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  • richardmitnick 5:08 pm on July 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , NASA Spitzer,   

    From Webb: “Birth of Stars & Protoplanetary Systems” 

    NASA Webb Header

    NASA Webb Telescope

    James Webb Space Telescope

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    The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula captured in visible light by Hubble. Stellar nurseries are hidden within the towers of dust and gas. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State U.)

    Inside the Pillars of Creation

    While this image is spectacular, there are actually stars that Hubble can’t see inside those pillars of dust. And that’s because the visible light emitted by those stars is being obscured by the dust. But what if we used a telescope sensitive to infrared light to look at this nebula?

    The next image is another Hubble view, but this time in near-infrared. In the infrared more structure within the dust clouds is revealed and hidden stars have now become apparent. (And if Hubble, which is optimized for visible light, can capture a near-infrared image like this, imagine what JWST, which is optimized for near-infrared and 100x more powerful than Hubble, will do!)

    Another nebula, the “Mystic Mountains” of the Carina Nebula, shown in two Hubble images, one in visible light (left) and one in infrared (right).
    In the infrared image, we can see more stars that just weren’t visible before. Why is this?

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    The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula captured in infrared light by Hubble. The light from young stars being formed pierce the clouds of dust and gas in the infrared. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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    Comparison of the Carina Nebula in visible light (left) and infrared (left), both images by Hubble. Credit: NASA/ESA/M. Livio & Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

    How Do Infrared Cameras Work?

    We can try a thought experiment. What if you were to put your arm into a garbage bag? Your arm is hidden. Invisible.

    But what if you looked at your arm and the garbage bag with an infrared camera? Remember that infrared light is essentially heat. And that while your eyes may not be able to pick up the warmth of your arm underneath the cooler plastic of the bag, an infrared camera can. An infrared camera can see right through the bag!

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    ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    The Dusty Cocoons of Star and Planet Formation

    JWST’s amazing imaging and spectroscopy capabilities will allow us to study stars as they are forming in their dusty cocoons. Additionally, it will be able to image disks of heated material around these young stars, which can indicate the beginnings of planetary systems, and study organic molecules that are important for life to develop.

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    Key Questions

    JWST will address several key questions to help us unravel the story of the star and planet formation:

    How do clouds of gas and dust collapse to form stars?
    Why do most stars form in groups?
    Exactly how do planetary systems form?
    How do stars evolve and release the heavy elements they produce back into space for recycling into new generations of stars and planets?

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    Infrared Spitzer image of a star-forming region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    JWST’s Role in Answering These Questions

    To unravel the birth and early evolution of stars and planets, we need to be able to peer into the hearts of dense and dusty cloud cores where star formation begins. These regions cannot be observed at visible light wavelengths as the dust would make such regions opaque and must be observed at infrared wavelengths.

    Stars, like our Sun, can be thought of as “basic particles” of the Universe, just as atoms are “basic particles” of matter. Groups of stars make up galaxies, while planets and ultimately life arise around stars. Although stars have been the main topic of astronomy for thousands of years, we have begun to understand them in detail only in recent times through the advent of powerful telescopes and computers.

    A hundred years ago, scientists did not know that stars are powered by nuclear fusion, and 50 years ago they did not know that stars are continually forming in the Universe. Researchers still do not know the details of how clouds of gas and dust collapse to form stars, or why most stars form in groups, or exactly how planetary systems form. Young stars within a star-forming region interact with each other in complex ways. The details of how they evolve and release the heavy elements they produce back into space for recycling into new generations of stars and planets remains to be determined through a combination of observation and theory.

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    The stages of solar system formation. Credit: Shu et al. 1987

    The stages of solar system formation are illustrated to the right: starting with a protostar embedded in a gas cloud (upper left of diagram), to an early star with a circumstellar disk (upper right), to a star surrounded by small “planetesimals” which are starting to clump together (lower left) to a solar system like ours today.

    The continual discovery of new and unusual planetary systems has made scientists re-think their ideas and theories about how planets are formed. Scientists realize that to get a better understanding of how planets form, they need to have more observations of planets around young stars, and more observations of leftover debris around stars, which can come together and form planets.

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    Related Content
    More Comparison Images

    Here’s is another stunning comparison of visible versus infrared light views of the same object – the gorgeous Horsehead Nebula:

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    The Horsehead Nebula in visible light, captured by the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope. Credit: NASA

    Visible Light Horsehead Nebula


    CFHT Telescope, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA

    Infrared Light Horsehead Nebula

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    The Horsehead Nebula in infrared light, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Related Video

    This video shows how JWST will peer inside dusty knots where the youngest stars and planets are forming.

    See the full article here .

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    The James Webb Space Telescope will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. Launch is planned for later in the decade.

    Webb telescope will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.

    Webb telescope was formerly known as the “Next Generation Space Telescope” (NGST); it was renamed in Sept. 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb.

    Webb is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort. The main industrial partner is Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate Webb after launch.

    Several innovative technologies have been developed for Webb. These include a folding, segmented primary mirror, adjusted to shape after launch; ultra-lightweight beryllium optics; detectors able to record extremely weak signals, microshutters that enable programmable object selection for the spectrograph; and a cryocooler for cooling the mid-IR detectors to 7K.

