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Global perspectives on a comet


Press Release 14-052
Global perspectives on a comet

ISON Comet Photography Contest winners provide images from around the world

Photo of stars in the sky and the comet ISON

People's Choice award winner: Eric Cardoso, Setúbal, Portugal, "Comet ISON"
Credit and Larger Version

April 14, 2014

Seven photographers from around the globe received awards for their stunning images of comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) at the Northeast Astronomy Forum held at Rockland Community College today.

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences, Astronomy magazine and Discover magazine co-sponsored the photo contest with three categories for entry: 1) Cameras and tripods without the use of tracking or telescopes; 2) Piggyback cameras riding atop a telescope or motorized mount; 3) Through-the-scope images where the telescope acts as the camera's lens.

Winners are as follows:

Cameras and tripods

1st place--Atish Aman, Delhi, India, "Comet ISON over Pokhara City, Nepal"

2nd place--Barry Burgess, Nova Scotia, Canada, "Comet ISON, Port Medway, Nova Scotia."

Piggyback cameras

1st place--John Chumack, Ohio, USA, "Comet ISON Gossamer Tail & Disconnection Event"

2nd place--Gaeul Song, Korea, "Mercury and ISON"

Through-the-Scope

1st place--Damian Peach, Hampshire, U.K., "Broom Star"

2nd place--Gerald Rhemann, Vienna, Austria, "Comet C/2012 S1 ISON"

People's Choice

Eric Cardoso, Setúbal, Portugal, "Comet ISON"

"ISON was one of the brightest comets in decades, and millions were captivated last November as this sun-grazing comet flew dangerously close to the sun's surface," said Maria Womack, an NSF astronomy division program director.  "It was so exciting to cheer with so many others in the world as the comet made its first trip to the inner solar system, which, sadly, it did not survive.

"Capturing an event like Comet ISON is even more of an achievement, because it was so close to the sun and visible to the naked eye for such a short time. Photographers like those who did so well in our contest, make sure the rest of us don't miss these special occasions. The pictures are impressive and ethereal--and truly captured the comet's last gasp."

In fact, Comet ISON deteriorated to almost nothing after the point at which it was closest to the sun, so virtually all submissions were of images prior to that point.

Final judges for the contest included Ann Druyan, an author, Cosmos producer and widow of the late Carl Sagan; Daphne and Tony Hallas, two world renowned astro-photographers; Jon Lomberg, an American space artist and science journalist; and David Malin, a British-Australian astronomer and photographer.

First prizes yielded $2,500; second prizes, $1,000. In addition to the six prize winners, NSF website visitors chose an additional "People's Choice" award worth $1,500. Winners will be featured in Astronomy magazine's June issue.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Ivy F. Kupec, NSF, (703) 292-8796, ikupec@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

photo of comet Ison in the sky through a telescope
1st place Through the Scope: Damian Peach, Hampshire, U.K., "Broom Star"
Credit and Larger Version

Comet C/2012 S1 ISON as seen through the telescope
2nd place Through the Scope: Gerald Rhemann, Vienna, Austria, "Comet C/2012 S1 ISON"
Credit and Larger Version

photo of Comet ISON over Pokhara City, Nepal
1st place Cameras and Tripods: Atish Aman, Delhi, India, "Comet ISON over Pokhara City, Nepal"
Credit and Larger Version

Comet ISON as seen above Port Medway, Nova Scotia at dusk
2nd place Cameras and Tripods: Barry Burgess, Canada, "Comet ISON, Port Medway, Nova Scotia"
Credit and Larger Version

Photos of comet ISON Gossamer Tail & Disconnection Event
1st place Piggyback Cameras: John Chumack, USA, "Comet ISON Gossamer Tail & Disconnection Event
Credit and Larger Version

Mercury and comet ISON in the sky over Korea
2nd place Piggyback Cameras: Gaeul Song, Korea, "Mercury and ISON"
Credit and Larger Version

The National Science Foundation names Feng Zhang its Alan T. Waterman Awardee for 2014


Press Release 14-051
The National Science Foundation names Feng Zhang its Alan T. Waterman Awardee for 2014

Young researcher honored for early contributions, supported for even greater impact

NSF's 2014 Alan T. Waterman Awardee Feng Zhang.

