News and Events

What is that fuzzy streak extending from Mercury? Long exposures of our Solar System's innermost planet may reveal something unexpected: a tail. Mercury's thin atmosphere contains small amounts of sodium that glow when excited by light from the Sun. Sunlight also liberates these molecules from Mercury's surface and pushes them away. The yellow glow from sodium, in particular, is relatively bright. Pictured, Mercury and its sodium tail are visible in a deep image taken in late May from Italy through a filter that primarily transmits yellow light emitted by sodium. First predicted in the 1980s, Mercury's tail was first discovered in 2001. Many tail details were revealed in multiple observations by NASA's robotic MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015. Tails are usually associated with comets. The tails of Comet NEOWISE are currently visible with the unaided eye in the morning sky. Comet NEOWISE from Around the Globe: Notable Images Submitted to APOD
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Physical Science 100 Coordinator and Planetarium Director
Liz Finlayson, who is graduating from the Physics Teaching program, was recently highlighted in the APS Spring 2020 newsletter
New telescope installed in the campus dome on February 22, 2020
A new study from researchers at Brigham Young University and Pennsylvania State University provides the most accurate estimate of the number of Earth-like planets in the universe. The team looked at the frequency of planets that are similar to Earth in size and in distance from their host star, stars similar to our Sun. Knowing the rate that these potentially habitable planets occur will be important for designing future astronomical missions to characterize nearby rocky planets around Sun-like stars that could support life.

Selected Publications

BYU Authors: Benjamin A. Frandsen, Stella D. Nickerson, Austin D. Clark, Andrew Solano, Raju Baral, Johnny Williams, and Matthew Memmott, published in J. Nucl. Mater.

The structure of the molten salt (LiF)0.465(NaF)0.115(KF)0.42 (FLiNaK), a potential coolant for molten salt nuclear reactors, has been studied by ab initio molecular dynamics simulations and neutron total scattering experiments. We find that the salt retains well-defined short-range structural correlations out to approximately 9 Å at typical reactor operating temperatures. The experimentally determined pair distribution function can be described with quantitative accuracy by the molecular dynamics simulations. These results indicate that the essential ionic interactions are properly captured by the simulations, providing a launching point for future studies of FLiNaK and other molten salts for nuclear reactor applications.

BYU Authors: David F. Van Komen, Blaine M. Harker, Tracianne B. Neilsen, Kent L. Gee, S. Hales Swift, and Alan T. Wall, published in J. Acoust. Soc. Am.

Noise from a tactical aircraft can impact operations due to concerns regarding military personnel noise exposure and community annoyance and disturbance. The efficacy of mission planning can increase when the distinct, complex acoustic source mechanisms creating the noise are better understood. For each type of noise, equivalent acoustic source distributions are obtained from a tied-down F-35B operating at various engine conditions using the hybrid method for acoustic source imaging of Padois, Gauthier, and Berry [J. Sound Vib. 333, 6858–6868 (2014)]. The source distributions for the distinct noise types are obtained using different sections of a 71 element, ground-based linear array. Using a subarray close to the nozzle exit plane, source distributions are obtained for fine-scale turbulent mixing noise and broadband shock-associated noise, although grating lobes complicate interpretations at higher frequencies. Results for a subarray spanning the maximum sound region show that the multiple frequency peaks in tactical aircraft noise appear to originate from overlapping source regions. The observation of overlapping spatial extent of competing noise sources is supported by the coherence properties of the source distributions for the different subarrays.

BYU Authors: Michael C. Mortenson, Suzanna Gilbert, Tracianne B. Neilsen, Kent L. Gee, and Scott D. Sommerfeldt, published in J. Acoust. Soc. Am.

The traditional method for intensity-based sound power estimates often used in engineering applications is limited in bandwidth by microphone phase mismatch at low frequencies and by microphone spacing at high frequencies. To overcome these limitations, the Phase and Amplitude Gradient Estimator (PAGE) method [Gee, Neilsen, Sommerfeldt, Akamine, and Okamoto, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 141(4), EL357–EL362 (2017)] is applied to sound power for a reference sound source, a blender, and a vacuum cleaner. Sound power measurements taken according to ISO 3741:2010 (2010) are compared against traditional- and PAGE-processed intensity-based sound power estimates measured according to ANSI S12.12-1992 (R2017). While the traditional method underestimates the sound power at the spatial Nyquist frequency by 7–10 dB, the PAGE-based sound power is accurate up to the spatial Nyquist frequency, and above when phase unwrapping is successful.