News & Press releases

Número de entradas: 120

Enero 2017

Record-breaking Rapid-Fire Nova erupts for the 9th time in as many years

Researchers at the Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC-CSIC) are leading its study
The Andromeda Galaxy M31 with the position of nova M31N 2008-12a marked by a blue star symbol
Tautenburg observatory
Just before Christmas, on December 12, astronomers announced a new eruption of the most extreme Nova system known to date. The star with the catalogue name "M31N 2008-12a" resides in the Andromeda galaxy - the 2.5 million lightyears distant neighbour of our own Galaxy. Since its discovery in December 2008, this Rapid-Fire Nova has surprised researchers with eruptions more frequent than ever seen before; swiftly becoming one of the most popular observing targets. Astronomers at ICE are playing a leading role in an international team that is at the forefront of this exciting new research.
  Recurrent Novae - Regular Fireworks  
Nova outbursts are among the most powerful eruptions in the universe. They occur in binary star system consisting of a star like our sun (or sometimes an aging giant star) and a compact White Dwarf star orbiting one another at a relatively close distance. The dense and heavy dwarf star gradually steals material from its companion until it has accumulated enough matter to ignite a spectacular explosion. Within hours, a shell of previously collected material is ejected again at high speeds and temperatures, creating a huge, temporary “new star” - the eponymous Nova that lets the star shine hundreds of thousands times brighter than before. As the shell expands further it cools and fades away, making the star disappear back into obscurity. Unlike the more powerful Supernovae, a Nova does not explode its host White Dwarf but only throws off the accumulated shell. Soon after, the White Dwarf begins to collect new material towards the next eruption. The time between eruptions can be years or millenia. Novae that have shown more than a single eruption are called “Recurrent Novae”.
  The most reliable Eruptions in the Universe  
One recently discovered Recurrent Nova is breaking all the records: “Our new Rapid-Fire Nova erupts at a much faster rate than any other Nova”, says Martin Henze, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC-CISC), who is one of the leaders of the global collaboration which studies this fascinating object. In astronomical terms, the eruptions are also exceptionally predictable. “We observe a new event every 350 days”, Henze explains, “and rarely it happens more than a few weeks away from the predicted date.” The opportunity to study a large number of eruptions within only a few decades opens up completely new avenues for Nova research. Professor Margarita Hernanz, working with Henze at the Institute of Space Sciences, emphasises the large impact of this discovery: “The evolution of the binary star system through many, many Nova cycles is something that we could always study only in computer simulations. Now, for the first time, we can actually observe it in real time.”  
Towards a spectacular culmination?
Its clock-work like reliability over the last nine years has firmly established the Rapid-Fire Nova as a promising research target for decades to come. But what lies ahead for the binary system? Ultimately, the White Dwarf could gather enough material from its companion star to be pushed beyond a critical mass and explode as a bright Supernova - tens of thousands of times more powerful than the already luminous Nova eruption. Supernovae are critically important for many frontier research fields in astronomy today, from Cosmology to Dark Energy. How a star reaches its critical mass to become a Supernova, however, is still one of the big enigmas. Inspired by the new discovery of the Rapid-Fire Nova, recent theoretical models predict that this system might reach its critical mass within the next million years - a short time in astronomical terms. This makes it the best pre-explosion candidate known today.

