'Waiting for the Snow' to debut at West campus

January 12, 2011

The original theatrical production “Waiting for the Snow” will debut Jan. 21-22 at ASU’s West campus. Performances are free and reservations are suggested.

“Waiting for the Snow” is created and performed by ASU students, alumni and community members. The production is an interdisciplinary collaboration of the Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies (HArCS) division of ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

The play is written by graduating senior Jaimi Deanne Garcia as a culminating independent study project. Garcia developed the play under the guidance of New College faculty members Julie Amparano and Charles St. Clair. ASU West alumna Michele Lefevre returns to the theater in her directorial debut. 

“Waiting for the Snow” addresses the generational effects of war and questions its cyclical impact on the future, Garcia said. Do children who experience war and civil unrest repeat the actions of their parents? The play attempts to answer this question through the journey of four childhood friends beginning with the 1989 Romanian revolution and the choices each make in post-revolution life. A natural born leader becomes a soldier; an eager entrepreneur makes a deal he regrets; an ideological dreamer trusts in the law; and the weakest link takes the fall.

“Each generation has their own challenges to face, obstacles to overcome, and moments to define history,” Garcia said. “The journey, no matter which path it takes or where it ends, contains one resounding truth: Hope resides in the future. We invite audience members to discover the journey four friends bound by brotherhood take in the pursuit of revolution, revelation and redemption.”

Performances of “Waiting for the Snow” are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Jan. 21 and 22, in Second Stage West, lower level of the University Center Building. ASU’s West campus is located at 4701 W. Thunderbird Road in Phoenix.

To reserve free tickets, call (602) 543-ARTS (2787).

Cosmic magnifying lenses distort view of distant galaxies

January 12, 2011

Looking deep into space, and literally peering back in time, is like experiencing the universe in a house of mirrors where everything is distorted through a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing occurs when light from a distant object is distorted by a massive object that is in the foreground.

Astronomers have started to apply this concept in a new way to determine the number of very distant galaxies and to measure dark matter in the universe. Though recent progress has been made in extending the use of gravitational lensing, a letter published in Nature on Jan. 13 makes the case that the tool may be even more necessary than originally thought when looking at distant galaxies. Download Full Image

Albert Einstein showed that gravity will cause light to bend. The effect is normally extremely small, but when light passes close to a very massive object such as a massive galaxy, a galaxy cluster, or a supermassive black hole, the bending of the light rays becomes more easily noticeable.

When light from a very distant object passes a galaxy much closer to us, it can detour around the foreground object. Typically, the light bends around the object in one of two, or four different routes, thus magnifying the light from the more distant galaxy directly behind it. This natural telescope, called a gravitational lens, provides a larger and brighter – though also distorted – view of the distant galaxy. These distortions, which stretch beyond the limits of the Hubble Space Telescope, can be effectively handled by a new space telescope on the drawing boards – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

A very massive object – or collection of objects – distorts the view of faint objects beyond it so much that the distant images are smeared into multiple arc-shaped images around the foreground object. According to Rogier Windhorst, one of the letter’s authors and a professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, this effect is analogous to looking through a glass coke bottle at a light on a balcony and noticing how it is distorted as it passes through the bottle. Cosmologists such as Windhorst believe that gravitational lensing likely distorted the measurements of the flux and number density of the most distant galaxies seen in the recent deep near-IR surveys with the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3.

When you look back to when the universe was young, you are seeing extremely early objects (also known as "First Light’’ objects) that are very far away. The older and farther away the object, the more foreground universe there is to look through, which means the greater the chance that there will be something heavy in the foreground to distort the background image. This research suggests that gravitational lensing is likely to dominate the observed properties of very early galaxies, those that are at most 650 million to 480 million years old. The halos of foreground galaxies when the universe was in its heydays of star formation (about 3 billion to 6 billion years old) will gravitationally distort most of these very early objects.

“The very distant universe is like a house of mirrors that you visit at the state fair – there may be fewer direct lines-of-sight to a very distant object, and their images may reach us more often via a gravitationally-bent path. What you see is not what you’ve got!’’

Future surveys will need to be designed to account for a significant gravitational lensing bias in high-redshift galaxy samples. Only the JWST – if it gets finished as designed – can ultimately make sense out of this gravitationally biased distant universe because it will have exquisite resolution and sensitivity at longer wavelengths to disentangle these very distant objects from the foreground lensing galaxies. This work is too hard to do with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 at redshifts z >= 10, because at Hubble’s resolution one literally can no longer see the forest for the trees at these extreme distances.

“Our suggestion of the possibility of large gravitational lensing biases in high redshift samples is of crucial importance to the optimal design of surveys for the first galaxies, which represent a central part of JWST’s mission,’’ Windhorst says. “This work clearly shows that we now need JWST – and its superb infrared resolution, dynamic range and sensitivity – more than ever to disentangle the First Light forest from the foreground trees.

"We will also need a next generation of object finding algorithms, since the current software is simply not designed to find these rare background objects behind such dense foregrounds. It’s like finding a few 'nano-needles' in the mother-of-all-haystacks.”

Nikki Cassis

marketing and communications director, School of Earth and Space Exploration