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  • richardmitnick 7:23 am on August 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “Sibling Stars” 


    European Southern Observatory

    19 August 2015
    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1

    Open star clusters like the one seen here are not just perfect subjects for pretty pictures. Most stars form within clusters and these clusters can be used by astronomers as laboratories to study how stars evolve and die. The cluster captured here by the Wide Field Imager (WFI) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory is known as IC 4651, and the stars born within it now display a wide variety of characteristics.

    The loose speckling of stars in this new ESO image is the open star cluster IC 4651, located within the Milky Way, in the constellation of Ara (The Altar), about 3000 light-years away. The cluster is around 1.7 billion years old — making it middle-aged by open cluster standards. IC 4651 was discovered by Solon Bailey, who pioneered the establishment of observatories in the high dry sites of the Andes, and it was catalogued in 1896 by the Danish–Irish astronomer John Louis Emil Dreyer.

    The Milky Way is known to contain over a thousand of these open clusters, with more thought to exist, and many have been studied in great depth. Observations of star clusters like these have furthered our knowledge of the formation and evolution of the Milky Way and the individual stars within it. They also allow astronomers to test their models of how stars evolve.

    The stars in IC 4651 all formed around the same time out of the same cloud of gas [1]. These sibling stars are only bound together very loosely by their attraction to one another and also by the gas between them. As the stars within the cluster interact with other clusters and clouds of gas in the galaxy around them, and as the gas between the stars is either used up to form new stars or blown away from the cluster, the cluster’s structure begins to change. Eventually, the remaining mass in the cluster becomes small enough that even the stars can escape. Recent observations of IC 4651 showed that the cluster contains a mass of 630 times the mass of the Sun [2] and yet it is thought that it initially contained at least 8300 stars, with a total mass 5300 times that of the Sun.

    As this cluster is relatively old, a part of this lost mass will be due to the most massive stars in the cluster having already reached the ends of their lives and exploded as supernovae. However, the majority of the stars that have been lost will not have died, but merely moved on. They will have been stripped from the cluster as it passed by a giant gas cloud or had a close encounter with a neighbouring cluster, or even simply drifted away.

    A fraction of these lost stars may still be gravitationally bound to the cluster and surround it at a great distance. The remaining lost stars will have migrated away from the cluster to join others, or have settled elsewhere in the busy Milky Way. The Sun was probably once part of a cluster like IC 4651, until it and all its siblings were gradually separated and spread across the Milky Way.

    This image was taken using the Wide Field Imager [WFI]. This camera is permanently mounted at the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory. It consists of several CCD detectors with a total of 67 million pixels and can observe an area as large as the full Moon. The instrument allows observations from visible light to the near infrared, with more than 40 filters available. For this image, only three of these filters were used.

    ESO Wide Field Imager 2.2m LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    ESO 2.2 meter telescope interior
    MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope
    Notes

    [1] Although many of the stars captured here belong to IC 4651, most of the very brightest in the picture actually lie between us and the cluster and most of the faintest ones are more distant.

    [2] This quantity is in fact much larger than the numbers quoted by previous studies which surveyed smaller regions, leaving out many of the cluster’s stars that lie further from its core.

    See the full article here.

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 5:43 am on July 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “First Detection of Lithium from an Exploding Star” 


    European Southern Observatory

    29 July 2015
    Luca Izzo
    Sapienza University of Rome/ICRANet
    Pescara, Italy
    Email: luca.izzo@gmail.com

    Massimo Della Valle
    INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte
    Naples, Italy
    Email: dellavalle@na.astro.it

    Luca Pasquini
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6792
    Email: lpasquin@eso.org

    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1

    The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain the mystery of why many young stars seem to have more of this chemical element than expected. This new finding fills in a long-missing piece in the puzzle representing our galaxy’s chemical evolution, and is a big step forward for astronomers trying to understand the amounts of different chemical elements in stars in the Milky Way.

    The light chemical element lithium is one of the few elements that is predicted to have been created by the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. But understanding the amounts of lithium observed in stars around us today in the Universe has given astronomers headaches. Older stars have less lithium than expected [1], and some younger ones up to ten times more [2].

    Since the 1970s, astronomers have speculated that much of the extra lithium found in young stars may have come from novae — stellar explosions that expel material into the space between the stars, where it contributes to the material that builds the next stellar generation. But careful study of several novae has yielded no clear result up to now.

