Publication archive

Publication archive

Lightning discharges in Saturn's atmosphere emit radio waves with intensities about 10 000 times stronger than those of their terrestrial counterparts. These radio waves are the characteristic features of lightning from thunderstorms on Saturn, which last for days to months. Convective storms about 2000 kilometres in size have been observed in recent years at planetocentric latitude 35° south (corresponding to a planetographic latitude of 41° south). Here we report observations of a giant thunderstorm at planetocentric latitude 35° north that reached a latitudinal extension of 10 000 kilometres - comparable in size to a 'Great White Spot' - about three weeks after it started in early December 2010. The visible plume consists of high-altitude clouds that overshoot the outermost ammonia cloud layer owing to strong vertical convection, as is typical for thunderstorms. The flash rates of this storm are about an order of magnitude higher than previous ones, and peak rates larger than ten per second were recorded. This main storm developed an elongated eastward tail with additional but weaker storm cells that wrapped around the whole planet by February 2011. Unlike storms on Earth, the total power of this storm is comparable to Saturn's total emitted power. The appearance of such storms in the northern hemisphere could be related to the change of seasons, given that Saturn experienced vernal equinox in August 2009.
Published: 08 July 2011
Convective storms occur regularly in Saturn's atmosphere. Huge storms known as Great White Spots, which are ten times larger than the regular storms, are rarer and occur about once per Saturnian year (29.5 Earth years). Current models propose that the outbreak of a Great White Spot is due to moist convection induced by water. However, the generation of the global disturbance and its effect on Saturn's permanent winds have hitherto been unconstrained by data, because there was insufficient spatial resolution and temporal sampling to infer the dynamics of Saturn's weather layer (the layer in the troposphere where the cloud forms). Theoretically, it has been suggested that this phenomenon is seasonally controlled. Here we report observations of a storm at northern latitudes in the peak of a weak westward jet during the beginning of northern springtime, in accord with the seasonal cycle but earlier than expected. The storm head moved faster than the jet, was active during the two-month observation period, and triggered a planetary-scale disturbance that circled Saturn but did not significantly alter the ambient zonal winds. Numerical simulations of the phenomenon show that, as on Jupiter, Saturn's winds extend without decay deep down into the weather layer, at least to the water-cloud base at pressures of 10-12 bar, which is much deeper than solar radiation penetrates.
Published: 08 July 2011
The extent of where magnetic reconnection (MR), the dominant process responsible for energy and plasma transport into the magnetosphere, operates across Earth's dayside magnetopause has previously been only indirectly shown by observations. We report the first direct evidence of X-line structure resulting from the operation of MR at each of two widely separated locations along the tilted, subsolar line of maximum current on Earth's magnetopause, confirming the operation of MR at two or more sites across the extended region where MR is expected to occur. The evidence results from in-situ observations of the associated ion and electron plasma distributions, present within each magnetic X-line structure, taken by two spacecraft passing through the active MR regions simultaneously.
Published: 07 July 2011
We present new, third-epoch Hubble Space Telescope H-alpha and [S II] images of three Herbig-Haro (HH) jets (HH 1&2, HH 34, and HH 47) and compare the new images with those from previous epochs. The high spatial resolution, coupled with a time series whose cadence is of order both the hydrodynamic and radiative cooling timescales of the flow, allows us to follow the hydrodynamic/magnetohydrodynamic evolution of an astrophysical plasma system in which ionization and radiative cooling play significant roles. Cooling zones behind the shocks are resolved, so it is possible to identify which way material flows through a given shock wave. The images show that heterogeneity is paramount in these jets, with clumps dominating the morphologies of both bow shocks and their Mach disks. This clumpiness exists on scales smaller than the jet widths and determines the behavior of many of the features in the jets. Evidence also exists for considerable shear as jets interact with their surrounding molecular clouds, and in several cases we observe shock waves as they form and fade where material emerges from the source and as it proceeds along the beam of the jet. Fine structure within two extended bow shocks may result from Mach stems that form at the intersection points of oblique shocks within these clumpy objects. Taken together, these observations represent the most significant foray thus far into the time domain for stellar jets, and comprise one of the richest data sets in existence for comparing the behavior of a complex astrophysical plasma flow with numerical simulations and laboratory experiments.
Published: 02 June 2011

Published online on 22 June 2011

The discovery of a plume of water vapour and ice particles emerging from warm fractures ('tiger stripes') in Saturn's small, icy moon Enceladus raised the question of whether the plume emerges from a subsurface liquid source or from the decomposition of ice. Previous compositional analyses of particles injected by the plume into Saturn's diffuse E ring have already indicated the presence of liquid water, but the mechanisms driving the plume emission are still debated. Here we report an analysis of the composition of freshly ejected particles close to the sources. Salt-rich ice particles are found to dominate the total mass flux of ejected solids (more than 99 per cent) but they are depleted in the population escaping into Saturn's E ring. Ice grains containing organic compounds are found to be more abundant in dense parts of the plume. Whereas previous Cassini observations were compatible with a variety of plume formation mechanisms, these data eliminate or severely constrain non-liquid models and strongly imply that a salt-water reservoir with a large evaporating surface provides nearly all of the matter in the plume.
Published: 01 July 2011

Summary of the study performed at ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) into the M-class mission Space-Time Explorer and QUantum Equivalence Principle Space Test (STE-QUEST).

