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  • richardmitnick 3:23 pm on August 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “A galactic maelstrom” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    1
    Credit:NASA/ESA Hubble and the LEGUS Team
    Acknowledgement: R. GendlerHubble Space Telescope
    WFC3

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    WFC3

    This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. It was first discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, and added to Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later.

    The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas is unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic centre. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96.

    This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).

    See the 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 1:29 pm on August 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “Hubble Finds That the Nearest Quasar Is Powered by a Double Black Hole” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    August 27, 2015

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

    Jana Smith
    University of Oklahoma, Norman, Ok.
    405-325-1701
    jana.smith@ou.edu

    Xinyu Dai
    University of Oklahoma, Norman, Ok.
    405-325-3961
    xdai@ou.edu

    1
    Quasar Host Galaxy Markarian 231
    This Hubble Space Telescope image reveals a bright starlike glow in the center of the interacting galaxy Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth. Located 581 million light-years away, we are seeing the galaxy as it looked before multicelled life first appeared on Earth. Quasars are powered by a central black hole that heats the gas around it to unleash tremendous amounts of energy. Hubble spectroscopic observations infer the presence of two supermassive black holes whirling around each other. Because such a dynamic duo is found in the nearest quasar, it would imply that many quasars host binary-black-hole systems. It would be a natural result of a galaxy merger.
    Object Names: Markarian 231, Mrk 231, UGC 8058, VII Zw 490, QSO B1254+571
    Image Type: Astronomical
    Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)
    The galaxy pair was imaged with the ACS/WFC instrument with filters F435W (B) and F814W (I) on May 10, 2002.

    NASA Hubble ACS
    ACS

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    WFC

    Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found that Markarian 231 (Mrk 231), the nearest galaxy to Earth that hosts a quasar, is powered by two central black holes furiously whirling about each other.

    The finding suggests that quasars — the brilliant cores of active galaxies — may commonly host two central supermassive black holes that fall into orbit about one another as a result of the merger between two galaxies. Like a pair of whirling skaters, the black-hole duo generates tremendous amounts of energy that makes the core of the host galaxy outshine the glow of the galaxy’s population of billions of stars, which scientists then identify as quasars.

    Scientists looked at Hubble archival observations of ultraviolet radiation emitted from the center of Mrk 231 to discover what they describe as “extreme and surprising properties.”

    If only one black hole were present in the center of the quasar, the whole accretion disk made of surrounding hot gas would glow in ultraviolet rays. Instead, the ultraviolet glow of the dusty disk abruptly drops off towards the center. This provides observational evidence that the disk has a big donut hole encircling the central black hole. The best explanation for the observational data, based on dynamical models, is that the center of the disk is carved out by the action of two black holes orbiting each other. The second, smaller black hole orbits in the inner edge of the accretion disk, and has its own mini-disk with an ultraviolet glow.

    “We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission,” said Youjun Lu of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    “The structure of our universe, such as those giant galaxies and clusters of galaxies, grows by merging smaller systems into larger ones, and binary black holes are natural consequences of these mergers of galaxies,” added co-investigator Xinyu Dai of the University of Oklahoma.

    The central black hole is estimated to be 150 million times the mass of our sun, and the companion weighs in at 4 million solar masses. The dynamic duo completes an orbit around each other every 1.2 years.

    The lower-mass black hole is the remnant of a smaller galaxy that merged with Mrk 231. Evidence of a recent merger comes from the host galaxy’s asymmetry, and the long tidal tails of young blue stars.

    The result of the merger has been to make Mrk 231 an energetic starburst galaxy with a star-formation rate 100 times greater than that of our Milky Way galaxy. The infalling gas fuels the black hole “engine,” triggering outflows and gas turbulence that incites a firestorm of star birth.

    The binary black holes are predicted to spiral together and collide within a few hundred thousand years.

    Mrk 231 is located 581 million light-years away.

