrophysics research. It will help to make Minnesota be a star on the world stage of astrophysical research by raising substantially our visibility in the national and international science communities, within the University itself, and in the public eye. Minnesota s world class Institute will elevate the University s pioneering research to a new level of excellence in advancing fundamental understanding of the universe. Institute scientists and their collaborators around the world will work together at the forefront of science to further their investigations of the origin, contents, structure, and evolution of the Universe, the nature of dark matter and dark energy, the origins of planets and life, and astrophysical investigations of the fundamental laws of physics. Astronomy has entered a golden age with the advent of powerful new ground based telescopes like the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and its complimentary space based and airborne telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Unexpected discoveries leading to major new research areas in astronomy and astrophysics are being reported on an unprecedented scale. We will work actively to develop new research funding opportunities that pave the way for the creation of new knowledge and to seek endowed support for the Institute s key functions, including the University s involvement in the LBT project that is facilitated by a generous $5.75 million gift from Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc. Our long range plans are to expand the current infrastructure that supports our scientists, attract more top talent, and provide University of Minnesota astrophysicists with state of the art resources to conduct research at the forefront of discovery. Over the next decade, the Institute faces a period of great opportunity. Our partnership with the LBT increases our access to observing time on the NASA facilities mentioned above, and offers unparalleled opportunities to collaborate with top scientists from many disciplines. Minnesota has a proud history of research in astronomy and astrophysics. The nature of white dwarf stars, ashes of stars like the Sun, was discovered here early in the 1900 s. Minnesota s astrophysicists pioneered the field of infrared astronomy in the 1960 s. During the last three decades, Minnesota s astronomers have played key roles in cutting edge scientific discoveries made with groundand space based observatories operating at wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the radio. Recently, our access to the powerful LBT, currently the world s largest astronomical optical/infrared telescope on a single mount, is a unique design that provides our students and faculty with unprecedented scientific opportunities. In this inaugural newsletter, we highlight the recent research and other activities of the current faculty and staff of the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics. Robert D. Gehrz, a graduate of the University of Minnesota (BA, Physics 1967; PhD, Physics 1971), has been a member of the faculty of the School of Physics and Astronomy since He was Chairman of the Department of Astronomy from SOLID BUCKYBALLS DISCOVERED IN SPACE Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics professors Robert Gehrz and Charles Woodward are part of an international team that has, for the first time, discovered buckyballs in a solid form in space. The discovery of these carbon molecules in space may provide clues about the origins of the Universe and if life could exist on other planets. Formally named buckminsterfullerene, buckyballs are named after their resemblance to the late architect Buckminster Fullerʹs geodesic domes. They are made up of 60 carbon molecules arranged into a hollow sphere, like a soccer ball. Their unusual structure makes them ideal candidates for electrical and chemical applications on Earth, including superconducting materials, medicines, water purification and armor. miniscule, far smaller than the width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks of millions of buckyballs.ʺ Buckyballs were detected definitively in space for the first time by Spitzer in Spitzer later identified the molecules in a host of different cosmic environments. It even found them in staggering quantities, the equivalent in mass to 15 Earth moons, in a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud. In all of those cases, the molecules were in the form of gas. The recent discovery of buckyballs particles means that large quantities of these molecules must be present in some stellar environments in order to link up and form solid particles. The research team was able to identify the solid form of buckyballs in the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique way that differs from the gaseous form. University of Minnesota astronomers Gehrz and Woodward were involved in designing the program of infrared spectroscopic observations using Spitzer to determine the mineral content of the grains being produced in the XX Oph system. Such information helps scientists determine the essential building blocks of our Universe. Gehrz and Woodward also were involved in analyzing and interpreting the data. Some of the information they uncovered was surprising. ʺAlthough gaseous C60 molecules had already been detected in space in low density vapor form, it was a big surprise to find that they actually had condensed into solid grains, Gehrz said. Our research suggests that buckyballs are even more common in space than we ever imagined.ʺ NASAʹs Spitzer Space Telescope has detected the solid form of buckyballs in space for the first time. Image credit: NASA/JPL Caltech Prior to this discovery, the microscopic carbon spheres had been found only in gas form in the cosmos. In the latest discovery, scientists used data from NASA s Spitzer Space Telescope to detect tiny specks of matter, or particles, consisting of stacked buckyballs. They found the particles around a pair of stars called ʺXX Ophiuchiʺ or ʺXX Ophʺ that are 6,500 light years from Earth, and detected enough to fill the equivalent in volume to 10,000 Mount Everests. ʺThese buckyballs are stacked together to form a solid, like oranges in a crate,ʺ said Nye Evans of Keele University in England, lead author of a paper appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. ʺThe particles we detected are ʺWe are all still surprised by nature,ʺ Woodward said. ʺThe presence of C60 and other organic molecules in space hold some interesting clues to whether life in the Universe may also be common.