    There will be four science instruments on Webb: the Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRspec), the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), and the Fine Guidance Sensor/ Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS-NIRISS). Webb’s instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range. It will be sensitive to light from 0.6 to 28 micrometers in wavelength.
    Webb has four main science themes: The End of the Dark Ages: First Light and Reionization, The Assembly of Galaxies, The Birth of Stars and Protoplanetary Systems, and Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life.

    Launch is scheduled for later in the decade on an Ariane 5 rocket. The launch will be from Arianespace’s ELA-3 launch complex at European Spaceport located near Kourou, French Guiana. Webb will be located at the second Lagrange point, about a million miles from the Earth.

    NASA image

    ESA50 Logo large

    Canadian Space Agency

     
  • richardmitnick 12:54 pm on July 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Spitzer, W51   

    From Chandra: “W51: Chandra Peers into a Nurturing Cloud” 

    NASA Chandra Banner

    NASA Chandra Telescope

    NASA Chandra

    July 12, 2017


    Optical

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    X-ray

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    Infrared
    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech
    Release Date July 12, 2017

    Giant molecular clouds, containing mostly hydrogen and helium, are where most new stars and planets form.

    W51 is one of the closest such objects to Earth so it is an excellent target for learning more about the star-formation process.

    A new composite image of W51 with X-ray data from Chandra (blue) and Spitzer (orange and yellow-green) is being released.

    The X-ray data show the young stars are often clumped together in clusters, while bathing their surroundings in high-energy light.

    In the context of space, the term ‘cloud’ can mean something rather different from the fluffy white collections of water in the sky or a way to store data or process information. Giant molecular clouds are vast cosmic objects, composed primarily of hydrogen molecules and helium atoms, where new stars and planets are born. These clouds can contain more mass than a million suns, and stretch across hundreds of light years.

    The giant molecular cloud known as W51 is one of the closest to Earth at a distance of about 17,000 light years. Because of its relative proximity, W51 provides astronomers with an excellent opportunity to study how stars are forming in our Milky Way galaxy.

    A new composite image of W51 shows the high-energy output from this stellar nursery, where X-rays from Chandra are colored blue. In about 20 hours of Chandra exposure time, over 600 young stars were detected as point-like X-ray sources, and diffuse X-ray emission from interstellar gas with a temperature of a million degrees or more was also observed. Infrared light observed with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope appears orange and yellow-green and shows cool gas and stars surrounded by disks of cool material.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    W51 contains multiple clusters of young stars. The Chandra data show that the X-ray sources in the field are found in small clumps, with a clear concentration of more than 100 sources in the central cluster, called G49.5−0.4.

    Although the W51 giant molecular cloud fills the entire field-of-view of this image, there are large areas where Chandra does not detect any diffuse, low energy X-rays from hot interstellar gas. Presumably dense regions of cooler material have displaced this hot gas or blocked X-rays from it.

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    X-ray Image of W51 (cropped)

    One of the massive stars in W51 is a bright X-ray source that is surrounded by a concentration of much fainter X-ray sources, as shown in a close-up view of the Chandra image. This suggests that massive stars can form nearly in isolation, with just a few lower mass stars rather than the full set of hundreds that are expected in typical star clusters.

    Another young, massive cluster located near the center of W51 hosts a star system that produces an extraordinarily large fraction of the highest energy X-rays detected by Chandra from W51. Theories for X-ray emission from massive single stars can’t explain this mystery, so it likely requires the close interaction of two very young, massive stars. Such intense, energetic radiation must change the chemistry of the molecules surrounding the star system, presenting a hostile environment for planet formation.

    A paper describing these results, led by Leisa Townsley (Penn State), appeared in the July 14th 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:57 am on July 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Spitzer, The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi   

    From Spitzer via Manu: “Massive Star Makes Waves” 12.18.12 


    Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    Spitzer

    12.18.12
    No writer credit

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    The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is having a “shocking” effect on the surrounding dust clouds in this infrared image from NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope. Stellar winds flowing out from this fast-moving star are making ripples in the dust as it approaches, creating a bow shock seen as glowing gossamer threads, which, for this star, are only seen in infrared light.

    Zeta Ophiuchi is a young, large and hot star located around 370 light-years away. It dwarfs our own sun in many ways — it is about six times hotter, eight times wider, 20 times more massive, and about 80,000 times as bright. Even at its great distance, it would be one of the brightest stars in the sky were it not largely obscured by foreground dust clouds.

    This massive star is travelling at a snappy pace of about 54,000 mph (24 kilometers per second), fast enough to break the sound barrier in the surrounding interstellar material. Because of this motion, it creates a spectacular bow shock ahead of its direction of travel (to the left). The structure is analogous to the ripples that precede the bow of a ship as it moves through the water, or the sonic boom of an airplane hitting supersonic speeds.

    The fine filaments of dust surrounding the star glow primarily at shorter infrared wavelengths, rendered here in green. The area of the shock pops out dramatically at longer infrared wavelengths, creating the red highlights.

    A bright bow shock like this would normally be seen in visible light as well, but because it is hidden behind a curtain of dust, only the longer infrared wavelengths of light seen by Spitzer can reach us.

    Bow shocks are commonly seen when two different regions of gas and dust slam into one another. Zeta Ophiuchi, like other massive stars, generates a strong wind of hot gas particles flowing out from its surface. This expanding wind collides with the tenuous clouds of interstellar gas and dust about half a light-year away from the star, which is almost 800 times the distance from the sun to Pluto. The speed of the winds added to the stars supersonic motion result in the spectacular collision seen here.

