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  • richardmitnick 12:32 pm on March 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Double or Nothing: Astronomers Rethink Quasar Environment, , Quasars, ,   

    From NAOJ: “Double or Nothing: Astronomers Rethink Quasar Environment” 



    March 12, 2018
    No writer credit

    Using Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) mounted on the Subaru Telescope, astronomers have identified nearly 200 “protoclusters,” the progenitors of galaxy clusters, in the early Universe, about 12 billion years ago, about ten times more than previously known.

    NAOJ Subaru Hyper Suprime-Cam

    NAOJ/Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    They also found that quasars don’t tend to reside in protoclusters; but if there is one quasar in a protocluster, there is likely a second nearby. This result raises doubts about the relation between protoclusters and quasars.

    In the Universe, galaxies are not distributed uniformly. There are some places, known as clusters, where dozens or hundreds of galaxies are found close together. Other galaxies are isolated. To determine how and why clusters formed, it is critical to investigate not only mature galaxy clusters as seen in the present Universe but also observe protoclusters, galaxy clusters in the process of forming.

    Because the speed of light is finite, observing distant objects allows us to look back in time. For example, the light from an object 1 billion light-years away was actually emitted 1 billion years ago and has spent the time since then traveling through space to reach us. By observing this light, astronomers can see an image of how the Universe looked when that light was emitted.

    Even when observing the distant (early) Universe, protoclusters are rare and difficult to discover. Only about 20 were previously known. Because distant protoclusters are difficult to observe directly, quasars are sometimes used as a proxy. When a large volume of gas falls towards the super massive black hole in the center of a galaxy, it collides with other gas and is heated to extreme temperatures. This hot gas shines brightly and is known as a quasar. The thought was that when many galaxies are close together, a merger, two galaxies colliding and melding together, would create instabilities and cause gas to fall into the super massive black hole in one of the galaxies, creating a quasar. However, this relationship was not confirmed observationally due to the rarity of both quasars and protoclusters.

    In order to understand protoclusters in the distant Universe a larger observational sample was needed. A team including astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the University of Tokyo, the Graduate University for Advanced Studies, and other institutes is now conducting an unprecedented wide-field systematic survey of protoclusters using the Subaru Telescope’s very wide-field camera, Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC). By analyzing the data from this survey, the team has already identified nearly 200 regions where galaxies are gathering together to form protoclusters in the early Universe 12 billion years ago.

    Figure 1: Galaxy distribution and close-ups of some protoclusters revealed by HSC. Higher- and lower-density regions are represented by redder and bluer colors, respectively. In the close-ups, white circles indicate the positions of distant galaxies. The red regions are expected to evolve into galaxy clusters. From the close-ups, we can see various morphologies of the overdense regions: some have another neighboring overdense region, or are elongated like a filament, while there are also isolated overdense regions. (Credit: NAOJ)

    The team also addressed the relationship between protoclusters and quasars. The team sampled 151 luminous quasars at the same epoch as the HSC protoclusters and to their surprise found that most of those quasars are not close to the overdense regions of galaxies. In fact, their most luminous quasars even avoid the densest regions of galaxies. These results suggest that quasars are not a good proxy for protoclusters and more importantly, mechanisms other than galactic mergers may be needed to explain quasar activity. Furthermore, since they did not find many galaxies near the brightest quasars, that could mean that hard radiation from a quasar suppresses galaxy formation in its vicinity.

    On the other hand, the team found two “pairs” of quasars residing in protoclusters. Quasars are rare and pairs of them are even rarer. The fact that both pairs were associated with protoclusters suggests that quasar activity is perhaps synchronous in protocluster environments. “We have succeeded in discovering a number of protoclusters in the distant Universe for the first time and have witnessed the diversity of the quasar environments thanks to our wide-and-deep observations with HSC,” says the team’s leader Nobunari Kashikawa (NAOJ).

    Figure 2: The two quasar pairs and surrounding galaxies. Stars indicate quasars and bright (faint) galaxies at the same epoch are shown as circles (dots). The galaxy overdensity with respect to the average density is shown by the contour. The pair members are associated with high density regions of galaxies. (Credit: NAOJ)

    “HSC observations have enabled us to systematically study protoclusters for the first time.” says Jun Toshikawa, lead author of the a paper reporting the discovery of the HSC protoclusters, “The HSC protoclusters will steadily increase as the survey proceeds. Thousands of protoclusters located 12 billion light-years away will be found by the time the observations finish. With those new observations we will clarify the growth history of protoclusters.”

    These results were published on January 1, 2018 in the HSC special issue of the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan (Toshikawa et al. 2018, GOLDRUSH. III. A Systematic Search of Protoclusters at z~4 Based on the >100 deg2 Area, PASJ, 70, S12; Uchiyama et al. 2018, Luminous Quasars Do Not Live in the Most Overdense Regions of Galaxies at z~4, PASJ, 70, S32; Onoue et al. 2018, Enhancement of Galaxy Overdensity around Quasar Pairs at z<3.6 based on the Hyper Suprime-Cam Subaru Strategic Program Survey, PASJ, 70, S31). These projects are supported by Grants-In-Aid JP15H03645, JP15K17617, and JP15J02115.

    See the full article here .

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    The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) is an astronomical research organisation comprising several facilities in Japan, as well as an observatory in Hawaii. It was established in 1988 as an amalgamation of three existing research organizations – the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory of the University of Tokyo, International Latitude Observatory of Mizusawa, and a part of Research Institute of Atmospherics of Nagoya University.

    In the 2004 reform of national research organizations, NAOJ became a division of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences.

    NAOJ/Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    Solar Flare Telescope

    Nobeyama Radio Telescope - Copy
    Nobeyama Radio Observatory

    Nobeyama Solar Radio Telescope Array
    Nobeyama Radio Observatory: Solar

    Misuzawa Station Japan
    Mizusawa VERA Observatory

    NAOJ Okayama Astrophysical Observatory Telescope
    Okayama Astrophysical Observatory

    The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) is an astronomical research organisation comprising several facilities in Japan, as well as an observatory in Hawaii. It was established in 1988 as an amalgamation of three existing research organizations – the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory of the University of Tokyo, International Latitude Observatory of Mizusawa, and a part of Research Institute of Atmospherics of Nagoya University.

