Two Years on Mars: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Frontiers of Science Lecture Series

Sept. 17, 2014 – Kimberly Lichtenberg, an instrument engineer for the Mars Curiosity rover, will speak about “Two Years on Mars: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” during the University of Utah’s Frontiers of Science Lecture on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

For two years NASA’s Curiosity rover vehicle was on a mission to answer a fundamental question about Mars: Was the planet ever a habitable environment? After the successful landing of the rover in August 2012, the team used Curiosity to explore the plains and deltas of Mars’ Gale Crater, a location known for its abundant minerals. The rover completed its journey in July after two years of lucky finds, obstacles and flat tires.

Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity previously found that liquid water once existed on Mars, suggesting the planet may have supported some form of life. In her lecture, Lichtenberg, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will discuss where to look for a habitable environment on Mars, the importance of Gale Crater to the mission and how humans can handle living on Mars time. Mars has a 24-hour, 39-minute day, which means mission researchers needed to start their shifts 39 minutes later each day, eventually working in the middle of the night.

Lichtenberg is a system engineer for the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument on Curiosity. She helps develop and maintain instruments that investigate a habitable environment on Mars. Lichtenberg also is part of the team that controls the rover, making her job “completely different and exciting” every day.

She received a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree and doctorate in Earth and planetary sciences from Washington University in St. Louis. Lichtenberg also is an advocate on social media for space exploration.

The Frontiers of Science Lecture Series is sponsored by the University of Utah’s College of Science and College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

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Nuclear Spins Control Current in Plastic LED

Step toward Quantum Computing, Spintronic Memory, Better Displays

Sept. 18, 2014 – University of Utah physicists read the subatomic “spins” in the centers or nuclei of hydrogen isotopes, and used the data to control current that powered light in a cheap, plastic LED – at room temperature and without strong magnetic fields.


University of Utah physicist Christoph Boehme works in his laboratory on an apparatus used in a new study that brings physics a step closer to “spintronic” devices such as superfast computers, more compact data storage devices and more efficient organic LEDs or OLEDS than those used today for display screens in cell phones, computers and televisions. The study, published in the Sept. 19 issue of the journal Science, showed the physicists could read the subatomic “spins” in hydrogen nuclei and use the data to control current that powers light in a cheap, plastic LED, or OLED, under practical operating conditions. Photo Credit: Lee J. Siegel, University of Utah

The study – published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science – brings physics a step closer to practical machines that work “spintronically” as well as electronically: superfast quantum computers, more compact data storage devices and plastic or organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, more efficient than those used today in display screens for cell phones, computers and televisions.

“We have shown we can use room-temperature, plastic electronic devices that allow us to see the orientation of the tiniest magnets in nature – the spins in the smallest atomic nuclei,” says physics professor Christoph Boehme, one of the study’s principal authors. “This is a step that may lead to new ways to store information, produce better displays and make faster computers.”

The experiment is a much more practical version of a study Boehme and colleagues published in Science in 2010, when they were able to read nuclear spins from phosphorus atoms in a conventional silicon semiconductor. But they could only do so when the apparatus was chilled to minus 453.9 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly absolute zero), was bombarded with intense microwaves and exposed to superstrong magnetic fields.

In the new experiments, the physicists were able to read the nuclear spins of two isotopes of hydrogen: a single proton and deuterium, which is a proton, neutron and electron. The isotopes were embedded in an inexpensive plastic polymer or organic semiconductor named MEH-PPV, an OLED that glows orange when current flows.

The researchers flipped the spins of the hydrogen nuclei to control electrical current flowing though the OLED, making the current stronger or weaker. They did it at room temperature and without powerful light bombardment or magnetic fields – in other words, at normal operating conditions for most electronic devices, Boehme says.

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Smallest Known Galaxy with a Supermassive Black Hole

Many Black Holes May Hide in Dwarf Remnants of Stripped Galaxies

Sept. 17, 2014 – A University of Utah astronomer and his colleagues discovered that an ultracompact dwarf galaxy harbors a supermassive black hole – the smallest galaxy known to contain such a massive light-sucking object. The finding suggests huge black holes may be more common than previously believed.


University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth led a new study by an international team that discovered an ultracompact dwarf galaxy named M60-UCD1 is the smallest galaxy known to contain a supermassive black hole, likely because the dwarf galaxy was stripped of its outer stars and material by gravity from the much larger galaxy named M60. Photo Credit: Janet Iwasa, University of Utah

“It is the smallest and lightest object that we know of that has a supermassive black hole,” says Anil Seth, lead author of an international study of the dwarf galaxy published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature. “It’s also one of the most black hole-dominated galaxies known.”