    Our own sun has significantly weaker solar winds and is passing much more slowly through our galactic neighborhood so it may not have a bow shock at all. NASAs twin Voyager spacecraft are headed away from the solar system and are currently about three times farther out than Pluto. They will likely pass beyond the influence of the sun into interstellar space in the next few years, though this is a much gentler transition than that seen around Zeta Ophiuchi.

    For this Spitzer image, infrared light at wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns is rendered in blue, 8.0 microns in green, and 24 microns in red.

    See the full article here .

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    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.

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  • richardmitnick 1:19 pm on June 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech's IPAC center, , , , , , NASA Spitzer, Robert Hurt, The Art of Exoplanets, Tim Pyle   

    From JPL: “The Art of Exoplanets” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    June 8, 2017
    Written by Pat Brennan

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

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    This artist’s concept by Robert Hurt and Tim Pyle shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets’ diameters, masses and distances from the host star.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior


    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

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    This artist’s concept by Tim Pyle allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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    This artist’s concept by Robert Hurt shows planet KELT-9b orbiting its host star, KELT-9. It is the hottest gas giant planet discovered so far. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Kelt North Telescope In Arizona at Winer Observatory by Ohio State University

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    This illustration shows one possible scenario for the hot, rocky exoplanet called 55 Cancri e, which is nearly two times as wide as Earth. Robert Hurt created this in 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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    NASA’s Kepler mission discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one, called Kepler-16b. Robert Hurt did this illustration of this fascinating world. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The moon hanging in the night sky sent Robert Hurt’s mind into deep space — to a region some 40 light years away, in fact, where seven Earth-sized planets crowded close to a dim, red sun.

    Hurt, a visualization scientist at Caltech’s IPAC center, was walking outside his home in Mar Vista, California, shortly after he learned of the discovery of these rocky worlds around a star called TRAPPIST-1 and got the assignment to visualize them. The planets had been revealed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based observatories.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    “I just stopped dead in my tracks, and I just stared at it,” Hurt said in an interview. “I was imagining that could be, not our moon, but the next planet over – what it would be like to be in a system where you could look up and see continental features on the next planet.”

    So began a kind of inspirational avalanche. Hurt and his colleague, multimedia producer Tim Pyle, developed a series of arresting, photorealistic images of what the new system’s tightly packed planets might look like — so tightly packed that they would loom large in each other’s skies. Their visions of the TRAPPIST-1 system would appear in leading news outlets around the world.

    Artists like Hurt and Pyle, who render vibrant visualizations based on data from Spitzer and other missions, are hybrids of sorts, blending expertise in both science and art. From squiggles on charts and columns of numbers, they conjure red, blue and green worlds, with half-frozen oceans or bubbling lava. Or they transport us to the surface of a world with a red-orange sun fixed in place, and a sky full of planetary companions.

    “For the public, the value of this is not just giving them a picture of something somebody made up,” said Douglas Hudgins, a program scientist for the Exoplanet Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These are real, educated guesses of how something might look to human beings. An image is worth a thousand words.”

    Hurt says he and Pyle are building on the work of artistic pioneers.

    “There’s actually a long history and tradition for space art and science-based illustration,” he said. “If you trace its roots back to the artist Chesley Bonestell (famous in the 1950s and ’60s), he really was the artist who got this idea: Let’s go and imagine what the planets in our solar system might actually look like if you were, say, on Jupiter’s moon, Io. How big would Jupiter appear in the sky, and what angle would we be viewing it from?”

    To begin work on their visualizations, Hurt divided up the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets with Pyle, who shares an office with him at Caltech’s IPAC center in Pasadena, California.

    Hurt holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and has worked at the center since he was a post-doctoral researcher in 1996 – when astronomical art was just his hobby.

    “They created a job for me,” he said.

    Pyle, whose background is in Hollywood special effects, joined Hurt in 2004.

    Hurt turns to Pyle for artistic inspiration, while Pyle relies on Hurt to check his science.

    “Robert and I have our desks right next to each other, so we’re constantly giving each other feedback,” Pyle said. “We’re each upping each other’s game, I think.”

    The TRAPPIST-1 worlds offered both of them a unique challenge. The two already had a reputation for illustrating many exoplanets – planets around stars beyond our own — but never seven Earth-sized worlds in a single system. The planets cluster so close to their star that a “year” on each of them — the time they take to complete a single orbit — can be numbered in Earth days.

    And like the overwhelming majority of the thousands of exoplants found in our galaxy so far, they were detected using indirect means. No telescope exists today that is powerful enough to photograph them.

    Real science informed their artistic vision. Using data from the telescopes that reveal each planet’s diameter as well as its “weight,” or mass, and known stellar physics to determine the amount of light each planet would receive, the artists went to work.

    Both consulted closely with the planets’ discovery team as they planned for a NASA announcement to coincide with a report in the journal Nature.

    “When we’re doing these artist’s concepts, we’re never saying, ‘This is what these planets actually look like,'” Pyle said. “We’re doing plausible illustrations of what they could look like, based on what we know so far. Having this wide range of seven planets actually let us illustrate almost the whole breadth of what would be plausible. This was going to be this incredible interstellar laboratory for what could happen on an Earth-sized planet.”