ʺ Buckyballs have been found on Earth in various forms. They form as a gas from burning candles and exist as solids in certain types of rock, such as the mineral shungite found in Russia, and fulgurite, a glassy rock from Colorado that forms when lightning strikes the ground. In a test tube, the solids take on the form of dark, brown ʺgoo.ʺ To read the full paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, visit: x/abstract 2 COMBINING THE BEAMS OF THE LBT Astronomers like to build large telescopes because they can gather more light from objects in the heavens. In addition to light gathering power, bigger diameter beams from the two primaries are combined with optics that are held at liquid nitrogen temperatures, 321 degrees Fahrenheit! With fewer reflections and very cold optics, the LBT Interferometer can work at thermal infrared wavelengths with far less unwanted background emission from the telescope optics than is possible on other large telescopes. The University of Minnesota helped build a camera called LMIRCam, that images the universe at infrared wavelengths, and operates at the combined focus of the LBT. With LMIRCam we have been able to achieve images as sharp as the Hubble Space Telescope can achieve in visible light, but at wavelengths of 3 5 microns, much further into the infrared than is possible with the Hubble. With this instrument we hope to image newly forming solar systems and the winds from luminous stars, search for warm Jupiters orbiting nearby Sun like stars, and probe the space near super massive black holes at the centers of other galaxies. The Large Binocular Telescope Observatory telescopes can, in principle, produce sharper images as well. Unfortunately, the Earthʹs atmosphere causes these images to be blurred, essentially robbing us of the sharp images we should be getting from our large telescopes. During the last decade, new technology has allowed large ground based telescopes to cancel the effects of the Earthʹs atmosphere and produce very sharp images comparable to space based telescopes. On the LBT, this is achieved using a deformable mirror that can rapidly change its shape to compensate for the blurring effects of the atmosphere. This technique is called Adaptive Optics, or AO. The AO system on the LBT is special because the deformable mirror is not an extra set of mirrors in the light path, but the telescope secondary mirror itself. This eliminates the extra reflections necessary with other AO systems. In addition, the LBT has two very large primary mirrors, and we can bring the light from both together and create even sharper images than would be possible from each mirror alone. The combining of beams from different primary mirrors is called interferometry. The LBTI and its beam combiner (green frame) at the combined focus of the LBT. LMIRCam, partly designed built at the University of Minnesota, is the blue box circled in yellow. ED NEY AND THE O BRIEN OBSERVATORY The University of Minnesota s O Brien Observatory, in Marine on St. Croix, was one of the world s first infrared (IR) telescopes. The 30 Cassagrain telescope serves as the local research telescope for the Twin Cities campus. Former Physics Professor Ed Ney realized that UM could actually compete at infrared astronomy with observatories built on high mountains that are above most of the atmospheric water vapor that absorbs infrared light coming from space. How could Minnesota play in this game? During the Minnesota winter, when the dew point falls well below zero, the air is as free of water as a 10,000 3 pointing and tracking capabilities. In addition to direct support of University classroom instruction, O Brien Observatory s close proximity to the Twin Cities metropolitan area also offers a convenient location to host various outreach events for local colleges and the general public. MT. LEMMON OBSERVING FACILITY Despite the early success of O Brien Observatory, the Minnesota Infrared Group and their collaborators at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) realized that The O'Brien Observatory and its 30 inch infrared telescope. foot high mountain top! Thus, Ed reasoned, one could compete with the Big Boys by observing under the right conditions with superior detectors using a rather small (30 inch) telescope. His proposal to build an IR observatory in Minnesota was reviewed favorably at NASA, and Ed set about to find an observatory site with superior seeing and sky darkness qualities not too far from the UM campus. The high hills of the St. Croix River valley seemed an ideal place to search. With the aid of his Jaguar XKE and a home made sky brightness meter, Ed soon located the ideal site on a high hill in Marine on St. Croix. The land was owned by a local named Thomond Thomy O Brien, a descendant of lumber baron William O Brien whose daughter had donated the land for nearby O Brien State Park in Ed soon had Thomy enthralled with the prospect of being involved in the project. Over martinis on Thomy s front porch in July of 1966, the two cemented a deal whereby O Brien Observatory (OBO) would be constructed on a parcel of land donated by Thomy to the University of Minnesota. The North South line was laid on June 27, Construction was completed and first light achieved during August of Over many years, the telescope has provided an esteemed history of infra red and spectroscopy research and discoveries. Today, OʹBrien Observatory is used primarily for instrument testing and undergraduate and graduate student instruction. However, Minnesota s cold, dry winter climate still offers opportunities for infra red research thereby enabling the University to instruct undergraduate and graduate students in the process of collecting important, conclusive data without incurring larger costs of traveling to one of the world s major observatories. This telescope s utility holds true for instrument testing as well since it features excellent 4 The 60 inch infrared telescope at Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. they needed regular access to a larger aperture, infraredoptimized telescope located at a dry, high altitude site with clear sky. Two problems presented themselves: How to fund the project and where to locate the observatory. The funding problem