Tag Archives: x-ray

NASA’s black-hole-hunter finds its first 10 supermassive black holes

NASA’s black-hole-hunter spacecraft, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has located its first 10 supermassive black holes. The mission is the first ever which can focus the highest energy X-ray light into detailed pictures.

nustar

If everything goes as NASA planned, then over the next two years, the mission will locate several hundreds of such structures. It is currently thought that supermassive black holes lie at at the hearts of most galaxies, including our own.

“We found the black holes serendipitously,” explained David Alexander, a NuSTAR team member based in the Department of Physics at Durham University in England and lead author of a new study appearing Aug. 20 in the Astrophysical Journal. “We were looking at known targets and spotted the black holes in the background of the images.”

But even serendipitous findings such as this one are part of the plan – along with the mission’s main targets, NuSTAR team plans to comb through hundreds of images taken by the telescope with the goal of finding any hidden black holes in the background. By combining these types of data, astronomers hope to find more about possibly the most interesting and mysterious objects in the Universe.

“We are getting closer to solving a mystery that began in 1962,” said Alexander. “Back then, astronomers had noted a diffuse X-ray glow in the background of our sky but were unsure of its origin. Now, we know that distant supermassive black holes are sources of this light, but we need NuSTAR to help further detect and understand the black hole populations.”

NuSTAR-black-hole2

The X-ray glow, now known as cosmic X-ray background, peaks at the high-energy frequencies that NuSTAR is designed to see, so the mission ultimately aims at explaining what causes and influences this type of radiation.

“The highest-energy X-rays can pass right through even significant amounts of dust and gas surrounding the active supermassive black holes,” said Fiona Harrison, a study co-author and the mission’s principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

For more information about NuSTAR and other news about the mission check these two pages: http://www.nasa.gov/nustar and http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/.

Via NASA.

Surface chemistry diagram of the studied reaction. (c) Hirohito Ogasawara/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Seeing a reaction in real-time using the world’s most powerful X-ray laser

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, once home to the longest particle accelerator for nearly fifty years, have used the world’s most powerful X-ray laser to distinguish at an atomic level the mechanisms of reaction of a catalyst in action. This unprecedented view will help scientists develop cleaner and more efficient energy sources, while also furthering our understanding of how various catalysts work.

A catalyst, be it synthetic, organic or simply a metal, is basically a substance that is used to enhanced the rate of a chemical reaction. For a reactant to form into a product it  always needs to reach an activation energy for it to transform through the chemical reaction. Some reactants take a long time to become products, while others simply don’t have the means to do so by themselves. This is where catalysts come into play that speed up a reaction by changing the specific structures of the reactant molecules; this alteration causes reactant molecules to collide with each other in order to release energy or product. It’s worth noting that scientists sometimes use negative catalysts to slow down rates of reaction.

Surface chemistry diagram of the studied reaction. (c)  Hirohito Ogasawara/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Surface chemistry diagram of the studied reaction. (c) Hirohito Ogasawara/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Using the world’s most powerful X-ray laser,  the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), in conjunction with computerized simulations, physicists  looked at a simple reaction in a crystal composed of ruthenium, a catalyst that has been extensively studied, in reaction with carbon monoxide gas. First the crystal was zapped using a conventional laser, which as expected caused the carbon monoxide molecules to break away. Using the high-power X-ray laser pulses that can reveal at an atomic level what’s going on in a chemical reaction through all its stages, at ultrafast timing, the researchers found that the carbon monoxide molecules were temporarily trapped in a near-gas state, all while still interacting with the catalyst.

“We never expected to see this state,” said Anders Nilsson, deputy director for the Stanford and SLAC SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis and a leading author in the research,. “It was a surprise.”

Moreover, an unexpected event was observed: a high share of molecules trapped in this state for far longer than what was anticipated, raising new questions about the atomic-scale interplay of chemicals that will be explored in future research.

It’s also worth noting that the same LCLS X-ray laser was used by researchers at SLAC to heat a lump of matter at over 2 million degrees Fahrenheit – hotter than the sun’s corona.

Catalysts are widely employed today in the chemical industry, ranging from food to energy sources. The latter is of specific interest to scientists since more efficient catalysts mean a higher energy output and a cleaner environment. Most modern cars, for instance, employ catalytic converters in their exhaust that turn flue gases into less toxic compounds.