    The results were published in the August 14, 2015, edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 6:00 pm on August 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “A youthful cluster” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    24 August 2015

    1
    ESA/Hubble & NASA
    Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt (geckzilla.com)

    Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud [LMC], a satellite galaxy of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, in the southern hemisphere constellation of Dorado.

    NASA Hubble ACS
    ACS

    LMC
    LMC

    First observed by John Herschel in 1835, NGC 1783 is nearly 160 000 light-years from Earth, and has a mass around 170 000 times that of the Sun.

    Globular clusters are dense collections of stars held together by their own gravity, which orbit around galaxies like satellites. The image clearly shows the symmetrical shape of NGC 1783 and the concentration of stars towards the centre, both typical features of globular clusters.

    By measuring the colour and brightness of individual stars, astronomers can deduce an overall age for a cluster and a picture of its star formation history. NGC 1783 is thought to be under one and a half billion years old — which is very young for globular clusters, which are typically several billion years old. During that time, it is thought to have undergone at least two periods of star formation, separated by 50 to 100 million years.

    This ebb and flow of star-forming activity is an indicator of how much gas is available for star formation at any one time. When the most massive stars created in the first burst of formation explode as supernovae they blow away the gas needed to form further stars, but the gas reservoir can later be replenished by less massive stars which last longer and shed their gas less violently. After this gas flows to the dense central regions of the star cluster, a second phase of star formation can take place and once again the short-lived massive stars blow away any leftover gas. This cycle can continue a few times, at which time the remaining gas reservoir is thought to be too small to form any new stars.

    A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.

    See the 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 1:41 pm on August 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “Cosmic Journeys – Hubble: Universe in Motion” video 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    Since its launch 25 Years ago, the Hubble Telescope has returned images of unprecedented beauty of a dynamic and changing universe.

    In this episode of COSMIC JOURNEYS, Hubble’s most iconic images are bought to life to answer some of the most important questions facing astronomers today. Colliding galaxies, the birth and death of stars, jets of gas thrown out by material crashing into distant suns: these incredible images tech us valuable lessons about how galaxies are formed, what dark matter is and even the fate of the earth itself.


    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 2:47 pm on August 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “A cosmic couple” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    17 August 2015

    1
    Name: M1-67, WR 124
    Type: • Milky Way : Star : Type : Wolf-Rayet
    • Milky Way : Nebula
    Distance: 15000 light years

    Here we see the spectacular cosmic pairing of the star Hen 2-427 — more commonly known as WR 124 — and the nebula M1-67 which surrounds it. Both objects, captured here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope are found in the constellation of Sagittarius and lie 15 000 light-years away.

    The star Hen 2-427 shines brightly at the very centre of this explosive image and around the hot clumps of gas are ejected into space at over 150 000 kilometres per hour.

    Hen 2-427 is a Wolf–Rayet star, named after the astronomers Charles Wolf and Georges Rayet. Wolf–Rayet are super-hot stars characterised by a fierce ejection of mass.

    The nebula M1-67 is estimated to be no more than 10 000 years old — just a baby in astronomical terms — but what a beautiful and magnificent sight it makes.

    A version of this image was released in 1998, but has now been re-reduced with the latest software.

    Credit:

    ESA/Hubble & NASA
    Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt (geckzilla.com)

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 1:49 pm on August 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “NASA’s Hubble Finds Supernovae in ‘Wrong Place at Wrong Time'” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    August 13, 2015
    CONTACT

    Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4493 / 410-338-4514
    dweaver@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu

    Ryan Foley
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
    510-338-3364
    rfoley@illinois.edu

    Scientists have been fascinated by a series of unusual exploding stars-outcasts beyond the typical cozy confines of their galaxies. A new analysis of 13 supernovae — including archived data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope — is helping astronomers explain how some young stars exploded sooner than expected, hurling them to a lonely place far from their host galaxies.