Over the coming years, further observations are needed to tie down the model parameters and understand the physics of this exceptional Rapid-Fire Nova. Together with their international team of researchers, Henze and Hernanz are building an astronomical legacy. They are excited by the prospects and by a self-imposed challenge that is unusual for a Nova researcher: “Normally, people wait decades for a Recurrent Nova to erupt again. Now, we want to make sure that we publish the new results before the next eruption happens.”, Henze concludes. This year, the team managed to achieve this goal with remarkable precision: An extensive study of the 2015 eruption was published by The Astrophysical Journal on December 13, the day after the 2016 eruption provided an early Christmas present.
  Article references  
M. J. Darnley, M. Henze, M. F. Bode, I. Hachisu, M. Hernanz, K. Hornoch, R. Hounsell, M. Kato, J.-U. Ness, J. P. Osborne, K. L. Page, V. A. R. M. Ribeiro, P. Rodriguez-Gil, A. W. Shafter, M. M. Shara, I. A. Steele, S. C. Williams, A. Arai, I. Arcavi, E. A. Barsukova, P. Boumis, T. Chen, S. Fabrika, J. Figueira, X. Gao, N. Gehrels, P. Godon, V. P. Goranskij, D. J. Harman, D. H. Hartmann, G. Hosseinzadeh, J. Chuck Horst, K. Itagaki, J. Jose, F. Kabashima, A. Kaur, N. Kawai, J. A. Kennea, S. Kiyota, H. Kucakova, K. M. Lau, H. Maehara, H. Naito, K. Nakajima, K. Nishiyama, T. J. O'Brien, R. Quimby, G. Sala, Y. Sano, E. M. Sion, A. F. Valeev, F. Watanabe, M. Watanabe, B. F. Williams, Z. Xu. M31N 2008-12a - the remarkable recurrent nova in M31: Pan-chromatic observations of the 2015 eruption. The Astrophysical Journal. 833, 149 (2016).

M. Henze, J.-U. Ness, M. J. Darnley, M. F. Bode, S. C. Williams, A. W. Shafter, G. Sala, M. Kato, I. Hachisu, M. Hernanz. A remarkable recurrent nova in M 31: The predicted 2014 outburst in X-rays with Swift. Astronomy & Astrophysics. 580, A46. (2015)

M. Henze, J.-U. Ness, M.J. Darnley, M.F. Bode, S.C. Williams, A.W. Shafter, M. Kato, I. Hachisu. A remarkable recurrent nova in M31 - The X-ray observations. Astronomy & Astrophysics. 563, L8. (2014)
Octubre 2016

The Gravitational Astronomy-LISA group participates in the recently approved COST action "Gravitational waves, black holes and fundamental physics"

The Gravitational Astronomy-LISA group participates in the COST action "Gravitational waves, black holes and fundamental physics"
Gravitational Astronomy-LISA Group
The Gravitational Astronomy-LISA group participates in one of the 25 COST actions approved by the Committee of Senior Officials on 24 October 2016.  The name of the COST action is CA16104 - Gravitational waves, black holes and fundamental physics.   Carlos F. Sopuerta is a member of the Network of proposers.
The Action will target International cooperation in the area of gravitational wave astronomy (with focus on its impact to black hole and fundamental physics) by bringing together at least 13 different countries. The Action will produce a number of multimedia contents and outreach events, including one short-movie, a TV documentary and a book which will be distributed in all of Europe, disseminating knowledge on gravitational physics and raising awareness for this science in Europe.          
Octubre 2016

Laura Tolos appointed as Associate Editor of European Physical Journal A

Laura Tolos appointed as Associate Editor of European Physical Journal, Volume A, starting November 1, 2016
Laura Tolos has been appointed as Associate Editor of European Physical Journal, Volume A (Springer Verlag). The European Physical Journal A (EPJ A) presents new and original research results in Hadron physics and Nuclear physics, in a variety of formats, including Regular Articles, Reviews, Tools for Experiment and Theory/Scientific Notes and Letters. The range of topics is extensive, from quark and hadronic matter in the laboratory to nuclear astrophysics and compact astrophysical objects. The initial appointment would be for 3 years starting on November 1, 2016 with a possible renewal for another 3 years.
Octubre 2016


