Stellar embryos in nearby dwarf galaxy contain surprisingly complex organic molecules

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

The nearby dwarf galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a chemically primitive place. Unlike the Milky Way, this semi-spiral collection of a few tens-of-billions of stars lacks our galaxy’s rich abundance of heavy elements, like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. With such a dearth of heavy elements, astronomers predict that the LMC should contain a comparatively paltry amount of complex carbon-based molecules. Previous observations of the LMC seem to support that view. New observations have uncovered the surprisingly clear chemical ‘fingerprints’ of the complex organic molecules methanol, dimethyl ether, and methyl formate. Though previous observations found hints of methanol in the LMC, the latter two are unprecedented findings and stand as the most complex molecules ever conclusively detected outside of our galaxy.

Astronomers using ALMA have uncovered chemical ‘fingerprints’ of methanol, dimethyl ether, and methyl formate in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The latter two molecules are the largest organic molecules ever conclusively detected outside the Milky Way. The far-infrared image on the left shows the full galaxy. The zoom-in image shows the star-forming region observed by ALMA. It is a combination of mid-infrared data from Spitzer and visible (H-alpha) data from the Blanco 4-meter telescope.

Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); Herschel/ESA; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NOAO

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The nearby dwarf galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a chemically primitive place.

Unlike the Milky Way, this semi-spiral collection of a few tens-of-billions of stars lacks our galaxy’s rich abundance of heavy elements, like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. With such a dearth of heavy elements, astronomers predict that the LMC should contain a comparatively paltry amount of complex carbon-based molecules. Previous observations of the LMC seem to support that view.

New observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), however, have uncovered the surprisingly clear chemical “fingerprints” of the complex organic molecules methanol, dimethyl ether, and methyl formate. Though previous observations found hints of methanol in the LMC, the latter two are unprecedented findings and stand as the most complex molecules ever conclusively detected outside of our galaxy.

Astronomers discovered the molecules’ faint millimeter-wavelength “glow” emanating from two dense star-forming embryos in the LMC, regions known as “hot cores.” These observations may provide insights into the formation of similarly complex organic molecules early in the history of the universe.

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“Even though the Large Magellanic Cloud is one of our nearest galactic companions, we expect it should share some uncanny chemical similarity with distant, young galaxies from the early universe,” said Marta Sewi?o, an astronomer with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author on a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Astronomers refer to this lack of heavy elements as “low metallicity.” It takes several generations of star birth and star death to liberally seed a galaxy with heavy elements, which then get taken up in the next generation of stars and become the building blocks of new planets.

“Young, primordial galaxies simply didn’t have enough time to become so chemically enriched,” said Sewi?o. “Dwarf galaxies like the LMC probably retained this same youthful makeup because of their relatively low masses, which severely throttles back the pace of star formation.”

 

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“Due to its low metallicity, the LMC offers a window into these early, adolescent galaxies,” noted Remy Indebetouw, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, and coauthor on the study. “Star-formation studies of this galaxy provide a stepping stone to understand star formation in the early universe.”

The astronomers focused their study on the N113 Star Formation Region in the LMC, which is one of the galaxy’s most massive and gas-rich regions. Earlier observations of this area with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory revealed a startling concentration of young stellar objects — protostars that have just begun to heat their stellar nurseries, causing them to glow brightly in infrared light. At least a portion of this star formation is due to a domino-like effect, where the formation of massive stars triggers the formation of other stars in the same general vicinity.

Sewi?o and her colleagues used ALMA to study several young stellar objects in this region to better understand their chemistry and dynamics. The ALMA data surprisingly revealed the telltale spectral signatures of dimethyl ether and methyl formate, molecules that have never been detected so far from Earth.

 

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Complex organic molecules, those with six or more atoms including carbon, are some of the basic building blocks of molecules that are essential to life on Earth and — presumably — elsewhere in the universe. Though methanol is a relatively simple compound compared to other organic molecules, it nonetheless is essential to the formation of more complex organic molecules, like those that ALMA recently observed, among others.

If these complex molecules can readily form around protostars, it’s likely that they would endure and become part of the protoplanetary disks of young star systems. Such molecules were likely delivered to the primitive Earth by comets and meteorites, helping to jumpstart the development of life on our planet.