    A team led by Luca Izzo (Sapienza University of Rome, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) has now used the FEROS instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, as well the PUCHEROS spectrograph on the ESO 0.5-metre telescope at the Observatory of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santa Martina near Santiago, to study the nova Nova Centauri 2013 (V1369 Centauri). This star exploded in the southern skies close to the bright star Beta Centauri in December 2013 and was the brightest nova so far this century — easily visible to the naked eye [3].

    ESO FEROS
    FEROS

    The very detailed new data revealed the clear signature of lithium being expelled at two million kilometres per hour from the nova [4]. This is the first detection of the element ejected from a nova system to date.

    Co-author Massimo Della Valle (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) explains the significance of this finding: “It is a very important step forward. If we imagine the history of the chemical evolution of the Milky Way as a big jigsaw, then lithium from novae was one of the most important and puzzling missing pieces. In addition, any model of the Big Bang can be questioned until the lithium conundrum is understood.”

    The mass of ejected lithium in Nova Centauri 2013 is estimated to be tiny (less than a billionth of the mass of the Sun), but, as there have been many billions of novae in the history of the Milky Way, this is enough to explain the observed and unexpectedly large amounts of lithium in our galaxy.

    Authors Luca Pasquini (ESO, Garching, Germany) and Massimo Della Valle have been looking for evidence of lithium in novae for more than a quarter of a century. This is the satisfying conclusion to a long search for them. And for the younger lead scientist there is a different kind of thrill:

    “It is very exciting,” says Luca Izzo, “to find something that was predicted before I was born and then first observed on my birthday in 2013!”

    Notes

    [1] The lack of lithium in older stars is a long-standing puzzle. Results on this topic include these press releases: eso1428, eso1235 and eso1132.

    [2] More precisely, the terms “younger” and “older” are used to refer to what astronomers call Population I and Population II stars. The Population I category includes the Sun; these stars are rich in heavier chemical elements and form the disc of the Milky Way. Population II stars are older, with a low heavy-element content, and are found in the Milky Way Bulge and Halo, and globular star clusters. Stars in the “younger” Population I class can still be several billion years old!

    [3] These comparatively small telescopes, equipped with suitable spectrographs, are powerful tools for this kind of research. Even in the era of extremely large telescopes smaller telescopes dedicated to specific tasks can remain very valuable.

    [4] This high velocity, from the nova towards the Earth, means that the wavelength of the line in the absorption in the spectrum due to the presence of lithium is significantly shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum.

    This research was presented in a paper entitled Early optical spectra of Nova V1369 Cen show presence of lithium, by L. Izzo et al., published online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    The team is composed of Luca Izzo (Sapienza University of Rome, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy), Massimo Della Valle (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples; ICRANet, Pescara, Italy), Elena Mason (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Trieste, Trieste, Italy), Francesca Matteucci (Universitá di Trieste, Trieste, Italy), Donatella Romano (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, Bologna, Italy), Luca Pasquini (ESO, Garching bei Munchen, Germany), Leonardo Vanzi (Department of Electrical Engineering and Center of Astro Engineering, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Andres Jordan (Institute of Astrophysics and Center of Astro Engineering, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), José Miguel Fernandez (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Paz Bluhm (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Rafael Brahm (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Nestor Espinoza (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile) and Robert Williams (STScI, Baltimore, Maryland, USA).

    Research Paper

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

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    Visit ESO in Social Media-

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    ESO Bloc Icon

    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 11:08 am on July 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO HARPS, ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “Jupiter Twin Discovered Around Solar Twin” 


    European Southern Observatory

    15 July 2015
    Megan Bedell
    University of Chicago
    USA
    Tel: +1 518 488 9348
    Email: mbedell@oddjob.uchicago.edu

    Jorge Meléndez
    Universidade de São Paulo
    Brazil
    Tel: +55 11 3091 2840
    Email: jorge.melendez@iag.usp.br

    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1

    An international group of astronomers has used the ESO 3.6-metre telescope to identify a planet just like Jupiter orbiting at the same distance from a Sun-like star, HIP 11915. According to current theories, the formation of Jupiter-mass planets plays an important role in shaping the architecture of planetary systems. The existence of a Jupiter-mass planet in a Jupiter-like orbit around a Sun-like star opens the possibility that the system of planets around this star may be similar to our own Solar System. HIP 11915 is about the same age as the Sun and, furthermore, its Sun-like composition suggests that there may also be rocky planets orbiting closer to the star.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO 3.6 meter telescope with HARPS at LaSilla

    So far, exoplanet surveys have been most sensitive to planetary systems that are populated in their inner regions by massive planets, down to a few times the mass of the Earth [1]. This contrasts with our Solar System, where there are small rocky planets in the inner regions and gas giants like Jupiter farther out.

