Press Release: Potential Life Marker found on Venus
An international team of scientists has announced the discovery of the molecule phosphine in the clouds of Venus. The team, led by Prof. Jane Greaves of Cardiff University and including the UK ARC Node's Dr. Anita Richards, used data from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and ALMA to make this exciting discovery.
The abundance of the observed phosphine is so large that natural physical processes on Venus (such as lightning and volcanoes, which are known to produce the molecule here on Earth) are not thought to be capable of producing it. This has lead the authors of the work to suggest an alternate mechanism: the production of phosphine by biological means. Terrestrial organisms can make phosphine and would only have to work at around 10% of their maximum capability to produce the observed quantities on Venus. If the phosphine is produced by organisms on Venus, they would need to be very different to those on Earth so that they could survive the highly acidic environment in Venus' atmosphere.
The team cautioned that this is not confirmation of life on Venus, but the analysis of the observations do allow for many alternate phosphine creation pathways to be ruled out. Confirming life on Venus would require further investigation.
Press Release: Astronomers Capture Stellar Winds in Unprecedented Detail
Astronomers working with ALMA (including Dr. Anita Richards from the UK ARC Node) have made observations of the stellar winds from ageing stars that illustrate how planetary nebulae form from these winds. The winds are not actually spherical but have a wide variety of shapes. Moreover, it appears that exoplanets orbiting the stars can alter the shape of the resulting planetary nebulae. The various shapes could even be classified into a few different groups: disc-shaped, spiral, and conal.
The press release from the ALMA website has more information as well as images of the sources.
ALMA Status Update from the Joint ALMA Observatory
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the global community, including ALMA users and staff. The decisions taken regarding the status of Cycle 7 and Cycle 8 are as follows:
- The start of ALMA Cycle 8 has been postponed until 2021 October. It is anticipated that the Cycle 8 Call for Proposals will open again in 2021 March.
- ALMA Cycle 7 will continue through 2021 September, with currently non-completed projects ranked A, B and C remaining in the observing queue.
While ALMA operations remain suspended, we have been working actively on plans to restart operations at a time that it is feasible. In these unprecedented circumstances, ALMA’s first priority is the health and safety of all our staff, many of whom travel long distances by bus and plane to reach the remote ALMA telescope site in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. At this time, and given the current evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak in Chile, it is unclear when a ramp-up to start operations could begin, or when a restart of science operations will be possible. ALMA is working on guidelines and considerations for the restart of operations and will provide a next update to the community in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, Caretaker teams continue to maintain the safety of the ALMA equipment and infrastructure in both Santiago and in San Pedro, while all other staff continue to work remotely from their homes. The Regional ARCs continue to provide support to their communities. If you have any questions, comments or concerns related to the situation at ALMA, please contact the ALMA Helpdesk at https://help.almascience.org.
ALMA 2020 Virtual Workshop for New Postgraduate Students
Deadline for completing the pre-registration poll: 21 September
A new class of astronomy postgraduate strudents will be starting their studies this autumn, and many students will be working with ALMA data. The purpose of this workshop is to help new students get started with their ALMA research.
The workshop will be conducted by staff from the UK ALMA Regional Centre (ARC) Node. Because of the ongoing issues with COVID-19, the workshop will be conducted virtually using Zoom.
The workshop will be scheduled as a series of half-day sessions running an entire week and will cover the following topics:
- An introduction to ALMA
- An introduction to radio interferometry
- An overview on using the ALMA Archive
- Calibrating and inspecting data from the ALMA archive
- Imaging ALMA data
- Data analysis
At the end of the workshop, UK ARC Node staff will be available to help with any questions related to participants' specific research.
To set the dates for the workshop and to identify what specific needs people may have, any interested students should fill in this poll. We will announce further details about the meeting by the end of September.
Study into the benefits that the UK derives from ESO
A message from the STFC:
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation, has commissioned consultancy firm Technopolis to assess the benefits that the UK derives from the European Southern Observatory (ESO). This study will seek to capture, demonstrate and measure the scientific, economic and social impacts emerging from the UK’s investment and involvement with ESO.
A key part of the study is to take into account the views of UK scientists and engineers on the level and range of benefits they believe has been derived from ESO. Technopolis would like to hear from UK scientists and engineers who have:
- Made use of the ESO telescopes and instruments.
- Been directly involved in ESO instrument development projects.
- Accessed ESO observational data remotely.
- Accessed research publications that are based on ESO observations and data.
Technopolis have launched an online questionnaire. The survey can be accessed at https://www.research.net/r/ESO_ImpactStudy_CommunitySurvey.
The questionnaire should take no longer than 15-20 minutes to complete and we would be grateful if you could do so by Friday 2nd October. All information provided will be treated in strict confidence by Technopolis, and only shared or published in a synthesised and anonymised form. If you are happy to be interviewed as well, there is an opportunity to provide your contact details at the end of the survey.
Thank you in advance for your support with this important exercise.
02-06 Nov 2020
JIVE (Virtual event)
The capabilities of the CASA software to process and analyse VLBI data have expand significantly over recent years. With the aim of educating new and existing VLBI astronomers in the use of CASA new capabilities, JIVE is hosting a second CASA-VLBI workshop from 2-6 November. Because of the ongoing issues with COVID-19, this will be a fully online event with the aim of having live online lectures, interactive sessions with tutors, and a Slack-like discussion platform. Detailed information will be posted on the workshop homepage as it becomes available. There will be no registration fee for this workshop, but registration is required to obtain access to the live lectures, interactive sessions and discussion platform. Access to recorded lectures and online materials after the workshop is planned to be available with no registration needed.
The registration deadline is Oct 30 2020.
Continuing to support our UK ALMA Users
While remote working remains the norm for the majority of astronomers in the UK and beyond, the UK ARC Node would like to make our users aware of our continued availability to support your work with ALMA data. We are able to provide remote / electronic support to any UK ALMA users who require our assistance at this time.
As such, if you require user support for your PI lead or ALMA archival data processing and analysis in the coming weeks and months, we are contactable via the usual means (contact details below) and can provide a range of electronic support options to help you meet your goals. We also encourage our users to make use of the data available in the ALMA Archive (more details in the next article) at this time.
Further information on the status of operations at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (home of the UK ARC Node), Jodrell Bank Observatory and the e-MERLIN National Facility can be found here.
ALMA Archive Use
While the operations at ALMA remain suspended, the UK ARC Node would like to remind the community about the wealth of data available in the ALMA Archive and encourage its use. ALMA has been in science operations for almost 9 years, and as a consequence, ALMA data are publicly available for a huge number of astrophysical objects. The archive can be accessed at http://almascience.eso.org/aq/ and contains the following downloadable data products:
- Archival image products, suitable for some science cases and as a first look at the programs observations.
- Raw data that can be reprocessed using by the user with the associated scripts from the archive.
Upon request from UK ALMA users, the UK ARC Node can provide fully calibrated measurements sets for entire or parts of ALMA projects that can then be used for creating new images. These products can be hosted in Manchester and can be made available for an amount of time agreed upon between the ARC Node and the user. Assistance with imaging ALMA data is also available from the UK ARC Node upon request. Please also see the news item on the UK ARC Node's current remote support provisions.
Alternately, the EU ARC at ESO provides, upon request, a service to create and stage fully calibrated ALMA data of individual measurement observation unit sets (MOUSs), with up to 10 MOUSs per request. An MOUS is a single execution of a projects scheduling block. This webpage provides instructions on accessing the service.