Contents of the presentation:

  • Study: goals, tasks, organization
  • Drivers and constraints
  • Configuration and payload accomodation
  • Instruments
  • Mission analysis
  • Ground stations and operations
  • Attitude and orbit control
  • System design
  • Communication
  • Budgets
  • Risk, programmatics, cost
  • Requirements review
  • Conclusions

Published: 01 July 2011
Context. IGR J18410-0535 is one of the supergiant fast X-ray transients. This subclass of supergiant X-ray binaries typically under- goes few-hour long outbursts reaching luminosities of 1036-1037 erg/s, the occurrence of which has been ascribed to the combined effect of the intense magnetic field and rotation of the compact object hosted in them and/or the presence of dense structures ("clumps") in the wind of their supergiant companion.
Aims. IGR J18410-0535 was observed for 45 ks by XMM-Newton as part of a program aimed at studying the quiescent emission of supergiant fast X-ray transients and clarifying the origin of their peculiar X-ray variability.
Methods. We carried out an in-depth spectral and timing analysis of the XMM-Newton data.
Results. IGR J18410-0535 underwent a bright X-ray flare that started about 5 ks after the beginning of the observation and lasted for ~15 ks. Thanks to the capabilities of the instruments on-board XMM-Newton, the whole event could be followed in great detail. The results of our analysis provide strong convincing evidence that the flare was due to the accretion of matter from a massive clump onto the compact object hosted in this system.
Conclusions. By assuming that the clump is spherical and is moving at the same velocity as the homogeneous stellar wind, we estimate a mass and radius of Mcl~1.4×1022 g and Rcl~8×1011 cm. These are in qualitative agreement with values expected from theoretical calculations. No evidence for pulsations at ~4.7 s was found (we investigated coherent modulations in the range 3.5 ms-100 s). A reanalysis of the archival ASCA and Swift data of IGR J18410-0535, where such pulsations were previously detected, revealed that they were likely due to a statistical fluctuation and to an instrumental effect, respectively.
Published: 29 June 2011
One of the experimental tests of Lorentz invariance violation is to measure the helicity dependence of the propagation velocity of photons originating in distant cosmological obejcts. Using a recent determination of the distance of the gamma-ray burst GRB 041219A, for which a high degree of polarization is observed in the prompt emission, we are able to improve by four orders of magnitude the existing constraint on Lorentz invariance violation, arising from the phenomenon of vacuum birefringence.
Published: 29 June 2011
When a massive star explodes as a supernova, substantial amounts of radioactive elements - primarily 56Ni, 57Ni and 44Ti - are produced. After the initial flash of light from shock heating, the fading light emitted by the supernova is due to the decay of these elements. However, after decades, the energy powering a supernova remnant comes from the shock interaction between the ejecta and the surrounding medium. The transition to this phase has hitherto not been observed: supernovae occur too infrequently in the Milky Way to provide a young example, and extragalactic supernovae are generally too faint and too small. Here we report observations that show this transition in the supernova SN 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. From 1994 to 2001, the ejecta faded owing to radioactive decay of 44Ti as predicted. Then the flux started to increase, more than doubling by the end of 2009. We show that this increase is the result of heat deposited by X-rays produced as the ejecta interacts with the surrounding material. In time, the X-rays will penetrate farther into the ejecta, enabling us to analyse the structure and chemistry of the vanished star.
Published: 24 June 2011
Saturn's slow seasonal evolution was disrupted in 2010-2011 by the eruption of a bright storm in its northern spring hemisphere. Thermal infrared spectroscopy showed that within a month, the resulting planetary-scale disturbance had generated intense perturbations of atmospheric temperatures, winds, and composition between 20° and 50°N over an entire hemisphere (140,000 kilometers). The tropospheric storm cell produced effects that penetrated hundreds of kilometers into Saturn's stratosphere (to the 1-millibar region). Stratospheric subsidence at the edges of the disturbance produced "beacons" of infrared emission and longitudinal temperature contrasts of 16 kelvin. The disturbance substantially altered atmospheric circulation, transporting material vertically over great distances, modifying stratospheric zonal jets, exciting wave activity and turbulence, and generating a new cold anticyclonic oval in the center of the disturbance at 41°N.
Published: 18 June 2011