    According to the most recent theories, the arrangement of our Solar System, so conducive to life, was made possible by the presence of Jupiter and the gravitational influence this gas giant exerted on the Solar System during its formative years. It would seem, therefore, that finding a Jupiter twin is an important milestone on the road to finding a planetary system that mirrors our own.

    A Brazilian-led team has been targeting Sun-like stars in a bid to find planetary systems similar to our Solar System. The team has now uncovered a planet with a very similar mass to Jupiter [2], orbiting a Sun-like star, HIP 11915, at almost exactly the same distance as Jupiter. The new discovery was made using HARPS, one of the world’s most precise planet-hunting instruments, mounted on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    Although many planets similar to Jupiter have been found [3] at a variety of distances from Sun-like stars, this newly discovered planet, in terms of both mass and distance from its host star, and in terms of the similarity between the host star and our Sun, is the most accurate analogue yet found for the Sun and Jupiter.

    The planet’s host, the solar twin HIP 11915, is not only similar in mass to the Sun, but is also about the same age. To further strengthen the similarities, the composition of the star is similar to the Sun’s. The chemical signature of our Sun may be partly marked by the presence of rocky planets in the Solar System, hinting at the possibility of rocky planets also around HIP 11915.

    According to Jorge Melendez, of the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, the leader of the team and co-author of the paper, “the quest for an Earth 2.0, and for a complete Solar System 2.0, is one of the most exciting endeavors in astronomy. We are thrilled to be part of this cutting-edge research, made possible by the observational facilities provided by ESO.” [4]

    Megan Bedell, from the University of Chicago and lead author of the paper, concludes: “After two decades of hunting for exoplanets, we are finally beginning to see long-period gas giant planets similar to those in our own Solar System thanks to the long-term stability of planet hunting instruments like HARPS. This discovery is, in every respect, an exciting sign that other solar systems may be out there waiting to be discovered.”

    Follow-up observations are needed to confirm and constrain the finding, but HIP 11915 is one of the most promising candidates so far to host a planetary system similar to our own.

    Notes

    [1] The current detection techniques are more sensitive to large or massive planets close to their host stars. Small and low-mass planets are mostly beyond our current capabilities. Giant planets that orbit far from their host star are also more difficult to detect. Consequently, many of the exoplanets we currently know are large and/or massive, and close to their stars.

    [2] The planet was discovered by measuring the slight wobble it imposes on its host star while orbiting around it. As the inclination of the planet’s orbit is not known, only a lower limit to its mass can be estimated. Note that the activity of the star, which is linked to the variations of its magnetic field, could possibly mimic the signal that is interpreted as the signature of the planet. The astronomers have performed all the known tests to investigate this possibility, but it is currently impossible to completely rule it out.

    [3] An example of another Jupiter Twin is the one around HD 154345, described here.

    [4] Since the signature of the Brazilian accession agreement in December 2010, Brazilian astronomer have had full access to the ESO observing facilities.

    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled The Solar Twin Planet Search II. A Jupiter twin around a solar twin, by M. Bedell et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    The team is composed of M. Bedell (Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA; Visiting Researcher at the Departamento de Astronomia do IAG/USP, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil), J. Meléndez (Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil), J. L. Bean (Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago), I. Ramírez (McDonald Observatory and Department of Astronomy, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA), M. Asplund (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, The Australian National University, Weston, Australia), A. Alves-Brito (Instituto de Fisica, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), L. Casagrande (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australia), S. Dreizler (Institut für Astrophysik, University of Göttingen, Germany), T. Monroe (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), L. Spina (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil) and M. Tucci Maia (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil).

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    Visit ESO in Social Media-

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    ESO Bloc Icon

    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 12:27 pm on July 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla, , ,   

    From ESO: “Biggest Explosions in the Universe Powered by Strongest Magnets” 


    European Southern Observatory

    8 July 2015
    Jochen Greiner
    Max-Planck Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
    Garching, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 30000 3847
    Email: jcg@mpe.mpg.de

    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1

    Observations from ESO’s La Silla and Paranal Observatories in Chile have for the first time demonstrated a link between a very long-lasting burst of gamma rays and an unusually bright supernova explosion. The results show that the supernova was not driven by radioactive decay, as expected, but was instead powered by the decaying super-strong magnetic fields around an exotic object called a magnetar. The results will appear in the journal Nature on 9 July 2015.

    Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are one of the outcomes associated with the biggest explosions to have taken place since the Big Bang. They are detected by orbiting telescopes that are sensitive to this type of high-energy radiation, which cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, and then observed at longer wavelengths by other telescopes both in space and on the ground.