    1
    Elliptical Galaxy NCG 2768

    2
    Host Galaxies of Calcium-Rich Supernovae

    It’s a complicated mystery of double-star systems, merging galaxies, and twin black holes that began in 2000 when the first such supernova was discovered, according to study leader Ryan Foley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This story has taken lots of twists and turns, and I was surprised every step of the way,” he said. “We knew these stars had to be far from the source of their explosion as supernovae and wanted to find out how they arrived at their current homes.”

    Foley thought that the doomed stars had somehow migrated to their final resting spots. To prove his idea, he studied data from the Lick Observatory in California and the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Subaru Telescope, both in Hawaii, to determine how fast the stars were traveling.

    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    UCO/Lick Shane telescope

    Keck Observatory
    Keck Observatory Interior
    Keck

    NAOJ Subaru Telescope
    NAOJ Subaru Telescope interior
    NAOJ/ Subaru

    To his surprise, he discovered that the doomed stars were zipping along at about the same speed as stars that have been tossed out of our Milky Way galaxy by its central supermassive black hole, at more than 5 million miles (7 million kilometers) an hour. The astronomer then turned his attention to the aging galaxies in the area of the speeding supernovae. Studying Hubble archival images, he confirmed that many are massive elliptical galaxies that were merging or had recently merged with other galaxies. The lanes are the shredded remnants of a cannibalized galaxy. Other observations provided circumstantial evidence for such encounters, showing that the cores of many of these galaxies had active supermassive black holes fueled by the collision. Many of the galaxies also reside in dense environments at the heart of galaxy clusters, a prime area for mergers. The telltale clue was strong dust lanes piercing through the centers of several of them.

    The location of the supernovae in relation to ancient galaxies indicates that the original stars must have been old, too, Foley reasoned. And if the stars were old, then they must have had companions with them that provided enough material to trigger a supernova blast.

    How does a double-star system escape the boundaries of a galaxy?

    Foley hypothesizes that a pair of supermassive black holes in the merging galaxies can provide the gravitational slingshot to rocket the binary stars into intergalactic space. Hubble observations reveal that nearly every galaxy has a massive black hole at its center. According to Foley’s scenario, after two galaxies merge, their black holes migrate to the center of the new galaxy, each with a trailing a cluster of stars. As the black holes dance around each other, slowly getting closer, one of the binary stars in the black holes’ entourage may wander too close to the other black hole. Many of these stars will be flung far away, and those ejected stars in surviving binary systems will orbit even closer after the encounter, which speeds up the merger.

    “With a single black hole, occasionally a star will wander too close to it and have an extreme interaction,” Foley said. “With two black holes, there are two reservoirs of stars being dragged close to another black hole. This dramatically increases the likelihood that a star is ejected.” While the black hole at the center of the Milky Way may eject about one star a century, a binary supermassive black hole may kick out 100 stars a year.

    After getting booted out of the galaxy, the binary stars move closer together as their orbits continue to accelerate, which speeds up the binary stars’ aging process. The binary stars are likely both white dwarfs, which are the burned out relics of stars. Eventually, the white dwarfs get close enough that one is ripped apart by tidal forces. As material from the dead star is quickly dumped onto the surviving star, an explosion occurs, causing the supernova.

    The time it takes for one of these ejected stars to explode is relatively short, about 50 million years. Normally, these kinds of binary stars take a long time to merge, probably much longer than the age of the universe, which is more than 13 billion years.

    “The interaction with the black holes shortens that fuse,” Foley explained.

    While scientists think they have found what causes these outcast supernovae, some mysteries remain unsolved, such as why they are unusually weak. These supernovae produced more than five times as much calcium as other stellar explosions. Normally, supernova explosions have enough energy to create much heavier elements, such as iron and nickel, at the expense of producing the lighter calcium. However, for these atypical explosions, the fusion chain stops midway, leaving lots of calcium and very little iron.

    “Everything points to a weak explosion,” said Foley. “We know that these blasts have lower kinetic energy and less luminosity than typical supernovae. They also appear to have less ejected mass, whereas a more energetic explosion should completely unbind the star.”