We report the detection of a hot Jupiter-type exoplanet, named CoRoT-17b, detected by the CoRoT satellite. It has a mass of 2.43 ± 0.30MJup and a radius of 1.02 ± 0.07RJup, while its mean density is 2.82 ± 0.38 g/cm3. The orbital period is 3.768125 ± 0.000257 days and the orbit is circular. It orbits an old (10.7 ± 1.0 Gyrs) main-sequence star making it an intriguing object for planetary evolution studies. Its internal structure is not well constrained yet and it can be a pure H/He giant as well as it can contain ~320 earth masses of heavier elements.
Published: 15 June 2011
We report on the first multi-wavelength coronal observations, taken simultaneously in white light, H alpha 656.3 nm, Fe IX 435.9 nm, Fe X 637.4 nm, Fe XI 789.2 nm, Fe XIII 1074.7 nm, Fe XIV 530.3 nm, and Ni XV 670.2 nm, during the total solar eclipse of 2010 July 11 from the atoll of Tatakoto in French Polynesia. The data enabled temperature differentiations as low as 0.2 × 10^6 K. The first-ever images of the corona in Fe IX and Ni XV showed that there was very little plasma below 5 × 10^5 K and above 2.5 × 10^6 K. The suite of multi-wavelength observations also showed that open field lines have an electron temperature near 1× 10^6 K, while the hottest, 2× 10^6 K, plasma resides in intricate loops forming the bulges of streamers, also known as cavities, as discovered in our previous eclipse observations. The eclipse images also revealed unusual coronal structures, in the form of ripples and streaks, produced by the passage of coronal mass ejections and eruptive prominences prior to totality, which could be identified with distinct temperatures for the first time. These trails were most prominent at 106 K. Simultaneous Fe X 17.4 nm observations from Proba2/SWAP provided the first opportunity to compare Fe X emission at 637.4 nm with its extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) counterpart. This comparison demonstrated the unique diagnostic capabilities of the coronal forbidden lines for exploring the evolution of the coronal magnetic field and the thermodynamics of the coronal plasma, in comparison with their EUV counterparts in the distance range of 1-3 solar radii. These diagnostics are currently missing from present space-borne and ground-based observatories.
Published: 07 June 2011
The white-light corona (WLC) during the total solar eclipse on 2010 July 11 was observed by several teams in the Moon's shadow stretching across the Pacific Ocean and a number of isolated islands. We present a comparison of the WLC as observed by eclipse teams located on the Tatakoto Atoll in French Polynesia and on Easter Island, 83 minutes later, combined with near-simultaneous space observations. The eclipse was observed at the beginning of the solar cycle, not long after solar minimum. Nevertheless, the solar corona shows a plethora of different features (coronal holes, helmet streamers, polar rays, very faint loops and radial-oriented thin streamers, a coronal mass ejection, and a puzzling "curtain-like" object above the north pole). Comparing the observations from the two sites enables us to detect some dynamic phenomena. The eclipse observations are further compared with a hairy-ball model of the magnetic field and near-simultaneous images from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager on NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, the Sun Watcher, using Active Pixel System Detector and Image Processing on ESA's PRoject for Onboard Autonomy, and the Naval Research Laboratory's Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph on ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The Ludendorff flattening coefficient is 0.156, matching the expected ellipticity of coronal isophotes at 2 solar radii, for this rising phase of the solar-activity cycle.
Published: 07 June 2011
We present Cluster multisatellite observations of accelerated electrons in the near-Earth magnetotail associated with substorms. We found that the hardest electron energy spectra appear in the earliest stage of substorm expansion in the near-Earth tail region and that they gradually become softer during the events. Enhancement of the high-energy electron flux occurs generally associated with the bulk acceleration of ions (fast flow) and electrons. It is also shown that the high-energy electrons sometimes show preferential perpendicular acceleration associated with the temporal enhancement of the normal component of the magnetic field, and then the anisotropic distribution quickly becomes isotropic. During the dipolarization interval, in which no convection signature is observed, perpendicular flux drops to less than the initial value, and the parallel flux is more than the perpendicular flux. The results suggest that the electron acceleration mechanism is mostly consistent with adiabatic betatron acceleration, while Fermi acceleration is not clear in the high-energy part. The effect of the pitch angle scattering is also important. The dispersive signature of the high-energy electron flux indicates fast dawnward drift loss, namely, the three-dimensional effect of the limited plasma acceleration region.
Published: 22 May 2010