    GRBs usually only last a few seconds, but in very rare cases the gamma rays continue for hours [1]. One such ultra-long duration GRB was picked up by the Swift satellite on 9 December 2011 and named GRB 111209A. It was both one of the longest and brightest GRBs ever observed.

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/Swift

    As the afterglow from this burst faded it was studied using both the GROND instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla and also with the X-shooter instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal. The clear signature of a supernova, later named SN 2011kl, was found. This is the first time that a supernova has been found to be associated with an ultra-long GRB [2].

    ESO GROND Instrument
    GROND

    ESO X-shooter
    X-shooter instrument

    The lead author of the new paper, Jochen Greiner from the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany explains: “Since a long-duration gamma-ray burst is produced only once every 10 000–100 000 supernovae, the star that exploded must be somehow special. Astronomers had assumed that these GRBs came from very massive stars — about 50 times the mass of the Sun — and that they signalled the formation of a black hole. But now our new observations of the supernova SN 2011kl, found after the GRB 111209A, are changing this paradigm for ultra-long duration GRBs.”

    In the favoured scenario of a massive star collapse (sometimes known as a Collapsar) the week-long burst of optical/infrared emission from the supernova is expected to come from the decay of radioactive nickel-56 formed in the explosion [3]. But in the case of GRB 111209A the combined GROND and VLT observations showed unambiguously for the first time that this could not be the case [4]. Other suggestions were also ruled out [5].

    The only explanation that fitted the observations of the supernova following GRB 111209A was that it was being powered by a magnetar — a tiny neutron star spinning hundreds of times per second and possessing a magnetic field much stronger than normal neutron stars, which are also known as radio pulsars [6]. Magnetars are thought to be the most strongly magnetised objects in the known Universe. This is the first time that such an unambiguous connection between a supernova and a magnetar has been possible.

    Paolo Mazzali, co-author of the study, reflects on the significance of the new findings: “The new results provide good evidence for an unexpected relation between GRBs, very bright supernovae and magnetars. Some of these connections were already suspected on theoretical grounds for some years, but linking everything together is an exciting new development.”

    “The case of SN 2011kl/GRB 111209A forces us to consider an alternative to the collapsar scenario. This finding brings us much closer to a new and clearer picture of the workings of GRBs,” concludes Jochen Greiner.
    Notes

    [1] Normal long-duration GRBs last between 2 and 2000 seconds. There are now four GRBs known with durations between 10 000–25 000 seconds — these are called ultra-long GRBs. There is also a distinct class of shorter-duration GRBs that are believed to be created by a different mechanism.

    [2] The link between supernovae and (normal) long-duration GRBs was established initially in 1998, mainly by observations at ESO observatories of the supernova SN 1998bw, and confirmed in 2003 with GRB 030329.

    [3] The GRB itself is thought to be powered by the relativistic jets produced by the star’s material collapsing onto the central compact object via a hot, dense accretion disc.

    [4] The amount of nickel-56 measured in the supernova with the GROND instrument is much too large to be compatible with the strong ultraviolet emission as seen with the X-shooter instrument.

    [5] Other suggested sources of energy to explain superluminous supernovae were shock interactions with the surrounding material — possibly linked to stellar shells ejected before the explosion — or a blue supergiant progenitor star. In the case of SN 2011kl the observations clearly exclude both of these options.

    [6] Pulsars make up the most common class of observable neutron stars, but magnetars are thought to develop magnetic field strengths that are 100 to 1000 times greater than those seen in pulsars.
    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled “A very luminous magnetar-powered supernova associated with an ultra-long gamma-ray burst”, by J. Greiner et al., to appear in the journal Nature on 9 July 2015.

