Scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington always seem to have something going on, and these days are no different.
From leading a $7.3 million national initiative to develop a more accurate predictor of the effects of space weather events — think solar flares — to helping manage the massive volume of data generated by the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, UTA physicists are involved in both applied research and big science.
Lately they’ve even helped astronomers — using the UTA Planetarium as a research tool — determine the age of an ancient lyrical poem about the heavens.
Here’s a look at those projects:
Space weather events such as solar flares can disrupt satellites and high-frequency radio communications used by the military, government, aviation, weather stations and maritime sea-to-shore services, for example.
UTA associate physics professor Yue Deng assembled a team from universities across the U.S. and wrote a proposal that won $7.3 million in Defense Department funding. The goal is to better predict energy distributions during space weather events to an accuracy of 1 degree longitude and 1 degree latitude — about 62 miles in each direction.
Current estimates of the energy entering the upper atmosphere during times of greatest solar output can be off by 100 percent. That can throw off the models used to predict trajectories and track satellites orbiting in a specific region by up to 30 percent, making GPS and communication systems unstable.
“This is a golden opportunity to help improve our ability to predict space weather effects with much higher accuracy and detail,” Deng said in a statement.
The five-year project involves physicists from the University of California, Los Angeles; Johns Hopkins University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Colorado at Boulder; University of New Mexico; and University of Texas at Dallas.
To boost space weather modeling we have to go to a smaller scale, spatially and temporally, which will require new physics as well as combining our current knowledge and models.
Yue Deng, UTA physics professor and project leader
“To boost space weather modeling we have to go to a smaller scale, spatially and temporally, which will require new physics as well as combining our current knowledge and models,” Deng said. “We will also have to take into account many new phenomena and processes to make this new global simulator effective.”
How important is the work? “UTA is leading a strategic national project that is key to the stability of our communications systems and our national security,” U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said in a statement.
The Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, has resumed smashing protons and collecting data, this time at the highest power ever generated for particle collisions. Officials hope to run the collider around the clock for the next six months and produce roughly 2 quadrillion collisions, six times more than in 2015 and almost the total recorded during the nearly three years of the collider’s first run, during which the Higgs boson was discovered. (The Higgs was the last particle predicted by the Standard Model; scientists now believe they may be on the brink of finding something that would go beyond that and throw theoretical particle physics on its head.)
The LHC, built after the superconducting supercollider near Waxahachie was defunded by Congress in 1993, is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. Its collisions create subatomic explosions that produce the fundamental building blocks of matter. ATLAS and the three other particle detectors located on the LHC’s ring allow scientists to record and study the properties of these building blocks and look for new fundamental particles and forces.
From 2010 to 2013, the LHC produced proton collisions at 8 trillion electron volts. In the spring of 2015, after a two-year shutdown, LHC operators ramped up the energy to 13 trillion electron volts, just shy of its maximum power.
Led by professor Kaushik De, director of UTA’s Center of Excellence in High Energy Physics, UT Arlington has played a key role in supporting the computing needed to manage the data generated in the ATLAS experiments worldwide, mainly the new Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The moon has set
And the Pleiades;
It is midnight,
The time is going by,
And I sleep alone.
That’s a translation of Midnight Poem, in which the lyric poet Sappho described the night sky over Greece more than 2,500 years ago.
Now UTA physicists and astronomers have used advanced software to accurately date the poem, confirming the work of other scholars. They described their research in an article published Friday in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. Martin George of the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand also participated in the work.
“This is an example of where the scientific community can make a contribution to knowledge described in important ancient texts,” UTA physics professor Manfred Cuntz, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Estimations had been made for the timing of this poem in the past, but we were able to scientifically confirm the season that corresponds to her specific descriptions of the night sky in the year 570 B.C.”
The poem describes a star cluster known as the Pleiades having set at around midnight, when supposedly observed by her from the Greek island of Lesbos.
Cuntz and co-author and astronomer Levent Gurdemir, director of the Planetarium at UTA, used advanced software to identify the earliest date that the Pleiades would have set at midnight or earlier in local time in 570 B.C. The Planetarium system Digistar 5 also allows creating the night sky of ancient Greece for Sappho’s place and time.
“Use of Planetarium software permits us to simulate the night sky more accurately on any date, past or future, at any location,” Gurdemir said in a statement. “This is an example of how we are opening up the Planetarium to research into disciplines beyond astronomy, including geosciences, biology, chemistry, art, literature, architecture, history and even medicine.”
The software demonstrated that in 570 B.C., the Pleiades set at midnight on Jan. 25, which would be the earliest date that the poem could relate to. As the year progressed, the Pleiades set progressively earlier.
This research helps to break down the traditional silos between science and the liberal arts, by using high-precision technology to accurately date ancient poetry.
Morteza Khaledi, dean of UTA’s College of Science
Sappho was the leading female poet of her time and closely rivaled Homer, UTA noted in its announcement.
“Sappho should be considered an informal contributor to early Greek astronomy as well as to Greek society at large,” Cuntz added. “Not many ancient poets comment on astronomical observations as clearly as she does.”