Around the Ring

Three Headed Quasar Promises to Shed Light on Universe’s Past

At the 209th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington on Jan. 5 to 10, astronomers discussed the discovery of nearby quasar triplets, which could help scientists understand the nature of galaxy mergers at the beginning of the universe.

One-Hundred of the 10,000 known quasars, astronomical source of electromagnetic energy that produce light as powerful as one trillion suns, have been identified as pairs.

Originally, astronomers believed that the two quasars in the group, named QQQ 1432-0106, were just an illusion or a mirage, due to gravitational lensing, which happens when light is bent from objects by intervening mass’ gravity. However, the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, as well as the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, confirmed evidence of a third quasar, removing the possibility that a intervening mass’ gravity acted as a lens.

The existence of the collision of a third quasar, a very rare event, could mean that the light from the triplets made its way to Earth nearly 10 billion years ago, when galaxies were much smaller and collisions of supermassive black holes were frequent.

In theory, two galaxies, with black hole-powered quasars, will collide and the black holes will swirl closer together until they run into each other. When another galaxy collides into the existing one, the third black hole could attach to one of the existing pairs and violently kick off the other pair into empty intergalactic space at up to tens of thousands of kilometers per second.

The whole process of coming together and splitting up could take up to 100 million years and at this moment, the triplets have just come together and are approximately 100,000 light-years apart.

Fire Set in Orange County Hills for UCI Project

In an effort to study the potential effects of climate change on vegetation, the school of Physical Sciences set fire to roughly five acres of land in the Orange County Hills.

After determining that the weather conditions were just right for the fire, specifically the wind and moisture, the Orange County Fire Authority workers used drip torches to set fire to small grasses and vegetation around the perimeter of the area set for the burn before moving into the interior to set fire to larger vegetation and trees.

The thickest smoke became visible about 1 p.m.

Firefighters often use a similar setup to burn fuel for wildfires, however in this case the fire was set for exclusively for the UCI study, which will analyze the effects of fire, drought and excess moisture on native vegetation over several years.

Astronauts Encourage Young Girls to Succeed in Science and Math

On Sunday, Feb. 4, approximately 1,500 young girls in fifth through eight grade attended the Sally Ride Science Festival at UC Irvine. The festival, named after Sally Ride, the first American woman in space in 1983, aims to teach that girls can become astronauts, chemists, mathematicians or microbiologists.

Ride was at the festival and signed her latest children’s book, ‘The Mystery of Mars.’ Janice Voss, astronaut on an 11-day mission in 2000, shared her experience with the girls as well.

The festival participants spent the day looking through telescopes, eating ice cream that astronauts eat in space, attending workshops, launching makeshift rockets, and playing with remote control robots.

UCI Particle Accelerator May Unlock Secrets of Global Climate

UCI began operating a $1.5 million particle accelerator in 2002, which happens to be the only one in the nation and now provides scientists with a wealth of information.

The accelerator allows for more expansive climate research and has revealed the antiquity of Amazontrees, ocean circulation and carbon dioxide emissions. Readings reveal that the levels of carbon dioxide are at the highest in contrast to the amount present in our atmosphere within the last 420,000 years. Thirty percent of the increase happened within the last 150 years, in correlation to the Industrial Revolution and a rise in global surface temperature.

Climate scientists now contemplate where carbon goes and how long it stays in the place it resides. They strive to determine how much carbon gets locked up in the ocean currents or soil and when it is released.

The atmosphere is bombarded by cosmic rays that strike nitrogen molecules and produce radiocarbon atoms. In turn, the radioactive form of carbon mixes into the atmosphere and becomes immersed into the oceans, air and human bodies.

When living things die, carbon-14 stops accumulating and tissues begin to decay, enabling scientists to use carbon-14 to measure the longevity of a sample. The technique works on carbon dated back to 55,000 years and reveals the history of burning fossil fuels.

Scientists collected corn from 31 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, to determine the levels of carbon-14 and found that fossil fuel burning mainly takes place on the East and West Coasts and rarely in the nation’s midsection.

In addition, scientists debate whether trees in the Amazon might curb global warming by trapping carbon. They discovered that long-living trees, which constitute the Amazon’s vast forest, do not store carbon quickly.

The accelerator was also used to study the imprints the ocean’s currents leave on coral and carbon-14 within these reefs. The co-director of the accelerator laboratory, Ellen Druffel, found that the carbon-14 content is centuries old.