KICP in the News, 2008



 
Hot on the Trail of Cosmic Rays
Space.com, January 2, 2008
by Jeremy Hsu, Space.com

The mysterious origins of cosmic rays that slam into the Earth's atmosphere could soon be revealed, thanks to a better ground-based sensor that costs less than balloons or satellites.

Cosmic rays are thought to come from either the center of the galaxy or a nearby supernova, and knowing which is true will help astrophysicists paint a more accurate picture of the cosmos.

"Cosmic rays are not a spectator phenomenon in the galaxy — they have a role in galactic dynamics," said Scott Wakely, a University of Chicago physicist. "To understand the galaxy in a full sense, you need to understand cosmic rays."

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KICP Members: Scott P. Wakely
 
New detector will improve method for gathering data on cosmic rays
The University of Chicago Chronicle, January 12, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago Chronicle

Faint, fleeting blue flashes of radiation emitted by particles that travel faster than the speed of light through the atmosphere may help scientists solve one of the oldest mysteries in astrophysics.

For nearly a century, scientists have wondered about the origin of cosmic rays-subatomic particles of matter that stream in from outer space. "Where exactly, we don't know," said Scott Wakely, Assistant Professor in Physics and the College. "They're raining down on the atmosphere of the Earth, thousands of particles per second per square meter."

Recent results from the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory suggest that the highest-energy cosmic rays may come from the centers of active galaxies. But the vast majority of the cosmic rays seen from Earth originate from unknown sources in the Milky Way galaxy. Tracking down these sources is crucial to developing a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, scientists say.

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KICP Members: Scott P. Wakely
Scientific projects: Pierre Auger Observatory (AUGER)
 
Science magazine's top 10 breakthroughs of the year
ARS technica, January 21, 2008
by Matt Ford, ARS technica

Origin of Cosmic Bullets: It has been known since the 1960s that the Earth is bombarded by high energy cosmic particles. These particles are smaller than atoms yet hit the Earth with the force of a golf ball landing on a fairway - that is an energy level 100 million times higher then any particle accelerator has been able to achieve to date. The question of their origin may have been solved this year by researchers at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. Their answer: these particles come from active galactic nuclei, supermassive black holes at the center of some galaxies. However, without a mechanism to explain how these particles, protons in this case, reach these incredible energies (in excess of 60 EeV), the debate rages on.

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Scientific projects: Pierre Auger Observatory (AUGER)
 
The Kavli Foundation News, Astrophysics: Eyeing Dark Energy
The Kavli Foundation, February 12, 2008
The Kavli Foundation

Something is pulling the universe apart. What is it, and where will it take us from here? Scientists at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago, seek answers to those questions with the newly-commissioned South Pole Telescope.

Frigid and bone-dry, with six straight months of night each year, the South Pole is a forbidding place to live or work. But for largely the same reasons, it's one of the best spots on the planet for surveying the faint cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation left over from the Big Bang. The 10-meter microwave South Pole Telescope (SPT), which began operating in February 2007, is studying the CMB to gather clues about the birth, evolution and eventual fate of the universe.

The SPT project, led by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago, aims to help solve one cosmological mystery in particular - that of dark energy. Little is known about this force, other than that it works against gravity and appears to have sped up the expansion of the universe. Unlike energy as we know it (and measure it), dark energy does not seem to act through any of the fundamental forces of nature other than gravity. It can't be detected directly, for instance, through light or other manifestations of the electromagnetic force. The evidence for dark energy is indirect. Its existence was first posited in 1998 by scientists seeking to explain unexpected data from distant supernovae. Since then, research using the Hubble Space Telescope and other instruments has traced the impact of dark energy to about nine billion years ago, when the universe was five billion years old and galaxies started flying away from one another at a faster pace.

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Scientific projects: South Pole Telescope (SPT)
 
COUPP experiment tightens limits on dark matter
Fermilab Press Release, February 14, 2008
by Tona Kunz, Steve Koppes, and Kathy Borlik, Fermilab Press Release

Scientists working on the COUPP experiment at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory today (February 14) announced a new development in the quest to observe dark matter. The Chicagoland Observatory for Underground Particle Physics experiment tightened constraints on the "spin-dependent" properties of WIMPS, weakly interacting massive particles that are candidates for dark matter. Their results, combined with the findings of other dark matter searches, contradict the claims for the observation of such particles by the Dark Matter experiment (DAMA) in Italy and further restrict the hunting ground for physicists to track their dark matter quarry.

The COUPP experiment also proved that dusting off an old technology of particle physics, the bubble chamber, offers extraordinary potential as a tool in the search for dark matter.