The astronomers speculate that since complex organic molecules can form in chemically primitive environments like the LMC, it’s possible that the chemical framework for life could have emerged relatively early in the history of the universe.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180130152212.htm

 

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North, east, south, west: The many faces of Abell 1758

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Resembling a swarm of flickering fireflies, this beautiful galaxy cluster glows intensely in the dark cosmos, accompanied by the myriad bright lights of foreground stars and swirling spiral galaxies. A1758N is a sub-cluster of Abell 1758, a massive cluster containing hundreds of galaxies. Although it may appear serene in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, the sub-cluster actually comprises two even smaller structures currently in the turbulent process of merging

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the northern part of the galaxy cluster Abell 1758, A1758N. The cluster is approximately 3.2 billion light-years from Earth and is part of a larger structure containing two cluster sitting some 2.4 million light-years apart.

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA

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Resembling a swarm of flickering fireflies, this beautiful galaxy cluster glows intensely in the dark cosmos, accompanied by the myriad bright lights of foreground stars and swirling spiral galaxies. A1758N is a sub-cluster of Abell 1758, a massive cluster containing hundreds of galaxies. Although it may appear serene in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, the sub-cluster actually comprises two even smaller structures currently in the turbulent process of merging.

Although often overshadowed by its more famous cousins — including the Fornax Cluster and Pandora’s Cluster — Abell 1758 contains more than its fair share of intrigue. The cluster was first identified in 1958, and initially logged as a single massive object. However, some 40 years later the cluster was observed again by the ROSAT satellite X-ray telescope, and astronomers spotted something peculiar: the cluster was not a single concentration of galaxies, but two!

Abell 1758 has since been observed many more times by various observatories — Hubble, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s XMM-Newton, and more — and is now known to have both a double structure and a complex history. It contains two massive sub-clusters sitting some 2.4 million light-years apart. These components, known as A1758N (North) and A1758S (South), are bound together by gravity but without showing signs of interacting.

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In this Hubble image only the northern structure of the cluster, A1758N, is visible. A1758N is further split into two sub-structures, known as East (A1758NE) and West (A1758NW). There appear to be disturbances within each of of the two sub-clusters of A1758A — strong evidence that they are the result of smaller clusters colliding and merging.

Studies have also revealed a radio halo and two radio relics within Abell 1758. Through Hubble’s eyes these radio structures are invisible, but radio telescopes reveal an oddly-shaped halo of emission around the cluster. Radio halos are vast sources of diffuse radio emission usually found around the centres of galaxy clusters. They are thought to form when clusters collide and accelerate fast-moving particles to even higher speeds, implying that clusters with radio halos are still forming and merging.

Collisions such as the one A1758N is undergoing are the most energetic events in the Universe apart from the Big Bang itself. Understanding how clusters merge helps astronomers to understand how structures grow and evolve in the Universe. It also helps them to study dark matter, the intracluster medium and galaxies, and to explore how these three components interact — particularly during mergers.

 

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This image was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) as part of an observing programme called RELICS. The programme is imaging 41 massive galaxy clusters, using them as cosmic lenses to search for bright distant galaxies. These will then be studied in more detail using both current telescopes and the future NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180118142640.htm

 

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Doing without dark energy

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Mathematicians propose alternative explanation for cosmic acceleration

Three mathematicians have a different explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe that does without theories of ‘dark energy.’ Einstein’s original equations for General Relativity actually predict cosmic acceleration due to an ‘instability,’ they argue in a new paper.

Three mathematicians have a different explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe that does without theories of “dark energy.” Einstein’s original equations for General Relativity actually predict cosmic acceleration due to an “instability,” they argue in paper published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

About 20 years ago, astronomers made a startling discovery: Not only is the universe expanding — as had been known for decades — but the expansion is speeding up. To explain this, cosmologists have invoked a mysterious force called “dark energy” that serves to push space apart.

Shortly after Albert Einstein wrote his equations for General Relativity, which describe gravity, he included an “antigravity” factor called the “cosmological constant” to balance gravitational attraction and produce a static universe. But Einstein later called the cosmological constant his greatest mistake.

When modern cosmologists began to tackle cosmic acceleration and dark energy, they dusted off Einstein’s cosmological constant as interchangeable with dark energy, given the new knowledge about cosmic acceleration.

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That explanation didn’t satisfy mathematicians Blake Temple and Zeke Vogler at the University of California, Davis, and Joel Smoller at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“We set out to find the best explanation we could come up with for the anomalous acceleration of the galaxies within Einstein’s original theory without dark energy,” Temple said.