NSF's 2014 Alan T. Waterman Awardee Feng Zhang.
Credit and Larger Version

April 14, 2014

The National Science Foundation (NSF) named Feng Zhang the 2014 recipient of its Alan T. Waterman Award. This award is NSF's highest honor that annually recognizes an outstanding researcher under the age of 35 and funds his or her research in any field of science or engineering. Zhang's research focuses on understanding how the brain works.

"It is a great pleasure to honor Feng Zhang with this award for his young, impressive career," said NSF Director France Córdova. "It is exciting to support his continued fundamental research, which is certain to impact the field of brain research. Imagine a future free of schizophrenia, autism and other brain disorders that wreak havoc on individuals, families and society. Feng's research moves us in that direction."

Zhang seeks to understand the molecular machinery of brain cells through the development and application of innovative technologies. He created and is continuing to perfect tools that afford researchers precise control over biological activities occurring inside the cell. With these tools, researchers can deepen their understanding of how the genome works, and how it influences the development and function of the brain. Zhang also examines failures within the systems that cause disease.

Two different lines of fundamental research and technology development are helping him do that: optogenetics and genome engineering. With Edward Boyden and Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University, he developed optogenetics to study brain circuits, a technique in which light is used to affect signaling and gene expression of neurons involved in complex behaviors. Zhang also developed the CRISPR system to enable new, cheaper, more effective ways to "edit" animal genomes--that is, to identify and cut a short DNA sequence underlying a disorder so that it may be deleted or substituted out for other genetic material. Although Zhang's main area of focus is the brain, the potential applications of CRISPR technology extend well beyond neuroscience.

"This is an immensely exciting time for the field because of the tremendous potential of tools like CRISPR, which allows us to modify the genomes of mammalian cells," Zhang said. "One of my long-term goals is to better understand the molecular mechanisms of brain function and identify new ways to treat devastating neurological disorders."

Since high school, Zhang has devoted his time, energy and intellectual prowess to developing ways to study and repair the nervous system. Today, he is one of 11 core faculty members at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; an investigator at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research; and the W. M. Keck Career Development Professor with a joint appointment in MIT's Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering.

Zhang is widely recognized for his pioneering work in optogenetics and genome editing. He shared the Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize with Karl Deisseroth and Edward Boyden in 2012. In 2013, MIT Technology Review recognized him as a "pioneer" and one of its 35 Innovators Under 35; Popular Science magazine placed Zhang on its Brilliant 10, an annual list of the most promising scientific innovators. Nature also named him as one of the "ten people who mattered" in 2013 for his work on developing the CRISPR system for genome editing in mammalian cells.

The Waterman award will be presented to Zhang at an evening ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 9. At that event, the National Science Board will also present its 2014 Vannevar Bush award to mathematician Richard Tapia and Public Service awards to bioethicist Arthur Caplan and to the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships Program.

Plans are underway for Zhang to deliver a lecture at a meeting of the National Science Board at NSF and to meet with students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology during his visit this spring.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Lisa-Joy Zgorski, NSF, (703) 292-8311, lisajoy@nsf.gov
Julie Pryor, McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, (617) 715-5397, jpryor@mit.edu
Haley Bridger, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, (617) 714-7968, hbridger@broadinstitute.org

Program Contacts
Mayra N. Montrose, NSF, (703) 292-4757, mmontros@nsf.gov

Related Websites
McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT: http://mcgovern.mit.edu/
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard: http://www.broadinstitute.org/
About the Alan T. Waterman Award: http://www.nsf.gov/od/waterman/waterman.jsp
Waterman Award Recipients Since 1976: http://www.nsf.gov/od/waterman/waterman_recipients.jsp
Full biography of Feng Zhang: http://www.broadinstitute.org/history-leadership/scientific-leadership/core-members/feng-zhang
Popular Science, How Feng Zhang Modified A Cell's Genome On The Fly: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/feng-zhang
Genomic research may finally help dispel the ignorance shrouding many types of mental illness.: http://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2013/pioneer/feng-zhang/