    The team is composed of Jochen Greiner (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany [MPE]; Excellence Cluster Universe, Technische Universität München, Garching, Germany), Paolo A. Mazzali (Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England; Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Garching, Germany [MPA]), D. Alexander Kann (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Tautenburg, Germany), Thomas Krühler (ESO, Santiago, Chile) , Elena Pian (INAF, Institute of Space Astrophysics and Cosmic Physics, Bologna, Italy; Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy), Simon Prentice (Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England), Felipe Olivares E. (Departamento de Ciencias Fisicas, Universidad Andres Bello, Santiago, Chile), Andrea Rossi (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Tautenburg, Germany; INAF, Institute of Space Astrophysics and Cosmic Physics, Bologna, Italy), Sylvio Klose (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Tautenburg, Germany) , Stefan Taubenberger (MPA; ESO, Garching, Germany), Fabian Knust (MPE), Paulo M.J. Afonso (American River College, Sacramento, California, USA), Chris Ashall (Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England), Jan Bolmer (MPE; Technische Universität München, Garching, Germany), Corentin Delvaux (MPE), Roland Diehl (MPE), Jonathan Elliott (MPE; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), Robert Filgas (Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics, Czech Technical University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic), Johan P.U. Fynbo (DARK Cosmology Center, Niels-Bohr-Institut, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), John F. Graham (MPE), Ana Nicuesa Guelbenzu (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Tautenburg, Germany), Shiho Kobayashi (Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England), Giorgos Leloudas (DARK Cosmology Center, Niels-Bohr-Institut, University of Copenhagen, Denmark; Department of Particle Physics & Astrophysics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel), Sandra Savaglio (MPE; Universita della Calabria, Italy), Patricia Schady (MPE), Sebastian Schmidl (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Tautenburg, Germany), Tassilo Schweyer (MPE; Technische Universität München, Garching, Germany), Vladimir Sudilovsky (MPE; Harvard-Smithonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), Mohit Tanga (MPE), Adria C. Updike (Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA), Hendrik van Eerten (MPE) and Karla Varela (MPE)..

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

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    Visit ESO in Social Media-

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 2:09 pm on May 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “A Hole in the Sky” 


    European Southern Observatory

    4 May 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1

    Rather than showing spectacular objects, some of the most surprising images of the Universe instead focus on emptiness. This new image from the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope shows dark tentacles swirling outwards from a dark, blank spot of space in the centre of the frame, particularly conspicuous against the dense peppering of bright gold and red stars across the rest of the image.

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    ESO 2.2 meter telescope interior
    2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope

    ESO WFI LaSilla
    WFI

    This region is not a hole in the cosmos, or an empty patch of sky. The dark lanes are actually made up of thick, opaque dust lying between us and the packed star field behind it. This obscuring dust forms part of a dark molecular cloud, cold and dense areas where large quantities of dust and molecular gas mingle and block the visible light emitted by more distant stars.

    It is still unclear how these clouds form, but they are thought to be the very early stages of new star formation — in the future, the subject of this image may well collapse inwards on itself to form a new star system.

    Although the cloud in this image is a fairly anonymous resident of the nearby Universe — catalogued as LDN1774 — one of the most famous examples of a molecular cloud is the very similar Barnard 68, which lies some 500 light-years away from us.

    2
    This image shows a colour composite of visible and near-infrared images of the dark cloud Barnard 68 . It was obtained with the 8.2-m VLT ANTU telescope and the multimode FORS1 instrument in March 1999. At these wavelengths, the small cloud is completely opaque because of the obscuring effect of dust particles in its interior.

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO FORS1
    FORS

    Barnard 68 has been observed extensively using ESO telescopes, both in visible (eso9924a) and infrared light (eso9934, eso0102a). As shown in these different images, it is possible to probe through dark cosmic dust using infrared light, but visible-light observations such as those shown in this VLT image cannot see beyond the smokescreen.

    This image was taken by the Wide Field Imager, an instrument mounted on ESO’s 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla, Chile.

    See the full article http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1518a/.

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 6:29 am on April 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “First Exoplanet Visible Light Spectrum” 


    European Southern Observatory

    22 April 2015
    Jorge Martins
    Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço/Universidade do Porto
    Porto, Portugal
    Tel: +56 2 2463 3087
    Email: Jorge.Martins@iastro.pt

    Nuno Santos
    Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço/Universidade do Porto
    Porto, Portugal
    Tel: +351 226 089 893
    Email: Nuno.Santos@iastro.pt

    Stéphane Udry
    Observatoire de l’Université de Genève
    Geneva, Switzerland
    Tel: +41 22 379 24 67
    Email: stephane.udry@unige.ch

    Isabelle Boisse
    Aix Marseille Université
    Marseille, France
    Email: Isabelle.Boisse@lam.fr

    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Temp 1

    Astronomers using the HARPS planet-hunting machine at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile have made the first-ever direct detection of the spectrum of visible light reflected off an exoplanet. These observations also revealed new properties of this famous object, the first exoplanet ever discovered around a normal star: 51 Pegasi b. The result promises an exciting future for this technique, particularly with the advent of next generation instruments, such as ESPRESSO, on the VLT, and future telescopes, such as the E-ELT.