  • richardmitnick 7:59 am on January 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Quasars, Steward Observatory,   

    From U Arizona: “Students Help Little Telescope Do Big Things” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    Jan. 11, 2018
    Daniel Stolte

    A four-year effort involving UA students helped a team of astronomers measure the masses of a large sample of supermassive black holes in the farthest reaches of the universe. As part of a robotic telescope network in southern Arizona, instruments such as the Bok Telescope could play a crucial role in future “grand challenge” science endeavors.

    2.3-metre Bok Telescope at the Steward Observatory at Kitt Peak in Arizona, USA, altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)

    U Arizona Steward Observatory at Kitt Peak, AZ, USA, altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)

    The Bok Telescope on Kitt Peak is the largest telescope operated solely by the UA’s Steward Observatory. Named in honor of Bart Bok, who was Steward’s director from 1966-1969, the telescope operates every night of the year except Christmas Eve and a maintenance period scheduled during the summer rainy season.

    By today’s standards, the University of Arizona’s Bok Telescope, perched on Kitt Peak southwest of Tucson, is a small telescope: Its primary mirror stands a mere five inches taller than Dušan Ristić, the 7-foot center of the UA men’s basketball team.

    Yet, despite its modest size and advanced age of almost 50 years, the instrument keeps churning out big science, helping us unravel some of the biggest questions about the cosmos. Using observations made with the Bok Telescope, a team of astronomers managed to directly measure the masses of an unprecedented number of the universe’s most distant supermassive black holes, also called quasars. Lurking in the centers of nearly every large galaxy, these Leviathans range from 5 million to 1.7 billion times the mass of the sun.

    “This is the first time that we have directly measured masses for so many supermassive black holes so far away,” said Catherine Grier, a postdoctoral fellow at the Penn State University, who led the research. “These new measurements, and future measurements like them, will provide vital information for people studying how galaxies grow and evolve throughout cosmic time.”

    The results, presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, are published in The Astrophysical Journal and represent a major step forward in our ability to measure supermassive black hole masses in large numbers of distant quasars and galaxies. In addition to the Bok Telescope, the project used the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or SDSS, and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, or CFHT, atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, near Sunspot NM, USA, Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    Apache Point Observatory, near Sunspot, New Mexico Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    CFHT Telescope, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA, at Maunakea, Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    An artist’s rendering of the inner regions of a quasar, with a supermassive black hole at the center surrounded by a disk of hot material falling in. The two light curves at the bottom illustrates how astronomers use reverberation to map black holes. (Image: Nahks Tr’Ehnl and Catherine Grier/Penn State, SDSS)

    “The Bok Telescope provided key data that allow measurement of how the quasars vary over time, which tells us about the size of the light-emitting region around the black hole,” said Xiaohui Fan, a Regents’ Professor of Astronomy at the UA’s Steward Observatory and a member of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. “The data is then used to determine the mass of the black hole.”

    Producing ‘World-Class Results’

    The Bok Telescope’s large field of view, combined with the sensitive detectors, means that astronomers can monitor many quasars at the same time, a feat that is crucial to establish the large sample used in the study.

    “This result shows that the Bok can still produce world-class results,” said Ian McGreer, an assistant astronomer at Steward and one of the study’s authors, who managed the observations with the Bok Telescope. “We got involved because the SDSS did a survey of facilities that could support this program, and the Bok came out as one of the few with the required capabilities.”

    The Bok investment was quite substantial, McGreer explained, with more than 100 nights spread over four years so far.

    “The data in this paper are based on the first year, 2014, when the monitoring was the most intense,” he said. “Sixty nights that year were covered by a rotating cast of observers, many of whom were UA undergrads, grads and visiting students.

    “The Bok does not have a nighttime operator, which means the students received valuable training not only in collecting the data and operating the instrument, but in learning how to operate a telescope at night. This is a fairly rare opportunity these days.”

    As they suck in nearby dust and gas, supermassive black holes heat the material to such high temperatures that it glows brightly enough to be seen all the way across the universe. These bright disks of hot gas are known as quasars, and they are clear indicators of the presence of supermassive black holes. By studying these quasars, we learn not only about supermassive black holes, or SMBHs, but also about the distant galaxies they live in. But to do all of this requires measurements of the properties of the SMBHs, most importantly their masses.

    Measuring the masses of extragalactic SMBHs — in this study, up to 8 billion light-years away — is a daunting task and requires a technique called reverberation mapping. Reverberation mapping works by comparing the brightness of light coming from gas very close in to the black hole (referred to as the “continuum” light) to the brightness of light coming from fast-moving gas farther out. Changes occurring in the continuum region impact the outer region, but light takes time to travel outward, or “reverberate.” By measuring this time delay, astronomers can determine how far out the gas is from the black hole. Knowing that distance allows them to measure the mass of the supermassive black hole — even though they can’t see the details of the black hole itself.

    In this new work, the team used an industrial-scale application of the reverberation mapping technique, with the goal of measuring black hole masses in tens to hundreds of quasars. These new SDSS measurements increase the total number of active galaxies with SMBH mass measurements by about two-thirds, and push the measurements farther back in time to when the universe was only half of its current age.

    Faint Quasars Pose a Challenge

    The key to the success of the SDSS reverberation mapping project lies in the SDSS’ ability to study many quasars at once — the program is currently observing 850 quasars simultaneously. But even with the SDSS’ powerful telescope, this is a challenging task because these distant quasars are incredibly faint.

    “You have to calibrate these measurements very carefully to make sure you really understand what the quasar system is doing,” said Jon Trump, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut and a member of the research team.

    Observing the quasars over the same season with the Bok Telescope and the CFHT improved these calibrations, allowing the team to find reverberation time delays for 44 quasars and use the time delay measurements to calculate black hole masses that range from about 5 million to 1.7 billion times the mass of our sun.