The original theory of General Relativity has given correct predictions in every other context, Temple said, and there is no direct evidence of dark energy. So why add a “fudge factor” (dark energy or the cosmological constant) to equations that already appear correct? Instead of faulty equations that need to be tweaked to get the right solution, the mathematicians argue that the equations are correct, but the assumption of a uniformly expanding universe of galaxies is wrong, with or without dark energy, because that configuration is unstable.

 

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An unstable solution

Cosmological models start from a “Friedmann universe,” which assumes that all matter is expanding but evenly distributed in space at every time, Temple said.

Temple, Smoller and Vogler worked out solutions to General Relativity without invoking dark energy. They argue that the equations show that the Friedmann space-time is actually unstable: Any perturbation — for example if the density of matter is a bit lower than average — pushes it over into an accelerating universe.

 

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Temple compares this to an upside-down pendulum. When a pendulum is hanging down, it is stable at its lowest point. Turn a rigid pendulum the other way, and it can balance if it is exactly centered — but any small gust will blow it off.

This tells us that we should not expect to measure a Friedmann universe, because it is unstable, Temple said. What we should expect to measure instead are local space-times that accelerate faster. Remarkably, the local space-times created by the instability exhibit precisely the same range of cosmic accelerations as you get in theories of dark energy, he said.

What this shows is that the acceleration of the galaxies could have been predicted from the original theory of General Relativity without invoking the cosmological constant/dark energy at all, Temple said.

 

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“The math isn’t controversial, the instability isn’t controversial,” Temple said. “What we don’t know is, does our Milky Way galaxy lie near the center of a large under-density of matter in the universe.”

The paper does include testable predictions that distinguish their model from dark energy models, Temple said.

Joel Smoller died in September 2017, while the paper was under review. The work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171214100859.htm

 

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Dawn of a galactic collision

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

A riot of color and light dances through this peculiarly shaped galaxy, NGC 5256. Its smoke-like plumes are flung out in all directions and the bright core illuminates the chaotic regions of gas and dust swirling through the galaxy’s center. Its odd structure is due to the fact that this is not one galaxy, but two — in the process of a galactic collision.

NGC 5256 is a pair of galaxies in its final stage of merging. It was previously observed by Hubble as part of a collection of 59 images of merging galaxies, released on Hubble’s 18th anniversary on April 24, 2008. The new data make the gas and dust being whirled around inside and outside the galaxy more visible than ever before.

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA

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A riot of colour and light dances through this peculiarly shaped galaxy, NGC 5256. Its smoke-like plumes are flung out in all directions and the bright core illuminates the chaotic regions of gas and dust swirling through the galaxy’s centre. Its odd structure is due to the fact that this is not one galaxy, but two — in the process of a galactic collision.

NGC 5256, also known as Markarian 266, is about 350 million light-years away from Earth, in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear) [1]. It is composed of two disc galaxies whose nuclei are currently just 13 000 light-years apart. Their constituent gas, dust, and stars are swirling together in a vigorous cosmic blender, igniting newborn stars in bright star formation regions across the galaxy.

Interacting galaxies can be found throughout the Universe, producing a variety of intricate structures. Some are quiet, with one galaxy nonchalantly absorbing another. Others are violent and chaotic, switching on quasars, detonating supernovae, and triggering bursts of star formation.

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While these interactions are destructive on a galactic scale, stars very rarely collide with each other in this process because the distances between them are so vast. But as the galaxies entangle themselves, strong tidal effects produce new structures — like the chaotic-looking plumes of NGC 5256 — before settling into a stable arrangement after millions of years.

In addition to the bright and chaotic features, each merging galaxy of NGC 5256 contains an active galactic nucleus, where gas and other debris are fed into a hungry supermassive black hole. Observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory show that both of these nuclei — and the region of hot gas between them — have been heated by shock waves created as gas clouds collide at high velocities.

Galaxy mergers, like the one NGC 5256 is currently experiencing, were more common early in the Universe and are thought to drive galactic evolution. Today most galaxies show signs of past mergers and near-collisions. Our own Milky Way too has a long history of interaction: it contains the debris of many smaller galaxies it has absorbed in the past; it is currently cannibalising the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy; and in a kind of cosmic payback, the Milky Way will merge with our neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy in about two billion years.

 

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Also in this Hubble image is another pair of probably interacting galaxies — they are hiding to the right of NGC 5256 in the far distance, and have not yet been explored by any astronomer. From our perspective here on Earth, NGC 5256 is also just a few degrees away from another famous pair of interacting galaxies, Messier 51, which was observed by Hubble in 2005 (heic0506 — https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic0506/).