    The exoplanet 51 Pegasi b [1] lies some 50 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Pegasus. It was discovered in 1995 and will forever be remembered as the first confirmed exoplanet to be found orbiting an ordinary star like the Sun [2]. It is also regarded as the archetypal hot Jupiter — a class of planets now known to be relatively commonplace, which are similar in size and mass to Jupiter, but orbit much closer to their parent stars.

    Since that landmark discovery, more than 1900 exoplanets in 1200 planetary systems have been confirmed, but, in the year of the twentieth anniversary of its discovery, 51 Pegasi b returns to the ring once more to provide another advance in exoplanet studies.

    The team that made this new detection was led by Jorge Martins from the Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (IA) and the Universidade do Porto, Portugal, who is currently a PhD student at ESO in Chile. They used the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    ESO HARPS
    HARPS

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    3.6 meter telescope with HARPS

    ESO LaSilla Long View
    LaSilla

    Currently, the most widely used method to examine an exoplanet’s atmosphere is to observe the host star’s spectrum as it is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere during transit — a technique known as transmission spectroscopy. An alternative approach is to observe the system when the star passes in front of the planet, which primarily provides information about the exoplanet’s temperature.

    The new technique does not depend on finding a planetary transit, and so can potentially be used to study many more exoplanets. It allows the planetary spectrum to be directly detected in visible light, which means that different characteristics of the planet that are inaccessible to other techniques can be inferred.

    The host star’s spectrum is used as a template to guide a search for a similar signature of light that is expected to be reflected off the planet as it describes its orbit. This is an exceedingly difficult task as planets are incredibly dim in comparison to their dazzling parent stars.

    The signal from the planet is also easily swamped by other tiny effects and sources of noise [3]. In the face of such adversity, the success of the technique when applied to the HARPS data collected on 51 Pegasi b provides an extremely valuable proof of concept.

    Jorge Martins explains: “This type of detection technique is of great scientific importance, as it allows us to measure the planet’s real mass and orbital inclination, which is essential to more fully understand the system. It also allows us to estimate the planet’s reflectivity, or albedo, which can be used to infer the composition of both the planet’s surface and atmosphere.”

    51 Pegasi b was found to have a mass about half that of Jupiter’s and an orbit with an inclination of about nine degrees to the direction to the Earth [4]. The planet also seems to be larger than Jupiter in diameter and to be highly reflective. These are typical properties for a hot Jupiter that is very close to its parent star and exposed to intense starlight.

    HARPS was essential to the team’s work, but the fact that the result was obtained using the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, which has a limited range of application with this technique, is exciting news for astronomers. Existing equipment like this will be surpassed by much more advanced instruments on larger telescopes, such as ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the future European Extremely Large Telescope [5].

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    “We are now eagerly awaiting first light of the ESPRESSO spectrograph on the VLT so that we can do more detailed studies of this and other planetary systems,” concludes Nuno Santos, of the IA and Universidade do Porto, who is a co-author of the new paper.

    ESO Espresso
    Espresso instrument of the future

    Notes

    [1] Both 51 Pegasi b and its host star 51 Pegasi are among the objects available for public naming in the IAU’s NameExoWorlds contest.

    [2] Two earlier planetary objects were detected orbiting in the extreme environment of a pulsar.

    [3] The challenge is similar to trying to study the faint glimmer reflected off a tiny insect flying around a distant and brilliant light.

    [4] This means that the planet’s orbit is close to being edge on as seen from Earth, although this is not close enough for transits to take place.

    [5] ESPRESSO on the VLT, and later even more powerful instruments on much larger telescopes such as the E-ELT, will allow for a significant increase in precision and collecting power, aiding the detection of smaller exoplanets, while providing an increase in detail in the data for planets similar to 51 Pegasi b.
    More information

    This research was presented in a paper “Evidence for a spectroscopic direct detection of reflected light from 51 Peg b”, by J. Martins et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on 22 April 2015.

    The team is composed of J. H. C. Martins (IA and Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal; ESO, Santiago, Chile), N. C. Santos (IA and Universidade do Porto), P. Figueira (IA and Universidade do Porto), J. P. Faria (IA and Universidade do Porto), M. Montalto (IA and Universidade do Porto), I. Boisse (Aix Marseille Université, Marseille, France), D. Ehrenreich (Observatoire de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland), C. Lovis (Observatoire de Genève), M. Mayor (Observatoire de Genève), C. Melo (ESO, Santiago, Chile), F. Pepe (Observatoire de Genève), S. G. Sousa (IA and Universidade do Porto), S. Udry (Observatoire de Genève) and D. Cunha (IA and Universidade do Porto).

    See the full article here.