    In the words of McGreer, the future is bright for this kind of work, with plans to develop a robotic telescope network in southern Arizona using telescopes such as the Bok, which could help guide efforts to combine such a network with “grand challenge” science projects like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST.

    Slated to begin operations in 2023, the LSST will conduct an unprecedented 10-year survey, repeatedly imaging every part of the visible sky every few nights. The heart of the instrument, a 8.4-meter primary mirror, was cast and polished at the UA’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.

    “The lessons learned from this reverberation mapping project serve as a pathfinder, or proof of concept, for something that could be done on a much larger scale when LSST arrives,” McGreer said.


    LSST Camera, built at SLAC

    LSST telescope, currently under construction on the El Peñón peak at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    See the full article here .

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

  • richardmitnick 5:09 pm on December 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 'Direct Collapse' Black Holes May Explain Our Universe's Mysterious Quasars, , , , , , , , , Quasars, , Star formation is a violent process, ,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “‘Direct Collapse’ Black Holes May Explain Our Universe’s Mysterious Quasars” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    Dec 26, 2017

    The most distant X-ray jet in the Universe, from quasar GB 1428, is approximately the same distance and age, as viewed from Earth, as quasar S5 0014+81; both are over 12 billion light years away. X-ray: NASA/CXC/NRC/C.Cheung et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    There’s a big problem when we look at the brightest, most energetic objects we can see in the early stages of the Universe. Shortly after the first stars and galaxies form, we find the first quasars: extremely luminous sources of radiation that span the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio up through the X-ray. Only a supermassive black hole could possibly serve as the engine for one of these cosmic behemoths, and the study of active objects like quasars, blazars, and AGNs all support this idea. But there’s a problem: it may not be possible to make a black hole so large, so quickly, to explain these young quasars that we see. Unless, that is, there’s a new way to make black holes beyond what we previously thought. This year, we found the first evidence for a direct collapse black hole, and it may lead to the solution we’ve sought for so long.

    While distant host galaxies for quasars and active galactic nuclei can often be imaged in visible/infrared light, the jets themselves and the surrounding emission is best viewed in both the X-ray and the radio, as illustrated here for the galaxy Hercules A. It takes a black hole to power an engine such as this. NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O’Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

    Generically known as ‘active galaxies,’ almost all galaxies posses supermassive black holes at their center, but only a few emit the intense radiation associated with quasars or AGNs. The leading idea is that supermassive black holes will feed on matter, accelerating and heating it, which causes it to ionize and give off light. Based on the light we observe, we can successfully infer the mass of the central black hole, which often reaches billions of times the mass of our Sun. Even for the earliest quasars, such as J1342+0928, we can get up to a mass of 800 million solar masses just 690 million years after the Big Bang: when the Universe was just 5% of its current age.

    This artist’s concept shows the most distant supermassive black hole ever discovered. It is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science.

    If you try to build a black hole in the conventional way, by having massive stars go supernova, form small black holes, and have them merge together, you run into problems. Star formation is a violent process, as when nuclear fusion ignites, the intense radiation burns off the remaining gas that would otherwise go into forming progressively more and more massive stars. From nearby star-forming regions to the most distant ones we’ve ever observed, this same process seems to be in place, preventing stars (and, hence, black holes) beyond a certain mass from ever forming.

    An artist’s conception of what the Universe might look like as it forms stars for the first time. While stars might reach many hundreds or even a thousand solar masses, it’s very difficult to see how you could get a black hole of the mass the earliest quasars are known to possess. NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC).

    We have a standard scenario that’s very powerful and compelling: of supernova explosions, gravitational interactions, and then growth by mergers and accretion. But the early quasars we see are too massive too quickly to be explained by this. Our other known pathway to create black holes, from merging neutron stars, provides no further help. Instead, a third scenario of direct collapse may be responsible. This idea has been helped along by three pieces of evidence in the past year:

    1.The discovery of ultra-young quasars like J1342+0928, in possession of black holes many hundred of millions of solar masses.
    2.Theoretical advances that show how, if the direct collapse scenario is true, we could form early “seed” black holes a thousand times as massive as the ones formed by supernova.
    3.And the discovery of the first stars that become black holes via direct collapse, validating the process.

    In addition to formation by supernovae and neutron star mergers, it should be possible for black holes to form via direct collapse. Simulations such as the one shown here demonstrate that, under the right condition, seed black holes of 100,000 to 1,000,000 solar masses could form in the very early stages of the Universe. Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.

    Normally, it’s the hottest, youngest, most massive, and newest stars in the Universe that will lead to a black hole. There are plenty of galaxies like this in the early stages of the Universe, but there are also plenty of proto-galaxies that are all gas, dust, and dark matter, with no stars in them yet. Out in the great cosmic abyss, we’ve even found an example of a pair of galaxies just like this: where one has furiously formed stars and the other one may not have formed any yet. The ultra-distant galaxy, known as CR7, has a massive population of young stars, and a nearby patch of light-emitting gas that may not have yet formed a single star in it.

    Illustration of the distant galaxy CR7, which last year was discovered to house a pristine population of stars formed from the material direct from the Big Bang. One of these galaxies definitely houses stars; the other may not have formed any yet. M. Kornmesser / ESO.

    In a theoretical study published in March [Nature Astronomy] of this year, a fascinating mechanism for producing direct collapse black holes from a mechanism like this was introduced. A young, luminous galaxy could irradiate a nearby partner, which prevents the gas within it from fragmenting to form tiny clumps. Normally, it’s the tiny clumps that collapse into individual stars, but if you fail to form those clumps, you instead can just get a monolithic collapse of a huge amount of gas into a single bound structure. Gravitation then does its thing, and your net result could be a black hole over 100,000 times as massive as our Sun, perhaps even all the way up to 1,000,000 solar masses.

    Distant, massive quasars show ultramassive black holes in their cores. It’s very difficult to form them without a large seed, but a direct collapse black hole could solve that puzzle quite elegantly. J. Wise/Georgia Institute of Technology and J. Regan/Dublin City University.