The call for the L3 mission devoted to low-frequency gravitational wave astronomy has been announced
25 October 2016 Today, ESA has invited European scientists to propose concepts for the third large mission in its science programme, to study the gravitational Universe.  Merging black holes. Credit: ESA–C.Carreau A spaceborne observatory of gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by accelerating massive objects – was identified in 2013 as the goal for the third large mission (L3) in ESA's Cosmic Vision plan. A Gravitational Observatory Advisory Team was appointed in 2014, composed of independent experts. The team completed its final report earlier this year, further recommending ESA to pursue the mission having verified the feasibility of a multisatellite design with free-falling test masses linked over millions of kilometres by lasers. Now, following the first detection of the elusive waves with ground-based experiments and the successful performance of ESA's LISA Pathfinder mission, which demonstrated some of the key technologies needed to detect gravitational waves from space, the agency is inviting the scientific community to submit proposals for the first space mission to observe gravitational waves. "Gravitational waves promise to open a new window for astronomy, revealing powerful phenomena across the Universe that are not accessible via observations of cosmic light," says Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science. Predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, gravitational waves remained elusive until the first direct detection by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and Virgo collaborations, made in September 2015 and announced earlier this year. The signal originated from the coalescence of two black holes, each with some 30 times the mass of the Sun and about 1.3 billion light-years away. A second detection was made in December 2015 and announced in June, and revealed gravitational waves from another black hole merger, this time involving smaller objects with masses around 7 and 14 solar masses. Meanwhile, the LISA Pathfinder mission was launched in December 2015 and started its scientific operations in March this year, testing some of the key technologies that can be used to build a space observatory of gravitational waves. Data collected during its first two months showed that it is indeed possible to eliminate external disturbances on test masses placed in freefall at the level of precision required to measure passing gravitational waves disturbing their motion. While ground-based detectors are sensitive to gravitational waves with frequencies of around 100 Hz – or a hundred oscillation cycles per second – an observatory in space will be able to detect lower-frequency waves, from 1 Hz down to 0.1 mHz. Gravitational waves with different frequencies carry information about different events in the cosmos, much like astronomical observations in visible light are sensitive to stars in the main stages of their lives while X-ray observations can reveal the early phases of stellar life or the remnants of their demise. In particular, low-frequency gravitational waves are linked to even more exotic cosmic objects than their higher-frequency counterparts: supermassive black holes, with masses of millions to billions of times that of the Sun, that sit at the centre of massive galaxies. The waves are released when two such black holes are coalescing during a merger of galaxies, or when a smaller compact object, like a neutron star or a stellar-mass black hole, spirals towards a supermassive black hole. Observing the oscillations in the fabric of spacetime produced by these powerful events will provide an opportunity to study how galaxies have formed and evolved over the lifetime of the Universe, and to test Einstein's general relativity in its strong regime. Concepts for ESA's L3 mission will have to address the exploration of the Universe with low-frequency gravitational waves, complementing the observations performed on the ground to fully exploit the new field of gravitational astronomy. The planned launch date for the mission is 2034. Lessons learned from LISA Pathfinder will be crucial to developing this mission, but much new technology will also be needed to extend the single-satellite design to multiple satellites. For example, lasers much more powerful than those used on LISA Pathfinder, as well as highly stable telescopes, will be necessary to link the freely falling masses over millions of kilometres. Large missions in ESA's Science Programme are ESA-led, but also allow for international collaboration. The first large-class mission is Juice, the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, planned for launch in 2022, and the second is Athena, the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics, an X-ray observatory to investigate the hot and energetic Universe, with a planned launch date in 2028. Letters of intent for ESA's new gravitational-wave space observatory must be submitted by 15 November, and the deadline for the full proposal is 16 January 2017. The selection is expected to take place in the first half of 2017, with a preliminary internal study phase planned for later in the year. MORE INFORMATION FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Luigi Colangeli
Head of the Coordination Office for the Scientific Programme
European Space Agency
Email: Markus Bauer
ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
Tel: +31 71 565 6799
Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
Octubre 2016