    For TRAPPIST-1b, Pyle took Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io, as an inspiration, based on suggestions from the science team. For the outermost world, TRAPPIST-1h, he chose two other Jovian moons, the ice-encased Ganymede and Europa.

    After talking to the scientists, Hurt portrayed TRAPPIST-1c as dry and rocky. But because all seven planets are probably tidally locked, forever presenting one face to their star and the other to the cosmos, he placed an ice cap on the dark side.

    TRAPPIST-1d was one of three that fall inside the “habitable zone” of the star, or the right distance away from it to allow possible liquid water on the surface.

    “The researchers told us they would like to see it portrayed as something they called an ‘eyeball world,'” Hurt said. “You have a dry, hot side that’s facing the star and an ice cap on the back side. But somewhere in between, you have (a zone) where the ice could melt and be sustained as liquid water.”

    At this point, Hurt said, art intervened. The scientists rejected his first version of the planet, which showed liquid water intruding far into the “dayside” of TRAPPIST-1d. They argued that the water would most likely be found well within the planet’s dark half.

    “Then I kind of pushed back, and said, ‘If it’s on the dark side, no one can look at it and understand we’re saying there’s water there,'” Hurt said. They struck a compromise: more water toward the dayside than the science team might expect, but a better visual representation of the science.

    The same push and pull between science and art extends to other forms of astronomical visualization, whether it’s a Valentine’s Day cartoon of a star pulsing like a heart in time with its planet, or materials for the blockbuster announcement of the first detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in February 2016. They’ve also illustrated asteroids, neutron stars, pulsars and brown dwarfs.

    Visualizations based on data can also inform science, leading to genuine scientific insights. The scientists’ conclusions about TRAPPIST-1 at first seemed to suggest the planets would be bathed in red light, potentially obscuring features like blue-hued bodies of water.

    “It makes it hard to really differentiate what is going on,” Hurt said.

    Hurt decided to investigate. A colleague provided him with a spectrum of a red dwarf star similar to TRAPPIST-1. He overlaid that with the “responsivity curves” of the human eye, and found that most of the scientists’ “red” came from infrared light, invisible to human eyes. Subtract that, and what is left is a more reddish-orange hue that we might see standing on the surface of a TRAPPIST-1 world — “kind of the same color you would expect to get from a low-wattage light bulb,” Hurt said. “And the scientists looked at that and said, ‘Oh, ok, great, it’s orange.’ When the math tells you the answer, there really isn’t a lot to argue about.”

    For Hurt, the real goal of scientific illustration is to excite the public, engage them in the science, and provide a snapshot of scientific knowledge.

    “If you look at the whole history of space art, reaching back many, many decades, you will find you have a visual record,” he said. “The art is a historical record of our changing understanding of the universe. It becomes a part of the story, and a part of the research, I think.”

    For more information on exoplanets, visit:

    https://exoplanets.nasa.gov

    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , N6946-BH1 is the only likely failed supernova that we found in the first seven years of our survey, , NASA Spitzer, NGC 6946 Fireworks Galaxy, SN 2017eaw   

    From Hubble: “Collapsing Star Gives Birth to a Black Hole” 

    NASA Hubble Banner

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    May 25, 2017
    Christopher Kochanek / Krzysztof Stanek
    Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
    614-292-5954 / 614-292-3433
    kochanek.1@osu.edu / stanek.32@osu.edu

    Scott Adams
    Caltech, Pasadena, California
    626-395-8676
    smadams@caltech.edu

    Pam Frost Gorder
    Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
    614-292-9475
    gorder.1@osu.edu

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.r.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    1
    Massive Dying Star Goes Out With a Whimper Instead of a Bang

    Every second a star somewhere out in the universe explodes as a supernova. But some super-massive stars go out with a whimper instead of a bang. When they do, they can collapse under the crushing tug of gravity and vanish out of sight, only to leave behind a black hole. The doomed star, named N6946-BH1, was 25 times as massive as our sun. It began to brighten weakly in 2009. But, by 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence. By a careful process of elimination, based on observations by the Large Binocular Telescope and the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole. This may be the fate for extremely massive stars in the universe.

    U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope, Mount Graham, Arizona, USA

    Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole. It took the combined power of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), and NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to go looking for remnants of the vanquished star, only to find that it disappeared out of sight.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    It went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

    The star, which was 25 times as massive as our sun, should have exploded in a very bright supernova. Instead, it fizzled out—and then left behind a black hole.

    “Massive fails” like this one in a nearby galaxy could explain why astronomers rarely see supernovae from the most massive stars, said Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology.

    As many as 30 percent of such stars, it seems, may quietly collapse into black holes — no supernova required.

    “The typical view is that a star can form a black hole only after it goes supernova,” Kochanek explained. “If a star can fall short of a supernova and still make a black hole, that would help to explain why we don’t see supernovae from the most massive stars.”

    He leads a team of astronomers who published their latest results in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Among the galaxies they’ve been watching is NGC 6946, a spiral galaxy 22 million light-years away that is nicknamed the “Fireworks Galaxy” because supernovae frequently happen there — indeed, SN 2017eaw, discovered on May 14th, is shining near maximum brightness now. Starting in 2009, one particular star, named N6946-BH1, began to brighten weakly. By 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence.