    There are many theoretical mechanisms that turn out to be intriguing, however, that aren’t borne out when it comes to real, physical environments. Is direct collapse possible? We can now definitively answer that question with a “yes,” as the first star that was massive enough to go supernova was seen to simply wink out of existence. No fireworks; no explosion; no increase in luminosity. Just a star that was there one moment, and replaces with a black hole the next. As spotted before-and-after with Hubble, there is no doubt that the direct collapse of matter to a black hole occurs in our Universe.

    The visible/near-IR photos from Hubble show a massive star, about 25 times the mass of the Sun, that has winked out of existence, with no supernova or other explanation. Direct collapse is the only reasonable candidate explanation. NASA/ESA/C. Kochanek (OSU).

    Put all three of these pieces of information together, and you arrive at the following picture for how these supermassive black holes form so early.

    A region of space collapses to form stars, while a nearby region of space has also undergone gravitational collapse but hasn’t formed stars yet.
    The region with stars emits an intense amount of radiation, where the photon pressure keeps the gas in the other cloud from fragmenting into potential stars.
    The cloud itself continues to collapse, doing so in a monolithic fashion. It expels energy (radiation) as it does so, but without any stars inside.
    When a critical threshold is crossed, that huge amount of mass, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions of times the mass of our Sun, directly collapses to form a black hole.
    From this massive, early seed, it’s easy to get supermassive black holes simply by the physics of gravitation, merger, accretion, and time.

    It might not only be possible, but with the new array of radio telescopes coming online, as well as the James Webb Space Telescope, we may be able to witness the process in action.

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

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

    The galaxy CR7 is likely one example of many similar objects likely to be out there. As Volker Bromm, the theorist behind the direct collapse mechanism first said [RAS], a nearby, luminous galaxy could cause a nearby cloud of gas to directly collapse. All you need to do is begin with a

    “primordial cloud of hydrogen and helium, suffused in a sea of ultraviolet radiation. You crunch this cloud in the gravitational field of a dark-matter halo. Normally, the cloud would be able to cool, and fragment to form stars. However, the ultraviolet photons keep the gas hot, thus suppressing any star formation. These are the desired, near-miraculous conditions: collapse without fragmentation! As the gas gets more and more compact, eventually you have the conditions for a massive black hole.”

    The directly collapsing star we observed exhibited a brief brightening before having its luminosity drop to zero, an example of a failed supernova. For a large cloud of gas, the luminous emission of light is expected, but no stars are necessary to form a black hole this way.
    NASA/ESA/P. Jeffries (STScI)

    With a little luck, by time 2020 rolls around, this is one longstanding mystery that might finally be solved.

    See the full article here .

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    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

  • richardmitnick 8:40 pm on December 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Atacama Desert of Chile so important for Optical Astonomy, , Carnegie Institution for Science Las Campanas Observatory, , , Earliest Black Hole Gives Rare Glimpse of Ancient Universe, , Quasars, ,   

    From Quanta: “Earliest Black Hole Gives Rare Glimpse of Ancient Universe” 

    Quanta Magazine
    Quanta Magazine

    December 6, 2017 [Today in social media]
    Joshua Sokol

    Olena Shmahalo/Quanta Magazine

    The two Carnegie Magellan telescopes: Baade (left) and Clay (right)

    Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery. They want to know what burned the fog away: stars, supermassive black holes, or both in tandem? And how did those behemoth black holes grow so big in so little time?

    Now the discovery of a supermassive black hole smack in the middle of this period is helping astronomers resolve both questions. “It’s a dream come true that all of these data are coming along,” said Avi Loeb, the chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University.

    The black hole, announced today in the journal Nature, is the most distant ever found. It dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang. Analysis of this object reveals that reionization, the process that defogged the universe like a hair dryer on a steamy bathroom mirror, was about half complete at that time.

    First Stars and Reionization Era, Caltech

    The researchers also show that the black hole already weighed a hard-to-explain 780 million times the mass of the sun.

    A team led by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, found the new black hole by searching through old data for objects with the right color to be ultradistant quasars — the visible signatures of supermassive black holes swallowing gas. The team went through a preliminary list of candidates, observing each in turn with a powerful telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

    Carnegie Institution for Science Las Campanas Observatory telescopes in the southern Atacama Desert of Chile approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of the city of La Serena,near the southern end and over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high.

    On March 9, Bañados observed a faint dot in the southern sky for just 10 minutes. A glance at the raw, unprocessed data confirmed it was a quasar — not a nearer object masquerading as one — and that it was perhaps the oldest ever found. “That night I couldn’t even sleep,” he said.

    Eduardo Bañados at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, where the new quasar was discovered. Courtesy of Eduardo Bañados. Baade and Clay in the background.

    The new black hole’s mass, calculated after more observations, adds to an existing problem. Black holes grow when cosmic matter falls into them. But this process generates light and heat. At some point, the radiation released by material as it falls into the black hole carries out so much momentum that it blocks new gas from falling in and disrupts the flow. This tug-of-war creates an effective speed limit for black hole growth called the Eddington rate. If this black hole began as a star-size object and grew as fast as theoretically possible, it couldn’t have reached its estimated mass in time.

    Other quasars share this kind of precocious heaviness, too. The second-farthest one known, reported on in 2011, tipped the scales at an estimated 2 billion solar masses after 770 million years of cosmic time.

    These objects are too young to be so massive. “They’re rare, but they’re very much there, and we need to figure out how they form,” said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale University who was not part of the research team. Theorists have spent years learning how to bulk up a black hole in computer models, she said. Recent work suggests that these black holes could have gone through episodic growth spurts during which they devoured gas well over the Eddington rate.

    Bañados and colleagues explored another possibility: If you start at the new black hole’s current mass and rewind the tape, sucking away matter at the Eddington rate until you approach the Big Bang, you see it must have initially formed as an object heavier than 1,000 times the mass of the sun. In this approach, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to overgrown baby black holes that weighed thousands or tens of thousands of solar masses. Yet this scenario requires exceptional conditions that would have allowed gas clouds to condense all together into a single object instead of splintering into many stars, as is typically the case.

