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Flash Physics: Levenson new deputy head of US telescope body, πΚ atoms at CERN, simulating ‘monster pulsars’

09 Sep 2016 Tushna Commissariat

Flash Physics is our daily pick of the latest need-to-know developments from the global physics community selected by Physics World's team of editors and reporters

Looking ahead: Nancy Levenson

Nancy Levenson appointed deputy director of US telescope institute

Nancy Levenson has been appointed deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, taking up the position in early November. The Institute is the science operations centre for the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018. Levenson studied physics at Oxford before doing a Masters and PhD in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. A year after completing a postdoc at Johns Hopkins University in 2001, she moved to the University of Kentucky. Since 2009, she has been deputy director and head of science at the Gemini Observatory in La Serena, Chile.

πΚ atoms reach discovery status after nine-year effort at CERN

Atom-like bound states of π and Κ mesons have been discovered by physicists working on the DIRAC collaboration at CERN in Switzerland. The atoms come in two types – πΚ+ and π+Κ – and were first sighted by DIRAC in 2007. However, those measurements were far off the statistical significance of 5σ, which is required for discovery status in particle physics. Now, after nine years of effort to understand and reduce background effects and improve the detector set-up and response, the team has observed a total of 349 πΚ atoms with a significance of 5.6σ. The atoms are made by firing 24 GeV/c protons from CERN’s Proton Synchrotron into a thin nickel target. Further study of the atoms could lead to better computational strategies for using quantum chromodynamics to calculate the properties of particles (such as mesons) that are made of quarks. The work is described in Physical Review Letters.

Simulating ultra luminous ‘monster pulsars’

Researchers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) have used a supercomputer to recreate a “monster pulsar”. The team’s numerical simulations suggest that the main energy source of such pulsating “ultraluminous X-ray sources” (ULX) could be a neutron star. As ULXs are so bright, they were previously thought to be powered by black holes, but a 2014 observation of periodic pulsed emissions in a ULX puzzled astrophysicists, as black holes would not produce such pulsed emissions. On the other hand, a regular pulsar would be too faint to be a ULX. Led by Tomohisa Kawashima, the team performed simulations to see if there is some way the accretion columns of gas falling into a pulsar could flow smoothly and become hundreds of times brighter than normally allowed. The research is published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.

Researcher honoured for studies of glass under pressure

A scientist who developed new techniques for studying how glass-forming materials behave at high temperatures and pressures has won an award from the Society of Glass Technology. Anita Zeidler, a physicist at the University of Bath, UK, received the society’s Alastair Pilkington Award for using high-pressure neutron diffraction to investigate how and why increases in density lead to the collapse of the complex network structures found in glassy materials. Zeidler was presented with her award at the opening ceremony of the Society’s Centenary Conference earlier this week.

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