    After the LBT survey for failed supernovas turned up the star, astronomers aimed the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to see if it was still there but merely dimmed. They also used Spitzer to search for any infrared radiation emanating from the spot. That would have been a sign that the star was still present, but perhaps just hidden behind a dust cloud.

    All the tests came up negative. The star was no longer there. By a careful process of elimination, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole.

    It’s too early in the project to know for sure how often stars experience massive fails, but Scott Adams, a former Ohio State student who recently earned his Ph.D. doing this work, was able to make a preliminary estimate.

    “N6946-BH1 is the only likely failed supernova that we found in the first seven years of our survey. During this period, six normal supernovae have occurred within the galaxies we’ve been monitoring, suggesting that 10 to 30 percent of massive stars die as failed supernovae,” he said.

    “This is just the fraction that would explain the very problem that motivated us to start the survey, that is, that there are fewer observed supernovae than should be occurring if all massive stars die that way.”

    To study co-author Krzysztof Stanek, the really interesting part of the discovery is the implications it holds for the origins of very massive black holes — the kind that the LIGO experiment detected via gravitational waves. (LIGO is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.)


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project


    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    It doesn’t necessarily make sense, said Stanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, that a massive star could undergo a supernova — a process which entails blowing off much of its outer layers — and still have enough mass left over to form a massive black hole on the scale of those that LIGO detected.

    “I suspect it’s much easier to make a very massive black hole if there is no supernova,” he concluded.

    Adams is now an astrophysicist at Caltech. Other co-authors were Ohio State doctoral student Jill Gerke and University of Oklahoma astronomer Xinyu Dai. Their research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    The Large Binocular Telescope is an international collaboration among institutions in the United Sates, Italy and Germany.

    See the full article here .
    See the JPL-Caltech full article here .

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    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 3:40 pm on May 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , “Warm Neptune” HAT-P-26b, , , NASA Spitzer,   

    From Goddard: “NASA Study Finds Unexpectedly Primitive Atmosphere Around ‘Warm Neptune’ “ 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    May 11, 2017
    Elizabeth Zubritsky
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov
    Nancy Neal-Jones
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Elizabeth Landau
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    1
    The atmosphere of the distant “warm Neptune” HAT-P-26b, illustrated here, is unexpectedly primitive, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. By combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, researchers determined that, unlike Neptune and Uranus, the exoplanet has relatively low metallicity, an indication of the how rich the planet is in all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.
    Credits: NASA/GSFC

    A study [Science]combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes reveals that the distant planet HAT-P-26b has a primitive atmosphere composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    Located about 437 light years away, HAT-P-26b orbits a star roughly twice as old as the sun.

    2
    http://www.vladtime.ru/nauka/464041

    The analysis is one of the most detailed studies to date of a “warm Neptune,” or a planet that is Neptune-sized and close to its star. The researchers determined that HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and has a strong water signature, although the planet is not a water world. This is the best measurement of water to date on an exoplanet of this size.

    The discovery of an atmosphere with this composition on this exoplanet has implications for how scientists think about the birth and development of planetary systems. Compared to Neptune and Uranus, the planets in our solar system with about the same mass, HAT-P-26b likely formed either closer to its host star or later in the development of its planetary system, or both.

    “Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system,” said Hannah Wakeford, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study published in the May 12, 2017, issue of Science. “This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring the atmospheres of alien planets.”

    To study HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere, the researchers used data from transits— occasions when the planet passed in front of its host star. During a transit, a fraction of the starlight gets filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, which absorbs some wavelengths of light but not others. By looking at how the signatures of the starlight change as a result of this filtering, researchers can work backward to figure out the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

    In this case, the team pooled data from four transits measured by Hubble and two seen by Spitzer. Together, those observations covered a wide range of wavelengths from yellow light through the near-infrared region.

    “To have so much information about a warm Neptune is still rare, so analyzing these data sets simultaneously is an achievement in and of itself,” said co-author Tiffany Kataria of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    Because the study provided a precise measurement of water, the researchers were able to use the water signature to estimate HAT-P-26b’s metallicity. Astronomers calculate the metallicity, an indication of how rich the planet is in all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, because it gives them clues about how a planet formed.

    To compare planets by their metallicities, scientists use the sun as a point of reference, almost like describing how much caffeine beverages have by comparing them to a cup of coffee. Jupiter has a metallicity about 2 to 5 times that of the sun. For Saturn, it’s about 10 times as much as the sun. These relatively low values mean that the two gas giants are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.

    The ice giants Neptune and Uranus are smaller than the gas giants but richer in the heavier elements, with metallicities of about 100 times that of the sun. So, for the four outer planets in our solar system, the trend is that the metallicities are lower for the bigger planets.

    Scientists think this happened because, as the solar system was taking shape, Neptune and Uranus formed in a region toward the outskirts of the enormous disk of dust, gas and debris that swirled around the immature sun. Summing up the complicated process of planetary formation in a nutshell: Neptune and Uranus would have been bombarded with a lot of icy debris that was rich in heavier elements. Jupiter and Saturn, which formed in a warmer part of the disk, would have encountered less of the icy debris.

    Two planets beyond our solar system also fit this trend. One is the Neptune-mass planet HAT-P-11b. The other is WASP-43b, a gas giant twice as massive as Jupiter.

    But Wakeford and her colleagues found that HAT-P-26b bucks the trend. They determined its metallicity is only about 4.8 times that of the sun, much closer to the value for Jupiter than for Neptune.