    Cosmic Dark Ages

    Cosmic Dark Ages. ESO.

    Even earlier in the early universe, before any stars or black holes existed, the chaotic scramble of naked protons and electrons came together to make hydrogen atoms. These neutral atoms then absorbed the bright ultraviolet light coming from the first stars. After hundreds of millions of years, young stars or quasars emitted enough light to strip the electrons back off these atoms, dissipating the cosmic fog like mist at dawn.

    Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Quanta Magazine

    Astronomers have known that reionization was largely complete by around a billion years after the Big Bang.

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex Mittelmann Cold creation

    At that time, only traces of neutral hydrogen remained. But the gas around the newly discovered quasar is about half neutral, half ionized, which indicates that, at least in this part of the universe, reionization was only half finished. “This is super interesting, to really map the epoch of reionization,” said Volker Bromm, an astrophysicist at the University of Texas.

    When the light sources that powered reionization first switched on, they must have carved out the opaque cosmos like Swiss cheese.

    Inflationary Universe. NASA/WMAP

    But what these sources were, when it happened, and how patchy or homogeneous the process was are all debated. The new quasar shows that reionization took place relatively late. That scenario squares with what the known population of early galaxies and their stars could have done, without requiring astronomers to hunt for even earlier sources to accomplish it quicker, said study coauthor Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg.

    More data points may be on the way. For radio astronomers, who are gearing up to search for emissions from the neutral hydrogen itself, this discovery shows that they are looking in the right time period. “The good news is that there will be neutral hydrogen for them to see,” said Loeb. “We were not sure about that.”

    The team also hopes to identify more quasars that date back to the same time period but in different parts of the early universe. Bañados believes that there are between 20 and 100 such very distant, very bright objects across the entire sky. The current discovery comes from his team’s searches in the southern sky; next year, they plan to begin searching in the northern sky as well.

    “Let’s hope that pans out,” said Bromm. For years, he said, the baton has been handed off between different classes of objects that seem to give the best glimpses at early cosmic time, with recent attention often going to faraway galaxies or fleeting gamma-ray bursts. “People had almost given up on quasars,” he said.

    See the full article here .

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    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

  • richardmitnick 5:17 pm on September 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Polarization of the waves, Quasars, sSupport for the idea that galaxy magnetic fields are generated by a rotating dynamo effect similar to the process that produces the Sun’s magnetic field, VLA Reveals Distant Galaxy’s Magnetic Field   

    From NRAO: “VLA Reveals Distant Galaxy’s Magnetic Field” 

    NRAO Icon
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory

    NRAO Banner

    August 28, 2017

    Artist’s conception of gravitational lens arrangement that allowed astronomers to measure galaxy’s magnetic field.
    Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI). Additional Processing: Robert Gendler

    With the help of a gigantic cosmic lens, astronomers have measured the magnetic field of a galaxy nearly five billion light-years away. The achievement is giving them important new clues about a problem at the frontiers of cosmology — the nature and origin of the magnetic fields that play an important role in how galaxies develop over time.

    The scientists used the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to study a star-forming galaxy that lies directly between a more-distant quasar and Earth. The galaxy’s gravity serves as a giant lens, splitting the quasar’s image into two separate images as seen from Earth. Importantly, the radio waves coming from this quasar, nearly 8 billion light-years away, are preferentially aligned, or polarized.

    “The polarization of the waves coming from the background quasar, combined with the fact that the waves producing the two lensed images traveled through different parts of the intervening galaxy, allowed us to learn some important facts about the galaxy’s magnetic field,” said Sui Ann Mao, Minerva Research Group Leader for the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

    Magnetic fields affect radio waves that travel through them. Analysis of the VLA images showed a significant difference between the two gravitationally-lensed images in how the waves’ polarization was changed. That means, the scientists said, that the different regions in the intervening galaxy affected the waves differently.

    “The difference tells us that this galaxy has a large-scale, coherent magnetic field, similar to those we see in nearby galaxies in the present-day universe,” Mao said. The similarity is both in the strength of the field and in its arrangement, with magnetic field lines twisted in spirals around the galaxy’s rotation axis.

    Since this galaxy is seen as it was almost five billion years ago, when the universe was about two-thirds of its current age, this discovery provides an important clue about how galactic magnetic fields are formed and evolve over time.

    “The results of our study support the idea that galaxy magnetic fields are generated by a rotating dynamo effect, similar to the process that produces the Sun’s magnetic field,” Mao said. “However, there are other processes that might be producing the magnetic fields. To determine which process is at work, we need to go still farther back in time — to more distant galaxies — and make similar measurements of their magnetic fields,” she added.

    “This measurement provided the most stringent tests to date of how dynamos operate in galaxies,” said Ellen Zweibel from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Magnetic fields play a pivotal role in the physics of the tenuous gas that permeates the space between stars in a galaxy. Understanding how those fields originate and develop over time can provide astronomers with important clues about the evolution of the galaxies themselves.

    Mao and her colleagues are reporting their results in the journal Nature Astronomy.

    See the full article here .

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    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    The NRAO operates a complementary, state-of-the-art suite of radio telescope facilities for use by the scientific community, regardless of institutional or national affiliation: the Very Large Array (VLA), and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA)*.

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

    Access to ALMA observing time by the North American astronomical community will be through the North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC).



    *The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) comprises ten radio telescopes spanning 5,351 miles. It’s the world’s largest, sharpest, dedicated telescope array. With an eye this sharp, you could be in Los Angeles and clearly read a street sign in New York City!

    Astronomers use the continent-sized VLBA to zoom in on objects that shine brightly in radio waves, long-wavelength light that’s well below infrared on the spectrum. They observe blazars, quasars, black holes, and stars in every stage of the stellar life cycle. They plot pulsars, exoplanets, and masers, and track asteroids and planets.