Nvidia grants Gravitational Astronomy Group

Nvidia grants a project proposal from Gravitational Astronomy Group with a GPU board to do research in the parallel computation field.
Nvidia Corporation, an American Technology company specialised in the design and development of graphics processing units (GPUs), has granted in his "NVIDIA’s Academic Programs" a project proposal made by Lluís Gesa, as Investigator Engineer and Teacher at UAB, and Carlos Sopuerta, as Scientific Investigator, both members of the Gravitational Astronomy Group from Institut de Ciencies del Espai (CSIC-IEEC). A Geforce GTX Titan X GPU board has been donate to support the project. This hardware will be used in the computational research inside the Gravitational Waves field to computate models also to investigate new approachs for data analisys.
Octubre 2016

Jonatan Martin gets an Extraordinary Award of UAB

Jonatan Martin, PhD student of Nanda Rea & Diego F. Torres gets an Extraordinary PhD Prize of @UAB_info
In September 20th, 2016 the Consell de Govern of the UAB awards the Extraordinary PhD Prizes at PhD Thesis since 2012. Four of them were assigned to Physical Sciences and one of them to our PhD student, now Doctor, Jonatan Martín. Jonatan defensed his PhD Thesis in 2014 titled Theory & observations of the PWN-SNR complex and directed by Dr. Nanda Rea and Dr. Diego F. Torres on the ICE (IEEC-CSIC).
Septiembre 2016

Young Magnetar Likely the Slowest Pulsar Ever Detected

NASA Press Release on the discovery of a new magnetar as being the slowest pulsar ever detected
The SNR RCW103 as observed by the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory
X-ray: NASA/CXC/N.Rea et al; Optical: DSS
Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other X-ray observatories, astronomers have found evidence for what is likely one of the most extreme pulsars, or rotating neutron stars, ever detected. The source exhibits properties of a highly magnetized neutron star, or magnetar, yet its deduced spin period is thousands of times longer than any pulsar ever observed. For decades, astronomers have known there is a dense, compact source at the center of RCW 103, the remains of a supernova explosion located about 9,000 light years from Earth.  This composite image shows RCW 103 and its central source, known officially as 1E 161348-5055 (1E 1613, for short), in three bands of X-ray light detected by Chandra. In this image, the lowest energy X-rays from Chandra are red, the medium band is green, and the highest energy X-rays are blue. The bright blue X-ray source in the middle of RCW 103 is 1E 1613. The X-ray data have been combined with an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey. Observers had previously agreed that 1E 1613 is a neutron star, an extremely dense star created by the supernova that produced RCW 103. However, the regular variation in the X-ray brightness of the source, with a period of about six and a half hours, presented a puzzle.  All proposed models had problems explaining this slow periodicity, but the main ideas were of either a spinning neutron star that is rotating extremely slowly because of an unexplained slow-down mechanism, or a faster-spinning neutron star that is in orbit with a normal star in a binary system. On June 22, 2016, an instrument aboard NASA’s Swift telescope captured the release of a short burst of X-rays from 1E 1613. The Swift detection caught astronomers’ attention because the source exhibited intense, extremely rapid fluctuations on a time scale of milliseconds, similar to other known magnetars. These exotic objects possess the most powerful magnetic fields in the Universe –trillions of times that observed on the Sun – and can erupt with enormous amounts of energy. Seeking to investigate further, a team of astronomers led by Nanda Rea of the Institute of Space Sciences (CSIC-IEEC) quickly asked two other orbiting telescopes – NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR – to follow up with observations. New data from this trio of high-energy telescopes, and archival data from Chandra, Swift and ESA’s XMM-Newton confirmed that 1E 1613 has the properties of a magnetar, making it only the 30th known. These properties include the relative amounts of X-rays produced at different energies and the way the neutron star cooled after the 2016 burst and another burst seen in 1999. The binary explanation is considered unlikely because the new data show that the strength of the periodic variation in X-rays changes dramatically both with the energy of the X-rays and with time. However, this behavior is typical for magnetars. But the mystery of the slow spin remained. The source is rotating once every 24,000 seconds (6.67 hours), much slower than the slowest magnetars known until now, which spin around once every 10 seconds. This would make it the slowest spinning neutron star ever detected. Astronomers expect that a single neutron star will be spinning quickly after its birth in the supernova explosion and will then slow down over time as it loses energy. However, the researchers estimate that the magnetar within RCW 103 is about 2,000 years old, which is not enough time for the pulsar to slow down to a period of 24,000 seconds by conventional means. While it is still unclear why 1E 1613 is spinning so slowly, scientists do have some ideas. One leading scenario is that debris from the exploded star has fallen back onto magnetic field lines around the spinning neutron star, causing it to spin more slowly with time. Searches are currently being made for other very slowly spinning magnetars to study this idea in more detail. See for the original NASA Press Release.
Agosto 2016