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 7:23 pm on January 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: All the Telescopes at LaSilla Annotated. Nice shot 


    European Southern Observatory

    1
    This image places La Silla beneath a clear blue sky along the horizon of the Atacama Desert. Annotations identify the individual telescopes, of which three three were built and are operated by the ESO. Several telescopes are located at the site and are partly maintained by ESO, making it one of the largest observatories in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Credit: ESO/José Francisco Salgado (josefrancisco.org)

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:34 am on January 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESO: “Where Did All the Stars Go?” 


    European Southern Observatory

    7 January 2015
    Richard Hook
    ESO education and Public Outreach Department
    Garching bei München, Germany

    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Some of the stars appear to be missing in this intriguing new ESO image. But the black gap in this glitteringly beautiful starfield is not really a gap, but rather a region of space clogged with gas and dust. This dark cloud is called LDN 483 — for Lynds Dark Nebula 483. Such clouds are the birthplaces of future stars. The Wide Field Imager, an instrument mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, captured this image of LDN 483 and its surroundings.

    ESO Wide Field Imager 2.2m LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO MPG 2.2 meter telescope
    MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope

    ESO LaSilla Long View
    ESO LaSilla

    l

    LDN 483 [1] is located about 700 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent). The cloud contains enough dusty material to completely block the visible light from background stars. Particularly dense molecular clouds, like LDN 483, qualify as dark nebulae because of this obscuring property. The starless nature of LDN 483 and its ilk would suggest that they are sites where stars cannot take root and grow. But in fact the opposite is true: dark nebulae offer the most fertile environments for eventual star formation.

    Astronomers studying star formation in LDN 483 have discovered some of the youngest observable kinds of baby stars buried in LDN 483’s shrouded interior. These gestating stars can be thought of as still being in the womb, having not yet been born as complete, albeit immature, stars.

    In this first stage of stellar development, the star-to-be is just a ball of gas and dust contracting under the force of gravity within the surrounding molecular cloud. The protostar is still quite cool — about –250 degrees Celsius — and shines only in long-wavelength submillimetre light [2]. Yet temperature and pressure are beginning to increase in the fledgling star’s core.

    This earliest period of star growth lasts a mere thousands of years, an astonishingly short amount of time in astronomical terms, given that stars typically live for millions or billions of years. In the following stages, over the course of several million years, the protostar will grow warmer and denser. Its emission will increase in energy along the way, graduating from mainly cold, far-infrared light to near-infrared and finally to visible light. The once-dim protostar will have then become a fully luminous star.

    As more and more stars emerge from the inky depths of LDN 483, the dark nebula will disperse further and lose its opacity. The missing background stars that are currently hidden will then come into view — but only after the passage of millions of years, and they will be outshone by the bright young-born stars in the cloud [3].
    Notes

    [1] The Lynds Dark Nebula catalogue was compiled by the American astronomer Beverly Turner Lynds, and published in 1962. These dark nebulae were found from visual inspection of the Palomar Sky Survey photographic plates.

    [2] The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), operated in part by ESO, observes in submillimetre and millimetre light and is ideal for the study of such very young stars in molecular clouds.

    [3] Such a young open star cluster can be seen here, and a more mature one here.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:00 am on December 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “Reflected Glory” 2011 


    European Southern Observatory

    16 February 2011

    Richard Hook
    ESO, La Silla, Paranal, E-ELT and Survey Telescopes Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    The nebula Messier 78 takes centre stage in this image taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, while the stars powering the bright display take a backseat. The brilliant starlight ricochets off dust particles in the nebula, illuminating it with scattered blue light. Igor Chekalin was the overall winner of ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition with his image of this stunning object.

    n

    ESO WFI LaSilla
    ESO WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    ESO 2.2 meter telescope interior
    MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope

    ESO LaSilla Long View
    ESO at LaSilla

    Messier 78 is a fine example of a reflection nebula. The ultraviolet radiation from the stars that illuminate it is not intense enough to ionise the gas to make it glow — its dust particles simply reflect the starlight that falls on them. Despite this, Messier 78 can easily be observed with a small telescope, being one of the brightest reflection nebulae in the sky. It lies about 1350 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter) and can be found northeast of the easternmost star of Orion’s belt.

    This new image of Messier 78 from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory is based on data selected by Igor Chekalin in his winning entry to the Hidden Treasures competition [1].

    The pale blue tint seen in the nebula in this picture is an accurate representation of its dominant colour. Blue hues are commonly seen in reflection nebulae because of the way the starlight is scattered by the tiny dust particles that they contain: the shorter wavelength of blue light is scattered more efficiently than the longer wavelength red light.