By bettering our understanding of how catalysts work, using methods such as those employed for the present study that allow observations at ultrafast time scales and with molecular precision, scientists may be able to develop cheaper and more efficient synthetic fuels or more efficient and cleaner technology.

The findings were reported in the journal Science. The five minute long video below illustrates how the LCLS laser works – definitely worth your time.

The new view of spiral galaxy IC 342, also known as Caldwell 5. (c) NASA

NuSTAR’s high power X-ray images two unusually bright black holes in spiral galaxy [STUNNING PHOTOS]

The new view of spiral galaxy IC 342, also known as Caldwell 5. (c) NASA

The new view of spiral galaxy IC 342, also known as Caldwell 5. (c) NASA

Launched just last year, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is almost fully tweaked and ready to supply mankind with valuable scientific insight. Recently, NASA showcased a few finds made with the NuSTAR including this stunning imagery of a far away galaxy that showcases two unusually bright black holes.

NuSTAR is the first orbiting telescope with the ability to focus high-energy X-ray light, and were it not for its instruments the spiral galaxy IC342, also known as Caldwell 5, would show up as a fuzzy mess on X-rays. NuSTAR is capable of peering through a range of extreme, high-energy objects including black holes like those imaged above.

These black holes are of particular interest to astronomers due to their peculiar and somewhat still unexplained nature. While these black holes are not as powerful as the supermassive black hole at the hearts of galaxies, they are more than 10 times brighter than typical star-massed black hole layered through out the universe and shown in the photo above colored in magenta as translated from the X-rays. These types of black holes are classed under  ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs).

Unusual, bright black holes

So far, scientists hypothesize that ULXs are actually less common intermediate-mass black holes, with a few thousand times the mass of our sun, or smaller stellar-mass black holes in an unusually bright state or alternatively they’re in a whole new class of black holes we’ve yet to fully encounter and describe.

“High-energy X-rays hold a key to unlocking the mystery surrounding these objects,” said Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Whether they are massive black holes, or there is new physics in how they feed, the answer is going to be fascinating.”

Light from the stellar explosion that created Cassiopeia A is thought to have reached Earth about 300 years ago, after traveling 11,000 years to get here. While the star is long dead, its remains are still bursting with action. (c) NASA

Light from the stellar explosion that created Cassiopeia A is thought to have reached Earth about 300 years ago, after traveling 11,000 years to get here. While the star is long dead, its remains are still bursting with action. (c) NASA

As a treat, NASA threw in a second photo imaged by NuSTAR’s high power X-ray, this time of the famous supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, located 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia.

“Cas A is the poster child for studying how massive stars explode and also provides us a clue to the origin of the high-energy particles, or cosmic rays, that we see here on Earth,” said Brian Grefenstette of Caltech, a lead researcher on the observations. “With NuSTAR, we can study where, as well as how, particles are accelerated to such ultra-relativistic energies in the remnant left behind by the supernova explosion.”

The Martian sand collected by the Curiosity rover turns out to be similar to volcanic soil on Hawaii, NASA scientists say. (c) AP

Mars bite tastes like Earth – soil similar to Hawaii

The Martian sand collected by the Curiosity rover turns out to be similar to volcanic soil on Hawaii, NASA scientists say. (c) AP

The Martian sand collected by the Curiosity rover turns out to be similar to volcanic soil on Hawaii, NASA scientists say. (c) AP

After Curiosity had a bite of Martian turf at the site of Rocknest a few days earlier, soil analysis results have finally come in. According to scientists at NASA, the Martian sand in the rover’s vicinity is very much akin to volcanic soils found on Earth such as those of  Hawaii. Though Mars is far from being a resort itself.

The findings follow a slew of premiering successes from Curiosity, as the high-tech lab on wheels recently performed for the first time analysis using the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer at the end of its arm, and shot the ChemCam laser on its mast at spots up to 23 feet away to analyze the rock it vaporizes. The next instrument in lined was  its chemistry and mineralogy module, known as CheMin, which bombards soil samples with X-rays to reveal their mineral composition and abundance.

