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  • richardmitnick 12:31 pm on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT, White Dwarf Lashes Red Dwarf with Mystery Ray   

    From ESO: “White Dwarf Lashes Red Dwarf with Mystery Ray” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    27 July 2016
    Tom Marsh
    Department of Physics, University of Warwick
    Coventry, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 24765 74739
    Email: t.r.marsh@warwick.ac.uk

    Boris Gänsicke
    Department of Physics, University of Warwick
    Coventry, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 24765 74741
    Email: Boris.Gaensicke@warwick.ac.uk

    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
    Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, along with other telescopes on the ground and in space, have discovered a new type of exotic binary star. In the system AR Scorpii a rapidly spinning white dwarf star powers electrons up to almost the speed of light. These high energy particles release blasts of radiation that lash the companion red dwarf star, and cause the entire system to pulse dramatically every 1.97 minutes with radiation ranging from the ultraviolet to radio. The research will be published in the journal Nature on 28 July 2016.

    In May 2015, a group of amateur astronomers from Germany, Belgium and the UK came across a star system that was exhibiting behaviour unlike anything they had ever encountered. Follow-up observations led by the University of Warwick and using a multitude of telescopes on the ground and in space [1], have now revealed the true nature of this previously misidentified system.

    The star system AR Scorpii, or AR Sco for short, lies in the constellation of Scorpius, 380 light-years from Earth. It comprises a rapidly spinning white dwarf [2], the size of Earth but containing 200 000 times more mass, and a cool red dwarf companion one third the mass of the Sun [3], orbiting one another every 3.6 hours in a cosmic dance as regular as clockwork.

    In a unique twist, this binary star system is exhibiting some brutal behaviour. Highly magnetic and spinning rapidly, AR Sco’s white dwarf accelerates electrons up to almost the speed of light. As these high energy particles whip through space, they release radiation in a lighthouse-like beam which lashes across the face of the cool red dwarf star, causing the entire system to brighten and fade dramatically every 1.97 minutes. These powerful pulses include radiation at radio frequencies, which has never been detected before from a white dwarf system.

    Lead researcher Tom Marsh of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics Group commented: “AR Scorpii was discovered over 40 years ago, but its true nature was not suspected until we started observing it in 2015. We realised we were seeing something extraordinary within minutes of starting the observations.”

    The observed properties of AR Sco are unique. They are also mysterious. The radiation across a broad range of frequencies is indicative of emission from electrons accelerated in magnetic fields, which can be explained by AR Sco’s spinning white dwarf. The source of the electrons themselves, however, is a major mystery — it is not clear whether it is associated with the white dwarf itself, or its cooler companion.

    AR Scorpii was first observed in the early 1970s and regular fluctuations in brightness every 3.6 hours led it to be incorrectly classified as a lone variable star [4]. The true source of AR Scorpii’s varying luminosity was revealed thanks to the combined efforts of amateur and professional astronomers. Similar pulsing behaviour has been observed before, but from neutron stars — some of the densest celestial objects known in the Universe — rather than white dwarfs.

    Boris Gänsicke, co-author of the new study, also at the University of Warwick, concludes: “We’ve known pulsing neutron stars for nearly fifty years, and some theories predicted white dwarfs could show similar behaviour. It’s very exciting that we have discovered such a system, and it has been a fantastic example of amateur astronomers and academics working together.”
    Notes

    [1] The observations underlying this research were carried out on: ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) located at Cerro Paranal, Chile; the William Herschel and Isaac Newton Telescopes of the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes sited on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canaries; the Australia Telescope Compact Array at the Paul Wild Observatory, Narrabri, Australia; the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope; and NASA’s Swift satellite.

    ING William Herschel Telescope
    ING William Herschel Telescope

    Australian Telescope Compact Array
    CSIRO Australian Telescope Compact Array at the Paul Wild Observatory, about 25 km west of the town of Narrabri in rural NSW about 500 km north-west of Sydney.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    [2] White dwarfs form late in the life cycles of stars with masses up to about eight times that of our Sun. After hydrogen fusion in a star’s core is exhausted, the internal changes are reflected in a dramatic expansion into a red giant, followed by a contraction accompanied by the star’s outer layers being blown off in great clouds of dust and gas. Left behind is a white dwarf, Earth-sized but 200 000 times more dense. A single spoonful of the matter making up a white dwarf would weigh about as much as an elephant here on Earth.

    [3] This red dwarf is an M type star. M type stars are the most common class in the Harvard classification system, which uses single letters to group stars according their spectral characteristics. The famously awkward to remember sequence of classes runs: OBAFGKM, and is often remembered using the mnemonic Oh Be A Fine Girl/Guy, Kiss Me.

    [4] A variable star is one whose brightness fluctuates as seen from Earth. The fluctuations may be due to the intrinsic properties of the star itself changing. For instance some stars noticeably expand and contract. It could also be due to another object regularly eclipsing the star. AR Scorpii was mistaken for a single variable star as the orbiting of two stars also results in regular fluctuations in observed brightness.
    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled A radio pulsing white dwarf binary star, by T. Marsh et al., to appear in the journal Nature on 28 July 2016.

    The team is composed of T.R. Marsh (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK), B.T. Gänsicke (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK), S. Hümmerich (Bundesdeutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Veränderliche Sterne e.V., Germany; American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), USA) , F.-J. Hambsch (Bundesdeutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Veränderliche Sterne e.V., Germany; American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), USA; Vereniging Voor Sterrenkunde (VVS), Belgium), K. Bernhard (Bundesdeutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Veränderliche Sterne e.V., Germany; American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO),USA), C.Lloyd (University of Sussex, UK), E. Breedt (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK), E.R. Stanway (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK), D.T. Steeghs (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK), S.G. Parsons (Universidad de Valparaiso, Chile), O. Toloza (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK), M.R. Schreiber (Universidad de Valparaiso, Chile), P.G. Jonker (Netherlands Institute for Space Research, The Netherlands; Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands), J. van Roestel (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands), T. Kupfer (California Institute of Technology, USA), A.F. Pala (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK) , V.S. Dhillon (University of Sheffield, UK; Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Spain; Universidad de La Laguna, Spain), L.K. Hardy (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK; University of Sheffield, UK), S.P. Littlefair (University of Sheffield, UK), A. Aungwerojwit (Naresuan University, Thailand), S. Arjyotha (Chiang Rai Rajabhat University, Thailand), D. Koester (University of Kiel, Germany), J.J. Bochinski (The Open University, UK), C.A. Haswell (The Open University, UK), P. Frank (Bundesdeutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Veränderliche Sterne e.V., Germany) and P.J. Wheatley (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK).

    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
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

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    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 5:29 am on July 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO HAWK 1, ESO VLT, Orion Nebula   

    From ESO: “Deepest Ever Look into Orion” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    12 July 2016
    Holger Drass
    Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile / Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
    Santiago / Bochum, Chile / Germany
    Email: hdrass@aiuc.puc.cl

    Amelia Bayo
    Universidad de Valparaíso / Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie
    Valparaíso / Königstuhl, Chile / Germany
    Email: amelia.bayo@uv.cl

    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
    ESO’s HAWK-I infrared instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile has been used to peer deeper into the heart of Orion Nebula than ever before. The spectacular picture reveals about ten times as many brown dwarfs and isolated planetary-mass objects than were previously known. This discovery poses challenges for the widely accepted scenario for Orion’s star formation history.

    An international team has made use of the power of the HAWK-I infrared instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to produce the deepest and most comprehensive view of the Orion Nebula [1] to date. Not only has this led to an image of spectacular beauty, but it has revealed a great abundance of faint brown dwarfs and isolated planetary-mass objects. The very presence of these low-mass bodies provides an exciting insight into the history of star formation within the nebula itself.

    ESO HAWK-I
    ESO HAWK-I

    The famous Orion Nebula spans about 24 light-years within the constellation of Orion, and is visible from Earth with the naked eye, as a fuzzy patch in Orion’s sword. Some nebulae, like Orion, are strongly illuminated by ultraviolet radiation from the many hot stars born within them, such that the gas is ionised and glows brightly.

    The relative proximity of the Orion Nebula [2] makes it an ideal testbed to better understand the process and history of star formation, and to determine how many stars of different masses form.

    Amelia Bayo (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile; Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl, Germany), a co-author of the new paper and member of the research team, explains why this is important: “Understanding how many low-mass objects are found in the Orion Nebula is very important to constrain current theories of star formation. We now realise that the way these very low-mass objects form depends on their environment.”

    This new image has caused excitement because it reveals a unexpected wealth of very-low-mass objects, which in turn suggests that the Orion Nebula may be forming proportionally far more low-mass objects than closer and less active star formation regions.

    Astronomers count up how many objects of different masses form in regions like the Orion Nebula to try to understand the star-formation process [3]. Before this research the greatest number of objects were found with masses of about one quarter that of our Sun. The discovery of a plethora of new objects with masses far lower than this in the Orion Nebula has now created a second maximum at a much lower mass in the distribution of star counts.

    These observations also hint tantalisingly that the number of planet-sized objects might be far greater than previously thought. Whilst the technology to readily observe these objects does not exist yet, ESO’s future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled to begin operations in 2024, is designed to pursue this as one of its goals.

    Lead scientist Holger Drass (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile) enthuses: “Our result feels to me like a glimpse into a new era of planet and star formation science. The huge number of free-floating planets at our current observational limit is giving me hope that we will discover a wealth of smaller Earth-sized planets with the E-ELT.”

    Notes

    [1] Nebulae such as the famous one in Orion are also known as H II regions to indicate that they contain ionised hydrogen. These immense clouds of interstellar gas are sites of star formation throughout the Universe.

    [2] The Orion Nebula is estimated to lie about 1350 light-years from Earth.

    [3] This information is used to create something called the Initial Mass Function (IMF) — a way of describing how many stars of different masses make up a stellar population at its birth. This provides an insight into the stellar population’s origins. In other words, determining an accurate IMF, and having a solid theory to explain the origin of the IMF is of fundamental importance in the study of star formation.

    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled The bimodal initial mass function in the Orion Nebula Cloud, by H. Drass et al., published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    The team is composed of H. Drass (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile), M. Haas (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany), R. Chini (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile), A. Bayo (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile; Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl, Germany) , M. Hackstein (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany), V. Hoffmeister (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany), N. Godoy (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile) and N. Vogt (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile).

    See the full article here .

    Another view:

    2
    In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. … This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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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
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 7:43 pm on June 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT,   

    From ESO: “Jupiter Awaits Arrival of Juno” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    27 June 2016
    Leigh Fletcher
    University of Leicester
    United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 116 252 3585
    Email: leigh.fletcher@leicester.ac.uk

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

    Robert Massey
    Deputy Executive Director, Royal Astronomical Society
    United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 3979
    Email: rm@ras.org.uk

    Anita Heward
    Royal Astronomical Society
    Cell: +44 (0)7756 034 243
    Email: anitaheward@btinternet.com

    1
    In preparation for the imminent arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft, astronomers have used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to obtain spectacular new infrared images of Jupiter. They are part of a campaign to create high-resolution maps of the giant planet. These observations will inform the work to be undertaken by Juno over the coming months, helping astronomers to better understand the gas giant ahead of Juno’s close encounter.

    NASA/Juno
    NASA/Juno

    A team led by Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom are presenting new images of Jupiter at the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Nottingham. Obtained with the VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the new images are part of a focused effort to improve understanding of Jupiter’s atmosphere prior to the arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft [1] in July this year.

    ESO VISIR

    The campaign has involved the use of several telescopes based in Hawaii and Chile [not disclosed in this article] , as well as contributions from amateur astronomers around the world. The maps do not just give snapshots of the planet, they also reveal how Jupiter’s atmosphere has been shifting and changing in the months prior to Juno’s arrival.

    The Juno spacecraft was launched in 2011, and has travelled nearly 3000 million kilometres to reach the Jovian system. Spacecraft can collect data free from the limitations affecting telescopes on Earth so with that in mind, it might seem surprising that this ground-based campaign was considered so important.

    Leigh Fletcher describes the significance of this research in preparing for Juno’s arrival: “These maps will help set the scene for what Juno will witness in the coming months. Observations at different wavelengths across the infrared spectrum allow us to piece together a three-dimensional picture of how energy and material are transported upwards through the atmosphere.”

    Capturing sharp images through the Earth’s constantly shifting atmosphere is one of the greatest challenges faced by ground-based telescopes. This glimpse of Jupiter’s own turbulent atmosphere, rippling with cooler gas clouds, was possible thanks to a technique known as lucky imaging. Sequences of very short exposures were taken of Jupiter by VISIR, producing thousands of individual frames. The lucky frames, where the image is least affected by the atmosphere’s turbulence, are selected and the rest discarded. Those selected frames are aligned and combined to produce remarkable final pictures like the ones shown here.

    Glenn Orton, leader of the ground-based campaign in support of Juno’s mission, elaborates on why the preparatory observations from Earth are so valuable: “The combined efforts of an international team of amateur and professional astronomers have provided us with an incredibly rich dataset over the past eight months. Together with the new results from Juno, the VISIR dataset in particular will allow researchers to characterise Jupiter’s global thermal structure, cloud cover and distribution of gaseous species.”

    Whilst the modern Juno’s mission to unveil the mighty Jupiter will bring new and highly anticipated results, its way has been paved by ground-based efforts here on Earth.
    Notes

    [1] The Juno spacecraft was named after the mythological wife of the god Jupiter. Just like his planetary counterpart, Jupiter veiled himself in clouds to hide his mischief, and only Juno was able to peer through them to see his true nature.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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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
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 7:38 am on June 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT,   

    From ESO: “VLT Snaps An Exotic Exoplanet ‘First’ “ 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    6.13.16
    No writer credit found

    1

    Astronomers hunt for planets orbiting other stars (exoplanets) using a variety of methods. One successful method is direct imaging; this is particularly effective for planets on wide orbits around young stars, because the light from the planet is not overwhelmed by light from the host star and is thus easier to spot.

    This image demonstrates this technique. It shows a T-Tauri star named CVSO 30, located approximately 1200 light-years away from Earth in the 25 Orionis group (slightly northwest of Orion’s famous Belt). In 2012, astronomers found that CVSO 30 hosted one exoplanet (CVSO 30b) using a detection method known as transit photometry, where the light from a star observably dips as a planet travels in front of it.

    Planet transit. NASA
    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    Now, astronomers have gone back to look at the system using a number of telescopes. The study combines observations obtained with the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and the Calar Alto Observatory facilities in Spain.

    Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    Keck Observatory Interior
    Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Calar Alto Observatory Province of Almería, SpainCalar Alto Observatory Interior
    Calar Alto Observatory, Province of Almería, Spain

    Using the data astronomers have imaged what is likely to be a second planet! To produce the image, astronomers exploited the astrometry provided by VLT’s NACO and SINFONI instruments.

    ESO/NACO
    ESO/NACO

    ESO SINFONI
    ESO/SINFONI

    This new exoplanet, named CVSO 30c, is the small dot to the upper left of the frame (the large blob is the star itself). While the previously-detected planet, CVSO 30b, orbits very close to the star, whirling around CVSO 30 in just under 11 hours at an orbital distance of 0.008 au, CVSO 30c orbits significantly further out, at a distance of 660 au, taking a staggering 27 000 years to complete a single orbit. (For reference, the planet Mercury orbits the Sun at an average distance of 0.39 au, while Neptune sits at just over 30 au.)

    If it is confirmed that CVSO 30c orbits CVSO 30, this would be the first star system to host both a close-in exoplanet detected by the transit method and a far-out exoplanet detected by direct imaging. Astronomers are still exploring how such an exotic system came to form in such a short timeframe, as the star is only 2.5 million years old; it is possible that the two planets interacted at some point in the past, scattering off one another and settling in their current extreme orbits.
    Link:

    Research paper by Schmidt et al.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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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
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

    ESO APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 9:45 am on May 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT, Stellar cannibalism transforms star into brown dwarf,   

    From Southampton: “Stellar cannibalism transforms star into brown dwarf” 

    U Southampton bloc

    University of Southampton

    19 May 2016
    No writer credit found

    1
    The white dwarf (right) stripping mass from the brown dwarf.

    Astronomers have detected a sub-stellar object that used to be a star, after being consumed by its white dwarf companion.

    An international team of astronomers made the discovery by observing a very faint binary system, J1433 which is located 730 light-years away. The system consists of a low-mass object – about 60 times the mass of Jupiter – in an extremely tight 78-minute orbit around a white dwarf (the remnant of a star like our Sun).

    Due to their close proximity, the white dwarf strips mass from its low-mass companion. This process has removed about 90 per cent of the mass of the companion, turning it from a star into a brown dwarf.

    Artist's concept of a Brown dwarf [not quite a] star. NASA/JPL-Caltech
    Artist’s concept of a Brown dwarf [not quite a] star. NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Most brown dwarfs are ‘failed stars’, objects that were born with too little mass to shine brightly by fusing hydrogen in their cores. By contrast, the brown dwarf in this system was born as a full-fledged star, but has been stripped to its current mass by billions of years of stellar cannibalism.

    The study, published* in the journal Nature, used the X-Shooter instrument at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Cerro Paranal, Chile, in order to directly detect and characterise a system that has survived such a traumatic transition.

    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, Chile
    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, Chile

    ESO X-shooter on VLT at Cerro Paranal, Chile

    ESO X-shooter on VLT at Cerro Paranal, Chile

    Lead author Juan Venancio Hernández Santisteban, a PhD student at the University of Southampton, said: “X-Shooter is a unique instrument that can observe astronomical objects simultaneously all the way from the ultraviolet to the infrared. This allowed us to dissect the light of this system and uncover the hidden signal from the faint brown dwarf.

    “Our knowledge of binary evolution suggests that, if the companion star can survive the transition, brown dwarfs should be common in this type of system. However, despite several efforts, only a few candidate systems with tentative evidence for brown-dwarf companions had previously been found. Our results now confirm that the successful transformation of a star to a brown dwarf is indeed possible.”

    The astronomers also used their data to map the surface temperature across the brown dwarf. This turns out to be non-uniform, since this cool sub-stellar object is strongly irradiated by its much hotter white dwarf companion. The map shows a clear temperature difference between the dayside (the side facing the white dwarf) and the nightside. On average, the difference amounts to 57 degrees Celsius, but the hottest and coldest parts of the brown dwarf’s surface differ by a full 200 degrees Celsius.

    Professor Christian Knigge, from the University of Southampton who initiated and supervised the project, said: “The construction of this surface temperature map is a significant achievement. In many giant planets – the so-called ‘hot-Jupiters’ – irradiation by the host star completely overwhelms the planet’s internal heat flux. By contrast, internal heat flux and external irradiation are comparable for the brown dwarf in our study. This represents an unexplored regime, making such systems valuable as laboratories for irradiated (sub-) stellar and planetary atmospheres.”

    The study involved astronomers from the universities of Keele, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton and Warwick (UK), the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (Spain) and Hamburger Sternwarte (Germany). It was funded by the Royal Astronomical Society, European Union Eleventh Framework Programme, European Research Council, CONACyT (Mexico) and the University of Southampton.

    *Science paper:
    An irradiated brown-dwarf companion to an accreting white dwarf

    See the full article here .

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    U Southampton campus

    The University of Southampton is a world-class university built on the quality and diversity of our community. Our staff place a high value on excellence and creativity, supporting independence of thought, and the freedom to challenge existing knowledge and beliefs through critical research and scholarship. Through our education and research we transform people’s lives and change the world for the better.

    Vision 2020 is the basis of our strategy.

    Since publication of the previous University Strategy in 2010 we have achieved much of what we set out to do against a backdrop of a major economic downturn and radical change in higher education in the UK.

    Vision 2020 builds on these foundations, describing our future ambition and priorities. It presents a vision of the University as a confident, growing, outwardly-focused institution that has global impact. It describes a connected institution equally committed to education and research, providing a distinctive educational experience for its students, and confident in its place as a leading international research university, achieving world-wide impact.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:54 pm on May 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT, LHA 120-N55 gas cloud   

    From ESO: “A Beautiful Instance of Stellar Ornamentation” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    18 May 2016
    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

    In this image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), light from blazing blue stars energises the gas left over from the stars’ recent formation. The result is a strikingly colourful emission nebula, called LHA 120-N55, in which the stars are adorned with a mantle of glowing gas. Astronomers study these beautiful displays to learn about the conditions in places where new stars develop.

    LHA 120-N55, or N55 as it is usually known, is a glowing gas cloud in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way located about 163 000 light-years away.

    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone  December 2003
    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone December 2003

    N55 is situated inside a supergiant shell, or superbubble called LMC 4. Superbubbles, often hundreds of light-years across, are formed when the fierce winds from newly formed stars and shockwaves from supernova explosions work in tandem to blow away most of the gas and dust that originally surrounded them and create huge bubble-shaped cavities.

    The material that became N55, however, managed to survive as a small remnant pocket of gas and dust. It is now a standalone nebula inside the superbubble and a grouping of brilliant blue and white stars — known as LH 72 — also managed to form hundreds of millions of years after the events that originally blew up the superbubble. The LH 72 stars are only a few million years old, so they did not play a role in emptying the space around N55. The stars instead represent a second round of stellar birth in the region.

    The recent rise of a new population of stars also explains the evocative colours surrounding the stars in this image. The intense light from the powerful, blue–white stars is stripping nearby hydrogen atoms in N55 of their electrons, causing the gas to glow in a characteristic pinkish colour in visible light. Astronomers recognise this telltale signature of glowing hydrogen gas throughout galaxies as a hallmark of fresh star birth.

    While things seem quiet in the star-forming region of N55 for now, major changes lie ahead. Several million years hence, some of the massive and brilliant stars in the LH 72 association will themselves go supernova, scattering N55’s contents. In effect, a bubble will be blown within a superbubble, and the cycle of starry ends and beginnings will carry on in this close neighbour of our home galaxy.

    This new image was acquired using the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph (FORS2) instrument attached to ESO’s VLT.

    ESO FORS1
    FORS

    It was taken as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme, 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 .

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  • richardmitnick 1:51 pm on April 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroid C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS), , , ESO VLT   

    From ESO: “Unique Fragment from Earth’s Formation Returns after Billions of Years in Cold Storage” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    29 April 2016
    Karen Meech
    Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai`i
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Tel: +1 808 956 6828
    Cell: +1 720 231 7048
    Email: meech@ifa.hawaii.edu

    Olivier Hainaut
    ESO Astronomer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6752
    Cell: +49 151 2262 0554
    Email: ohainaut@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

    Tailless Manx comet from Oort Cloud brings clues about the origin of the Solar System

    1

    Astronomers have found a unique object that appears to be made of inner Solar System material from the time of Earth’s formation, which has been preserved in the Oort Cloud far from the Sun for billions of years. Observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and the Canada France Hawai`i Telescope, show that C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) is the first object to be discovered on a long-period cometary orbit that has the characteristics of a pristine inner Solar System asteroid.

    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    CFHT Interior
    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    It may provide important clues about how the Solar System formed.

    In a paper* to be published today in the journal Science Advances, lead author Karen Meech of the University of Hawai`i’s Institute for Astronomy and her colleagues conclude that C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) formed in the inner Solar System at the same time as the Earth itself, but was ejected at a very early stage.

    Their observations indicate that it is an ancient rocky body, rather than a contemporary asteroid that strayed out. As such, it is one of the potential building blocks of the rocky planets, such as the Earth, that was expelled from the inner Solar System and preserved in the deep freeze of the Oort Cloud for billions of years [1].

    Karen Meech explains the unexpected observation: “We already knew of many asteroids, but they have all been baked by billions of years near the Sun. This one is the first uncooked asteroid we could observe: it has been preserved in the best freezer there is.”

    C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) was originally identified by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope as a weakly active comet a little over twice as far from the Sun as the Earth.

    Pann-STARSR1 Telescope
    Pann-STARRS1 interior
    Pann-STARRS1 Telescope, U Hawaii, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Its current long orbital period (around 860 years) suggests that its source is in the Oort Cloud, and it was nudged comparatively recently into an orbit that brings it closer to the Sun.

    Oort cloud Image by TypePad, http://goo.gl/NWlQz6
    Oort cloud Image by TypePad, http://goo.gl/NWlQz6

    The team immediately noticed that C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) was unusual, as it does not have the characteristic tail that most long-period comets have when they approach so close to the Sun. As a result, it has been dubbed a Manx comet, after the tailless cat. Within weeks of its discovery, the team obtained spectra of the very faint object with ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

    Careful study of the light reflected by C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) indicates that it is typical of asteroids known as S-type, which are usually found in the inner asteroid main belt. It does not look like a typical comet, which are believed to form in the outer Solar System and are icy, rather than rocky. It appears that the material has undergone very little processing, indicating that it has been deep frozen for a very long time. The very weak comet-like activity associated with C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS), which is consistent with the sublimation of water ice, is about a million times lower than active long-period comets at a similar distance from the Sun.

    The authors conclude that this object is probably made of fresh inner Solar System material that has been stored in the Oort Cloud and is now making its way back into the inner Solar System.

    A number of theoretical models are able to reproduce much of the structure we see in the Solar System. An important difference between these models is what they predict about the objects that make up the Oort Cloud. Different models predict significantly different ratios of icy to rocky objects. This first discovery of a rocky object from the Oort Cloud is therefore an important test of the different predictions of the models. The authors estimate that observations of 50–100 of these Manx comets are needed to distinguish between the current models, opening up another rich vein in the study of the origins of the Solar System.

    Co-author Olivier Hainaut (ESO, Garching, Germany), concludes: “We’ve found the first rocky comet, and we are looking for others. Depending how many we find, we will know whether the giant planets danced across the Solar System when they were young, or if they grew up quietly without moving much.”
    Notes

    [1] The Oort cloud is a huge region surrounding the Sun like a giant, thick soap bubble. It is estimated that it contains trillions of tiny icy bodies. Occasionally, one of these bodies gets nudged and falls into the inner Solar System, where the heat of the sun turns it into a comet. These icy bodies are thought to have been ejected from the region of the giant planets as these were forming, in the early days of the Solar System.

    More information

    *This research was presented in a paper entitled Inner Solar System Material Discovered in the Oort Cloud, by Karen Meech et al., in the journal Science Advances.

    The team is composed of Karen J. Meech (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai`i, USA), Bin Yang (ESO, Santiago, Chile), Jan Kleyna (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai`i, USA), Olivier R. Hainaut (ESO, Garching, Germany), Svetlana Berdyugina (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai’i, USA; Kiepenheuer Institut für Sonnenphysik, Freiburg, Germany), Jacqueline V. Keane (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai`i, USA), Marco Micheli (ESA, Frascati, Italy), Alessandro Morbidelli (Laboratoire Lagrange/Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur/CNRS/Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, France) and Richard J. Wainscoat (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai`i, USA).

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:31 am on April 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESO VLT, Four Lasers Over Paranal   

    From ESO: “Four Lasers Over Paranal” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    27 April 2016
    Domenico Bonaccini Calia
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6567
    Cell: +49 (0) 174 5246 013
    Email: Domenico.Bonaccini@eso.org

    Wolfgang Hackenberg
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6782
    Email: whackenb@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

    On 26 April 2016 ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile hosted an event to mark the first light for the four powerful lasers that form a crucial part of the adaptive optics systems on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Attendees were treated to a spectacular display of cutting-edge laser technology against the majestic skies of Paranal. These are the most powerful laser guide stars ever used for astronomy and the event marks the first use of multiple laser guide stars at ESO.

    2
    Schematic view of the Four Laser Guide Star Facility on the ESO VLT

    3
    The most powerful laser guide star system in the world sees first light at the Paranal Observatory

    ESO staff were present for the event, along with senior representatives of the companies that have manufactured the different components of the new system.

    The Four Laser Guide Star Facility (4LGSF) shines four 22-watt laser beams into the sky to create artificial guide stars by making sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere glow so that they look just like real stars [1]. The artificial stars allow the adaptive optics systems to compensate for the blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere and so that the telescope can create sharp images. Using more than one laser allows the turbulence in the atmosphere to be mapped in far greater detail to significantly improve the image quality over a larger field of view.

    The Four Laser Guide Star Facility is an example of how ESO enables European industry to lead complex research and development projects. The fibre laser used by the 4LGSF is also one of the most successful transfers of ESO technology to industry.

    TOPTICA, the German main contractor, was responsible for the laser system and provided the oscillator, the frequency doubler, and the system control software. Wilhelm Kaenders, president of TOPTICA, said: “TOPTICA has enjoyed the collaboration with ESO tremendously. It is not only the personal thrill of being engaged with astronomy, an old passion, again, and working with very clever ESO technologists; it is also the inspiration that we have received for our own commercial product development.” [2]

    MPBC of Canada provided the fibre laser pumps and Raman amplifiers, which are based on an ESO licensed patent. Jane Bachynski, President of MPB Communications Inc. said: “MPBC is proud to have worked with ESO in the development of Raman fibre amplifiers to much higher powers, allowing MPBC to bring this technology to the stars. This event marks the culmination of many years of hard work on behalf of all involved.” [3]

    TNO in the Netherlands manufactured the optical tube assemblies, which expand the laser beams and direct them into the sky. Paul de Krom, CEO of TNO, said: “TNO valued the cooperative working environment during the development of the optical tube assemblies and looks forward to the opportunity to work with ESO and the other partners in the 4LGSF project in the future.” [4]

    The 4LGSF is part of the Adaptive Optics Facility on Unit Telescope 4 of the VLT, designed specifically to provide the adaptive optics systems GALACSI/MUSE and GRAAL/HAWK-I with four sodium laser guide stars. With this new facility, Paranal Observatory continues to have the most advanced and the largest number of adaptive optics systems in operation today.

    The 4LGSF lasers were developed by ESO with industry and have already been procured, among others, by the Keck Observatory (which contributed to the industrial laser development cost along with the European Commission) and the Subaru Telescope. In the future these industrial lasers will also feature on the telescopes at the Gemini Observatory and will be the preferred choice for several other observatories and extremely large telescope projects.

    The new techniques developed for the Four Laser Guide Star Facility pave the way for the adaptive optics system of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the world’s biggest eye on the sky.
    Notes

    [1] The 4LGSF is the second generation laser guide star facility, built by ESO for the Adaptive Optics Facility on the UT4 VLT telescope. The two critical long-lead items for the 4LGSF, the laser system and the optical tube assemblies for the laser launch telescope systems have been procured from industry. The fibre Raman laser technology, on which the 4LGSF laser system is based, has been developed at ESO, patented and licensed to industry.

    [2] This project has allowed TOPTICA to extend its products into a new wavelength and output power regime. It now produces the SodiumStar 20/2, which is recognised as a quasi-standard for existing and planned telescopes around the world. All next generation extremely large telescope projects, for example, use the SodiumStar laser as their baseline. During the seven years of collaboration with ESO the company has grown from 80 people to more than 200 today.

    [3] MPBC’s collaboration with ESO has also generated an additional benefit, in the form of an offshoot product line of single frequency amplification products at virtually any wavelength, supporting novel applications for the scientific and commercial research community.

    [4] The developments by TNO also involved contributions from many suppliers from the Netherlands (Vernooy, Vacutech, Rovasta, Schott Benelux, Maxon Motor Benelux, IPS technology, Sensordata and WestEnd) and other international companies (RMI, Qioptiq, Laser Components, Carl Zeiss, GLP, Faes, Farnell, Eriks and Pfeiffer). The knowledge and technologies advanced by working with ESO feed into TNO’s Dutch and European partners, in fields including astronomy, communications, semiconductor manufacturing, medical devices, space science and Earth observation.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:14 pm on April 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT, GALACSI Adaptive Optics System for VLT on YEPUN with MUSE   

    From ESO: “GALACSI Adaptive Optics System Ready to be Mounted on the VLT” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    15 April 2016
    Robin Arsenault
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6524
    Email: rarsenau@eso.org

    Peter Grimley
    ESO, Assistant Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6383
    Email: pgrimley@eso.org

    GALACSI Adaptive Optics System for VLT
    The GALACSI adaptive optics module, built by ESO’s engineers at its headquarters in Garching, Germany, has been thoroughly tested and has passed with flying colours. It will be shipped to Chile later this year to be fitted to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Yepun (UT4) with MUSE, on Cerro Paranal.

    GALACSI is a part of the adaptive optics system which will significantly increase the performance of the MUSE instrument, a panoramic integral-field spectrograph working at visible wavelengths. The MUSE instrument and the GALACSI system together will be known as the MUSE facility. Adding GALACSI to MUSE will essentially double the amount of energy in each image pixel, providing astronomers with a much more powerful tool. As well as bringing about a huge improvement in the VLT’s capabilities, GALACSI and the other elements of the adaptive optics system are advancing technology that will be used on the forthcoming European Extremely Large Telescope.

    Adaptive optics systems compensate for the effects of atmospheric turbulence, which degrades images obtained by ground-based telescopes. When it passes through the atmosphere, light from a celestial object gets jiggled around, meaning that the telescope sees a blurred image. GALACSI will rely on 4 sodium lasers launched from the centre of one of the Unit Telescopes of the VLT to produce “artificial stars”, known as guide stars. Sensors then follow the motion of these guide stars as the light from them flickers in the turbulent atmosphere. That allows a computer to calculate the correction that must be applied to the telescope’s deformable secondary mirror (itself a new addition to the VLT) to compensate for the atmospheric disturbance. In this way, extremely sharp images of the real celestial objects can be obtained.

    See the full article here .

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    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

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    VLT Survey Telescope

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  • richardmitnick 3:58 pm on December 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO VLT,   

    From ESO: “Mind the Gap” 

    [I picked this up from 2008 because it relates to an ALMA release due out on 12.16.15.]


    European Southern Observatory

    8 September 2008
    Klaus Pontoppidan
    California Institute of Technology
    Pasadena, USA
    Tel: +1 626 395 4900
    Cell: +1 626 679 5793
    Email: pontoppi@gps.caltech.edu

    Ewine van Dishoeck
    Leiden University
    Leiden, Netherlands
    Tel: +31 71 527 58 14
    Email: ewine@strw.leidenuniv.nl

    VLT instrument hints at the presence of planets in young gas discs

    1

    Astronomers have been able to study planet-forming discs around young Sun-like stars in unsurpassed detail, clearly revealing the motion and distribution of the gas in the inner parts of the disc. This result, which possibly implies the presence of giant planets, was made possible by the combination of a very clever method enabled by ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

    Planets could be home to other forms of life, so the study of exoplanets ranks very high in contemporary astronomy. More than 300 planets are already known to orbit stars other than the Sun, and these new worlds show an amazing diversity in their characteristics. But astronomers don’t just look at systems where planets have already formed – they can also get great insights by studying the discs around young stars where planets may currently be forming. “This is like going 4.6 billion years back in time to watch how the planets of our own Solar System formed,” says Klaus Pontoppidan from Caltech, who led the research.

    Pontoppidan and colleagues have analysed three young analogues of our Sun that are each surrounded by a disc of gas and dust from which planets could form. These three discs are just a few million years old and were known to have gaps or holes in them, indicating regions where the dust has been cleared and the possible presence of young planets.

    The new results not only confirm that gas is present in the gaps in the dust, but also enable astronomers to measure how the gas is distributed in the disc and how the disc is oriented. In regions where the dust appears to have been cleared out, molecular gas is still highly abundant. This can either mean that the dust has clumped together to form planetary embryos, or that a planet has already formed and is in the process of clearing the gas in the disc.

    For one of the stars, SR 21, a likely explanation is the presence of a massive giant planet orbiting at less than 3.5 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun, while for the second star, HD 135344B, a possible planet could be orbiting at 10 to 20 times the Earth-Sun distance. The observations of the third star, TW Hydrae, may also require the presence of one or two planets.

    “Our observations with the CRIRES instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope clearly reveal that the discs around these three young, Sun-like stars are all very different and will most likely result in very different planetary systems,” concludes Pontoppidan.

    ESO CRIRES
    CRIRES

    “Nature certainly does not like to repeat herself” [1].

    “These kinds of observations complement the future work of the ALMA observatory, which will be imaging these discs in great detail and on a larger scale,” adds Ewine van Dishoeck, from Leiden Observatory, who works with Pontoppidan.

    To study the gaps in dust discs that are the size of the Solar System around stars that are located up to 400 light-years away is a daunting challenge that requires a clever solution and the best possible instruments [2].

    “Traditional imaging cannot hope to see details on the scale of planetary distances for objects located so far away,” explains van Dishoeck. “Interferometry can do better but won’t allow us to follow the motion of the gas.”

    Astronomers used a technique known as spectro-astrometric imaging to give them a window into the inner regions of the discs where Earth-like planets may be forming. They were able not only to measure distances as small as one-tenth the Earth-Sun distance, but to measure the velocity of the gas at the same time [3].

    “The particular configuration of the instrument and the use of adaptive optics allows astronomers to carry out observations with this technique in a very user-friendly way: as a consequence, spectro-astrometric imaging with CRIRES can now be routinely performed,” says team member Alain Smette, from ESO [4].

    Notes

    Pontoppidan, K. M. et. al. 2008, Spectro-Astrometric Imaging of Molecular Gas Within Protoplanetary Disk Gaps, Astrophysical Journal, 684, 1323, 10 September 2008. Team members are Klaus M. Pontoppidan, Geoffrey A. Blake, and Michael J. Ireland (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA), Ewine F. van Dishoeck (Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands, and Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany – MPE), Alain Smette (ESO, Chile), and Joanna Brown (MPE).

    [1] The discs are about an hundred astronomical units (AU – the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 149.6 million kilometres) across, but the stars are more than 200 light-years away (one light-year is 200 000 AU). To resolve structures on 1 AU scales in these systems corresponds to reading the license plate on a car at a distance of 2000 km – roughly the distance from Stockholm to Lisbon.

    [2] CRIRES, the near-infrared spectrograph attached to ESO’s Very Large Telescope, is fed from the telescope through an adaptive optics module which corrects for the blurring effect of the atmosphere and so makes it possible to have a very narrow slit with a high spectral dispersion: the slit width is 0.2 arcsecond and the spectral resolution is 100 000. Using spectro-astrometry, an ultimate spatial resolution of better than 1 milli-arcsecond is achieved.

    [3] The core of the spectro-astrometry imaging technique relies on the ability of CRIRES to be positioned very precisely on the sky, while retaining the ability to spread the light into a spectrum so that wavelength differences of 1 part in 100 000 can be detected. More precisely, the astronomers measure the centroid in the spatial direction of a spectrally resolved emission line: effectively, astronomers take a sharp emission line – a clear fingerprint of a molecule in the gas – and use data from several slit positions to locate the sources of particular emission lines, and hence to map the distribution of the gas with much greater precision than can be achieved by straightforward imaging. The astronomers have obtained spectra of the discs centred at wavelengths of 4.715 microns at 6 different position angles.

    [4] Alain Smette is the CRIRES Instrument Scientist.

    See the full article here .

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