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

Long-term predictions for Miami sea level rise could be available relatively soon


Press Release 14-050
Long-term predictions for Miami sea level rise could be available relatively soon

City could know as early as 2020 how high sea level will go in the next century

The skyline of downtown Miami along Biscayne Bay

The skyline of downtown Miami along Biscayne Bay: What will it look like in 20, 50, 100 years?
Credit and Larger Version

April 14, 2014

Miami could know as early as 2020 how high sea levels will rise into the next century, according to a team of researchers including Florida International University scientist Rene Price.

Price is also affiliated with the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, one of 25 such NSF LTER sites in ecosystems from coral reefs to deserts, mountains to salt marshes around the world.

Scientists conclude that sea level rise is one of the most certain consequences of climate change.

But the speed and long-term height of that rise are unknown. Some researchers believe that sea level rise is accelerating, some suggest the rate is holding steady, while others say it's decelerating.

With long-term data showing that global sea levels are steadily rising at 2.8 millimeters per year, and climate models indicating that the rate could accelerate over time, Price posed a question to colleagues: How soon will Miami residents know what sea levels will be in the year 2100?

"In Miami, we're at the forefront of sea level rise," Price says. "With the uncertainty in what we currently know, I was looking for information that could help us plan better for the long-term."

Price and a team of international researchers set out to answer the question.

They analyzed data from 10 sea level monitoring stations throughout the world.

They looked into the future by analyzing the past.

The researchers examined historical data to identify the timing at which accelerations might first be recognized in a significant manner and extended projections through 2100.

The findings are published in this week's issue of the journal Nature Communications.

"Sea level rise will have major effects on natural and built coastal environments," says David Garrison, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funds the NSF LTER network with NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

"Being able to detect and predict the pace of sea level rise is critical to being able to adapt to future changes in coastal regions," says Garrison.

Price says the information provided should offer some comfort to those living with this uncertainty.

"Our results show that by 2020 to 2030, we could have some statistical certainty of what the sea level rise situation will look like," she says.

"That means we'll know what to expect and have 70 years to plan. In a subject that has so much uncertainty, this gives us the gift of long-term planning."

Conservative projections suggest that sea level could rise by .3 meters by 2100, but with acceleration, some scientists believe that number will be closer to 1 meter.

"Areas of Miami Beach could experience constant flooding," says Price.

"The Everglades and mangroves may not be able to keep up. Mangroves are very important to South Florida, and their loss would likely mean more land erosion.

"We could see large portions of the Everglades taken over by the ocean. Areas that are freshwater today could become saltwater by 2100."

As cities, including Miami, continue to plan for long-term solutions to sea level rise, Price says she was surprised to discover that in the span of 20 years, scientists would be in a position to predict the long-term situation for Miami and other coastal areas across the planet.

Scientists should continue to crunch the numbers every decade, says Price, creating more certainty in long-term planning--and helping develop solutions for a changing planet.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
JoAnn Adkins, FIU, (305) 348-0398, jadkins@fiu.edu

Related Websites
NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Network: http://www.lternet.edu
NSF Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) LTER Site: http://www.lternet.edu/sites/fce
NSF Publication: Discoveries in Long-Term Ecological Research: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13083/nsf13083.pdf
NSF LTER Discovery Article Series: The Search for White Gold: http://nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=127580
NSF LTER FCE News: Seagrasses Can Store as Much Carbon as Forests: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?org=NSF&cntn_id=124263&preview=false
NSF LTER FCE News: Gulf Oil Spill: NSF Funds Research on Impacts to Florida Everglades: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=117430
NSF LTER FCE News: Where Does Charcoal, or Black Carbon, in Soils Go?: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=127577

