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What About Einstein: He Has Been Galactically Proved Right Once Again

|| June 24: 2018: University of Portsmouth News || ά. An international team of astronomers have made the most precise test of gravity outside our own solar system. By combining data taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, their results show that gravity in this galaxy behaves as predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, confirming the theory’s validity on galactic scales.

In 1915 Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity to explain how gravity works. Since then GR has passed a series of high precision tests within the solar system, but there have been no precise tests of GR on large astronomical scales. It has been known since 1929 that the Universe is expanding but in 1998 two teams of astronomers showed that the Universe is expanding faster now than it was in the past.

This surprising discovery, which won the Nobel Prize in 2011, can not be explained unless the Universe is mostly made of an exotic component, called, dark energy. However, this interpretation relies on GR being the correct theory of gravity on cosmological scales. Testing the long distance properties of gravity is important to validate our cosmological model.

A team of astronomers, led by Dr Thomas Collett of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, used a nearby galaxy as a gravitational lens to make a precise test of gravity on astronomical length scales.

Dr Collett said, “General Relativity predicts that massive objects deform space-time, this means that when light passes near another galaxy the light’s path is deflected. If, two galaxies are aligned along our line of sight this can give rise to a phenomenon, called, strong gravitational lensing, where we see multiple images of the background galaxy. If, we know the mass of the foreground galaxy, then the amount of separation between the multiple images tells us, if, General Relativity is the correct theory of gravity on galactic scales.”

A few hundred strong gravitational lenses are known but most are too distant to precisely measure their mass, so they can’t be used to accurately test GR. However, the galaxy ESO325-G004 is amongst the closest lenses, at 500 million light years from Earth.

Dr Collett said, “We used data from the Very Large Telescope in Chile to measure how fast the stars were moving in E325 , this let us infer how much mass there must be in E325 to hold these stars in orbit. We then compared this mass to the strong lensing image separations that we observed with the Hubble Space telescope and the result was just what GR predicts with nine per cent precision. This is the most precise extrasolar test of GR to date, from just one galaxy.’’

‘’The Universe is an amazing place providing such lenses, which we can, then, use as our laboratories.” Said team member Professor Bob Nichol, Director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. “It is so satisfying to use the best telescopes in the world to challenge Einstein, only to find out how right he was.”

The research is published in the journal Science. The work was funded by the University of Portsmouth and the UK Science and Technologies Funding Council :::ω.

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Magnetic Field Collisions Around Saturn Show Planetary Differences

|| June 07: 2018: UCL News || ά. Magnetic reconnection, the explosive reconfiguration of two magnetic fields, occurs differently around Saturn than around Earth, according to new findings from the international Cassini mission involving UCL researchers. On Earth, the collisions, which create aurora, are only seen on the boundary between Earth’s magnetic field and the magnetic field in interplanetary space. On Saturn, however, this process can occur well within the planet’s magnetic field, finds the new Nature Astronomy study.

The research suggests that magnetic reconnection, may be, additionally, driven by a completely different process for large, fast-rotating planets like Saturn. Magnetic fields affect charged particles in the planet’s environment or magnetosphere. As particles from Saturn and its moons interact with the flow of particles coming from the Sun, the planet’s magnetic field lines can temporarily break, connecting instead with those from the incoming magnetic field, which changes their direction and releases an enormous amount of energy. Magnetic reconnection triggers the beautiful spectacles of polar aurora but on Earth it can, also, disrupt GPS signals and damage satellites or electrical grids. Inside the magnetosphere of Earth, reconnection, mainly, happens on the side away from the Sun.

On the Sun-facing side, the magnetised particles, usually, can not penetrate the Earth’s magnetic field, reconnection, occasionally, occurs right at the edge of the magnetosphere, called, the magnetopause. “We previously believed that other planets would follow a similar pattern, so we were surprised to find that on Saturn, magnetic reconnection can happen not only on the Sun-facing side but well inside the magnetosphere. This suggests there’s a different process at play.” said Professor Andrew Coates at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, a Co-investigator of the Cassini-CAPS electron spectrometer used in the study.

Saturn’s magnetosphere differs from the Earth partly due to the ringed planet’s more rapid rotation. It, also, interacts with the planet’s moon and rings and has a different chemical composition, that includes water vapour and ice grains ejected from volcanoes on Enceladus, one of its moons. The researchers used data collected in 2008 by the Cassini probe while it orbited Saturn. They combined data from the Cassini-MAG magnetometer, to detect the change in direction of the magnetic field, with output from the Cassini-CAPS instrument, which measured plasma particles and their acceleration caused by the magnetic reconnection.

Together, these methods observed both the directional change and subsequent particle acceleration needed to identify reconnection. “This is not easy to measure because the region where the reconnection occurs is very small and the instrument needs to be pointed exactly in this direction. You have to be very lucky.” said Lead Author Dr Zhonghua Yao, at the University of Liège, Belgium. “I think that what fascinates me most is how similar physics can be seen in different planetary environments than our own but are driven by totally different processes. We can learn a lot from studying reconnection across the Solar System.” said Co-author Dr Jonathan Rae at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The scientists hope to continue finding similar events in the treasure trove of data generated by Cassini, which concluded its mission last September with a plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, having studied the planet for 13 years. “So far we have only scratched the surface of what we can find with the CAPS instrument.

Now, we can look back through the data and see whether there are other examples. We have a very rich data set that will keep us busy for years.” said Professor Coates. The new study can provide insights into the behaviour of magnetospheres of fast rotating planets, which, also, include Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and numerous exoplanets. ESA’s future JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, JUICE, might, also, find similar phenomena around Jupiter.

“Jupiter, also, has a very rapidly rotating magnetosphere and sulphur from its volcanic moon Io, so the JUICE mission, might, eventually, be able to measure this new type of magnetic reconnection on the dayside magnetodisc as well, when it gets there in 2030.” said Professor Coates, who is, also, Co-investigator on the JUICE PEP instrument.

Co-author Dr William Dunn at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said, “This finding is a game-changer in our understanding of gas giant magnetic environments. For years, we have been trying to explain stunning auroral flares in Jupiter's Northern and Southern lights, and this discovery might provide the answer.

We hope further work will determine to what extent they are connected, and missions like JUICE and NASA's Juno mission should help us understand and tell us whether this type of reconnection universal for rapidly-rotating magnetic bodies across the cosmos.”

Dr Nicolas Altobelli, ESA Cassini Project Scientist, said, “After all these years of analysis of Cassini data from Saturn, we will arrive at Jupiter with a much better understanding of what we should be looking for.” ::: ω.
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