In August 2009 the Sun illuminated Saturn's rings from almost exactly edge-on, revealing a subtle corrugation that extends across the entire C ring. This corrugation's amplitude is 2 to 20 meters and its wavelength is 30 to 80 kilometers. Radial trends in the corrugation's wavelength indicate that this structure - like a similar corrugation previously identified in the D ring - results from differential nodal regression within a ring that became tilted relative to Saturn's equator plane in 1983. We suggest that this initial tilt arose because interplanetary debris struck the rings. The corrugation's radial extent implies that the impacting material was a dispersed cloud of debris instead of a single object, and the corrugation's amplitude indicates that the debris' total mass was ~1011 to 1013 kilograms.
Published: 07 May 2011
In August 2009 the Sun illuminated Saturn's rings from almost exactly edge-on, revealing a subtle corrugation that extends across the entire C ring. This corrugation's amplitude is 2 to 20 meters and its wavelength is 30 to 80 kilometers. Radial trends in the corrugation's wavelength indicate that this structure - like a similar corrugation previously identified in the D ring - results from differential nodal regression within a ring that became tilted relative to Saturn's equator plane in 1983. We suggest that this initial tilt arose because interplanetary debris struck the rings. The corrugation's radial extent implies that the impacting material was a dispersed cloud of debris instead of a single object, and the corrugation's amplitude indicates that the debris' total mass was ~1011 to 1013 kilograms.
Published: 07 May 2011
Mass outflows driven by stars and active galactic nuclei are a key element in many current models of galaxy evolution. They may produce the observed black hole-galaxy mass relation and regulate and quench both star formation in the host galaxy and black hole accretion. However, observational evidence of such feedback processes through outflows of the bulk of the star forming molecular gas is still scarce. Here we report the detection of massive molecular outflows, traced by the hydroxyl molecule (OH), in far-infrared spectra of ULIRGs obtained with Herschel-PACS as part of the SHINING key project. In some of these objects the (terminal) outflow velocities exceed 1000 km/s, and their outflow rates (up to ~1200 MSun/yr) are several times larger than their star formation rates. We compare the outflow signatures in different types of ULIRGs and in starburst galaxies to address the issue of the energy source (AGN or starburst) of these outflows. We report preliminary evidence that ULIRGs with a higher AGN luminosity (and higher AGN contribution to LIR) have higher terminal velocities and shorter gas depletion time scales. The outflows in the observed ULIRGs are able to expel the cold gas reservoirs from the centres of these objects within ~106-108 years.
Published: 05 May 2011
Published: 02 April 2011
We observed the near-Earth ASTEROID 2008 EV5 with the Arecibo and Goldstone planetary radars and the Very Long Baseline Array during December 2008. EV5 rotates retrograde and its overall shape is a 400 ± 50 m oblate spheroid. The most prominent surface feature is a ridge parallel to the asteroid's equator that is broken by a concavity about 150 m in diameter. Otherwise the asteroid's surface is notably smooth on decameter scales. EV5's radar and optical albedos are consistent with either rocky or stony-iron composition. The equatorial ridge is similar to structure seen on the rubble-pile near-Earth asteroid (66391) 1999 KW4 and is consistent with YORP spin-up reconfiguring the asteroid in the past. We interpret the concavity as an impact crater. Shaking during the impact and later regolith redistribution may have erased smaller features, explaining the general lack of decameter-scale surface structure.
Published: 01 May 2011
Electric currents permeate space plasmas and often have a significant component along the magnetic field to form magnetic flux ropes. A larger spatial perspective of these structures than from the direct observation along the satellite path is crucial in visualizing their role in plasma dynamics. For magnetic flux ropes that are approximately two-dimensional equilibrium structures on a certain plane, Grad-Shafranov reconstruction technique, developed by Bengt Sonnerup and his colleagues (see Sonnerup et al. in J. Geophys. Res. 111:A09204, 2006), can be used to reveal two-dimensional maps of associated plasma and field parameters. This review gives a brief account of the technique and its application to magnetic flux ropes near the Earth's magnetopause, in the solar wind, and in the magnetotail. From this brief survey, the ranges of the total field-aligned current and the total magnetic flux content for these magnetic flux ropes are assessed. The total field-aligned current is found to range from ~0.14 to ~9.7×104 MA, a range of nearly six orders of magnitude. The total magnetic flux content is found to range from ~0.25 to ~2.3×106 MWb, a range of nearly seven orders of magnitude. To the best of our knowledge, this review reports the largest range of both the total field-aligned current and the total magnetic flux content for magnetic flux ropes in space plasmas.
Published: 23 April 2011
30-Sep-2020 10:31 UT

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