All posts by Callum Tyndall

Drone ship to recreate voyage of the Mayflower for 400th anniversary

A crowdfunding campaign is being launched to develop an autonomous ship to head up the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower from Plymouth, UK, to Plymouth, USA.

The original Mayflower carried the Pilgrims from England to America in 1620, meaning its landmark anniversary will be celebrated in 2020. The new campaign is looking to raise £300,000 for the next design and development stage.

When completed, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will be able to be controlled either by a computer or a shore-based captain utilising a virtual bridge. It will be sailed out of Plymouth via remote control, and will then switch to autonomous control to finish its voyage across the sea.

The ship will be powered by solar energy and will make use of emerging battery and renewable energy capture technologies. In addition, it will have unmanned aerial vehicles and life rafts onboard that can act as a first responder to emergency calls from other mariners.

A rendering of the autonomous ship, which will recreate the landmark voyage in four years time. Image and featured image courtesy of Bowater Communications

A rendering of the autonomous ship, which will recreate the landmark voyage in four years time. Image and featured image courtesy of Bowater Communications

Autonomy is appearing across the vehicle industry, with driverless cars in steady development and planes making use of heavy computer assistance. And while drone cargo ships are already in development, the MAS could well serve as the pilot project for smaller vessels.

Following its celebratory launch, the ship will be capable of various usages, perhaps most notably travelling to inhospitable parts of the world to conduct scientific research and collect data. If proved successful, more such ships could follow; their potential to go into areas otherwise hostile to humans offering up an attractive prospect to the scientific community, as well as others.

“So far we have the plans, the passion, the potential and now all we need is to get it to production,” explains Patrick Dowsett, who spent 30 years in the British Royal Navy, including time as the commander of HMS Northumberland.

“It is ground-breaking in so many ways and will put Plymouth on the global map for marine science excellence. We are offering everyone a chance to get involved in this incredible Devon project. This first stage will nail down the planning, the testing, the project development and the modelling to enable us to start the build of the real thing in 2018.”

A replica of the original Mayflower, which is based in the US. Image courtesy of Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

A replica of the original Mayflower, which is based in the US. Image courtesy of Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

In order to fund the next stage of development, which will include robust wave tank scale-model testing, the team behind the project have opened up a crowdfunding campaign that offers up such rewards as having you or your family’s name marked on the ship.

Larger rewards include invitations to the launch and other VIP events.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is a collaborative project between Plymouth submarine builder MSubs, Plymouth University and charitable marine research foundation Promare. It is hoped that the project will see the MAS serve as the flagship of the Mayflower 400 celebrations upon its launch.

One-upping Hubble: ALMA produces deepest, sharpest images of the early universe

The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), a group of European Southern Observatory-operated radio telescopes in Chile, has revealed images of the early universe at a depth and sharpness far greater than previous efforts.

ALMA is able to observe submillimetre wavelengths that allow astronomers to study not only the distant universe but extremely cold objects, such as the dense clouds of cosmic dust and gas from which stars and planets form.

International teams of astronomers used the ALMA to explore the distant corner of the universe first revealed by the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). The Hubble images were published in 2004 and were, at the time, the deepest images of the Universe that had been taken, revealing galaxies stretching back to less than a billion years after the Big Bang.

Using ALMA to observe this area for the first time both deeply and sharply in the millimetre range of wavelengths has allowed astronomers to see the glow from gas clouds, as well as the emissions resulting from warm dust in early universe galaxies. By combining this data with the HUDF images, the astronomers have produced the most detailed snapshot of the early universe ever assembled.

A close up of a portion of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, with additional detail imaged by ALMA visualised in orange. Image courtesy of B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble. Above: the wide view of HUDF, with ALMA's additions marked and circled in orange. Image courtesy of ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA/J. Dunlop et al. and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

A close up of a portion of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, with additional detail imaged by ALMA visualised in orange. Image courtesy of B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble. Above: the wide view of HUDF, with ALMA’s additions marked and circled in orange. Image courtesy of ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA/J. Dunlop et al. and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

The HUDF region has now been observed by ALMA for a rough total of 50 hours, the largest amount of observation time the array has spent on any one area. Several teams were involved in use of the array, studying various aspects of the HUDF.

One of the teams, led by Jim Dunlop of the University of Edinburgh, put together the first deep, homogeneous ALMA image of a region as large as the HUDF, allowing them to match up the detected galaxies with objects already seen with Hubble and other facilities. Doing so provided clear proof for the first time that a galaxy’s stellar mass is the best predictor of star formation rate in the high redshift Universe.

Jim Dunlop, lead author on the deep imaging paper, summed up its importance. “This is a breakthrough result,” he said. “For the first time we are properly connecting the visible and ultraviolet light view of the distant Universe from Hubble and far-infrared/millimetre views of the Universe from ALMA.”

The second team, led by Manuel Aravena of the Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales and Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, conducted a deeper search across roughly one sixth of the total HUDF.

Among their observations, they tailored their search to detect carbon monoxide rich galaxies, a strong indicator for star formation in regions. Despite being at the root of star formation activity, these molecular gas reservoirs are tricky to detect with Hubble’s equipment. ALMA’s greater range of wavelengths allows it to observe this “missing half” of galaxy formation.

“The new ALMA results imply a rapidly rising gas content in galaxies as we look back further in time,” added lead author of two of the papers, Manuel Aravena, from the Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile.

“This increasing gas content is likely the root cause for the remarkable increase in star formation rates during the peak epoch of galaxy formation, some 10 billion years ago.”