was solved by gaining support from four parties. The National Science Foundation (NSF) agreed to put in $100,000 in return for $50,000 matches from UM and UCSD. The British offered to contribute an unrestricted $100,000 to the group through the National Research Council of Great Britain on the agreement that the training of aspiring British infrared astronomers be conducted at Minnesota. The three eventually trained under this agreement were David Allen, John Hackwell, and Martin Cohen. The location problem was tackled by conducting an extensive survey of a dozen mountain sites in the southwestern United States and Hawaii, with data on weather, thermal infrared emission, water vapor content, and logistical support being collected primarily by graduate students Bob Gehrz and Don Strecker. Two of the best sites meteorologically, Mauna Kea, Hawaii and the Snowy Range, Wyoming were ruled out on logistical grounds given the realities of the project budget. Mt. Lemmon was chosen after much soul searching, primarily because it came with an existing dormitory/laboratory building on an abandoned Strategic Air Command radar base and easy access to liquid helium at the nearby University of Arizona. The observatory, named the Mt. Lemmon Observing Facility (MLOF), was constructed during 1970 and first light was achieved in December, It has had a long and productive life and is still in regular use. Originally manually slewed and pointed because of the low construction budget, the MLOF telescope was modified by Gehrz and Terry J. Jones in 1989 to be completely automated under computer control with the capability of being remotely operated by observers anywhere in the world using a phone modem. DISCOVERY OF MASSIVE GALAXY CLUSTERS Graduate student Damon Farnsworth, working with Professor Lawrence Rudnick and Shea Brown (UMN PhD 2009), has discovered the first radio emission from immense clusters of galaxies billions of years after colliding with other clusters. These clusters have masses equivalent to a million billion Suns. When they collide, enormous shocks pump energy into protons and electrons, speeding them up to nearly the speed of light. But long after the collision, the radiation from these particles dies away, and no clusters had ever been detected in this quiescent state. Using the very sensitive Green Bank Telescope, Farnsworth has discovered this quiescent emission, which is important for understanding the physics of the hot gas in these massive systems. STUDENTS STUDY THE SCIENCE OF NOTHING Can you go to the U and study nothing? Absolutely, if you enroll in Professor Lawrence Rudnickʹs Freshman Seminar entitled, you guessed it, ʺNothingʺ. In this class, students explore ancient and modern ideas about the vacuum a surprisingly rich place teeming with radiation and quantum particles, out of which the entire universe may have emerged. They also look at the history of the number zero, and struggle with nothing as seen through the eyes of guests from many academic disciplines. From the nothing of placebos, to minimalist art, to logical paradoxes in the definition of the empty set, to blindness, to nothing as a Shakespearean theme, students learn a whole new way of looking at the world. These freshman seminars, limited to 15 students, are a wonderful place where students can get to know each other and faculty members, even at the sometimes overwhelming U. THE SCIENCE OF HOCKEY Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics Professor Bob Gehrz participated in a series of short films for NBC Sports called ʺThe Science of NHL Hockey.ʺ Gehrz contributes to segments on Kinematics, Force, Impulse, & Collision, Newton s Three Laws of Motion, and Projectile Motion. Morris Aizenman, senior scientist for the National Science Foundation s Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, an adviser for the joint NSF NBC venture, knew that Gehrz was a physicist who plays hockey and invited him to participate. Gehrz has been skating since childhood and has played organized adult hockey in many leagues since He currently plays in an Over 60 league with several other employees of the School of Physics and Astronomy. of nhlhockey UNDERSTANDING THE MAGNETIZED UNIVERSE ON VERY LARGE SCALES Magnetic fields pervade the universe and influence its evolution on many scales. This is especially true in clusters of galaxies that are just now collapsing by their gravity out of the large scale expansion of the universe. Galaxy clusters are the largest bound objects in the universe. They provide unique information about the history of the universe as a whole. The gravity of those clusters is dominated by otherwise unseen dark matter, whose nature is still a mystery. Most of the ordinary 5 matter in galaxy clusters is very diffuse, hot and ionized gas, which we can see by its X ray emissions. Weak magnetic fields in that gas control many of its physical properties, such as thermal conduction. They are also responsible for energizing cosmic rays, very energetic charged particles, seen in clusters through radio emissions they produce. The physics that drives development of these magnetic fields is very complex, so is best studied through computer simulations. Professor Tom Jones, along with Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics alumnus, Dr. Francesco Miniati, now at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, is conducting a study of the formation of galaxy clusters including the physics of magnetic fields. The computer simulations are being carried out on a computer in the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. This research aims to establish a clear understanding of how magnetic fields develop in galaxy clusters and what properties of those magnetic fields are most important to the evolution of the clusters. The image here shows a network of galaxy clusters from one of the computer simulations. The largest of those clusters are just about to collide and merge together. That process lasts for roughly a billion years. Many smaller clusters are also visible in the image. Some of those will also be incorporated into the final large clusters. Others will end up being expelled. 6 THE INTERFACE BETWEEN PARTICLE PHYSICS AND COSMOLOGY Professor Marco Peloso works on the interplay between elementary particle physics and cosmology. He focuses on the imprint that particle
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