"Our first results are extremely encouraging, and bubble-chamber technology is eminently scale-able," said Juan Collar, a University of Chicago professor and spokesman of the COUPP collaboration, which includes 16 scientists and students from the University of Chicago; Indiana University South Bend; and DOE's Fermilab. "We expect that COUPP will soon have a sweeping sensitivity to dark matter particles, simultaneously exploring both spin-dependent and spin-independent mechanisms for dark matter interaction. This is just one of the aspects that set our experiment apart from the competition."

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KICP Members: Juan I. Collar
Scientific projects: COUPP/PICO
 
Sloan Digital Sky Survey Changes the Face of Astronomy
The University of Chicago News Office, February 26, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago News Office

Two hundred and seventy two stars gave their lives for the photo spread on cosmic explosions that graced pages 80 and 81 of the March 2007 National Geographic.

Ben Dilday, University graduate student in Astronomy & Astrophysics, assembled these images of exploding stars from observations the Sloan Digital Sky Survey collected in 2005 and 2006. The images come in the vanguard of the SDSS II (Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s Phase Two), which focuses, in part, on supernovas. During its first phase, survey astronomers invented a new way of doing astronomy by dedicating a single telescope to mapping the universe in three dimensions.

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KICP Students: Benjamin E. Dilday
Scientific projects: SDSS Supernova Survey (SDSS SS)
 
Free lecture series to peer behind exotic claims about universe
The University of Chicago News Office, March 26, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago News Office

A series of 10 free lectures at the University of Chicago will explore how scientists can talk sensibly about the beginning of the universe, or phenomena at exceedingly small scales.

"Seeing and Believing: Detection, Measurement and Inference in Experimental Physics," is the title of this year's Arthur Holly Compton Lectures, sponsored each spring and fall by the University's Enrico Fermi Institute. The 67th series of these public lectures will begin Saturday, April 5, and will be held each Saturday through June 14 (except for May 24, when there will be no lecture). The lectures will be given from 11 a.m. to noon in Room 106 of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center, 5720 S. Ellis Ave.

Compton Lectures are intended to make science accessible to a general audience and to convey the excitement of new discoveries in the physical sciences. Delivering the lectures this spring will be Kathryn Schaffer, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago.

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KICP Members: Kathryn K. Schaffer
 
Slacker Astronomy's Podcast interview with Brant Robertson
Slacker Astronomy, March 28, 2008
Slacker Astronomy

We have a new show! Doug and I had a great chat with Brant Robertson, who is a Spitzer Fellow doing research at The Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. Brant is a theoretical astrophysicist involved with computer simulations of the evolution of galaxies.

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KICP Members: Brant E. Robertson
 
South Pole telescope peers heavenward for dark energy
Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2008
by William Mullen, Los Angeles Times

Anywhere on Earth this would be a big telescope, as tall as a seven-story building, with a main mirror measuring 32 1/2 feet across. But here at the South Pole, it seems especially large, looming over a barren plain of ice that gets colder than anywhere else on the planet.

Scientists built the instrument at the end of the world so they can search for clues that might identify the most powerful, plentiful but elusive substance in the universe: dark energy.

First described just nine years ago, dark energy is a mysterious force so powerful that it will decide the fate of the universe. Having already overruled the laws of gravity, it is pushing galaxies away from one another, causing the universe to expand at an ever faster rate.

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Scientific projects: South Pole Telescope (SPT)
 
Astronomy professor observes opportunity to teach his class from Andes mountaintop
The University of Chicago Chronicle, April 7, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago Chronicle

Michael Gladders presented two lectures to his "Astronomy and Astrophysics of Stars" class last year from a mountaintop in the Andes Mountains of South America.

Gladders had to be at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Andes to test an instrument for the twin 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes in October 2007, so he connected with his 64 students back on campus via an Internet audio-video connection.

"I looked upon it as an opportunity to bring the class into something at a level where normally they’d never have that experience," said Gladders, Assistant Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College.

Competition is keen among astronomers for viewing time on telescopes at major observatories like Las Campanas in Chile. The applicants fortunate enough to receive time usually accept whatever dates they are offered.

"There's not a lot of flexibility," Gladders said.

Gladders began working on the instrument he calls the "image slicer" three years ago, while he served as a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Observatories. But his colleagues refer to it as GISMO—the Gladders Image-Slicing Multi-Slit Option. "The design was entirely Mike's," said Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Observatories, who coined the device's name.