    And the future Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA).

  • richardmitnick 7:20 pm on September 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Quasars, , ,   

    From Universe Today: “Supermassive Black Holes or Their Galaxies? Which Came First?” 


    Universe Today

    6 Sep , 2017
    Fraser Cain

    There’s a supermassive black hole at the center of almost every galaxy in the Universe. How did they get there? What’s the relationship between these monster black holes and the galaxies that surround them?

    Every time astronomers look farther out in the Universe, they discover new mysteries. These mysteries require all new tools and techniques to understand. These mysteries lead to more mysteries. What I’m saying is that it’s mystery turtles all the way down.

    One of the most fascinating is the discovery of quasars, understanding what they are, and the unveiling of an even deeper mystery, where do they come from?

    As always, I’m getting ahead of myself, so first, let’s go back and talk about the discovery of quasars.

    Back in the 1950s, astronomers scanned the skies using radio telescopes, and found a class of bizarre objects in the distant Universe. They were very bright, and incredibly far away; hundreds of millions or even billion of light-years away. The first ones were discovered in the radio spectrum, but over time, astronomers found even more blazing in the visible spectrum.

    In 1974, astronomers discovered a radio source at the center of the Milky Way emitting radiation. It was titled Sagittarius A*, with an asterisk that stands for “exciting”, well, in the “excited atoms” perspective.

    SGR A* NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:21 pm on August 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , ESO’s VLT Detects Unexpected Giant Glowing Halos around Distant Quasars, Quasars,   

    From ESO: “ESO’s VLT Detects Unexpected Giant Glowing Halos around Distant Quasars” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    26 October 2016 [Just found this. Don’t know how I missed it.]
    Elena Borisova
    ETH Zurich
    Tel: +41 44 633 77 09
    Email: borisova@phys.ethz.ch

    Sebastiano Cantalupo
    ETH Zurich
    Tel: +41 44 633 70 57
    Email: cantalupo@phys.ethz.ch

    Mathias Jäger
    Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 176 62397500
    Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

    An international team of astronomers has discovered glowing gas clouds surrounding distant quasars. This new survey by the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope indicates that halos around quasars are far more common than expected. The properties of the halos in this surprising find are also in striking disagreement with currently accepted theories of galaxy formation in the early Universe.

    An international collaboration of astronomers, led by a group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland, has used the unrivalled observing power of MUSE on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory to study gas around distant active galaxies, less than two billion years after the Big Bang.

    ESO MUSE on the VLT

    These active galaxies, called quasars, contain supermassive black holes in their centres, which consume stars, gas, and other material at an extremely high rate. This, in turn, causes the galaxy centre to emit huge amounts of radiation, making quasars the most luminous and active objects in the Universe.

    The study involved 19 quasars, selected from among the brightest that are observable with MUSE. Previous studies have shown that around 10% of all quasars examined were surrounded by halos, made from gas known as the intergalactic medium. These halos extend up to 300 000 light-years away from the centres of the quasars. This new study, however, has thrown up a surprise, with the detection of large halos around all 19 quasars observed — far more than the two halos that were expected statistically. The team suspects this is due to the vast increase in the observing power of MUSE over previous similar instruments, but further observations are needed to determine whether this is the case.

    “It is still too early to say if this is due to our new observational technique or if there is something peculiar about the quasars in our sample. So there is still a lot to learn; we are just at the beginning of a new era of discoveries”, says lead author Elena Borisova, from the ETH Zurich.

    The original goal of the study was to analyse the gaseous components of the Universe on the largest scales; a structure sometimes referred to as the cosmic web, in which quasars form bright nodes [1].

    Dark matter cosmic web and the large-scale structure it forms The Millenium Simulation, V. Springel et al

    The gaseous components of this web are normally extremely difficult to detect, so the illuminated halos of gas surrounding the quasars deliver an almost unique opportunity to study the gas within this large-scale cosmic structure.

    The 19 newly-detected halos also revealed another surprise: they consist of relatively cold intergalactic gas — approximately 10 000 degrees Celsius. This revelation is in strong disagreement with currently accepted models of the structure and formation of galaxies, which suggest that gas in such close proximity to galaxies should have temperatures upwards of a million degrees.

    The discovery shows the potential of MUSE for observing this type of object [2]. Co-author Sebastiano Cantalupo is very excited about the new instrument and the opportunities it provides: “We have exploited the unique capabilities of MUSE in this study, which will pave the way for future surveys. Combined with a new generation of theoretical and numerical models, this approach will continue to provide a new window on cosmic structure formation and galaxy evolution.”


    [1] The cosmic web is the structure of the Universe at the largest scale. It is comprised of spindly filaments of primordial material (mostly hydrogen and helium gas) and dark matter which connect galaxies and span the chasms between them. The material in this web can feed along the filaments into galaxies and drive their growth and evolution.

    [2] MUSE is an integral field spectrograph and combines spectrographic and imaging capabilities. It can observe large astronomical objects in their entirety in one go, and for each pixel measure the intensity of the light as a function of its colour, or wavelength.

    This research was presented in the paper Ubiquitous giant Lyα nebulae around the brightest quasars at z ~ 3.5 revealed with MUSE, to appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

    The team is composed of Elena Borisova, Sebastiano Cantalupo, Simon J. Lilly, Raffaella A. Marino and Sofia G. Gallego (Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, Switzerland), Roland Bacon and Jeremy Blaizot (University of Lyon, Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon, Saint-Genis-Laval, France), Nicolas Bouché (Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, Toulouse, France), Jarle Brinchmann (Leiden Observatory, Leiden, The Netherlands; Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Porto, Portugal), C Marcella Carollo (Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, Switzerland), Joseph Caruana (Department of Physics, University of Malta, Msida, Malta; Institute of Space Sciences & Astronomy, University of Malta, Malta), Hayley Finley (Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, Toulouse, France), Edmund C. Herenz (Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany), Johan Richard (Univ Lyon, Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon, Saint-Genis-Laval, France), Joop Schaye and Lorrie A. Straka (Leiden Observatory, Leiden, The Netherlands), Monica L. Turner (MIT-Kavli Center for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), Tanya Urrutia (Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany), Anne Verhamme (University of Lyon, Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon, Saint-Genis-Laval, France), Lutz Wisotzki (Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany).