    This image contains many other striking features apart from the glowing nebula. A thick band of obscuring dust stretches across the image from the upper left to the lower right, blocking the light from background stars. In the bottom right corner, many curious pink structures are also visible, which are created by jets of material being ejected from stars that have recently formed and are still buried deep in dust clouds.

    Two bright stars, HD 38563A and HD 38563B, are the main powerhouses behind Messier 78. However, the nebula is home to many more stars, including a collection of about 45 low mass, young stars (less than 10 million years old) in which the cores are still too cool for hydrogen fusion to start, known as T Tauri stars. Studying T Tauri stars is important for understanding the early stages of star formation and how planetary systems are created.

    Remarkably, this complex of nebulae has also changed significantly in the last ten years. In February 2004 the experienced amateur observer Jay McNeil took an image of this region with a 75 mm telescope and was surprised to see a bright nebula — the prominent fan shaped feature near the bottom of this picture — where nothing was seen on most earlier images. This object is now known as McNeil’s Nebula and it appears to be a highly variable reflection nebula around a young star.

    This colour picture was created from many monochrome exposures taken through blue, yellow/green and red filters, supplemented by exposures through an H-alpha filter that shows light from glowing hydrogen gas. The total exposure times were 9, 9, 17.5 and 15.5 minutes per filter, respectively.
    Notes

    [1] Igor Chekalin from Russia uncovered the raw data for this image of Messier 78 in ESO’s archives in the competition Hidden Treasures (eso1102). He processed the raw data with great skill, claiming first prize in the contest for his final image (Flickr link). ESO’s team of in-house image processing experts then independently processed the raw data at full resolution to produce the image shown here.

    See the full article here.

    Seethe recent short here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:57 am on December 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “The Hot Blue Stars of Messier 47” 


    European Southern Observatory

    17 December 2014
    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    This spectacular image of the star cluster Messier 47 was taken using the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This young open cluster is dominated by a sprinkling of brilliant blue stars but also contains a few contrasting red giant stars.

    s

    ESO WFI LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope

    ESO LaSilla Long View
    LaSilla

    Messier 47 is located approximately 1600 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Puppis (the poop deck of the mythological ship Argo). It was first noticed some time before 1654 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna and was later independently discovered by Charles Messier himself, who apparently had no knowledge of Hodierna’s earlier observation.

    Although it is bright and easy to see, Messier 47 is one of the least densely populated open clusters. Only around 50 stars are visible in a region about 12 light-years across, compared to other similar objects which can contain thousands of stars.

    Messier 47 has not always been so easy to identify. In fact, for years it was considered missing, as Messier had recorded the coordinates incorrectly. The cluster was later rediscovered and given another catalogue designation — NGC 2422. The nature of Messier’s mistake, and the firm conclusion that Messier 47 and NGC 2422 are indeed the same object, was only established in 1959 by Canadian astronomer T. F. Morris.

    The bright blue–white colours of these stars are an indication of their temperature, with hotter stars appearing bluer and cooler stars appearing redder. This relationship between colour, brightness and temperature can be visualised by use of the Planck curve. But the more detailed study of the colours of stars using spectroscopy also tells astronomers a lot more — including how fast the stars are spinning and their chemical compositions. There are also a few bright red stars in the picture — these are red giant stars that are further through their short life cycles than the less massive and longer-lived blue stars [1].

    p
    Planck curve

    By chance Messier 47 appears close in the sky to another contrasting star cluster — Messier 46. Messier 47 is relatively close, at around 1600 light-years, but Messier 46 is located around 5500 light-years away and contains a lot more stars, with at least 500 stars present. Despite containing more stars, it appears significantly fainter due to its greater distance.

    Messier 46 could be considered to be the older sister of Messier 47, with the former being approximately 300 million years old compared to the latter’s 78 million years. Consequently, many of the most massive and brilliant of the stars in Messier 46 have already run through their short lives and are no longer visible, so most stars within this older cluster appear redder and cooler.

    This image of Messier 47 was produced as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme [2].

    Notes

    [1] The lifetime of a star depends primarily on its mass. Massive stars, containing many times as much material as the Sun, have short lives measured in millions of years. On the other hand much less massive stars can continue to shine for many billions of years. In a cluster, the stars all have about the same age and same initial chemical composition. So the brilliant massive stars evolve quickest, become red giants sooner, and end their lives first, leaving the less massive and cooler ones to long outlive them.

    [2] The ESO Cosmic Gems programme is an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    ESO, European Southern Observatory, builds and operates a suite of the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes.

     
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