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KICP Members: Michael D. Gladders
 
The Hubble Stamp
Chicago Public radio, April 30, 2008
Chicago Public radio

Most people have heard of the Hubble Telescope. If you took a college astro class, maybe the Hubble Constant rings a bell. The namesake for those celestial phenomena grew up in the Chicago area. Edwin Hubble did some of his first work in physics at the University of Chicago. Today, his alma mater honors him by unveiling a U.S. postal stamp with his image. For a little more on Hubble's legacy, we reached Professor Edward "Rocky" Kolb, chair of U of C's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He says Hubble began as something of a jock, studied law and wound up as a high school teacher in Indiana. But even then, says Kolb, his mind was on the heavens.

The University of Chicago will officially unveil the recently released Edwin Hubble U.S. postage stamp today.

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KICP Members: Edward W. Kolb
 
Postal Service pays tribute to astronomer Edwin Hubble
The University of Chicago News Office, May 6, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago News Office

Chicago unveiling of commemorative stamp honoring University of Chicago alumnus Edwin Hubble.

Edward "Rocky" Kolb, Professor and Chairman, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago

James Mruk, Manager, Public Affairs and Communications, Great Lakes Area of the United States Postal Service

In March, the U.S. Postal Service acknowledged some of the most impressive scientific achievements of the 20th century with the issue of its second series of American Scientists stamps. Astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), alumnus of the University of Chicago (S.B., 1910, Ph.D., 1917), played a pivotal role in deciphering the vast and complex nature of the universe. His meticulous studies of spiral nebulae proved the existence of galaxies other than our own Milky Way, paving the way for a revolutionary new understanding that the cosmos contains myriad separate galaxies or “island universes.”

The local unveiling of the Edwin Hubble stamp will take place before the weekly colloquium of the University’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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KICP Members: Edward W. Kolb
 
University to create Center for Physical, Computational Sciences
The University of Chicago Chronicle, June 12, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago Chronicle

The University Board of Trustees has approved HOK as architect for the proposed Center for Physical and Computational Sciences. HOK, a firm with 26 regional offices worldwide, including one in Chicago, has completed several major science and technology projects in recent years.

The estimated $375 million center will encompass half a million square feet of new and renovated space on the west side of Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. The scientists who will move into the center currently work in multiple buildings that are either poorly connected or scattered across campus.

"It's difficult for the scientists to interact with one another, and now their work is more important than ever," said Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division.

The center will provide space for three departments: Astronomy & Astrophysics, Physics and Computer Science; and four physical sciences institutes: the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, the Computation Institute, the Enrico Fermi Institute and the James Franck Institute. Construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2010, with completion in spring 2013.

"The departments and institutes serviced by this ambitious project are gems of the University. These units impact more than just research in the Physical Sciences," said Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics and the College.

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Slacker Astronomy: Juan Collar and Detecting Dark Matter
Slacker Astronomy, June 16, 2008
Slacker Astronomy

We bring you another fascinating cosmology interview with a genius over at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. This time we speak to Juan Collar, a name that I am, apparently, incapable of saying. He leads a group at Kavli which is pursuing several experimental approaches to detecting dark matter in the lab.

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KICP Members: Juan I. Collar
 
A $20 million gift, an ambitious agenda in science
The University of Chicago News Office, July 17, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago News Office

University of Chicago scholars have traditionally taken pride in breaking through academic boundaries to get at the solutions to challenging problems. That approach paid off for Chicago futures trader William Eckhardt, SM '70, who studied mathematics and philosophy as a graduate student at the University.

"That helped in my business because I found myself in a position where I had to invent a theory of trade. This really hadn't happened before," says Eckhardt, who received his master's degree in mathematics from the University in 1970.

Theory of Trade
Eckhardt's studies in the philosophy of science helped him to understand how to build a valid new theory of trade. For nearly three decades, he has extensively researched futures price action and has developed many technical trading systems.

Now Eckhardt has donated $20 million to the University to benefit the Physical Sciences Division, a gift inspired by a major program to build new fields of scientific expertise and expand existing efforts.

Center for Physical and Computational Sciences
The University’s Board of Trustees has endorsed plans to make significant investments in scientific programs that will span the biological, physical and social sciences.

These plans include construction of the Center for Physical and Computational Sciences, an initiative in applied mathematics and computation, and greatly expanded programs in genomics and personalized medicine and in the neurosciences. The University also is considering a faculty proposal to establish a new molecular engineering institute.

"As one of our own alumni, Bill Eckhardt possess a deep appreciation for the University's long-standing, multi-disciplinary approach that fosters work across the boundaries of science," says University President Robert Zimmer. "His gift will have a galvanizing impact on the ability of our scientists to carry out their most innovative work."

University of Chicago Trustee Thomas Pritzker says: We are in a time of revolutionary change in science and technology that is fundamentally altering how we understand our world. The University of Chicago will invest heavily to provide agenda-setting leadership in fields that are on the cusp of discovery."