    The results appear in the August 13 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 1:46 pm on August 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “NASA’s Hubble Finds Evidence of Galaxy Star Birth Regulated by Black-Hole Fountain” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    August 6, 2015
    Ann Jenkins / Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4488 / 410-338-4514
    jenkins@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu

    Megan Donahue
    Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
    donahue@pa.msu.edu

    Grant Tremblay
    Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
    grant.tremblay@yale.edu

    1

    Astronomers have uncovered a unique process for how the universe’s largest elliptical galaxies continue making stars long after their peak years of star birth. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope’s exquisite high resolution and ultraviolet-light sensitivity allowed the astronomers to see brilliant knots of hot, blue stars forming along the jets of active black holes found in the centers of giant elliptical galaxies.

    Combining Hubble data with observations from a suite of ground-based and space telescopes, two independent teams found that the black hole, jets, and newborn stars are all parts of a self-regulating cycle. High-energy jets shooting from the black hole heat a halo of surrounding gas, controlling the rate at which the gas cools and falls into the galaxy.

    “Think of the gas surrounding a galaxy as an atmosphere,” explained the lead of the first study, Megan Donahue of Michigan State University. “That atmosphere can contain material in different states, just like our own atmosphere has gas, clouds, and rain. What we are seeing is a process like a thunderstorm. As the jets propel gas outward from the center of the galaxy, some of that gas cools and precipitates into cold clumps that fall back toward the galaxy’s center like raindrops.”

    “The ‘raindrops’ eventually cool enough to become star-forming clouds of cold molecular gas, and the far-ultraviolet capabilities of Hubble allowed us to directly observe these ‘showers’ of star formation,” explained the lead of the second study, Grant Tremblay of Yale University. “We know that these showers are linked to the jets because they’re found in filaments and tendrils that wrap around the jets or hug the edges of giant bubbles that the jets have inflated,” said Tremblay. “And they end up making a swirling ‘puddle’ of star-forming gas around the central black hole.”

    But what should be a monsoon of raining gas is reduced to a mere drizzle by the black hole. While some outwardly flowing gas will cool, the black hole heats the rest of the gas around a galaxy, which prevents the whole gaseous envelope from cooling more quickly. The entire cycle is a self-regulating feedback mechanism, like the thermostat on a house’s heating and cooling system, because the “puddle” of gas around the black hole provides the fuel that powers the jets. If too much cooling happens, the jets become more powerful and add more heat. And if the jets add too much heat, they reduce their fuel supply and eventually weaken.

    This discovery explains the mystery of why many elliptical galaxies in the present-day universe are not ablaze with a higher rate of star birth. For many years, the question has persisted of why galaxies awash in gas don’t turn all of that gas into stars. Theoretical models of galaxy evolution predict that present-day galaxies more massive than the Milky Way should be bursting with star formation, but that is not the case.

    Now scientists understand this case of arrested development, where a cycle of heating and cooling keeps star birth in check. A light drizzle of cooling gas provides enough fuel for the central black hole’s jets to keep the rest of the galaxy’s gas hot. The researchers show that galaxies don’t need fantastic and catastrophic events such as galaxy collisions to explain the showers of star birth they see.

    The study led by Donahue looked at far-ultraviolet light from a variety of massive elliptical galaxies found in the Cluster Lensing And Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH), which contains elliptical galaxies in the distant universe. These included galaxies that are raining and forming stars, and others that are not. By comparison, the study by Tremblay and his colleagues looked at only elliptical galaxies in the nearby universe with fireworks at their centers. In both cases, the filaments and knots of star birth appear to be very similar phenomena. An earlier, independent study, led by Rupal Mittal of the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, also analyzed the star-birth rates in the same galaxies as Tremblay’s sample.

    The researchers were aided by an exciting, new set of computer simulations of the hydrodynamics of the gas flows developed by Yuan Li of the University of Michigan. “This is the first time we now have models in hand that predict how these things ought to look,” explained Donahue. “And when we compare the models to the data, there’s a stunning similarity between the star-forming showers we observe and ones that occur in simulations. We’re getting a physical insight that we can then apply to models.”