    “This analysis shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we were expecting, which is providing insight into how planets can form and evolve differently than in our solar system,” said David K. Sing of the University of Exeter and the second author of the paper. “I would say that has been a theme in the studies of exoplanets: Researchers keep finding surprising diversity.”

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 11:55 am on April 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA Spitzer, New planet OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb found   

    From Spitzer: “Iceball’ Planet Discovered Through Microlensing” 

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

    Spitzer

    04.26.17
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    1

    Scientists have discovered a new planet with the mass of Earth, orbiting its star at the same distance that we orbit our sun. The planet is likely far too cold to be habitable for life as we know it, however, because its star is so faint. But the discovery adds to scientists’ understanding of the types of planetary systems that exist beyond our own.

    “This ‘iceball’ planet is the lowest-mass planet ever found through microlensing,” said Yossi Shvartzvald, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and lead author of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

    Microlensing is a technique that facilitates the discovery of distant objects by using background stars as flashlights. When a star crosses precisely in front of a bright star in the background, the gravity of the foreground star focuses the light of the background star, making it appear brighter. A planet orbiting the foreground object may cause an additional blip in the star’s brightness. In this case, the blip only lasted a few hours. This technique has found the most distant known exoplanets from Earth, and can detect low-mass planets that are substantially farther from their stars than Earth is from our sun.

    The newly discovered planet, called OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb, aids scientists in their quest to figure out the distribution of planets in our galaxy. An open question is whether there is a difference in the frequency of planets in the Milky Way’s central bulge compared to its disk, the pancake-like region surrounding the bulge. OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb is located in the disk, as are two planets previously detected through microlensing by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

    “Although we only have a handful of planetary systems with well-determined distances that are this far outside our solar system, the lack of Spitzer detections in the bulge suggests that planets may be less common toward the center of our galaxy than in the disk,” said Geoff Bryden, astronomer at JPL and co-author of the study.

    For the new study, researchers were alerted to the initial microlensing event by the ground-based Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) survey, managed by the University of Warsaw in Poland. Study authors used the Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet), operated by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, and Spitzer, to track the event from Earth and space.

    3
    KMTNet-CTIO

    1.3 meter OGLE Warsaw Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile

    KMTNet consists of three wide-field telescopes: one in Chile, one in Australia, and one in South Africa. When scientists from the Spitzer team received the OGLE alert, they realized the potential for a planetary discovery. The microlensing event alert was only a couple of hours before Spitzer’s targets for the week were to be finalized, but it made the cut.

    With both KMTNet and Spitzer observing the event, scientists had two vantage points from which to study the objects involved, as though two eyes separated by a great distance were viewing it. Having data from these two perspectives allowed them to detect the planet with KMTNet and calculate the mass of the star and the planet using Spitzer data.

    “We are able to know details about this planet because of the synergy between KMTNet and Spitzer,” said Andrew Gould, professor emeritus of astronomy at Ohio State University, Columbus, and study co-author.

    Although OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb is about the same mass as Earth, and the same distance from its host star as our planet is from our sun, the similarities may end there.

    OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb is nearly 13,000 light-years away and orbits a star so small, scientists aren’t sure if it’s a star at all. It could be a brown dwarf, a star-like object whose core is not hot enough to generate energy through nuclear fusion. This particular star is only 7.8 percent the mass of our sun, right on the border between being a star and not.

    Alternatively, it could be an ultra-cool dwarf star much like TRAPPIST-1, which Spitzer and ground-based telescopes recently revealed to host seven Earth-size planets.

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    Those seven planets all huddle closely around TRAPPIST-1, even closer than Mercury orbits our sun, and they all have potential for liquid water. But OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb, at the sun-Earth distance from a very faint star, would be extremely cold — likely even colder than Pluto is in our own solar system, such that any surface water would be frozen. A planet would need to orbit much closer to the tiny, faint star to receive enough light to maintain liquid water on its surface.

    Ground-based telescopes available today are not able to find smaller planets than this one using the microlensing method. A highly sensitive space telescope would be needed to spot smaller bodies in microlensing events. NASA’s upcoming Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), planned for launch in the mid-2020s, will have this capability.

    NASA/WFIRST

    “One of the problems with estimating how many planets like this are out there is that we have reached the lower limit of planet masses that we can currently detect with microlensing,” Shvartzvald said. “WFIRST will be able to change that.”

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.

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  • richardmitnick 4:57 pm on April 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer, Where Is Spitzer Now?   

    From Spitzer: “Where Is Spitzer Now?” 

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

    Spitzer

    1

    Current Observation Details
    Target Name NGC1385
    RA 3:37:28.32
    Declination -24:30: 4.60
    Program Name SPIRITS1 1
    Principal Investigator Kasliwal
    AOT iracmapp
    Start Time 2017-04-24 21:43:34 UTC
    Duration of Observation 29.39