    See the full article here .

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    ESO Bloc Icon

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

    ESO LaSilla
    ESO/Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ESO Vista Telescope
    ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ESO/NTT at Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope at Cerro Paranal with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA on the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres.

    ESO/E-ELT to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m.

    APEX Atacama Pathfinder 5,100 meters above sea level, at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert.

    Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

  • richardmitnick 2:57 pm on May 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , astrowatch.net, , , Discovery in the Early Universe Poses Black Hole Growth Puzzle, Quasars   

    From astrowatch.net: “Discovery in the Early Universe Poses Black Hole Growth Puzzle” 

    Astro Watch bloc

    Astro Watch


    Quasars are luminous objects with supermassive black holes at their centers, visible over vast cosmic distances. Infalling matter increases the black hole mass and is also responsible for a quasar’s brightness. Now, using the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii, astronomers led by Christina Eilers have discovered extremely young quasars with a puzzling property: these quasars have the mass of about a billion suns, yet have been collecting matter for less than 100,000 years.

    Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Conventional wisdom says quasars of that mass should have needed to pull in matter a thousand times longer than that – a cosmic conundrum. The results have been published in the May 2 edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

    Artists’ impression of a quasar: black hole (center) surrounded by a hot accretion disk, with two jets consisting of extremely fast particles perpendicularly to the disk. Credit: J. Neidel / MPIA

    Within the heart of every massive galaxy lurks a supermassive black hole. How these black holes formed, and how they have grown to be as massive as millions or even billions of suns, is an open question. At least some phases of vigorous growth are highly visible to astronomical observers: Whenever there are substantial amounts of gas swirling into the black hole, matter in the direct vicinity of the black hole emits copious amount of light. The black hole has intermittently turned into a quasar, one of the most luminous objects in the universe.

    Now, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) have discovered three quasars that challenge conventional wisdom on black hole growth.

    Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

    These quasars are extremely massive, but should not have had sufficient time to collect all that mass. The discovery, which is based on observations at the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii, glimpses into ancient cosmic history: Because of their extreme brightness, quasars can be observed out to large distances. The astronomers observed quasars whose light took nearly 13 billion years to reach Earth. In consequence, the observations show these quasars not as they are today, but as they were almost 13 billion years ago, less than a billion years after the big bang.

    The quasars in question have about a billion times the mass of the sun. All current theories of black hole growth postulate that, in order to grow that massive, the black holes would have needed to collect infalling matter, and shine brightly as quasars, for at least a hundred million years. But these three quasars proved to be have been active for a much shorter time, less than 100,000 years. “This is a surprising result,” explains Christina Eilers, a doctoral student at MPIA and lead author of the present study. “We don’t understand how these young quasars could have grown the supermassive black holes that power them in such a short time.”

    To determine how long these quasars had been active, the astronomers examined how the quasars had influenced their environment – in particular, they examined heated, mostly transparent “proximity zones” around each quasar. “By simulating how the light from quasars ionizes and heats gas around them, we can predict how large the proximity zone of each quasar should be,” explains Frederick Davies, a postdoctoral researcher at MPIA who is an expert in the interaction between quasar light and intergalactic gas. Once the quasar has been “switched on” by infalling matter, these proximity zones grow very quickly. “Within a lifetime of 100,000 years, quasars should already have large proximity zones.”

    Surprisingly, three of the quasars had very small proximity zones – indicating that the active quasar phase cannot have set in more than 100,000 years earlier. “No current theoretical models can explain the existence of these objects,” says Professor Joseph Hennawi, who leads the research group at MPIA that made the discovery. “The discovery of these young objects challenges the existing theories of black hole formation and will require new models to better understand how black holes and galaxies formed.“

    The astronomers have already planned their next steps. “We would like to find more of these young quasars,“ says Christina Eilers, “While finding these three unusual quasars might have been a fluke, finding additional examples would imply that a significant fraction of the known quasar population is much younger than expected.” The scientists have already applied for telescope time to observe several additional candidates. The results, they hope, will constrain new theoretical models about the formation of the first supermassive black holes in the universe – and, by implication, help astronomers understand the history of the giant supermassive black holes at the center of present-day galaxies like our own Milky Way.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:35 am on April 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Quasar pairs, Quasars, , , ,   

    From UCSC: “Ripples in cosmic web measured using rare double quasars” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz


    April 27, 2017
    Julie Cohen

    Astronomers identified rare pairs of quasars right next to each other on the sky and measured subtle differences in the absorption of intergalactic atoms measured along the two sightlines. This enabled them to detect small-scale fluctuations in primeval hydrogen gas.(Credit: UC Santa Barbara)

    Snapshot of a supercomuter simulation showing part of the cosmic web, 11.5 billion years ago. The researchers created this and other models of the universe and directly compared them with quasar pair data in order to measure the small-scale ripples in the cosmic web. The cube is 24 million light-years on a side. © J. Oñorbe / MPIA

    The most barren regions of the universe are the far-flung corners of intergalactic space. In these vast expanses between the galaxies, a diffuse haze of hydrogen gas left over from the Big Bang is spread so thin there’s only one atom per cubic meter. On the largest scales, this diffuse material is arranged in a vast network of filamentary structures known as the “cosmic web,” its tangled strands spanning billions of light years and accounting for the majority of atoms in the Universe.

    Now a team of astronomers including J. Xavier Prochaska, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, has made the first measurements of small-scale ripples in this primeval hydrogen gas. Although the regions of cosmic web they studied lie nearly 11 billion light years away, they were able to measure variations in its structure on scales a 100,000 times smaller, comparable to the size of a single galaxy. The researchers presented their findings in a paper published April 27 in Science.