    Along with Hubble, which shows where the old and the new stars are, the researchers used the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), the Herschel Space Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)’s Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA), the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)’s Kitt Peak WIYN 3.5-meter telescope, and the Magellan Baade 6.5-meter telescope.

    NASA Galex telescope
    GALEX

    ESA Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    ESA XMM Newton
    ESA/XMM-Newton

    NRAO VLA
    NRAO VLA

    NOAO Kitt PeakNOAO Kitt Peak Interior
    Kitt Peak WIYN 3.5-meter telescope

    Together these observatories paint the complete picture of where all of the gas is, from the hottest to the coldest. The suite of telescopes shows how galaxy ecosystems work, including the black hole and its influence on its host galaxy and the gas surrounding that galaxy.

    Donahue’s paper was published in the Astrophysical Journal on June 2, 2015. Tremblay’s paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on June 29, 2015.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 3:42 pm on July 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    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.

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    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.
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  • richardmitnick 8:20 am on July 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA/ESA Hubble   

    From Hubble: “Stormy seas in Sagittarius” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    30 July 2015
    Mathias Jäger
    ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 176 62397500
    Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

    1

    Some of the most breathtaking views in the Universe are created by nebulae — hot, glowing clouds of gas. This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the centre of the Lagoon Nebula, an object with a deceptively tranquil name. The region is filled with intense winds from hot stars, churning funnels of gas, and energetic star formation, all embedded within an intricate haze of gas and pitch-dark dust.

    Nebulae are often named based on their key characteristics — particularly beautiful examples include the Ring Nebula (heic1310), the Horsehead Nebula (heic1307) and the Butterfly Nebula (heic0910). This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the centre of the Lagoon Nebula, otherwise known as Messier 8, in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer).

    The inspiration for this nebula’s name may not be immediately obvious — this is because the image captures only the very heart of the nebula. The Lagoon Nebula’s name becomes much clearer in a wider field view (opo0417i) when the broad, lagoon-shaped dust lane that crosses the glowing gas of the nebula can be made out.

    Another clear difference between this new image and others is that this image combines both infrared and optical light rather than being purely optical(heic1015). Infrared light cuts through thick, obscuring patches of dust and gas, revealing the more intricate structures underneath and producing a completely different landscape [1].

    However, even in visible light, the tranquil name remains misleading as the region is packed full of violent phenomena.

    The bright star embedded in dark clouds at the centre of this image is known as Herschel 36. This star is responsible for sculpting the surrounding cloud, stripping away material and influencing its shape. Herschel 36 is the main source of ionising radiation [2] for this part of the Lagoon Nebula.

    This central part of the Lagoon Nebula contains two main structures of gas and dust connected by wispy twisters, visible in the middle third of this image (opo9638). These features are quite similar to their namesakes on Earth — they are thought to be wrapped up into their funnel-like shapes by temperature differences between the hot surface and cold interior of the clouds. The nebula is also actively forming new stars, and energetic winds from these newborns may contribute to creating the twisters.

    This image combines images taken using optical and infrared light gathered by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 [No longer in service].

    NASA Hubble WFPC2
    Notes

    [1] Another particularly good example of this effect is shown in Hubble’s image of the Horsehead Nebula (heic1307).

    [2] The ionising radiation here is ultraviolet light. This light knocks electrons loose from within atoms to create charged particles called ions.

    See the 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 7:59 pm on July 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA/ESA Hubble,   

    From Yale: “Dust pillars of destruction reveal impact of cosmic wind on galaxy evolution” 

    Yale University bloc

    Yale University

    July 27, 2015
    Jim Shelton

    1
    This Hubble Space Telescope image of a spiral galaxy in the Coma cluster highlights dust extinction features. (Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and Roberto Colombari)

    Astronomers have long known that powerful cosmic winds can sometimes blow through galaxies, sweeping out interstellar material and stopping future star formation. Now they have a clearer snapshot of how it happens.