Notes

[1] NGC 5256 has previously been imaged by Hubble as part of a collection of 59 images of merging galaxies, released on Hubble’s 18th anniversary on 24 April 2008. This new image adds H-alpha data taken from the Wide-Field Camera 3 to the previously available data, making the gas visible.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171214140727.htm

 

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Star mergers: A new test of gravity, dark energy theories

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Observations of neutron star collision challenge some existing theories

Observations and measurements of a neutron star merger have largely ruled out some theories relating to gravity and dark energy, and challenged a large class of theories

Artist’s illustration of two merging neutron stars. The rippling space-time grid represents gravitational waves that travel out from the collision, while the narrow beams show the bursts of gamma rays that are shot out just seconds after the gravitational waves. Swirling clouds of material ejected from the merging stars are also depicted. The clouds glow with visible and other wavelengths of light.

Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

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When scientists recorded a rippling in space-time, followed within two seconds by an associated burst of light observed by dozens of telescopes around the globe, they had witnessed, for the first time, the explosive collision and merger of two neutron stars.

The intense cosmological event observed on Aug. 17 also had other reverberations here on Earth: It ruled out a class of dark energy theories that modify gravity, and challenged a large class of theories.

Dark energy, which is driving the accelerating expansion of the universe, is one of the biggest mysteries in physics. It makes up about 68 percent of the total mass and energy of the universe and functions as a sort of antigravity, but we don’t yet have a good explanation for it. Simply put, dark energy acts to push matter away from each other, while gravity acts to pull matter together.

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The neutron star merger created gravitational waves — a squiggly distortion in the fabric of space and time, like a tossed stone sending ripples across a pond — that traveled about 130 million light-years through space, and arrived at Earth at almost the same instant as the high-energy light that jetted out from this merger.

The gravity waves signature was detected by a network of Earth-based detectors called LIGO and Virgo, and the first intense burst of light was observed by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

That nearly simultaneous arrival time is a very important test for theories about dark energy and gravity.

 

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“Our results make significant progress to elucidate the nature of dark energy,” said Miguel Zumalacárregui, a theoretical physicist who is part of the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley.

“The simplest theories have survived,” he said. “It’s really about the timing.”

He and Jose María Ezquiaga, who was a visiting Ph.D. researcher in the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics, participated in this study, which was published Dec. 18 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

A 100-year-old “cosmological constant” theory introduced by Albert Einstein in relation to his work on general relativity and some other theories derived from this model remain as viable contenders because they propose that dark energy is a constant in both space and time: Gravitational waves and light waves are affected in the same way by dark energy, and thus travel at the same rate through space.

 

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“The favorite explanation is this cosmological constant,” he said. “That’s as simple as it’s going to get.”

There are some complicated and exotic theories that also hold up to the test presented by the star-merger measurements. Massive gravity, for example — a theory of gravity that assigns a mass to a hypothetical elementary particle called a graviton — still holds a sliver of possibility if the graviton has a very slight mass.

Some other theories, though, which held that the arrival of gravitational waves would be separated in time from the arriving light signature of the star merger by far longer periods — stretching up to millions of years — don’t explain what was seen, and must be modified or scrapped.

The study notes that a class of theories known as scalar-tensor theories is particularly challenged by the neutron-star merger observations, including Einstein-Aether, MOND-like (relating to modified Newtonian dynamics), Galileon, and Horndeski theories, to name a few.

 

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With tweaks, some of the challenged models can survive the latest test by the star merger, Zumalacárregui said, though they “lose some of their simplicity” in the process.

Zumalacárregui joined the cosmological center last year and is a Marie Sk?odowska-Curie global research fellow who specializes in studies of gravity and dark energy.

He began studying whether gravitational waves could provide a useful test of dark energy following the February 2016 announcement that the two sets of gravitational-wave detectors called LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) captured the first confirmed measurement of gravitational waves. Scientists believe those waves were created in the merger of two black holes to create a larger black hole.

But those types of events do not produce an associated burst of light. “You need both — not just gravitational waves to help test theories of gravity and dark energy,” Zumalacárregui said.

 

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Another study, which he published with Ezquiaga and others in April 2017, explored the theoretical conditions under which gravity waves could travel at a different velocity than light.

Another implication for this field of research is that, by collecting gravitational waves from these and possibly other cosmological events, it may be possible to use their characteristic signatures as “standard sirens” for measuring the universe’s expansion rate.