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

Cosmic slurp


Discovery
Cosmic slurp

Georgia Tech researchers use supercomputers to understand and predict signs of black holes swallowing stars

montage of images shows the evolution of a white dwarf star

The evolution of a white dwarf star as it is being disrupted by a massive black hole.
Credit and Larger Version

April 14, 2014

Somewhere out in the cosmos an ordinary galaxy spins, seemingly at slumber. Then all of a sudden, WHAM! A flash of light explodes from the galaxy's center. A star orbiting too close to the event horizon of the galaxy's central supermassive black hole has been torn apart by the force of gravity, heating up its gas and sending out a beacon to the far reaches of the universe.

In a universe with tens of billions of galaxies, how would we see it? What would such a beacon look like? And how would we distinguish it from other bright, monumental intergalactic events, such as supernovas?

"Black holes by themselves do not emit light," said Tamara Bogdanovic, an assistant professor of physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "Our best chance to discover them in distant galaxies is if they interact with the stars and gas that are around them."

In recent decades, with improved telescopes and observational techniques designed to repeatedly survey the vast numbers of galaxies in the sky, scientists noticed that some galaxies that previously looked inactive would suddenly light up at their very center.

"This flare of light was found to have a characteristic behavior as a function of time. It starts very bright and its luminosity then decreases in time in a particular way," she explained. "Astronomers have identified those as galaxies where a central black hole just disrupted and 'ate' a star. It's like a black hole putting up a sign that says 'Here I am.'"

Using a mix of theoretical and computer-based approaches, Bogdanovic tries to predict the dynamics of events such as the black-hole-devouring-star scenario described above, also known as a "tidal disruption." Such events would have a distinct signature to someone analyzing data from a ground-based or space-based observatory.

Using National Science Foundation-funded supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (Stampede) and the National Institute for Computational Sciences (Kraken), Bogdanovic and her collaborators recently simulated the dynamics of these super powerful forces and charted their behavior using numerical models.

Tidal disruptions are relatively rare cosmic occurrences. Astrophysicists have calculated that a Milky Way-like galaxy stages the disruption of a star only once in about 10,000 years. The luminous flare of light, on the other hand, can fade away in only a few years. Because it is such a challenge to pinpoint tidal disruptions in the sky, astronomical surveys that monitor vast numbers of galaxies simultaneously are crucial.

Huge difference

So far, only a few dozen of these characteristic flare signatures have been observed and deemed "candidates" for tidal disruptions. But with data from PanSTARRS, Galex, the Palomar Transient Factory and other upcoming astronomical surveys becoming available to scientists, Bogdanovic believes this situation will change dramatically.

"As opposed to a few dozen that have been found over the past 10 years, now imagine hundreds per year--that's a huge difference!" she said. "It means that we will be able to build a varied sample of stars of different types being disrupted by supermassive black holes."

With hundreds of such events to explore, astrophysicists' understanding of black holes and the stars around them would advance by leaps and bounds, helping determine some key aspects of galactic physics.

"A diversity in the type of disrupted stars tells us something about the makeup of the star clusters in the centers of galaxies," Bodganovic said. "It may give us an idea about how many main sequence stars, how many red giants, or white dwarf stars are there on average."

Tidal disruptions also tell us something about the population and properties of supermassive black holes that are doing the disrupting.

"We use these observations as a window of opportunity to learn important things about the black holes and their host galaxies," she continued. "Once the tidal disruption flare dims below some threshold luminosity that can be seen in observations, the window closes for that particular galaxy."

Role of supercomputer

In a recent paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal, Bogdanovic, working with Roseanne Cheng (Center for Relativistic Astrophysics at Georgia Tech) and Pau Amaro-Seoane (Albert Einstein Institute in Potsdam, Germany), considered the tidal disruption of a red giant star by a supermassive black hole using computer modeling.