The astronomers used the Gemini North 8-meter optical-and-infrared telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to discover that a small galaxy named M60-UCD1 has a black hole with a mass equal to 21 million suns.

Their finding suggests plenty of other ultracompact dwarf galaxies likely also contain supermassive black holes – and those dwarfs may be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with yet other galaxies.

“We don’t know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small,” says Seth, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah. “There are a lot of similar ultracompact dwarf galaxies, and together they may contain as many supermassive black holes as there are at the centers of normal galaxies.”

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Night Vision Lecture Dr. Anil Seth

Clark Planetarium's website.

Dr. Anil Seth
Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Utah

Location: ATK IMAX Theatre at the Clark Planetarium
View Map

Tickets $2.00 per person (free for members of the Clark Planetarium)

Join us for a special Night Vision lecture with guest lecturer, Dr. Anil Seth to learn about supermassive black holes. On Saturday, September 20th at 7PM Clark Planetarium will welcome University of Utah researcher, Anil Seth PhD. for a special Night Vision presentation. Dr. Seth will present an exciting new result on his research about supermassive black holes.

This Night Vision lecture will be hosted in the ATK IMAX Theatre and is FREE for planetarium members. Tickets are only $2 for the general public.

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A Hotspot for Powerful Cosmic Rays

Physicists a Step Closer to Finding Mysterious Sources

July 8, 2014 – An observatory run by the University of Utah found a “hotspot” beneath the Big Dipper emitting a disproportionate number of the highest-energy cosmic rays. The discovery moves physics another step toward identifying the mysterious sources of the most energetic particles in the universe.


University of Utah physicists Gordon Thomson, Charlie Jui and John Matthews discuss the Telescope Array cosmic ray observatory’s discovery of a “hotspot” – located beneath the Big Dipper in the northern sky – emitting an unusual number of ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays. The source of these rays, which are the most energetic particles in the universe, remains unknown, but the new finding will help narrow the search. Photo Credit: Lee J. Siegel, University of Utah

“This puts us closer to finding out the sources – but no cigar yet,” says University of Utah physicist Gordon Thomson, spokesman and co-principal investigator for the $25 million Telescope Array cosmic ray observatory west of Delta, Utah. It is the Northern Hemisphere’s largest cosmic ray detector.

“All we see is a blob in the sky, and inside this blob there is all sorts of stuff – various types of objects – that could be the source” of the powerful cosmic rays, he adds. “Now we know where to look.”

A new study identifying a hotspot in the northern sky for ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays has been accepted for publication by Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Thomson says many astrophysicists suspect ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays are generated by active galactic nuclei, or AGNs, in which material is sucked into a supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy, while other material is spewed away in a beam-like jet known as a blazar. Another popular possibility is that the highest-energy cosmic rays come from some supernovas (exploding stars) that emit gamma rays bursts.

Lower-energy cosmic rays come from the sun, other stars and exploding stars, but the source or sources of the most energetic cosmic rays has been a decades-long mystery.

The study was conducted by 125 researchers in the Telescope Array project, including Thomson and 31 other University of Utah physicists, plus 94 other scientists from the University of Tokyo and 28 other research institutions in Japan, the United States, South Korea, Russia and Belgium.

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Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival

From the Bryce Canyon National Park Website

2014 Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival: Star Stories from Down Under

Join us for our 14th Annual Astronomy Festival (June 25 - 28, 2014) where Bryce Canyon's Dark Rangers and the Salt Lake Astronomical Society welcome Australia's award-winning photographer and amateur astronomer Alex Cherney. Don't miss this keynote presentation on Friday, June 27 at 9:15 pm -- Alex's debut appearance in the United States. See his stunning photography from the wilds of Australia and New Zealand -- two of the few places on Earth with even darker night skies than Bryce Canyon. In the Australian Outback the Milky Way is so bright that many of the native people's constellations were not made in connect-the-dots fashion from star-patterns, but from the 3-dimensional dark clouds (stellar cocoons) within the Milky Way.

If you've ever dreamed of going on an Australian night-sky "walk-about," here's your chance to follow in the footsteps of an expert. Listen to Alex tell of these 20,000-year-old sky stories, and his own adventures in the wilds of Australia, beneath the backdrop of his stunning night sky videography set to moving music. In the meantime, enjoy some samples of his talent here.

Visit the Bryce Canyon National Park Website for schedules, directions and more information.

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