    How To Read The Details
    Target Name
    This is the name of the object being observed by Spitzer. The name appears as it was input by the observer, and will usually appear as a unique, universally accepted catalog designation rather than a “name” in the traditional sense of the word.
    RA
    These are the coordinates in the sky where the object is located. They work much like longitude and latitude on Earth. RA is the object’s position along the equator, and Declination is its position north or south (positive numbers are the northern sky, and negative numbers are the southern sky).
    Declination
    These are the coordinates in the sky where the object is located. They work much like longitude and latitude on Earth. RA is the object’s position along the equator, and Declination is its position north or south (positive numbers are the northern sky, and negative numbers are the southern sky).
    Program Name
    When astronomers are granted observing time on Spitzer, their planned observations are defined under a unique program name. Each program has specific goals and objectives, such as the various Legacy Science programs, whose objective is to create a substantial and coherent database of archived observations that can be used by subsequent Spitzer researchers.
    Principal Investigator
    This is the name of the scientist who leads the team of people who are making the observation on Spitzer.
    AOT
    This is the specific observing mode that Spitzer is using for its observation. Spitzer has three different instruments (IRAC – The Infrared Array Camera, IRS – The Infrared Spectrograph, and MIPS – The Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer), all of which can be used in several different ways.
    Start Time
    The time that the observation began. The times are given in UTC (also known as Greenwich Mean Time), which is 8 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (7 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time).
    Duration of Observation

    Different observations require different amounts of time to gather all the data. Some observations can be quite quick, and some can take hours.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.

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  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on November 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Space Telescopes Pinpoint Elusive Brown Dwarf, NASA Spitzer   

    From Spitzer: “NASA Space Telescopes Pinpoint Elusive Brown Dwarf” 

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

    Spitzer

    11.10.16

    1

    In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, NASA’s Spitzer and Swift space telescopes joined forces to observe a microlensing event, when a distant star brightens due to the gravitational field of at least one foreground cosmic object.

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    2
    That picture above is real! It’s a Hubble Space Telescope image of a cluster of galaxies with the poetic name of SDSS J1038+4849 (called that because it was first seen in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the numbers are its coordinates, like latitude and longitude, on the sky). What you’re seeing is a peculiar effect of relativity called “gravitational lensing.”

    This technique is useful for finding low-mass bodies orbiting stars, such as planets. In this case, the observations revealed a brown dwarf.

    Brown Dwarf 2M1207A and companion 2M120B
    Brown Dwarf 2M1207A and companion 2M120B

    Brown dwarfs are thought to be the missing link between planets and stars, with masses up to 80 times that of Jupiter. But their centers are not hot or dense enough to generate energy through nuclear fusion the way stars do. Curiously, scientists have found that, for stars roughly the mass of our sun, less than 1 percent have a brown dwarf orbiting within 3 AU (1 AU is the distance between Earth and the sun). This phenomenon is called the “brown dwarf desert.”

    The newly discovered brown dwarf, which orbits a host star, may inhabit this desert. Spitzer and Swift observed the microlensing event after being tipped off by ground-based microlensing surveys, including the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).

    OGLE Warsaw Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile
    1.3 meter OGLE Warsaw telescope interior
    1.3 meter OGLE Warsaw Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile

    The discovery of this brown dwarf, with the unwieldy name OGLE-2015-BLG-1319, marks the first time two space telescopes have collaborated to observe a microlensing event.

    “We want to understand how brown dwarfs form around stars, and why there is a gap in where they are found relative to their host stars,” said Yossi Shvartzvald, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and lead author of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal. “It’s possible that the ‘desert’ is not as dry as we think.”

    What is microlensing?

    n a microlensing event, a background source star serves as a flashlight for the observer. When a massive object passes in front of the background star along the line of sight, the background star brightens because the foreground object deflects and focuses the light from the background source star. Depending on the mass and alignment of the intervening object, the background star can briefly appear thousands of times brighter.

    One way to understand better the properties of the lensing system is to observe the microlensing event from more than one vantage point. By having multiple telescopes record the brightening of the background star, scientists can take advantage of “parallax,” the apparent difference in position of an object as seen from two points in space. When you hold your thumb in front of your nose and close your left eye, then open it and close your right eye, your thumb seems to move in space — but it stays put with two eyes open. In the context of microlensing, observing the same event from two or more widely separated locations will result in different magnification patterns.

    “Anytime you have multiple observing locations, such as Earth and one, or in this case, two space telescopes, it’s like having multiple eyes to see how far away something is,” Shvartzvald said. “From models for how microlensing works, we can then use this to calculate the relationship between the mass of the object and its distance.”

    The new study

    Spitzer observed the binary system containing the brown dwarf in July 2015, during the last two weeks of the space telescope’s microlensing campaign for that year.
    While Spitzer is over 1 AU away from Earth in an Earth-trailing orbit around the sun, Swift is in a low Earth orbit encircling our planet. Swift also saw the binary system in late June 2015 through microlensing, representing the first time this telescope had observed a microlensing event. But Swift is not far enough away from ground-based telescopes to get a significantly different view of this particular event, so no parallax was measured between the two. This gives scientists insights into the limits of the telescope’s capabilities for certain types of objects and distances.

    “Our simulations suggest that Swift could measure this parallax for nearby, less massive objects, including ‘free-floating planets,’ which do not orbit stars,” Shvartzvald said.

    By combining data from these space-based and ground-based telescopes, researchers determined that the newly discovered brown dwarf is between 30 and 65 Jupiter masses. They also found that the brown dwarf orbits a K dwarf, a type of star that tends to have about half the mass of the sun. Researchers found two possible distances between the brown dwarf and its host star, based on available data: 0.25 AU and 45 AU. The 0.25 AU distance would put this system in the brown dwarf desert.

