Vera Rubin Will Generate a Mind-Boggling Amount of Data

The LSST, or Vera Rubin Survey Telescope, under construction at Cerro Pachon, Chile. Image Credit: LSST

When the Vera C. Rubin Observatory comes online in 2025, it will be one of the most powerful tools available to astronomers, capturing huge portions of the sky every night with its 8.4-meter mirror and 3.2-gigapixel camera. Each image will be analyzed within 60 seconds, alerting astronomers to transient events like supernovae. An incredible five petabytes (5,000 terabytes) of new raw images will be recorded each year and made available for astronomers to study.

Not surprisingly, astronomers can’t wait to get their hands on the high-resolution data. A new paper outlines how the huge amounts of data will be processed, organized, and disseminated. The entire process will require several facilities on three continents over the course of the projected ten-year-long survey.

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Vera Rubin Observatory Could Find Up to 70 Interstellar Objects a Year

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is under construction at Cerro Pachon, in Chile. This image shows construction progress in late 2019. The observatory should be able to spot interstellar objects like Oumuamua. Image Credit: Wil O'Mullaine/LSST .

Astronomers have discovered two known interstellar objects (ISO), ‘Oumuamua and 21/Borisov. But there could be thousands of these objects passing through the Solar System at any time. According to a new paper, the upcoming Vera Rubin Telescope will be a fantastic interstellar object hunter, and could possibly find up to 70 objects a year coming from other star systems.

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What a Mess. When the Milky Way and Andromeda Merge, it'll Look Like This

This mess is the billion-year-old aftermath of a double spiral galaxy collision. At the heart of this chaotic interaction, entwined and caught amid the chaos, is a pair of supermassive black holes — the closest such pair ever recorded from Earth. The image was taken by Gemini South, one half of the International Gemini Observatory. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

No need to panic, but the Andromeda Galaxy is barreling towards us. It is due to begin merging with the our Milky Way Galaxy in a few billion years. From an outside observer, that process will very likely look like this new picture captured by the Gemini South Observatory. This is NGC 7727, a peculiar galaxy in the constellation Aquarius, about 90 million light-years away. Two giant spiral galaxies are merging, their gravitational interactions are hurling giant tidal tails of stars into the cosmos.

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China Chooses the Site for their TRIDENT Neutrino Detector

Chinese researchers are working on a new neutrino observatory called TRIDENT. They built an underwater simulator to develop their plan. Image Credit: TRIDENT

China is building a new neutrino detector named TRIDENT, the Tropical Deep-sea Neutrino Telescope. They’re building it in the South China Sea, near the equator. This next-generation neutrino telescope will feature improved sensitivity and should help clear up the mystery around cosmic rays and their origins.

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It’s Official. No More Astronomy at Arecibo

Damage to the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory, after its collapse on Dec. 1, 2020. The remains of the instrument platform are visible on the telescope’s dish. Credit: NSF.

Even though the National Science Foundation announced last year that it would not rebuild or replace the iconic Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico — which collapsed in 2020 – a glimmer of hope remained among supporters that the remaining astronomy infrastructure would be utilized in some way.  

Instead, the NSF announced this week they have chosen four institutions to transition the site from its historic hub of astronomical research to a STEM educational outreach center, with a seeming focus on biology. A biomedical laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York along with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and the University of the Sacred Heart, both in San Juan will oversee the new education center.

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Hackers are Attacking Observatories

Hackers broke into the computers at Gemini North Telescope around August 1, 2023. The cybersecurity incident has shut down some telescopes and operations at several of NOIRLab's observatories. Image composite by C.C. Petersen.
Hackers broke into the computers at Gemini North Telescope around August 1, 2023. The cybersecurity incident has shut down some telescopes and operations at several of NOIRLab's observatories. Image composite by C.C. Petersen.

Why would anybody want to hack an observatory? That’s the question facing IT professionals at NOIRLab after somebody tried to crack the computer systems at Gemini North in Hawai’i. The cyber break-in and ongoing investigation by NOIRLab and National Science Foundation experts affected observations and operations in Hawai’i and Chile.

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Senseless Vandalism Damages Canadian Observatory

Damage from vandalism at the Hamilton Centre, an observatory for amateur astronomers, part of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Image courtesy Victor Abraham/ Hamilton Centre.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s observatory in Hamilton, Ontario was vandalized earlier this month, with at least $100,000 in damage to equipment and facilities.

Security video shows two people using a truck to repeatedly ram into two buildings – the observatory and a meeting center — knocking down exterior walls on both buildings and damaging telescopes and other equipment inside. Nothing was stolen, but damaged for no apparent reason.

“It appears to be a failed robbery turned utter vandalism,” said the group’s president Andy Blanchard. “It looked like they wanted to destroy everything.”

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The Biggest Telescope in the World is Half Built

This image, taken in late June 2023, shows a night view of the construction site of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope at Cerro Armazones, in Chile's Atacama Desert. Credit: ESO.

The European Southern Observatory continues to build the largest telescope in the world, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). Construction of the telescope began in 2014 with flattening the top of a mountain named Cerro Armazones in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

ESO just announced that progress on construction has crossed the 50% mark.  The remaining work should take another five years. When it finally comes online in 2028, the telescope will have a 39-meter (128 ft) primary mirror of 798 hexagonal segments, making it the largest telescope in the world for visible and infrared light. The new telescope should help to answer some of the outstanding questions about our Universe, such as how the first stars and galaxies formed, and perhaps even be able to take direct images of extrasolar planets.  

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Gemini North Returns to Service Just in Time to See a New Supernova

A new supernova, SN 2023ixf, seen in the lower left of this image from the newly refurbished Gemini North telescope, is the closest supernova seen in the past five years. The supernova, discovered on May 19, 2023, is located along one of the spiral arms of the Pinwheel Galaxy. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

The 8-meter Gemini North telescope has been brought back online after seven months of repairs and refurbishment of its primary mirror. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the telescope was able to capture the brand-new supernova in the famous Pinwheel Galaxy. The bright supernova was first discovered on May 19th, and telescopes worldwide have been revealing its secrets.

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Could We Resurrect the Spitzer Space Telescope?

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ceased operations in 2020. A new mission might bring it back to life. Image Credit: Rhea Space Activity

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope served the astronomy community well for 16 years. From its launch in 2003 to the end of its operations in January 2020, its infrared observations fuelled scientific discoveries too numerous to list.

Infrared telescopes need to be kept cool to operate, and eventually, it ran out of coolant. But that wasn’t the end of the mission; it kept operating in ‘warm’ mode, where observations were limited. Its mission only ended when it drifted too far away from Earth to communicate effectively.

Now the US Space Force thinks they can reboot the telescope.

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