    A Yale University analysis of one such event in a nearby galaxy provides an unprecedented look at the process. The research is described in the Astronomical Journal.

    Specifically, Yale astronomer Jeffrey Kenney looked at the way the cosmic wind is eroding the gas and dust at the leading edge of the galaxy. The wind, or ram pressure, is caused by the galaxy’s orbital motion through hot gas in the cluster. Kenney found a series of intricate dust formations on the disk’s edge, as cosmic wind began to work its way through the galaxy.

    “On the leading side of the galaxy, all the gas and dust appears to be piled up in one long ridge, or dust front. But you see remarkable, fine scale structure in the dust front,” Kenney explained. “There are head-tail filaments protruding from the dust front. We think these are caused by dense gas clouds becoming separated from lower density gas.”

    Cosmic wind can easily push low-density clouds of interstellar gas and dust, but not high-density clouds. As the wind blows, denser gas lumps start to separate from the surrounding lower density gas which gets blown downstream. But apparently, the high and low-density lumps are partially bound together, most likely by magnetic fields linking distant clouds of gas and dust.

    “The evidence for this is that dust filaments in the HST (Hubble Space Telescope) image look like taffy being stretched out,” Kenney said. “We’re seeing this decoupling, clearly, for the first time.”

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA HUbble

    2
    The leading side of the disk shows the effects of strong ram pressure. (Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and Roberto Colombari)

    The analysis is based on Hubble images of a spiral galaxy in the Coma cluster, located 300 million light years from Earth.

    2
    A Sloan Digital Sky Survey/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

    It is the closest high-mass cluster to our solar system. Kenney first saw the images two years ago and realized their possible significance in understanding the way ram pressure strips interstellar material throughout the universe.

    In the 1990s, a famous Hubble photo dubbed “Pillars of Creation” showed columns of dust and gas in the Eagle Nebula that were in the process of forging new stars. The dust filaments Kenney identified are similar in some ways to the “Pillars of Creation,” except they are 1,000 times larger.

    3
    The “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula.

    5
    This wide-field image of the Eagle Nebula was taken at the National Science Foundation’s 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak with the NOAO Mosaic CCD camera. Located in the constellation of Serpens, the Serpent, the Eagle Nebula is a very luminous open cluster of stars surrounded by dust and gas. The three pillars at the center of the image, made famous in an image by the Hubble Space Telescope, are being sculpted by the intense radiation from the hot stars in the cluster. This image was created by combining emission-line images in Hydrogen-alpha (green), Oxygen [O III] (blue) and Sulfur [S II] (red).

    In both cases, destruction is at least as important as creation. An external force is pushing away most of the gas and dust, therefore destroying most of the cloud, leaving behind only the most dense material — the pillars. But even the pillars don’t last that long.

    Because gas is the raw material for star formation, its removal stops the creation of new stars and planets. In the Eagle Nebula, the pressure arises from intense radiation emitted by nearby massive stars; in the Coma galaxy, it is pressure from the galaxy’s orbital motion through hot gas in the cluster. Although new stars are being born in both kinds of pillars, we are witnessing, in both, the last generation of stars that will form.

    Much of Kenney’s research has focused on the physical interplay of galaxies with their environment.

    “A great deal of galaxy evolution is driven by interactions,” Kenney said. “Galaxies are shaped by collisions and mergers, as well as this sweeping of their gas from cosmic winds. I’m interested in all of these processes.”

    Kenney’s co-authors on the paper are Yale doctoral student Anne Abramson and Hector-Bravo Alfaro from the Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico.

    See the full article here.

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    Yale University Campus

    Yale University comprises three major academic components: Yale College (the undergraduate program), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools. In addition, Yale encompasses a wide array of centers and programs, libraries, museums, and administrative support offices. Approximately 11,250 students attend Yale.

     
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