    “In the future, we hope to have more observations of microlensing events from multiple viewing perspectives, allowing us to probe further the characteristics of brown dwarfs and planetary systems,” said Geoffrey Bryden, JPL scientist and co-author of the study.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.

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  • richardmitnick 2:45 pm on September 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer, The Frontier Fields: Where Primordial Galaxies Lurk   

    From JPL-Caltech: “The Frontier Fields: Where Primordial Galaxies Lurk” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    September 28, 2016
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Written by Adam Hadhazy

    1
    This image of galaxy cluster Abell 2744, also called Pandora’s Cluster, was taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The cluster is also being studied by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory in a collaboration called the Frontier Fields project. Image credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    In the ongoing hunt for the universe’s earliest galaxies, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has wrapped up its observations for the Frontier Fields project. This ambitious project has combined the power of all three of NASA’s Great Observatories — Spitzer, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory — to delve as far back in time and space as current technology can allow.

    Even with today’s best telescopes, it is difficult to gather enough light from the very first galaxies, located more than 13 billion light years away, to learn much about them beyond their approximate distance. But scientists have a tool of cosmic proportions to help in their studies. The gravity exerted by massive, foreground clusters of galaxies bends and magnifies the light of faraway, background objects, in effect creating cosmic zoom lenses. This phenomenon is called gravitational lensing.

    The Frontier Fields observations have peered through the strongest zoom lenses available by targeting six of the most massive galaxy clusters known. These lenses can magnify tiny background galaxies by as much as a factor of one hundred. With Spitzer’s new Frontier Fields data, along with data from Chandra and Hubble, astronomers will learn unprecedented details about the earliest galaxies.

    “Spitzer has finished its Frontier Fields observations and we are very excited to get all of this data out to the astronomical community,” said Peter Capak, a research scientist with the NASA/JPL Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California, and the Spitzer lead for the Frontier Fields project.

    A recent paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics presented the full catalog data for two of the six galaxy clusters studied by the Frontier Fields: Abell 2744 — nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster — and MACS J0416, both located about four billion light years away. The other galaxy clusters selected for Frontier Fields are RXC J2248, MACS J1149, MACS J0717 and Abell 370.

    Eager astronomers will comb the Frontier Fields catalogs for the tiniest, dimmest-lensed objects, many of which should prove to be the most distant galaxies ever glimpsed. The current record-holder, a galaxy called GN-z11, was reported in March by Hubble researchers at the astonishing distance of 13.4 billion light-years, only a few hundred million years after the big bang. The discovery of this galaxy did not require gravitational lenses because it is an outlying, extremely bright object for its epoch. With the magnification boost provided by gravitational lenses, the Frontier Fields project will allow researchers to study typical objects at such incredible distances, painting a more accurate and complete picture of the universe’s earliest galaxies.

    Astronomers want to understand how these primeval galaxies arose, how their constituent mass developed into stars, and how these stars have enriched the galaxies with chemical elements fused in their thermonuclear furnaces. To learn about the origin and evolution of the earliest galaxies, which are quite faint, astronomers need to collect as much light as possible across a range of frequencies. With sufficient light from these galaxies, astronomers can perform spectroscopy, pulling out details about stars’ compositions, temperatures and their environments by examining the signatures of chemical elements imprinted in the light.

    “With the Frontier Fields approach,” said Capak, “the most remote and faintest galaxies are made bright enough for us to start to say some definite things about them, such as their star formation histories.”

    Because the universe has expanded over its 13.8-billion-year history, light from extremely distant objects has been stretched out, or redshifted, on its long journey to Earth. Optical light emitted by stars in the gravitational-lensed, background galaxies viewed in the Frontier Fields has therefore redshifted into infrared. Spitzer can use this infrared light to gauge the population sizes of stars in a galaxy, which in turn gives clues to the galaxy’s mass. Combining the light seen by Spitzer and Hubble allows astronomers to identify galaxies at the edge of the observable universe.

    Hubble, meanwhile, scans the Frontier Fields galaxy clusters in optical and near-infrared light, which has redshifted from ultraviolet light on its journey to Earth. Chandra, for its part, observes the foreground galaxy clusters in high-energy X-rays emitted by black holes and ambient hot gas. Along with Spitzer, the space telescopes size up the masses of the galaxy clusters, including their unseen but substantial dark matter content. Nailing down the clusters’ total mass is a critical step in quantifying the magnification and distortion they produce on background galaxies of interest. Recent multi-wavelength results in this vein from the Frontier Fields project regarding the MACS J0416 and MACS J0717 clusters were published in October 2015 and February 2016. These results also brought in radio wave observations from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array to see star-forming regions otherwise hidden by gas and dust.

    The Frontier Fields collaboration has inspired scientists involved in the effort as they look ahead to delving even deeper into the universe with the James Webb Space Telescope, which is planned for launch in 2018.

    “The Frontier Fields has been an entirely community-led project, which is different from the way many projects of this magnitude are typically pursued,” said Lisa Storrie-Lombardi of the Spitzer Science Center, also with the Frontier Fields project. “People have gotten together and really embraced Frontier Fields.”

    In addition to the six Frontier Fields galaxy clusters, Spitzer has done follow-up observations on other, slightly shallower fields Hubble has gazed into, expanding the overall number of cosmic regions where fairly deep observations have been taken. These additional fields will further serve as rich areas of investigation for Webb and future instruments.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive, housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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