Astrophiz 75: How we came to see ‘One small step’

Astrophiz75 copy

Today we are at the NASA/CSIRO Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla in Australia, and we are speaking with Glen Nagle, who is the CSIRO’s outreach and administration lead and NASA operations support officer.

Glen tells us how the technicians crewing the 26m dish at the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station were the only ones capable of receiving and re-transmitting clear images of the first 8 minutes of Neil Armstrong’s descent from the Eagle Lunar Module and his first small steps on the moon on July 20 1969.  It’s a fabulous story, and Glen then continues to tell us how the CDSCC is using the 70m and 43m dishes to talk to missions doing science around sun, the planets of our solar system and beyond.

For observers and astrophotographers, in ‘What’s Up Doc’, Dr Ian ‘Astroblog’ Musgrave tells us what to look for in the morning, evening & night skies. In this episode all the action is in the morning sky and an easy-to-find comet for binocular and possibly naked eye viewing. He also outlines some of the highlights of the coming year.

In the news:

When we started this podcast back in 2016 we thought that after we covered the history of radio astronomy we’d do a couple more episodes to keep up with the latest developments and that would be it.

Thing is, we discovered that radio astronomy, space science, data science, optical astronomy and particle physics are all developing at such an astonishing pace that there is no way we can keep up with it all. 

So we continue anyway …  and have found that by interviewing the actual scientists working in these specialist fields, we are finding great insights into not only the brilliant discoveries being made on a weekly basis, but also the how and why these generous researchers do their work. 

A consistent set of messages are also coming through. Pure research must be funded and supported by governments. If governments insist on research that only has a short-term ‘return on investment’ then we might as well move back to the dark ages, because that’s not how the advancement of human knowledge works. 

Another message is that diversity, equity, fairness, respect and decency are essential for healthy science communities. 

Any hints of misogyny, sexism, nepotism, overwork and mistreatment and abuse of the goodwill of our current and next generation of researchers continues to diminish our capacity to understand our universe and our place in it.  

That said … here is the Astrophiz News

  1. If you like to see a brilliant short video of the last billion years of comets and asteroids impacting the moon, and converted to music, go to com/billionmoon
  2. The Milky Way is warped and  “S-shaped”, according to a new 3D map, And the further out you go, the more distorted it becomes. 
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy that contains 250 billion or so stars, most of which are found in its inner region. The paper, by Xiaodian Chen, Shu Wang, Licai Deng, Richard de Grijs, Chao Liu & Hao Tian 
which was published on Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy,maps the location of more than 1,000 bright young stars across our galaxy. Professor de Grijs said the new map could help in the hunt for dark matter, adding that it could act as a “benchmark” for other work, such as the European Space Agency’s Gaia telescope’s mission to map a billion stars in the Milky Way.
  3. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array has spotted two stars forming in the same protoplanetary disc 11,000 light years from Earth. But they are far from identical twins.
One star is huge by even stellar standards, 40 times more massive than the Sun. The other is just one-eightieth that size, indicating a very different history. The larger star, known as MM 1a, formed by traditional means when a dense cloud of gas collapsed under its own gravity, triggering fusion reactions in the high-density, high-temperature core.
But at some point, a portion of the swirling disc apparently broke away, or fragmented, forming the core of the diminutive companion.
“Astronomers have known for a long time that most massive stars orbit one or more other stars as partners in a compact system, but how they got there has been a topic of conjecture,” said Crystal Brogan, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. “With ALMA, we now have evidence that the disc of gas and dust that encompasses and feeds a growing massive star also produces fragments at early stages that can form a secondary star.”

  4. Big news now for Pink Floyd fans is that China has successfully landed on the far side of the moon, which ironically is only fully dark whenever we have a full moon. A fabulous shot of the far side of the moon and planet earth is now doing the rounds on the inter webs, look it up if you haven’t seen it already. China’s Chang’e-4 mission made history by landing on the far side of the moon last month, and now it’s exploring the area in unprecedented detail. As China’s Yuta-2 rover explores the surface, its lunar satellites are relaying back to Earth stunning pictures of this mysterious and hard-to-reach area. The photo I’m referring to was taken by Longjiang-2, a small satellite that a Chang’e-4 relay satellite unloaded on its way to the moon last May. Longjiang-2 is small, just under 45 kilograms and is around 50x50x40 centimeters, that’s 20 by 20 by 15 inches in size in some arcane measuring system.
 It was meant to be part of a pair with Longjiang-1, but its sibling malfunctioned and became inoperable. Only one of these two microsatellites was outfitted with an optical camera, and Luckily for us, it was Longjiang-2.

  5. Congratulations to the CHIME teams in British Columbia who have just discovered some new FRBs, including the second-only repeater.
We still dont know what event triggers FRBs, but that hasn’t stopped speculation like this from America’s ABC news network:
 “ Aliens! Astronomers can’t rule out that possibility after an exciting new discovery.
  6. A team in Canada recently stumbled upon ultra-brief repeating waves from deep space for only the second time in history.
I’d like to point out that astronomers also can’t rule out that FRBs are caused by unicorn farts.
Seriously, congrats to the CHIME teams as the hunt for both FRBs and an understanding of the mechanisms that cause FRBs. My guess is we’ll find a lot more FRBs before we are certain of what causes them. The caveat here is that I’ve never been a very good guesser.

  7. And here’s a reminder that good science is about making and testing predictions … The heavens delivered a bit of scientific vindication to Yale professor of astronomy and physics Priyamvada Natarajan recently, when her 20-year-old theory about winds from distant black holes was proven correct.
Back In 1999, when she was a graduate student at Cambridge University, Natarajan predicted that cosmic winds driven by a black hole could potentially carry gas and other star-making material thousands of light years away from their host galaxy.  Natarajan’s theory was right. A research group led by astronomer Mark Lacy of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia recently reported the observation of just such a wind flowing away from a type of supermassive black hole known as a quasar.The researchers found evidence of winds blowing hundreds of thousands of light years away from the host galaxy.

  8. Yes, there is more news from the Parker Solar Probe, the Mars Insight mission, Eta Carina (my secret love) and the effect of the US Government shutdown had on scientific research, the Netherlands has joined the SKA and New Zealand hasn’t …. but you’ll have to look those up yourself …

NEXT EPISODE: In our next episode in two weeks we are speaking with Dr Shari Breen, who holds a research fellowship at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy at the University of Sydney. Shari has been awarded the prestigious Bolton Fellowship and has worked on some of the world’s and Australia’s most powerful instruments, including the Parkes Dish and the ATCA.  In 2015 she was named a L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellow for her work on understanding how the largest stars in our galaxy are formed.

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