Descubierto el púlsar más lento

Note de Prensa del CSIC sobre el descubrimiento del púlsar más lento
Pre and Post outburst image from NASA Swift satellite of RCW103
Un estudio internacional liderado por el Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) ha identificado el púlsar más lento detectado hasta el momento. Se trata de un magnetar atrapado en los remanentes de una supernova brillante (denominada RCW103), que explotó hace unos 2.000 años y se encuentra a unos 9.000 años luz de la Tierra.  Los resultados del trabajo han sido publicados en la revista The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Junio 2016

LISA Pathfinder exceeds expectations

ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has demonstrated the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory.
LISA Pathfinder exceeds expectations
ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has demonstrated the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory. Results from only two months of science operations show that the two cubes at the heart of the spacecraft are falling freely through space under the influence of gravity alone, unperturbed by other external forces, to a precision more than five times better than originally required. In a paper published today in Physical Review Letters, the LISA Pathfinder team show that the test masses are almost motionless with respect to each other, with a relative acceleration lower than 1 part in ten millionths of a billionth of Earth’s gravity. The demonstration of the mission’s key technologies opens the door to the development of a large space observatory capable of detecting gravitational waves emanating from a wide range of exotic objects in the Universe. Hypothesised by Albert Einstein a century ago, gravitational waves are oscillations in the fabric of spacetime, moving at the speed of light and caused by the acceleration of massive objects. They can be generated, for example, by supernovas, neutron star binaries spiralling around each other, and pairs of merging black holes. Even from these powerful objects, however, the fluctuations in spacetime are tiny by the time they arrive at Earth – smaller than 1 part in 100 billion billion. Sophisticated technologies are needed to register such minuscule changes, and gravitational waves were directly detected for the first time only in September 2015 by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). This experiment saw the characteristic signal of two black holes, each with some 30 times the mass of the Sun, spiralling towards one another in the final 0.3 seconds before they coalesced to form a single, more massive object. The signals seen by LIGO have a frequency of around 100 Hz, but gravitational waves span a much broader spectrum. In particular, lower-frequency oscillations are produced by even more exotic events such as the mergers of supermassive black holes. With masses of millions to billions of times that of the Sun, these giant black holes sit at the centres of massive galaxies. When two galaxies collide, these black holes eventually coalesce, releasing vast amounts of energy in the form of gravitational waves throughout the merger process, and peaking in the last few minutes. To detect these events and fully exploit the new field of gravitational astronomy, it is crucial to open access to gravitational waves at low frequencies between 0.1 mHz and 1 Hz. This requires measuring tiny fluctuations in distance between objects placed millions of kilometres apart, something that can only be achieved in space, where an observatory would also be free of the seismic, thermal and terrestrial gravity noises that limit ground-based detectors.   LISA Pathfinder was designed to demonstrate key technologies needed to build such an observatory. A crucial aspect is placing two test masses in freefall, monitoring their relative positions as they move under the effect of gravity alone. Even in space this is very difficult, as several forces, including the solar wind and pressure from sunlight, continually disturb the cubes and the spacecraft. Thus, in LISA Pathfinder, a pair of identical, 2 kg, 46 mm gold–platinum cubes, 38 cm apart, fly, surrounded, but untouched, by a spacecraft whose job is to shield them from external influences, adjusting its position constantly to avoid hitting them. “LISA Pathfinder’s test masses are now still with respect to each other to an astonishing degree, ” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science. “This is the level of control