The paper comes on the heels of the discovery of a tidal disruption event in which a black hole disrupted a helium-rich stellar core, thought to be a remnant of a red giant star, named PS1-10jh, 2.7 billion light years from Earth.

The sequence of events they described aims to explain some unusual aspects of the observational signatures associated with this event, such as the absence of the hydrogen emission lines from the spectrum of PS1-10jh.

As a follow-up to this theoretical study, the team has been running simulations on Krake and Stampede, as well as Georgia Tech's Keeneland supercomputer. The simulations reconstruct the chain of events by which a stellar core, similar to the remnant of a tidally disrupted red giant star, might evolve under the gravitational tides of a massive black hole.

"Calculating the messy interplay between hydrodynamics and gravity is feasible on a human timescale only with a supercomputer," Cheng said. "Because we have control over this virtual experiment and can repeat it, fast forward, or rewind as needed, we can examine the tidal disruption process from many perspectives. This in turn allows us to determine and quantify the most important physical processes at play."

The research shows how supercomputer simulations complement and constrain theory and observation.

"There are many situations in astrophysics where we cannot get insight into a sequence of events that played out without simulations. We cannot stand next to the black hole and look at how it accretes gas. So we use simulations to learn about these distant and extreme environments," Bogdanovic said.

One of Bogdanovic's goals is to use the knowledge gained from simulations to decode the signatures of observed tidal disruption events.

"The most recent data on tidal disruption events is already outpacing theoretical understanding and calling for the development of a new generation of models," she explained. "The new, better quality data indicates that there is a great diversity among the tidal disruption candidates. This is contrary to our perception, based on earlier epochs of observation, that they are a relatively uniform class of events. We have yet to understand what causes these differences in observational appearance, and computer simulations are guaranteed to be an important part of this journey."

--  Aaron Dubrow, NSF (703) 292-4489 adubrow@nsf.gov

Investigators
Roseanne Cheng
Pau Amaro-Seoane
Tamara Bogdanovic

Related Institutions/Organizations
Georgia Tech Research Corporation
Texas Advanced Computing Center
University of California Santa Barbara
National Institute for Computational Science

Locations
Atlanta , Georgia
Austin , Texas
Knoxville , Tennessee

Related Awards
#1333360 Collaborative Research: The multi-scale physics of massive black hole formation, fueling and feedback
#1134872 Enabling, Enhancing, and Extending Petascale Computing for Science and Engineering
#0910735 Keeneland: National Institute for Experimental Computing
#1041709 Augment the Kraken! Increasing the scientific capability and capacity of the NSF's most powerful supercomputer
#1125915 Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics

Years Research Conducted
2013 - 2014

Total Grants
$80,388,811

Related Agencies
Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics

Related Websites
Center for Relativistic Astrophysics: http://www.cra.gatech.edu/
Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP): http://www.kitp.ucsb.edu/
Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics Network: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=504843
Disruption of a Red Giant Star by a Supermassive Black Hole and the Case of PS1-10jh: http://arxiv.org/abs/1307.6176

Engineers are ‘schooling’ themselves on fish maneuvers

April 14, 2014

Their research is revealing more about what it takes to truly swim like a fish

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), aerospace engineer Michael Philen and his team at Virginia Tech are investigating the biomechanics of fish locomotion, in hopes of contributing to the next generation of robotic fish and underwater submersibles.

The researchers are studying how fish use their muscles to swim efficiently and execute underwater maneuvers, such as darting around in perfectly synchronized schools.

Philen and his team also are developing new smart materials, such as a bioengineered hair that is modeled after the hair cell sensors on the side of fish that allow it to detect minute changes in water flow.

Read more about the artificial fish project and related research on the Virginia Tech Aerospace Structures and Materials Lab website.

The research in this episode was funded by NSF award #0938043, EFRI-BSBA: Multifunctional materials exhibiting distributed actuation, sensing, and control: Uncovering the hierarchical control of fish for developing smarter materials.