Like I said, Curiosity successfully trialed other instruments on-board in the past few weeks, some of which also offered detailed elemental analysis. But knowing what atoms and molecules make up a sample is far from being enough, since the manner in which they are arranged counts just as much. Take carbon for instance, the most famous allotrope; it can occur as graphite, a very soft material typically used in pencils, or diamond, one of the hardest materials known to man. So you see while the chemical mark-up is the same, the way the carbon atoms are connected with one another makes all the difference in the world.

The instrument, called CheMin, for chemistry and mineralogy, is a marvel of miniaturization. No larger than a shoe box, it fits inside the rover and does the same analytic work as X-ray diffraction instruments the size of refrigerators. After  Curiosity uses a scoop at the end of its arm to collect soil, it carefully positions the tablet sized sample in the CheMin instrument. Before analysis can begin, however, the instruments shooks the sample 2000 times per second to filter out larger grains; the remaining crystals are then bombarded with X-rays in order to revelad their precise atomic structure. This was the first time X-rays from Earth have been deployed on an alien planet.

Roughly half the Martian soil, NASA scientists say, appears to be noncrystalline particles, meaning they’re like obsidian, a form of volcanic glass that the CheMin instrument’s x-rays cannot probe. This will be tasked to other instruments.

The Curiosity Rover main objective in its 2-year mission is that of reaching the Gale Crater’s Mt. Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain in the middle of the crater whose lower layers may hold clues to whether Mars is capable of sustaining life or not.

This artist's illustration shows an enormous halo of hot gas (in blue) around the Milky Way galaxy. Also shown, to the lower left of the Milky Way, are the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, two small neighboring galaxies. The halo of gas is shown with a radius of about 300,000 light years, although it may extend significantly further. (c) NASA

The Milky Way is surrounded by a huge, hot halo of gas

Recent measurements conducted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and observed by other X-ray instruments from around world and in space, suggest that our galaxy is surrounded by hot spherical gas formation that stretches across 300,000 light years and has an equivalent mass of some 60 billion suns or roughly all the stars in the Milky Way. If these findings are indeed confirmed then they might provide a valid explanation for the “missing baryon” problem.

This artist's illustration shows an enormous halo of hot gas (in blue) around the Milky Way galaxy. Also shown, to the lower left of the Milky Way, are the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, two small neighboring galaxies. The halo of gas is shown with a radius of about 300,000 light years, although it may extend significantly further. (c) NASA

This artist’s illustration shows an enormous halo of hot gas (in blue) around the Milky Way galaxy. Also shown, to the lower left of the Milky Way, are the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, two small neighboring galaxies. The halo of gas is shown with a radius of about 300,000 light years, although it may extend significantly further. (c) NASA

This highly important find occurred while scientists were studying bright x-ray sources located millions of light years away and observed that oxygen ions in the immediate vicinity of our galaxy were oddly “selectively absorbing” some of the x-rays. This oddity was also picked up by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory and Japan’s Suzaku satellite.

Using these measurements, the astronomers were able to set limits on the temperature, extent and mass of the hot gas halo. Thus, they determined  the temperature of the absorbing halo is between 1 million and 2.5 million kelvins, or a few hundred times hotter than the surface of the sun, which gives weight to previous studies which had galaxies covered in warm gas with temperatures between 100,000 and 1 million kelvins.

“We know the gas is around the galaxy, and we know how hot it is,” said Anjali Gupta, lead author of The Astrophysical Journal paper describing the research. “The big question is, how large is the halo, and how massive is it?”

Our galaxy is surrounded in thin cloud of gas stretching across hundreds of thousands of years

They concluded that the mass of the gas is equivalent to the mass in more than 10 billion suns, perhaps as large as 60 billion suns, an estimation that primarily factored in the  amount of oxygen relative to hydrogen, which is the dominant element in the gas. Still, considering the gas halo is extremely vast, this makes it very low density, making observations of similar gas halos embedding other galaxies almost impossible using today’s instruments. Yet, if confirmed, scientists might assert that this halo is present around many, if not most galaxies in the Universe.

“Our work shows that, for reasonable values of parameters and with reasonable assumptions, the Chandra observations imply a huge reservoir of hot gas around the Milky Way,” said co-author Smita Mathur of Ohio State University in Columbus. “It may extend for a few hundred thousand light-years around the Milky Way or it may extend farther into the surrounding local group of galaxies. Either way, its mass appears to be very large.”

It also might untangle a riddle which has been pestering scientists for decades, namely the missing baryon problem. Baryons are particles, such as protons and neutrons, that make up more than 99.9 percent of the mass of atoms found in the cosmos. A while ago, scientists tried estimated the number of atoms and ions that would have been present in the Universe 10 billion years ago. Measurements however showed that only half of the estimated baryons were located.  Other studies suggests hints that the missing baryons are stranded in a sort of cosmic web, consisting of a vast gas cloud formations connecting galaxies between each other.

Chandra’s latest findings seems to add substance to this particular theory. These were reported in Sept. 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

source: NASA

The death cry of a star being destroyed by a black hole

Stars suffer, too, you know. Astronomers have recently discovered a distinctive X-ray signal coming from a star on the verge of being engulfed by a black hole in a distant galaxy.

“This tell-tale signal, called a quasi-periodic oscillation or QPO, is a characteristic feature of the accretion disks that often surround the most compact objects in the universe — white dwarf stars, neutron stars and black holes. QPOs have been seen in many stellar-mass black holes, and there is tantalizing evidence for them in a few black holes that may have middleweight masses between 100 and 100,000 times the sun’s.”, said Rubens Reis, an Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

QPO stands for quasi-periodic oscillation, and it is basically the manner in which the X-ray light from an astronomical object flickers about certain frequencies. Until now, QPO had only been detected from a supermassive black hole – the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses.

“This discovery extends our reach to the innermost edge of a black hole located billions of light-years away, which is really amazing. This gives us an opportunity to explore the nature of black holes and test Einstein’s relativity at a time when the universe was very different than it is today”, added Reis.

“As hot gas in the innermost disk spirals toward a black hole, it reaches a point astronomers refer to as the innermost stable circular orbit (ISCO). Any closer to the black hole and gas rapidly plunges into the event horizon, the point of no return. The inward spiraling gas tends to pile up around the ISCO, where it becomes tremendously heated and radiates a flood of X-rays. The brightness of these X-rays varies in a pattern that repeats at a nearly regular interval, creating the QPO signal.”, he added.

Free-electron X-ray laser reveals protein architecture at unprecedented detail

Curious enough, one hundred years after renowned physicist Max von Lauefirst used X-ray diffraction to unravel the intricate atomic architecture of molecules, a team of international scientists have analyzed tiny protein crystals at an unprecedent scale of resolution, premiering in the process the world’s first hard X-ray free-electron laser. Called the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford, the X-ray laser was made possible after a 300 million dollars investment from behalf of the US Department of Energy.

Most of our current knowledge regarding the 3D spatial architecture of molecules has come as a result of X-ray crystallography, a field of science which has seen much progress in the past few decades, making possible equally amounts of achievements in molecular analysis.  Crystalography basically studies the spatial arrangements of atoms in solids. Modern crystallography relies on the amplification of the scattering signal of the molecules by their arrangement into relatively large crystals, often on the order of some tenths of a millimeter.

Large crystals, extremelly helpful for accurate analysis, are very difficult to obtain, however, especially in the case of bio-molecules due to instability and low abundance. This is where free-electron lasers come in, revealing structural information from crystals otherwise unobtainable through conventioanl methods, since radiation irremedially damages them before anything useful can be drawn.

The innovative X-ray free-electron lasers are new X-ray sources of extreme potency, capable of releasing high intensity ultrashort flashes of light. The intensity of such an X-ray pulse is more than a billion times higher than that provided by the most brilliant state-of-the-art X-ray sources, with a thousand-fold shorter pulse length, on the order of a few millionths of a billionth of a second, or femtoseconds. These properties provide scientists with novel tools to explore the nano-world, including the structure of biological materials.

This extremely high frequency of firing light flashes allows the X-ray free-electron laser to record information from the sample before damage irremediably occurs. The crystals samples are destroyed in the process, much like by conventional means, but it’s so fast it gets what it needs from the crystal before interferring damage gets a change to disrupt analysis.

The structure of the protein lysozyme, the first ever molecule to have its architecture revealed. Depicted is the schematic of the spatial arrangement of the 129 amino acids shown in the form of spirals (helices) and arrows (pleated sheets). © MPI for Medical Research

The structure of the protein lysozyme, the first ever molecule to have its architecture revealed. Depicted is the schematic of the spatial arrangement of the 129 amino acids shown in the form of spirals (helices) and arrows (pleated sheets). © MPI for Medical Research

To benchmark the method, the researchers investigated the structure of an exhaustively studied molecule, the small protein lysozyme, the first enzyme ever to have its structure revealed. Ten thousand snapshot exposures from crystals that measured only a thousandth of a millimeter, showed that the data compared well with those collected using conventional approaches and hundred-fold larger lysozyme crystals.

“This proof-of-principle experiment shows that the X-ray free-electron laser indeed lives up to its promise as an important new tool for structural biology on large macromolecular assemblies and membrane proteins. It really opens up a completely new terrain in structural biology”, Ilme Schlichting, leading the Max-Planck team, says.

The reserach was spearheaded by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg and the Max Planck Advanced Study Group in Hamburg. The findings were reported in a recent edition of the journal Science – you can read more about it in the magazine.

source

 

Caption of the Linac Coherent Light Source SXR experimental chamber, which was used to heat a solid material at 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, and turn it into hot, dense matter. (c) University of Oxford/Sam Vinko

World’s most powerful X-ray laser heats matter at 2 million degrees

Caption of the Linac Coherent Light Source SXR experimental chamber, which was used to heat a solid material at 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, and turn it into hot, dense matter. (c) University of Oxford/Sam Vinko

Caption of the Linac Coherent Light Source SXR experimental chamber, which was used to heat a solid material at 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, and turn it into hot, dense matter. (c) University of Oxford/Sam Vinko

Researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have used the world’s most powerful X-ray laser fired upon a neon gas capsule and thus emit an avalanche of short wavelength X-rays,creating the first atom laser. The same laser was used to heat a lump of matter at over 2 million degrees Fahrenheit – hotter than the sun’s corona.

“X-rays give us a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules,” said physicist Nina Rohringer, who led the research. A group leader at the Max Planck Society’s Advanced Study Group in Hamburg, Germany, Rohringer collaborated with researchers from SLAC, DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University.

“We envision researchers using this new type of laser for all sorts of interesting things, such as teasing out the details of chemical reactions or watching biological molecules at work,” she added. “The shorter the pulses, the faster the changes we can capture. And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see.”

The Linac Coherent Light Source, a rapid-fire X-ray laser, was configured to have its X-ray pulses knock electrons out of the inner shells of atoms of neon gas, located in a targeted capsule. When other electrons fell in to fill the gaps, about one in 50 atoms responded by emitting a photon in the X-ray range, which has a very short wavelength. Shortly after the first burst, the neighboring neon atoms are stimulated to produce X-rays at their own, and so on in a chain effect which leads to an amplification of the  laser light 200 million times.

Using an atomic laser such as this, scientists can now monitor at the atomic-scale precision any changes that occurred within a few quadrillionths of a second in a studied sample. Thus it can penetrate and look at a dense solid, all the same time.

Scientists have been trying for more than 50 years to create a laser pulse at short wavelength, however this was extremely difficult until recently since it requires faster atom pumping. Until 2009, when LCLS turned on, no X-ray source was powerful enough to create this type of laser.

“This achievement opens the door for a new realm of X-ray capabilities,” said John Bozek, LCLS instrument scientist. “Scientists will surely want new facilities to take advantage of this new type of laser.”

In another separate study, the same scientists from the SLAC National Accelerator Laborator, used the powerful X-ray laser to heat an aluminum foil to 2 million degrees Celsius, or 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into dense, hot matter. The whole process took about a trillionth of a second.  The LCLS is underground in Palo Alto and covers a distance of a little more than a mile.

This hot, dense matter is called plasma, which was reproduced in the past from gases using conventional lasers, however if want to create plasma from a solid, you need a powerful ultra-short wavelength emitting laser. By studying the plasma as it develops, the scientists hope to understand how nuclear fusion, like the one that fuels the sun, works.

Both studies were published in the journal Nature.

source via Wired

X-raying a 120 million year old bird

Using a new X-raying technique and device, based on synchrotron radiation, scientists have been able to  map the pigmentation of creatures dead for million of years just by reading the traces metals in fossils left.

“Every once in a while we are lucky enough to discover something new, something that nobody has ever seen before,” says Roy Wogelius, a geochemist at the University of Manchester and the paper’s lead author.

An artist's conception of the pigmentation patterns of Confuciusornis sanctus, the oldest documented to display a fully derived avian beak. The patterns are based on chemical maps of copper and other trace metals in several fossils of the organism. (Credit: Richard Hartley, University of Manchester)

An artist's conception of the pigmentation patterns of Confuciusornis sanctus, the oldest documented to display a fully derived avian beak. The patterns are based on chemical maps of copper and other trace metals in several fossils of the organism. (Credit: Richard Hartley, University of Manchester)

University of Manchester scientists used this technique to study the Confuciusornis sanctus, a highly primitive bird which lived 120 million years ago and provides one of many evolutionary links between dinosaurs and birds. Harnessing the power of synchrotron radiation, the researchers were able to identify copper-bearing molecules in the fossilized feathers of this ancient bird.

“There is an intimate relationship between trace metals and organics. When you’re getting a good suntan, melanin forms in your skin. There are many forms of melanin, and some are found in the dark feathers of birds, but copper is always bound into its structure,” says Philip Manning, adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“You can see this in living animals, but it’s only since we’ve been using a synchrotron—a vast accelerator that generates intense X-rays a hundred million times brighter than the sun—that we can see the chemical detail in fossils and show that the copper complexes we found were originally part of the animal.”

Metallic combounds can survive and consequentely get traced from fossils hundreds of millions of years old. However when these are bound to organic compunds, such as mellanine in skin, a distinction between the two must be made, and this can only be done using such a synchrotron accelerator. Using this device, scientists only had to measure the energy released by the atoms bombard with the high-powered X-radiation, and map out the metal molecules.

“We’re able to map absolute quantities, to parts-per-million levels in discrete biological structures, which we compare with living organisms and see they are comparable,” Manning says.

Painting a richer picture of the lives of  ancient creatures

“While our work doesn’t yet allow you to diagnose color, you can get the concentration and distribution of pigments,” Dodson says. “In other words, you can work out monochrome patterns, which may tell us something about camouflage or other traits relevant to natural selection of the species.”

“If we could eventually give colors to long extinct species, that in itself would be fantastic,” says co-author Uwe Bergmann of Stanford University.

“But synchrotron radiation has revolutionized science in many fields, most notably in molecular biology. It is very exciting to see that it is now starting to have an impact in paleontology, in a way that may have important implications in many other disciplines.”

The study holds a particular impact in the event that researchers manage to someday “draw” an accurate image of living organism from hundreds of millions of years ago. Further research with this technique is expected to fully diagnose color via fossil chemistry in the future, so we can only keep our fingers crossed.

Support for the research was provided in part by the United Kingdom’s National Environmental Research Council.

via

 

“Every once in a while we are lucky enough to discover something new, something that nobody has ever seen before,” says Roy Wogelius, a geochemist at the University of Manchester and the paper’s lead author.

X-Ray 1896 machine compared to modern one

Scientists have dusted and cleaned some X-Ray equipment dating shortly after the discovery of the rays in 1895 and found that it creates some images of stunning quality, compared to its age and simple construction. However, the machine requires a radiation level of 1500 times bigger than a modern X-Ray.

The machine, developed by school director H J Hoffmans and local hospital director Lambertus Theodorus van Kleef from Maastricht in the Netherlands, was built with just parts you can find in a highschool, and was used for anatomical imaging experiments.

Gerrit Kemerink of Maastricht University Medical Center decided to put this device to the test for the first time in a century.

“To my knowledge, nobody had ever done systematic measurements on this equipment, since by the time one had the tools, these systems had been replaced by more sophisticated ones,” said Dr Kemerink.

The team carefully recreated the conditions which were probably used back then, but used the hand of a cadaver, because of the high level of radiation required to perform the experiment could be damaging for the subject.

“Our experience with this machine, which had a buzzing interruptor, crackling lightning within a spark gap, and a greenish light flashing in a tube, which spread the smell of ozone and which revealed internal structures in the human body was, even today, little less than magical,” they wrote.

Picture via BBC

Meet the world’s most powerful X-Ray laser

homerThe first experiments with this laser (Linac Coherent Light Source) have been given the green light at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The illuminating of objects and processing speed will take place at an unprecedented scale, promising groundbreaking research in physics, chemistry, biology and numerous other fields.

“No one has ever had access to this kind of light before,” said LCLS Director Jo Stöhr. “The realization of the LCLS isn’t only a huge achievement for SLAC, but an achievement for the global science community. It will allow us to study the atomic world in ways never before possible.”

Early experiments are already showing some promise, providing insight on fundaments of atoms and molecules, underlying their properties. The short term goal is to create stop action frames for molecules in motion. By putting together many of these images to create a film, scientists will create for the first time a film with actual molecules in motion, being able to see chemical molecules bond and break, as well as actually see how atoms interact at a quantum level.

“It’s hard to overstate how successful these first experiments have been,” said AMO Instrument Scientist John Bozek. “We look forward to even better things to come.”

Scientists to recreate the perfume worn by pharaoh Hatshepsut

An exquisite fragrance has always been considered to be a status symbol especially because of the difficulties encountered in order to create a good one. However, this is far from being a characteristic of our times; in ancient Egypt, this was taken to an entirely higher level: wearing a certain perfume was the sign of having a godly origin. And now, thanks to archaeological findings and state-of-the-art technology we will be able to “smell” how it was to be an Egyptian queen.
By using a computer tomograph researchers at Bonn University’s Egyptian Museum were able to discover some traces of a fluid inside a perfectly-preserved flacon dating from 3,500 years ago, when pharaoh Hatshepshut was ruling . So the chances of recreating the perfume are very high.
Pharaoh Hatshepsut was a powerful woman, very eager to gain even more power. She ruled around the year 1479 B.C. and she was only supposed to be a representant of her son, Thutmose III, who was aged 3 at the time. However, she stayed in power for 20 years, by continuously keeping her son away from the throne.
Going back to the subject of perfumes, it seems that the purpose of the scent was to be another reminder of her important role, especially as it contained incense- the scent of gods. This idea seems not to be far-fetched at all as the pharaoh is known to have traveled to Punt (modern Eritrea), from where the Egyptians used to import goods such as ebony, gold and incense too. Entire incense plants were brought, which were planted next to Hatshepsut’s funeraty temple.
The flacon  has an inscription of her name, so most likely it  belonged to her; the precios relic is now to be examined by the scientists at the Radiology Department of the University, this being a worldwide premier. As the residues can be clearly seen in the x-ray photographs, it will be now up to the pharmacologists to study and, if possible recreate it, 3500 years after the pharaoh’s death.
Hatshepsut died in 1457 B.C. and analysis of her mummy showed that she had been aged between 45 and 60 at the time of her death and that she had also been suffering from being overweight and having diabetes, cancer, arthritis and osteoporosis. For safety, she was laid to rest in the tomb of her wet nurse until 3300 years later, in 1903, when the 2 mummies were discovered by Egyptologist Howard Carter. More than 100 years would pass until the mummy was finally identified by using DNA anlysis in 2007. Tuthmose III seems not to have been too sad about his mother’s death as during his reign all proof of her existence was destroyed.

Science ABC: X-rays

 

x-ray

                                                                                                 (no science in this picture, it’s just fun)

What are X-rays? You may think you know the answer, but things are a bit more complicated than they seem. In fact, they are a form of electromagnetic radiation, similar to microwaves or radio waves. But X-rays have way more energy than these types of radiation, which makes them special.They are also called Röntgen radiation after one of the first investigators of the X-rays, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen.

He first described them in 1895, an achievement for which he was awarded the very first Nobel Prize in Physics. During World War I, X-rays were already being used for medical purposes. At that time however, the use of X-rays was very dangerous.

Most of the natural X-rays appear when highly excited atoms decay back to their ground state configuration. X-rays are emitted when a highly energetic beam of charged particles such as electrons is rapidly decelerated. But as you probably know for day to day use, we’re more interested in artificial, man-made X-rays, because they are very helpful; their primary use is in medicine.

A beam of energetic electrons is focused on the target, and to cut a long story short, it determines the damage (or lack of damage) to the skeletal system, as well as some diseases in soft tissue, highlighting what you need to know. However, medical X-rays are a significant source of man-made radiation exposure. In 1987, they accounted for 58% of exposure from man-made sources in the United States. A very important part of medicine today, X-rays have made their mark on our world. It would be a shame not to know anything about them, at least.