    Intergalactic gas is so tenuous that it emits no light of its own. Instead astronomers study it indirectly, by observing how it selectively absorbs the light coming from faraway sources known as quasars. Quasars constitute a brief hyper-luminous phase of the galactic life-cycle, powered by the infall of matter onto a galaxy’s central supermassive black hole. They thus act like cosmic lighthouses—bright, distant beacons that allow astronomers to study intergalactic atoms residing between the quasars location and Earth.

    Because these hyper-luminous episodes last only a tiny fraction of a galaxy’s lifetime, quasars are correspondingly rare on the sky, and are typically separated by hundreds of millions of light years from each other. In order to probe the cosmic web on much smaller scales, the astronomers exploited a fortuitous cosmic coincidence: they identified exceedingly rare pairs of quasars, right next to each other on the sky, and measured subtle differences in the absorption of intergalactic atoms measured along the two sightlines.

    “One of the biggest challenges was developing the mathematical and statistical tools to quantify the tiny differences we measure in this new kind of data,” said Alberto Rorai, a post-doctoral researcher at Cambridge university and lead author of the study. Rorai developed these tools as part of the research for his doctoral degree, and applied his tools to spectra of quasars obtained by the team on the largest telescopes in the world, including the 10-meter Keck telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

    The astronomers compared their measurements to supercomputer models that simulate the formation of cosmic structures from the Big Bang to the present.

    “The input to our simulations are the laws of physics and the output is an artificial universe which can be directly compared to astronomical data. I was delighted to see that these new measurements agree with the well-established paradigm for how cosmic structures form,” said Jose Oñorbe, a post-doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, who led the supercomputer simulation effort. On a single laptop, these complex calculations would have required almost a thousand years to complete, but modern supercomputers enabled the researchers to carry them out in just a few weeks.

    “One reason why these small-scale fluctuations are so interesting is that they encode information about the temperature of gas in the cosmic web just a few billion years after the Big Bang,” said Joseph Hennawi, a professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara who led the search for quasar pairs.

    Astronomers believe that the matter in the universe went through phase transitions billions of years ago, which dramatically changed its temperature. These phase transitions, known as cosmic reionization, occurred when the collective ultraviolet glow of all stars and quasars in the universe became intense enough to strip electrons off of the atoms in intergalactic space. How and when reionization occurred is one of the biggest open questions in the field of cosmology, and these new measurements provide important clues that will help narrate this chapter of the history of the universe.

    Telescopes in this study:

    Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.

    See the full article here .

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    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

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    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

  • richardmitnick 9:57 am on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Quasars   

    From phys.org: “Astronomers discover 16 new high-redshift quasars” 


    March 14, 2017
    Tomasz Nowakowski

    The color track of quasar at z = 5 to 6 (red dots and line) with a step of ∆z = 0.1, generated by calculating the mean colors of simulated quasars at each redshift bin. The contours show the locus of M dwarfs, from early type to late type. The cyan contours denote M1-M3 dwarfs, the orange contours denote M4-M6 dwarfs and the purple contours denote M7-M9 dwarfs. Clearly, z ∼ 5.5 quasars are serious contaminated by late type M dwarfs. Credit: Yang et al., 2017.

    Using a new color selection technique, astronomers have detected 16 new luminous, high-redshift quasars. The discovery could be very important for understanding of the early universe, as such high-redshift, quasi-stellar objects provide essential clues on the evolution of the intergalactic medium, quasar evolution and early super-massive black hole growth. The findings were presented in a paper published Mar. 10 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

    High-redshift quasars (at redshift higher than 5.0) are very difficult to find using conventional color selections. This is due to their low spatial density and high contaminants from cool dwarfs. Among more than 300,000 quasars discovered to date, only 290 of them are at redshift higher than 5.0. The scientific community is especially interested in high-redshift quasars at redshift between 5.3 and 5.7, due to their optical colors, which are similar to those of late-type stars. Only about 30 such objects have been found so far.

    With the aim of filling this gap of known quasars at redshift ranging from 5.3 to 5.7, a team of astronomers led by Jinyi Yang of the Peking University in Beijing, China, has developed a new optical/infrared color selection technique. The method is based on optical, near-infrared and mid-infrared photometric data from Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), UKIRT InfraRed Deep Sky Surveys – Large Area Survey (ULAS), VISTA Hemisphere Survey (VHS) and NASA’s Wide field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA

    UKIRT, located on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, USA as part of Mauna Kea Observatory

    NASA/WISE Telescope

    The method has proved its worth as the researchers were able to find 16 new luminous, high-redshift quasars at redshift within the desired range. The observations were carried out between October 2014 and November 2015.

    “In this paper, we report initial results from a new search that focuses on the selection of z ~ 5.5 quasars,” the team wrote.

    Among the newly discovered quasi-stellar objects, J113414.23+082853.3 is the one with the highest redshift – at 5.69. This quasar also showcases strong Lyman-alpha emission and strong intergalactic medium absorption blueward of Lyman-alpha line.

    Another interesting new quasar found by the researchers is J152712.86+064121.9 (at 5.57). It is a weak line quasar with a very weak Lyman-alpha emission line and no other obvious emission features. However, the team revealed that its redshift was measured by matching the continuum to template; thus, its redshift uncertainty is a little larger than others.

    The scientists underline the importance of their research, noting that it could help us better understand the evolution of quasars at redshift from 5.0 to 6.0, over the post-reionization epoch.

    “The physical conditions of the post-reionization intergalactic medium, at z ~ 5-6, provides the basic boundary conditions of models of reionization, such as the evolution of intergalactic temperature, photon mean free path, metallicity and the impact of helium reionization. They place strong constraints on reionization topology as well as on the sources of reionization and chemical feedback by early galaxy population,” the paper reads.

    The team now plans to publish another paper in which a broader sample of high-redshift quasars will be presented. This study will also include the data from the UKIRT Hemisphere Survey (UHS), Pan-STARRS PS1 Survey and the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) ATLAS.

    Pan-STARRS1 located on Haleakala, Maui, HI, USA

    ESO VST telescope, at ESO’s Paranal Observatory

    See the full article here .

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