Many of the University's science initiatives are focused on a paradigm shift that characterizes some of the most exciting areas of science today-a systems approach that allows understanding based upon not only the knowledge of the behavior of individual components, but in addition, how these components interact and fit together into a larger structure. In these systems, multiple, interacting components give rise to properties of the whole that are incomprehensible to studies that view parts in isolation.

William Eckhardt Research Institutes
The Research Institutes building will become a major venue for the University's research in systems-level science. The University will rename the Research Institutes building the William Eckhardt Research Institutes building in Eckhardt's honor, following its renovation. The Eckhardt Research Institutes building will be a major component of the new Center for Physical and Computational Sciences, with construction scheduled to begin in fall 2010. The Center will consist of a seamless structure on the west side of Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. The University has selected HOK as the architect.

The Center will house the Computation Institute, the Enrico Fermi Institute, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and part of the James Franck Institute, along with the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Department of Computer Science.

"The tremendous generosity of Bill Eckhardt will make a major impact on the great science done at the University," says Robert Fefferman, Dean of the University of Chicago's Physical Sciences Division. "We can expect some of the most fundamental discoveries of the future to take place in the Eckhardt Research Institutes building, just as they have taken place in the Research Institutes since the time of Enrico Fermi. The list of individuals who have occupied this building reads like a 'who's who' of 20th-century science and, we anticipate, will be the home of the leading scientists of the next century."

A "Market Wizard"
Eckhardt holds two mathematics degrees, a master's from the University of Chicago (1970), and a bachelor's from DePaul University (1969). He is chairman and CEO of Eckhardt Trading Company and was among the traders featured in the book The New Market Wizards, by Jack Schwager, published in 1992.

"We as individuals and collectively as a society must divide our giving between the support of urgent, current necessities, and incremental, lasting contributions," Eckhardt says. "My contribution to the University of Chicago is an investment in science, in the future, in the understanding of our world."

As a graduate student at the University, Eckhardt worked closely with the late Saunders Mac Lane, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Mathematics. Eckhardt says he regarded Mac Lane as "one of the brightest lights I’ve ever known," and the University of Chicago as "one of the great universities of the world."

Eckhardt co-founded C & D Commodities with Richard Dennis in 1978, and they operated it together until 1987. Eckhardt established Eckhardt Trading Company in 1991; the firm currently manages more than $800 million in accounts.

He joined the Physical Sciences Visiting Committee at the University in 2006. He also serves on the International Advisory Board of the Pacific Institute of Theoretical Physics.

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$270,000 in seed grants awarded to joint Fermilab - University of Chicago Strategic Collaborative Initiatives
The University of Chicago News Office, July 28, 2008
by Lisa La Vallee, The University of Chicago News Office

Scientists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have been awarded $270,000 for new and continued joint research projects through the University’s Strategic Collaborative Initiatives (SCI) program for Fermilab. The research projects cover a broad range of studies and include, in one case, collaboration with an Argonne scientist.

Proposals receiving SCI grants and their principal investigators are:

* "Fundamental Studies of the Interfacial Oxidation Chemistry of Niobium and the Influence Such Oxidation Has on High-performance Superconducting RF Materials," Steven J. Sibener, Carl William Eisendrath Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Director, The James Franck Institute, The University of Chicago; and Lance Cooley, SRF Materials Group Leader, Technical Division, Fermilab
* "The Development of Ultra-Fast Timing Detectors," Henry Frisch, Professor, Department of Physics and Enrico Fermi Institute; Erik Ramberg, Scientist II, Particle Physics Division, Fermilab, and Karen Byrum, Scientist, High Energy Physics Division, Argonne
* "Absolute Measurement of Air Fluorescence Yield for Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays," Paolo Privitera, Professor, Astronomy and Astrophysics, The University of Chicago; and Carlos Hojvat, Scientist II, Particle Physics Division, Fermilab

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KICP Members: Paolo Privitera
 
NASA names gamma-ray telescope after Enrico Fermi
The University of Chicago News Office, August 28, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago News Office

NASA's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope has joined the constellation of satellites named after University of Chicago scientists. Today, NASA announced that the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope will be called the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

"This satellite will collect gamma rays from the most energetic regions of our galaxy and beyond," said Simon Swordy, Director of the University of Chicago's Enrico Fermi Institute.

"Working in the Research Institutes building on Ellis Avenue in the late 1940s, Enrico Fermi produced the first quantitative ideas on how cosmic particles could reach the enormous energies needed to produce these cosmic-gamma rays. It is wonderful to hear that NASA has decided to dedicate this satellite to him."