needed to enable the observation of low-frequency gravitational waves with a future space observatory.” LISA Pathfinder was launched on 3 December 2015, reaching its operational orbit roughly 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun in late January 2016. The mission started operations on 1 March, with scientists performing a series of experiments on the test masses to measure and control all of the different aspects at play, and determine how still the masses really are. “The measurements have exceeded our most optimistic expectations,” says Paul McNamara, LISA Pathfinder Project Scientist. “We reached the level of precision originally required for LISA Pathfinder within the first day, and so we spent the following weeks improving the results a factor of five.” These extraordinary results show that the control achieved over the test masses is essentially at the level required to implement a gravitational wave observatory in space. “Not only do we see the test masses as almost motionless, but we have identified, with unprecedented precision, most of the remaining tiny forces disturbing them,” explains Stefano Vitale of University of Trento and INFN, Italy, Principal Investigator of the LISA Technology Package, the mission’s core payload.   The first two months of data show that, in the frequency range between 60 mHz and 1 Hz, LISA Pathfinder’s precision is only limited by the sensing noise of the laser measurement system used to monitor the position and orientation of the cubes. “The performance of the laser instrument has already surpassed the level of precision required by a future gravitational-wave observatory by a factor of more than 100,” says Martin Hewitson, LISA Pathfinder Senior Scientist from Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany. At lower frequencies of 1–60 mHz, control over the cubes is limited by gas molecules bouncing off them – a small number remain in the surrounding vacuum. This effect was seen reducing as more molecules were vented into space, and is expected to improve in the following months. “We have observed the performance steadily improving, day by day, since the start of the mission,” says William Weber, LISA Pathfinder Senior Scientist from University of Trento, Italy. At even lower frequencies, below 1 mHz, the scientists measured a small centrifugal force acting on the cubes, from a combination of the shape of LISA Pathfinder’s orbit and to the effect of the noise in the signal of the startrackers used to orient it. While this force slightly disturbs the cubes’ motion in LISA Pathfinder, it would not be an issue for a future space observatory, in which each test mass would be housed in its own spacecraft, and linked to the others over millions of kilometres via lasers. “At the precision reached by LISA Pathfinder, a full-scale gravitational wave observatory in space would be able to detect fluctuations caused by the mergers of supermassive black holes in galaxies anywhere in the Universe,” says Karsten Danzmann, director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, director of the Institute for Gravitational Physics of Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, and Co-Principal Investigator of the LISA Technology Package. Today’s results demonstrate that LISA Pathfinder has proven the key technologies and paved the way for such an observatory, as the third ‘Large-class’ (L3) mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme.
Junio 2016

Exoplanetas con materia oscura?

artículo de divulgación científica en la Sección Panorama de la revista Investigación y Ciencia.
Exoplanetas con materia oscura?
Laura Tolos, investigadora Ramon y Cajal del Instituto de Ciencias del Espacio, ha publicado recientemente un artículo de divulgación científica en la Sección Panorama de la revista Investigación y Ciencia. Se trata de un estudio teórico en astrofísica sobre la posible existencia de un nuevo tipo de objeto astronómico con materia oscura en su interior, de una masa similar a los planetas conocidos pero con un tamaño muy inferior. Su observación se podría llevar a cabo a través de las técnicas de observación de planetas fuera de nuestro Sistema Solar.
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An institute of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas

An institute of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas
Affiliated with the Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya

Affiliated with the Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya