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  • richardmitnick 3:06 pm on August 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Keck Observatory   

    From Keck: “Hot Jupiter-esque Discovery Hints at Planet Formation” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    August 13, 2015
    SCIENCE CONTACTS
    Bruce Macintosh
    Department of Physics, Stanford University
    (650) 725-4116
    bmacintosh@stanford.edu

    Franck Marchis
    SETI Institute
    650-960-4236
    fmarchis@seti.org

    Eric Nielson
    SETI Institute
    408-394-4582
    enielsen@seti.org

    MEDIA CONTACT
    Steve Jefferson
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    808-881-3827
    sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu

    1

    A team of astronomers discovered a Jupiter-like planet within a young system that could serve as a decoder ring for understanding how planets formed around our sun. The W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii confirmed the discovery. The findings were headed by Bruce Macintosh, a professor of physics at Stanford University, and show the new planet, 51 Eridani b, is one million times fainter than its parent star and shows the strongest methane signature ever detected on an alien planet, which should yield additional clues as to how the planet formed. The results are published in the current issue of Science.

    “This is the first exoplanet discovered with the Gemini Planet Imager [GPI], one of the new generation instruments designed specifically for discovering and analyzing faint, young planets orbiting bright stars,” said Franck Marchis, Senior Planetary Astronomer at the SETI Institute and member of the team that built the instrument and now conducts the survey.

    Gemini Planet Imager
    GPI

    While NASA’s Kepler space observatory has discovered thousands of planets, it does so indirectly by detecting a loss of starlight as a planet passes in front of its star, the Gemini Planet Imager was designed specifically for discovering and analyzing faint, young planets orbiting bright stars.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    “To detect planets, Kepler sees their shadow,” said Macintosh, who is also a member of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology. “The Gemini Planet Imager instead sees their glow, which we refer to as direct imaging.”

    Akin to trying to detect a firefly in front of a lighthouse, the team analyzed the light from the star, then blocked it out. The remaining incoming light was analyzed, with the brightest spots indicating a possible planet.

    The team then turned to the largest optical/infrared telescopes on Earth at Keck Observaotry to verify their findings.

    “Observations using the NIRC2 camera and adaptive optics system at the Keck Observatory allowed the GPI team to independently verify the existence of the planet,” Macintosh said.

    Keck NIRC2 Camera
    NIRC2

    “NIRC2 can observe at longer infrared wavelengths than GPI, where a cool planet like 51 Eri b is brighter. These longer-wavelength observations helped to measure the properties of clouds in the planet’s atmosphere that absorb and re-radiate infrared emission.”

    “The Keck Observatory data was crucial to confirm the existence of the planet, and to properly characterize its atmosphere,” said Christian Marois, an astronomer at the University of Victoria, Canada. “With a versatile set of instruments and a larger primary mirror, the Keck Observatory telescopes provide the perfect platform to verify these findings.”

    Last year, the GPI was installed on the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope in Chile, and the team set out to look for planets orbiting nearly 100 young stars so far.

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South Interior
    Gemini South

    The host star, 51 Eri, is very young, a mere 20 million years old, and is slightly hotter than the Sun. The exoplanet 51 Eri b, whose mass is estimated to be roughly twice that of Jupiter, appears to orbit its host star at a distance 13 times greater than the Earth-Sun distance. If placed in our own solar system, 51 Eri b’s orbit would lie between those of Saturn and Neptune.

    “51 Eri has everything we’re looking for in a target star,” notes Eric Nielsen, a postdoctoral fellow at the SETI Institute. “It’s relatively close and young. Indeed, the last dinosaur died 40 million years before this star was even born.”

    As far as the cosmic clock is concerned, 20 million years is young, and that is exactly what made the direct detection of the planet possible. When planets coalesce, material falling into the planet releases energy and heats it up. Over the next hundred million years the planet radiates that energy away, mostly as infrared light.

    In addition to being the lowest-mass planet ever imaged, it’s also one of the coldest – 800 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas others are around 1,200 F – and features the strongest atmospheric methane signal on record. Previous Jupiter-like exoplanets have shown only faint traces of methane, far different from the heavy methane atmospheres of the gas giants in our solar system.

    “In the atmospheres of the cold giant planets of our solar system, carbon is found as methane, unlike most exoplanets, where carbon has mostly been found in the form of carbon monoxide,” said Mark Marley, an astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center. “Since the atmosphere of 51 Eri b is also methane rich, it signifies that this planet is well on its way to becoming a cousin of our own familiar Jupiter.”

    All of these characteristics, the researchers say, point to a planet that is very much what models suggest Jupiter was like in its infancy. Of course, it’s not exactly like Jupiter – its 800 F temperature is still hot enough to melt lead – but there are signs it will evolve into a familiar shape.

    In addition to expanding the universe of known planets, GPI will provide key clues as to how solar systems form. Astronomers believe that the gas giants in our solar system formed by building up a large core over a few million years and then pulling in a huge amount of hydrogen and other gases to form an atmosphere.

    But the Jupiter-like exoplanets that have so far been discovered are much hotter than models have predicted, hinting that they could have formed much faster as material collapses quickly to make a very hot planet. This is an important difference. The core-buildup process can also form rocky planets like Earth; a fast and hot collapse might only make giant gassy planets. 51 Eridani b is young enough that it “remembers” its formation.

    “51 Eri b is the first one that’s cold enough and close enough to the star that it could have indeed formed right where it is the ‘old-fashioned way,” Macintosh said. “This planet really could have formed the same way Jupiter did – the whole solar system could be a lot like ours.”

    There are hundreds of planets a little bigger than Earth out there, Macintosh said, but there is so far no way to know if most of them are really “super-Earths” or just micro-sized gas and ice planets like Neptune, or something different altogether. Studying younger solar systems such as 51 Eridani will help astronomers understand the formation of our neighbor planets, and how common that planet-forming mechanism is throughout the universe.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 1:37 pm on August 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Keck Observatory, Reionization   

    From Keck: “New Record: Keck Observatory Measures Most Distant Galaxy” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    August 5, 2015
    SCIENCE CONTACTS
    Adi Zitrin
    California Institute of Technology
    adizitrin@gmail.com
    626-278-5854

    Richard Ellis
    California Institute of Technology
    rse@astro.caltech.edu
    626-676-5530

    MEDIA CONTACT
    Steve Jefferson
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu
    808-881-3827

    1
    Credit: Adi Zitrin, California Institute of Technology, 2015

    EGSY8p7 is the most distant confirmed galaxy whose spectrum obtained with the W. M. Keck Observatory places it at a redshift of 8.68 at a time when the Universe was less than 600 million years old. The illustration shows the remarkable progress made in recent years in probing early cosmic history. Such studies are important in understanding how the Universe evolved from an early dark period to one when galaxies began to shine. Hydrogen emission from EGSY8p7 may indicate it is the first known example of an early generation of young galaxies emitting unusually strong radiation.

    A team of astrophysicists using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii has successfully measured the farthest galaxy ever recorded and more interestingly, captured its hydrogen emission as seen when the Universe was less than 600 million years old. Additionally, the method in which the galaxy called EGSY8p7 was detected gives important insight into how the very first stars in the Universe lit-up after the Big Bang. The paper will be published shortly in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    Using Keck Observatory’s powerful infrared spectrograph called MOSFIRE, the team dated the galaxy by detecting its Lyman-alpha emission line – a signature of hot hydrogen gas heated by strong ultraviolet emission from newly born stars.

    Keck MOSFIRE
    MOSFIRE

    Although this is a frequently detected signature in galaxies close to Earth, the detection of Lyman-alpha emission at such a great distance is unexpected as it is easily absorbed by the numerous hydrogen atoms thought to pervade the space between galaxies at the dawn of the Universe. The result gives new insight into `cosmic reionization’, the process by which dark clouds of hydrogen were split into their constituent protons and electrons by the first generation of galaxies.

    “We frequently see the Lyman-alpha emission line of hydrogen in nearby objects as it is one of most reliable tracers of star-formation,” said California Institute of Technology (Caltech) astronomer, Adi Zitrin, lead author of the discovery paper. “However, as we penetrate deeper into the Universe, and hence back to earlier times, the space between galaxies contains an increasing number of dark clouds of hydrogen which absorb this signal.”

    Recent work has found the fraction of galaxies showing this prominent line declines markedly after when the Universe was about a billion years old, which is equivalent to a redshift of about 6. Redshift is a measure of how much the Universe has expanded since the light left a distant source and can only be determined for faint objects with a spectrograph on a powerful large telescope such as the Keck Observatory’s twin 10-meter telescopes, the largest on Earth.

    “The surprising aspect about the present discovery is that we have detected this Lyman-alpha line in an apparently faint galaxy at a redshift of 8.68, corresponding to a time when the Universe should be full of absorbing hydrogen clouds,” said co-author and Caltech astronomer Richard Ellis. “Quite apart from breaking the earlier record redshift of 7.73, also obtained at the Keck Observatory, this detection is telling us something new about how the Universe evolved in its first few hundred million years.”

    Computer simulations of cosmic reionization suggest the Universe was fully opaque to Lyman-alpha radiation in the first 400 million years of cosmic history and then gradually, as the first galaxies were born, the intense ultraviolet radiation from their young stars, burned off this obscuring hydrogen in bubbles of increasing radius which, eventually, overlapped so the entire space between galaxies became `ionized’, that is composed of free electrons and protons. At this point the Lyman-alpha radiation was free to travel through space unimpeded.

    It may be that the galaxy we have observed, EGSY8p7, which is unusually (intrinsically) luminous, has special properties that enabled it to create a large bubble of ionized hydrogen much earlier than is possible for more typical galaxies at these times,” said Sirio Belli, a Caltech graduate student who helped undertake the key observations. “EGSY8p7 was found to be both luminous and at high redshift, and its colors measured by the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes indicate it may be powered by a population of unusually hot stars.”

    Because the discovery of such an early source with powerful Lyman-alpha is somewhat unexpected, it provides new insight into the manner by which galaxies contributed to the process of reionization. Conceivably the process is patchy with some regions of space evolving faster than others, for example due to variations in the density of matter from place to place. Alternatively, EGSY8p7 may be the first example of an early generation which unusually strong ionizing radiation.

    “In some respects, the period of cosmic reionization is the final missing piece in our overall understanding of the evolution of the Universe,” says Zitrin. “In addition to pushing back the frontier to a time when the Universe was only 600 million years old, what is exciting about the present discovery is that the study of sources such as EGSY8p7 will offer new insight into how this process occurred.”

    The Caltech team reporting on this discovery consists of Zitrin, Ellis, and Belli who lead an international collaboration involving astronomers at Yale and the University of Arizona, and fellow European researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands and the University of Durham and the Univeristy College London in England.

    The research was funded in part by NASA.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 4:54 pm on July 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Keck Observatory   

    From Keck: “Keck Observatory Astronomer Wins Major Prize” Andrea Ghez 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    July 31, 2015
    Christopher Dibble

    1
    Andrea Ghez, Keck Observatory astronomer and UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics.

    UCLA professor and longtime W. M. Keck Observatory astronomer, Andrea Ghez will be awarded the 2015 Bakerian Medal, the Royal Society’s premiere prize lecture in the physical sciences, the organization announced this week.

    “I’m thrilled to receive the Bakerian Medal from the Royal Society,” said Ghez, who is UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics. “The research that is being recognized is the product of a wonderful collaboration among the scientists in the UCLA Galactic Center Group and the University of California’s tremendous investment in the W. M. Keck Observatory. Having cutting-edge tools and a great team makes discovery easy.”

    The medal is accompanied by a cash prize of 10,000 pounds (approximately $15,500), and Ghez will deliver the Bakerian Lecture in London in November. The organization, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, cited Ghez’s “acclaimed discoveries using the techniques of optical astronomy, especially her sustained work on the motions and nature of the stars orbiting the black hole in the centre of our Galaxy.”

    “All the data for this project came from Keck Observatory,” Ghez said. “We were able to launch this project 20 years ago because of the unique way that Keck Observatory works. We were able to modify instrumentation and try new approaches to data collection in a way that simply isn’t possible at other observatories. Working at Keck Observatory and with the staff there has been an amazing experience.”

    Since 1995, Ghez has used the Keck Observatory, which sits near the summit of Hawaii’s dormant volcano Maunakea, to study the rotational center of the Milky Way and the movement of thousands of stars close to this galactic center. Keck Observatory operates the two largest and most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth.

    Ghez, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow, uses novel, ground-based telescopic techniques to remove the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, making the sharpest possible images of the center of our galaxy.

    By measuring the orbits of stars at the center of our galaxy, she showed that a monstrous black hole resides at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, some 26,000 light-years away from Earth, with a mass 4 million times that of the sun. The finding provided the best evidence yet that supermassive black holes exist in our universe. Ghez and her research team have revealed many unexpected mysteries about the role that black holes play in the formation and evolution of galaxies.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 3:42 pm on July 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Keck Observatory,   

    From Keck: “Telescopes Team Up to Find Distant Uranus-Sized Planet Through Microlensing” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    July 30, 2015
    SCIENCE CONTACT
    Dave Bennett
    University of Notre Dame
    bennett@nd.edu
    574-315-6621

    Jean-Phillipe Beaulieu
    Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris
    Beaulieu@iap.fr
    +33 6 03 98 73 11

    MEDIA CONTACT
    Steve Jefferson
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu
    808-881-3827

    1
    Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

    The W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have made independent confirmations of an exoplanet orbiting far from its central star.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    The planet was discovered through a technique called gravitational microlensing. This finding opens a new piece of discovery space in the extrasolar planet hunt: to uncover planets as far from their central stars as Jupiter and Saturn are from our sun. The Hubble and Keck Observatory results will appear in two papers in the July 30 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

    The large majority of exoplanets cataloged so far are very close to their host stars because several current planet-hunting techniques favor finding planets in short-period orbits. But this is not the case with the microlensing technique, which can find more distant and colder planets in long-period orbits that other methods cannot detect.

    Microlensing occurs when a foreground star amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. If the foreground star has planets, then the planets may also amplify the light of the background star, but for a much shorter period of time than their host star. The exact timing and amount of light amplification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and its accompanying planets.

    “Microlensing is currently the only method to detect the planets close to their birth place,” said team member, Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris. “Indeed, planets are being mostly formed at a certain distance from the central star where it is cold enough for volatile compounds to condense into solid ice grains. These grains will then aggregate and will ultimately evolve into planets.”

    The system, cataloged as OGLE-2005-BLG-169, was discovered in 2005 by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), the Microlensing Follow-Up Network (MicroFUN), and members of the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) collaborations—groups that search for extrasolar planets through gravitational microlensing.

    Without conclusively identifying and characterizing the foreground star, however, astronomers have had a difficult time determining the properties of the accompanying planet. Using Hubble and the Keck Observatory, two teams of astronomers have now found that the system consists of a Uranus-sized planet orbiting about 370 million miles from its parent star, slightly less than the distance between Jupiter and the sun. The host star, however, is about 70 percent as massive as our sun.

    “These chance alignments are rare, occurring only about once every 1 million years for a given planet, so it was thought that a very long wait would be required before the planetary microlensing signal could be confirmed,” said David Bennett, the lead of the team that analyzed the Hubble data. “Fortunately, the planetary signal predicts how fast the apparent positions of the background star and planetary host star will separate, and our observations have confirmed this prediction. The Hubble and Keck Observatory data, therefore, provide the first confirmation of a planetary microlensing signal.”

    In fact, microlensing is such a powerful tool that it can uncover planets whose host stars cannot be seen by most telescopes. “It is remarkable that we can detect planets orbiting unseen stars, but we’d really like to know something about the stars that these planets orbit,” explained Virginie Batista, leader of the Keck Observatory analysis. “The Keck and Hubble telescopes allow us to detect these faint planetary host stars and determine their properties.”

    Planets are small and faint compared to their host stars; only a few have been observed directly outside our solar system. Astronomers often rely on two indirect techniques to hunt for extrasolar planets. The first method detects planets by the subtle gravitational tug they give to their host stars. In another method, astronomers watch for small dips in the amount of light from a star as a planet passes in front of it.

    Both of these techniques work best when the planets are either extremely massive or when they orbit very close to their parent stars. In these cases, astronomers can reliably determine their short orbital periods, ranging from hours to days to a couple years.

    But to fully understand the architecture of distant planetary systems, astronomers must map the entire distribution of planets around a star. Astronomers, therefore, need to look farther away from the star—from about the distance of Jupiter is from our sun, and beyond.

    “It’s important to understand how these systems compare with our solar system,” said team member Jay Anderson of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD. “So we need a complete census of planets in these systems. Gravitational microlensing is critical in helping astronomers gain insights into planetary formation theories.”

    The planet in the OGLE system is probably an example of a “failed-Jupiter” planet, an object that begins to form a Jupiter-like core of rock and ice weighing around 10 Earth masses, but it doesn’t grow fast enough to accrete a significant mass of hydrogen and helium. So it ends up with a mass more than 20 times smaller than that of Jupiter. “Failed-Jupiter planets, like OGLE-2005-BLG-169Lb, are predicted to be more common than Jupiters, especially around stars less massive than the sun, according to the preferred theory of planet formation. So this type of planet is thought to be quite common,” Bennett said.

    Microlensing takes advantage of the random motion of stars, which are generally too small to be noticed without precise measurements. If one star, however, passes nearly precisely in front of a farther background star, the gravity of the foreground star acts like a giant lens, magnifying the light from the background star.

    A planetary companion around the foreground star can produce a variation in the brightening of the background star. This brightening fluctuation can reveal the planet, which can be too faint, in some cases, to be seen by telescopes. The duration of an entire microlensing event is several months, while the variation in brightening due to a planet lasts a few hours to a couple of days.

    The initial microlensing data of OGLE-2005-BLG-169 had indicated a combined system of foreground and background stars plus a planet. But due to the blurring effects of our atmosphere, a number of unrelated stars are also blended with the foreground and background stars in the very crowded star field in the direction of our galaxy’s center.

    “The Hubble Space telescope and KECK2 are unique facilities providing complementary high angular resolution observations to characterise these cold planets orbiting very distant stars,” Beaulieu said.

    The sharp Hubble and Keck Observatory images allowed the research teams to separate out the background source star from its neighbors in the very crowded star field in the direction of our galaxy’s center. Although the Hubble images were taken 6.5 years after the lensing event, the source and lens star were still so close together on the sky that their images merged into what looked like an elongated stellar image.

    Astronomers can measure the brightness of both the source and planetary host stars from the elongated image. When combined with the information from the microlensing light curve, the lens brightness reveals the masses and orbital separation of the planet and its host star, as well as the distance of the planetary system from Earth. The foreground and background stars were observed in several different colors with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), allowing independent confirmations of the mass and distance determinations.

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    WFC3

    The observations, taken with the Near Infrared Camera 2 (NIRC2) on the Keck 2 telescope more than eight years after the microlensing event, provided a precise measurement of the foreground and background stars’ relative motion.

    Keck NIRC2
    NIRC2

    “It is the first time we were able to completely resolve the source star and the lensing star after a microlensing event. This enabled us to discriminate between two models that fit the data of the microlensing light curve,” Batista said.

    The Hubble and Keck Observatory data are providing proof of concept for the primary method of exoplanet detection that will be used by NASA’s planned, space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which will allow astronomers to determine the masses of planets found with microlensing.

    NASA WFIRST telescope
    WFIRST

    WFIRST will have Hubble’s sharpness to search for exoplanets using the microlensing technique. The telescope will be able to observe foreground, planetary host stars approaching the background source stars prior to the microlensing events, and receding from the background source stars after the microlensing events.

    “WFIRST will make measurements like we have made for OGLE-2005-BLG-169 for virtually all the planetary microlensing events it observes. We’ll know the masses and distances for the thousands of planets discovered by WFIRST,” Bennett explained.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 3:16 pm on July 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Keck Observatory   

    From Keck: “Keck Observatory Names Chief Scientist” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    July 30, 2015
    Steve Jefferson
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu
    808-881-3827

    1
    Anne L Kinney, Credit: NASA

    W. M. Keck Observatory is very pleased to announce Anne Kinney has been appointed Chief Scientist, effective August 3, 2015.

    “We are delighted to welcome Anne as the Chief Scientist of Keck Observatory,” said observatory Director, Hilton Lewis. “In this new role, she will be responsible for stewardship of the observatory’s scientific programs and for ensuring the health and vibrancy of the science conducted at this observatory.”

    Kinney comes to Keck Observatory from NASA, where she was most recently the Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at Goddard Space Flight Center. Kinney brings more than 30 years of scientific research and organizational leadership experience. She holds a PhD from New York University in Physics and Astronomy and is very familiar with Keck Observatory as she has been a member of the observatory’s Science Steering Committee since 2012.

    “It is my great pleasure to be joining the stellar Keck Observatory team,” Kinney said. “For me, one of the great attractions is the quality and dedication of its team. Keck Observatory’s international reputation speaks to the remarkable focus that the staff brings to extracting peak performance from two telescopes that are as beautiful as they are cutting edge.”

    Prior to her service at Goddard, Kinney was the Director of the Universe Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, with a portfolio including Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope, SOFIA, and Fermi.

    Kinney is an expert in extragalactic astronomy and has published 80 papers in refereed journals on quasars, blazars, active galaxies and normal galaxies, and signatures of accretion disks in active galaxies. She has demonstrated that accretion disks in the center of active galaxies lie at random angles relative to their host galaxies.

    Kinney received the Presidential Rank Award in 2012, has received two Exceptional Leadership Awards at NASA, and was a visiting scholar at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.

    “I am thrilled that Anne has agreed to join us and contribute her energy and expertise to advance WMKO’s leadership in ground-based astronomy,” Lewis said.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 4:16 pm on July 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Keck Observatory, SLUGGS Survey   

    From Keck: “Fossil Star Clusters Reveal Their Age” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    July 27, 2015

    1
    Cosmic timeline showing the birth of the Universe in a Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago to the present day. Using the Keck Observatory, an international team of researchers led by Professor Forbes of Swinburne University of Technology has determined ancient star clusters, known as globular clusters, formed in two epochs – 12.5 and 11.5 billion years ago. They formed alongside galaxies, rather than prior to galaxies, as previously thought. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO and A. Romanowsky.

    Using a new age-dating method and the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, an international team of astronomers have determined that ancient star clusters formed in two distinct epochs – the first 12.5 billion years ago and the second 11.5 billion years ago. These results are being published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Although the clusters are almost as old as the Universe itself, these age measurements show the star clusters – called globular clusters – are actually slightly younger than previously thought.

    “We now think that globular clusters formed alongside galaxies rather than significantly before them,” research team leader, Professor Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University of Technology said.

    The new estimates of the star cluster average ages were made possible using data obtained from the SAGES Legacy Unifying Globulars and GalaxieS (SLUGGS) survey, which was carried out on Keck Observatory’s 10-meter, Keck II telescope. Observations were carried out over years using the powerful DEIMOS multi-object spectrograph fitted on Keck II, which is capable of obtaining spectra of one hundred globular clusters in a single exposure.

    Keck DEIMOS
    DEIMOS

    DEIMOS breaks the visible wavelengths of objects into spectra, which the team used to reverse-engineer the ages of the globular clusters by comparing the chemical composition of the globular clusters with the chemical composition of the Universe as it changes with time.

    “The Universe is now well known to be 13.7 billion years old,” research team member and Professor Jean Brodie said. “We determined globular clusters form on average some 1.2 and 2.2 billion years after the Big Bang.”

    “Our age measurements indicate that globular clusters managed to avoid the period, called cosmic re-ionization, in which the Universe was bathed in ultra-violet radiation which could have destroyed them” said fellow team member, Professor Aaron Romanowsky.

    “Now that we have estimated when globular clusters form, we next need to tackle the questions of where and how they formed.” Forbes said.

    The SLUGGS survey is comprised of an international team of astronomers who aim to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies and their globular cluster systems.

    Globular clusters are tightly bound clusters of around a million stars. Most large galaxies, including the Milky Way, host a system of globular clusters. Although the Universe itself, and galaxies within it, has evolved over cosmic time, globular clusters are very robust and many have survived intact for over 10 billion years.

    The team of astronomers includes researchers and PhD students from Swinburne University of Technology (Australia), University of California at Santa Cruz (USA), San Jose State University (USA).

    DEIMOS (the DEep Imaging and Multi-Object Spectrograph) boasts the largest field of view (16.7 arcmin by 5 arcmin) of any of the Keck instruments, and the largest number of pixels (64 Mpix). It is used primarily in its multi-object mode, obtaining simultaneous spectra of up to 130 galaxies or stars. Astronomers study fields of distant galaxies with DEIMOS, efficiently probing the most distant corners of the universe with high sensitivity.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

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    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 6:43 am on July 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Keck Observatory,   

    From Keck: “Found: Earth’s Closest Cousin Yet” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    July 23, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1
    This artist’s concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter.
    Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

    2
    This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

    The W. M. Keck Observatory has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets were originally made by NASA’s Kepler space telescopes and mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    “We can think of Kepler-452b as bigger, older cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; about 1.5 billion years longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

    The data from Kepler suggested to the team there was a planet causing the light from it’s host star to dim as is orbited around it. The team then turned to ground-based observatories including the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the world’s largest telescopes at Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii for confirmation.

    U Texas McDonald Observatory Campus
    University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory

    CfA Whipple Observatory
    CfA Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

    Specifically, the ten-meter Keck I telescope, fitted with the HIRES instrument was used to confirm the Kepler data as well as to more precisely determine the properties of the star, specifically its temperature, surface gravity and metallicity.

    Keck HIRES
    HIRES

    “These fundamental properties are used to determine the stellar mass and radius allowing for precise determination of the planet size,” said Howard Isaacson, researcher in the astronomy department at UC Berkeley and mamba of the discovery team. “With the precise stellar parameters from the HIRES spectrum, we can show that planet radius is closer to the size of the Earth, than say Neptune (~4x Earth’s radius). With a radius of 1.6 times the radius of the Earth, the chances of the planet having some sort of rocky surface is predicted to be ~50%. The Keck Observatory spectrum is also used to rule out false positive scenarios. Background stars can confuses the interpretation of the planet hypothesis, and the Keck Observatory spectrum shows that no such background stars are present.”

    The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting a sun-like star (G2-type star) in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

    Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

    While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 10 percent larger and 20 percent brighter.

    The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

    In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

    Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature. These candidates are likely targets for future observing runs at Keck Observatory for confirmation.

    “We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

    These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.

    HIRES (the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) produces spectra of single objects at very high spectral resolution, yet covering a wide wavelength range. It does this by separating the light into many “stripes” of spectra stacked across a mosaic of three large CCD detectors. HIRES is famous for finding planets orbiting other stars. Astronomers also use HIRES to study distant galaxies and quasars, finding clues to the Big Bang. 


    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on July 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Keck Observatory   

    Keck’s Take on the Black Hole in CID-947″ 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    The subject was previously covered in an earlier post, “From Chandra: ‘A Precocious Black Hole'”. But the writers at Keck spent a lot of time on this, and their views are always excellent, so it is worth seeing their work.

    Keck Observatory

    “Gigantic, Early Black Hole Could Upend Evolutionary Theory”

    July 9, 2015

    SCIENCE CONTACT
    Benny Trakhtenbrot
    ETH Zürich
    Institute for Astronomy, Switzerland
    benny.trakhtenbrot@phys.ethz.ch
    +41 (0)44-632-4213

    MEDIA CONTACT
    Steve Jefferson
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu
    808-881-3827

    1
    In this illustration a black hole emits part of the accreted matter in the form of energetic radiation (blue), without slowing down star formation within the host galaxy (purple regions). Credit: M. Helfenbein, Yale University / OPAC

    An international team of astrophysicists led by Benny Trakhtenbrot, a researcher at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Astronomy, discovered a gigantic black hole in an otherwise normal galaxy, using W. M. Keck Observatory’s 10-meter, Keck I telescope in Hawaii. The team, conducting a fairly routine hunt for ancient, massive black holes, was surprised to find one with a mass of more than 7 billion times our Sun making it among the most massive black holes ever discovered. And because the galaxy it was discovered in was fairly typical in size, the study calls into question previous assumptions on the development of galaxies. Their findings are being published today in the journal Science.

    The data, collected with Keck Observatory’s newest instrument called MOSFIRE, revealed a giant black hole in a galaxy called CID-947 that was 11 billion light years away.

    Keck MOSFIRE
    MOSFIRE

    The incredible sensitivity of MOSFIRE coupled to the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope meant the scientists were able to observe and characterize this black hole as it was when the Universe was less than two billion years old, just 14 percent of its current age (almost 14 billion years have passed since the Big Bang).

    Even more surprising than the black hole’s record mass, was the relatively ordinary mass of the galaxy that contained it.

    Most galaxies host black holes with with masses less than one percent of the galaxy. In CID-947, the black hole mass is 10 percent that of its host galaxy. Because of this remarkable disparity, the team deduced this black hole grew so quickly the host galaxy was not able to keep pace, calling into question previous thinking on the co-evolution of galaxies and their central black holes.

    “The measurements of CID-947 correspond to the mass of a typical galaxy,” Trakhtenbrot said. “We therefore have a gigantic black hole within a normal size galaxy. The result was so surprising, two of the astronomers had to verify the galaxy mass independently. Both came to the same conclusion.”

    “Black holes are objects that possess such a strong gravitational force that nothing – not even light – can escape,” said Professor Meg Urry of Yale University, co-author of the study. ” Einstein’s theory of relativity describes how they bend space-time itself. The existence of black holes can be proven because matter is greatly accelerated by the gravitational force and thus emits particularly high-energy radiation.”

    Until now, observations have indicated that the greater the number of stars present in the host galaxy, the bigger the black hole. “This is true for the local Universe, which merely reflects the situation in the Universe’s recent past,” Urry said.

    Furthermore, previous studies suggest the radiation emitted during the growth of the black hole controlled, or even stopped, the creation of stars as the released energy heated up the gas. This cumulative evidence led scientists to assume the growth of black holes and the formation of stars go hand-in-hand.

    The latest results, however, suggest that these processes work differently, at least in the early Universe.

    The distant young black hole observed by Trakhtenbrot, Urry and their colleagues had roughly 10 times less mass than its galaxy. In today’s local Universe, black holes typically reach a mass of 0.2 to 0.5 percent of their host galaxy’s mass. “That means this black hole grew much more efficiently than its galaxy – contradicting the models that predicted a hand-in-hand development,” he said.

    The researchers also concluded stars were still forming even though the black hole had reached the end of its growth. Contrary to previous assumptions, the energy and gas flow propelled by the black hole did not stop the creation of stars.

    “From the available Chandra data for the source, we also concluded that the black hole has a very low accretion rate, and is therefore reached the end of its growth. On the other had, other data suggests that stars were still forming throughout the host galaxy,” Trakhtenbrot said.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    The galaxy could continue to grow in the future, but the relationship between the mass of the black hole and that of the stars would remain unusually large. The researchers believe CID-947 could be a precursor of the most extreme, massive systems that we observe in today’s local Universe, such as the galaxy NGC 1277 in the constellation of Perseus, some 220 million light years away from our Milky Way.

    MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration) is a highly-efficient instrument that can take images or up to 46 simultaneous spectra. Using a sensitive state-of-the-art detector and electronics system, MOSFIRE obtains observations fainter than any other near infrared spectrograph. MOSFIRE is an excellent tool for studying complex star or galaxy fields, including distant galaxies in the early Universe, as well as star clusters in our own Galaxy. MOSFIRE was made possible by funding provided by the National Science Foundation and astronomy benefactors Gordon and Betty Moore.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on June 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Keck Observatory, Superclusters   

    From Keck: “Laniakea: Our home supercluster” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Superclusters – regions of space that are densely packed with galaxies – are the biggest structures in the Universe. But scientists have struggled to define exactly where one supercluster ends and another begins. Now, a team based in Hawaii has come up with a new technique that maps the Universe according to the flow of galaxies across space. Redrawing the boundaries of the cosmic map, they redefine our home supercluster and name it Laniakea, which means ‘immeasurable heaven’ in Hawaiian.

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    Temp 0

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 4:19 pm on May 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Keck Observatory   

    From Keck: “Scientists at Keck Discover the Fluffiest Galaxies” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    May 14, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1
    A collection of unidentified blobs was discovered toward the Coma clusterof galaxies, using the Dragonfly Telephoto Array. One of these puzzling objects, Dragonfly 44, was studied in detail using the Keck Observatory and confirmed as an ultra-diffuse galaxy. Even though it is 60,000 light years across, It is so far away that it appears as only a faint smudge. Credit: P. van Dokkum, R. Abraham, J. Brodie

    2
    Reconstructed spectrum of light spread out from the ultra-diffuse galaxy, DragonFly44, as seen by the Keck/LRIS instrument. Dark bands occur where atoms and molecules absorb the galaxy’s starlight. These bands reveal the compositions and ages of the stars, and also the distance of the galaxy. Credit: P. van Dokkum, A. Romanowsky, J. Brodie

    3
    An ultra-diffuse galaxy, Dragonfly 17, is shown next to other types of galaxies, to scale. The Andromeda galaxy is a giant spiral like our own Milky Way, and a dwarf elliptical galaxy, NGC 205, is also shown. Ultra-diffuse galaxies have the same number of stars as dwarf ellipticals, but spread out over a much larger region. Credit: B. Schoening, V. Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF, P. van Dokkum/Hubble Space Telescope.

    An international team of researchers led by Pieter van Dokkum at Yale University have used the W. M. Keck Observatory to confirm the existence of the most diffuse class of galaxies known in the universe. These “fluffiest galaxies” are nearly as wide as our own Milky Way galaxy – about 60,000 light years – yet harbor only one percent as many stars. The findings were recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    “If the Milky Way is a sea of stars, then these newly discovered galaxies are like wisps of clouds”, said van Dokkum. “We are beginning to form some ideas about how they were born and it’s remarkable they have survived at all. They are found in a dense, violent region of space filled with dark matter and galaxies whizzing around, so we think they must be cloaked in their own invisible dark matter ‘shields’ that are protecting them from this intergalactic assault.”

    The team made the latest discovery by combining results from one of the world’s smallest telescopes as well as the largest telescope on Earth. The Dragonfly Telephoto Array used 14-centimeter state of the art telephoto lens cameras to produce digital images of the very faint, diffuse objects.

    U Toronto Dunlap Dragonfly telescope Array
    U Toronto Dunlap Institute Dragonfly telescope Array

    Keck Observatory’s 10-meter Keck I telescope, with its Low Resolution Imaging Spectrograph, then separated the light of one of the objects into colors that diagnose its composition and distance.

    Finding the distance was the clinching evidence. The data from Keck Observatory showed the diffuse “blobs” are very large and very far away, about 300 million light years, rather than small and close by. The blobs can now safely be called Ultra Diffuse Galaxies (UDGs).

    “If there are any aliens living on a planet in an ultra-diffuse galaxy, they would have no band of light across the sky, like our own Milky Way, to tell them they were living in a galaxy. The night sky would be much emptier of stars,” said team member Aaron Romanowsky, of San Jose State University.

    The UDGs were found in an area of the sky called the Coma cluster , where thousands of galaxies have been drawn together in a mutual gravitational dance.

    5
    A Sloan Digital Sky Survey [SDSS]/Spitzer Space Telescope mosaic of the Coma Cluster in long-wavelength infrared (red), short-wavelength infrared (green), and visible light. The many faint green smudges are dwarf galaxies in the cluster. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SDSS

    Sloan Digital Sky Survey Telescope
    SDSS telescope

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    “Our fluffy objects add to the great diversity of galaxies that were previously known, from giant ellipticals that outshine the Milky Way, to ultra compact dwarfs,” said University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Jean Brodie.

    “The big challenge now is to figure out where these mysterious objects came from,” said Roberto Abraham, of the University of Toronto. “Are they ‘failed galaxies’ that started off well and then ran out of gas? Were they once normal galaxies that got knocked around so much inside the Coma cluster that they puffed up? Or are they bits of galaxies that were pulled off and then got lost in space?”

    The key next step in understanding UDGs is to to pin down exactly how much dark matter they have. Making this measurement will be even more challenging than the latest work.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes near the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrographs and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems.

    The Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS) is a very versatile visible-wavelength imaging and spectroscopy instrument commissioned in 1993 and operating at the Cassegrain focus of Keck I. Since it has been commissioned it has seen two major upgrades to further enhance its capabilities: addition of a second, blue arm optimized for shorter wavelengths of light; and the installation of detectors that are much more sensitive at the longest (red) wavelengths. Each arm is optimized for the wavelengths it covers. This large range of wavelength coverage, combined with the instrument’s high sensitivity, allows the study of everything from comets (which have interesting features in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum), to the blue light from star formation, to the red light of very distant objects. LRIS also records the spectra of up to 50 objects simultaneously, especially useful for studies of clusters of galaxies in the most distant reaches, and earliest times, of the universe.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
    • kagmi 5:29 pm on May 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It’s a rather incredible perspective to think of thousands of galaxies whizzing around hitting each other. Wrapping one’s head around our own solar system is mind-boggling enough; and ours is but one star of one-hundred billion in a single galaxy!

      There are more things in Heaven and on Earth…

      Like

    • richardmitnick 6:14 pm on May 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Galaxies rarely actually interact. When they do, there is still mostly empty space, the stars practically never touch each other.

      Like

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