NASA launched the telescope on a Delta II rocket on June 11. The telescope's mission is to collect data on black holes, gamma-ray bursts—the most powerful explosions in the universe—and other cosmic phenomena produced at extreme energies.

Fermi received the Nobel Prize in 1938 for his discovery of new radioactive elements produced by the addition of neutrons to the cores of atoms, and for the discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slowly moving neutrons.

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KICP Members: Simon P. Swordy
Scientific projects: Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (Fermi)
 
Luce fellow works to add new knowledge about universe
The University of Chicago Chronicle, December 1, 2008
by Greg Borzo, The University of Chicago Chronicle

Determined to help unravel some of the mysteries of the universe, Fields is working with Juan Collar, Associate Professor in Physics, on an experiment to determine whether neutrinos are their own antimatter. An antimatter particle has the same mass but the opposite charge as its counterpart particle. Most particles have distinct antiparticles, but photons, for example, are their own antiparticle.

In another experiment, Fields, Collar and his colleagues at the University and collaborators at other universities are attempting to observe Weakly Interactive Massive Particles, commonly referred to as WIMPs. That can be pretty tough since no one knows whether they exist.

WIMPs are thought to be dark matter, an invisible form of matter that emits little or no detectable radiation. Dark matter is not well understood, but it may be largely composed of a variety of subatomic particles that have not yet been discovered.

“As dark matter candidates, WIMPs should be around us all the time,” Fields said. “WIMPs usually pass right through matter, but scientists theorize that if one scattered off an atomic nucleus, the nuclear recoil would excite electron hole pairs, which could be detected.”

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KICP Members: Juan I. Collar
 
Study of galaxy clusters detects growth-stifling dark energy
The University of Chicago News Office, December 16, 2008
by Steve Koppes, The University of Chicago News Office

Like referees with different vantage points concurring on an important call in a tight football game, an international team of cosmologists has independently confirmed the accelerating expansion of the universe.

A decade ago, astronomers studying the relatively uniform brightness of exploding stars to estimate cosmic distances discovered that the expansion of the universe appeared to be accelerating. Gravity should have been causing the expansion, which followed the big bang, to become slower with time. This gave rise to the mystery of dark energy, the unknown force theoretically responsible for the acceleration.

Now cosmologists, including the University of Chicago's Andrey Kravtsov, have come to the same conclusion via a completely different method: tracing the evolution of galaxy clusters. Often containing hundreds of galaxies, these clusters are the largest visible masses in the cosmos that are held together by gravity.

"This result could be described as 'arrested development of the universe,'" said Alexey Vikhlinin of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., who led the research. "Whatever is forcing the expansion of the universe to speed up is also forcing its development to slow down."

The cosmologists will publish their findings in the Feb. 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. They announced their findings during a Dec. 16 news conference organized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Vikhlinin and his colleagues used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to observe the hot gas in dozens of galaxy clusters. Some of these clusters are relatively nearby, while others are more than halfway across the universe. The observatory is named for the late University of Chicago Professor Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who received the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The galaxy cluster data align with a universe dominated by dark energy. It is more difficult for galaxy clusters to grow when space is stretched, as caused by dark energy. Dark energy is invisible, but the cluster evolution traced by the Chandra observations clearly reveals the force's presence via its influence on evolution of galaxy clusters in the last six billion years.

Computer simulations of galaxy cluster evolution performed by University of Chicago alumnus Daisuke Nagai, Ph.D.,'05, now an Assistant Professor at Yale University, and Andrey Kravtsov, Associate Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, provided the theoretical underpinning for the analysis and interpretation of the Chandra data. The current paper on cosmological constraints is the most recent in a series of related studies that Vikhlinin, Kravtsov and Nagai have published together in the last three years.

The team's results strengthen the evidence that dark energy is the cosmological constant, a steady force operating pervasively throughout the universe. "This is remarkable because there is no particular known reason why it should be so," said Kravtsov, who is also a senior member of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago.

Einstein considered the cosmological constant to be one of his greatest blunders. He introduced the factor into his theory of general relativity to accommodate a stationary universe, the dominant idea of his day. But his constant fits nicely into the modern concept of an expanding universe, a product of the big bang theory and all existing observations.

Although the constant is a leading candidate to explain dark energy, theoretical work suggests that it should be about 10120 (1 followed by 120 zeroes) times larger than observed. This led scientists to seek alternatives to general relativity, including theories involving hidden dimensions.

"A lot more testing is needed, but so far Einstein's theory is looking as good as ever," Vikhlinin said.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

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KICP Members: Andrey V. Kravtsov