This is analogous to how researchers use the similar light signatures for objects — including a type of exploding stars known as Type Ia supernovae and pulsating stars known as cepheids — as “standard candles” to gauge their distance.

 

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Cosmologists use a combination of such measurements to build a so-called distance ladder for gauging how far away a given object is from Earth, but there are some unresolved discrepancies that are likely due to the presence of space dust and imperfections in calculations.

Gathering more data from events that generate both gravitational waves and light could also help resolve different measurements of the Hubble constant — a popular gauge of the universe’s expansion rate.

The Hubble rate calibrated with supernovae distance measurements differs from the Hubble rate obtained from other cosmological observations, Zumalacárregui noted, so finding more standard sirens like neutron-star mergers could possibly improve the distance measurements.

The August neutron star merger event presented an unexpected but very welcome opportunity, he said.

“Gravitational waves are a very independent confirmation or refutation of the distance ladder measurements,” he said. “I’m really excited for the coming years. At least some of these nonstandard dark energy models could explain this Hubble rate discrepancy.

 

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“Maybe we have underestimated some events, or something is unaccounted for that we’ll need to revise the standard cosmology of the universe,” he added. “If this standard holds, we will need radically new theoretical ideas that are difficult to verify experimentally, like multiple universes — the multiverse. However, if this standard fails, we will have more experimental avenues to test those ideas.”

New instruments and sky surveys are coming online that also aim to improve our understanding of dark energy, including the Berkeley Lab-led Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument project that is scheduled to begin operating in 2019. And scientists studying other phenomena, such as optical illusions in space caused by gravitational lensing — a gravity-induced effect that causes light from distant objects to bend and distort around closer objects — will also be useful in making more precise measurements.

“It could change the way we think about our universe and our place in it,” Zumalacárregui said. “It’s going to require new ideas.”

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171218131317.htm

 

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Middle-aged sun observed by tracking motion of Mercury

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Like the waistband of a couch potato in midlife, the orbits of planets in our solar system are expanding. It happens because the Sun’s gravitational grip gradually weakens as our star ages and loses mass. Now, scientists have indirectly measured this mass loss and other solar parameters by looking at changes in Mercury’s orbit.

NASA and MIT scientists analyzed subtle changes in Mercury’s motion to learn about the Sun and how its dynamics influence the planet’s orbit. The position of Mercury over time was determined from radio tracking data obtained while NASA’s MESSENGER mission was active.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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Like the waistband of a couch potato in midlife, the orbits of planets in our solar system are expanding. It happens because the Sun’s gravitational grip gradually weakens as our star ages and loses mass. Now, a team of NASA and MIT scientists has indirectly measured this mass loss and other solar parameters by looking at changes in Mercury’s orbit.

The new values improve upon earlier predictions by reducing the amount of uncertainty. That’s especially important for the rate of solar mass loss, because it’s related to the stability of G, the gravitational constant. Although G is considered a fixed number, whether it’s really constant is still a fundamental question in physics.

“Mercury is the perfect test object for these experiments because it is so sensitive to the gravitational effect and activity of the Sun,” said Antonio Genova, the lead author of the study published in Nature Communications and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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View Sample Video – The Universe – The Inner Planets – Venus & Mercury

The study began by improving Mercury’s charted ephemeris — the road map of the planet’s position in our sky over time. For that, the team drew on radio tracking data that monitored the location of NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft while the mission was active. Short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging, the robotic spacecraft made three flybys of Mercury in 2008 and 2009 and orbited the planet from March 2011 through April 2015. The scientists worked backward, analyzing subtle changes in Mercury’s motion as a way of learning about the Sun and how its physical parameters influence the planet’s orbit.

For centuries, scientists have studied Mercury’s motion, paying particular attention to its perihelion, or the closest point to the Sun during its orbit. Observations long ago revealed that the perihelion shifts over time, called precession. Although the gravitational tugs of other planets account for most of Mercury’s precession, they don’t account for all of it.

The second-largest contribution comes from the warping of space-time around the Sun because of the star’s own gravity, which is covered by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The success of general relativity in explaining most of Mercury’s remaining precession helped persuade scientists that Einstein’s theory was right.

 

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Other, much smaller contributions to Mercury’s precession, are attributed to the Sun’s interior structure and dynamics. One of those is the Sun’s oblateness, a measure of how much it bulges at the middle — its own version of a “spare tire” around the waist — rather than being a perfect sphere. The researchers obtained an improved estimate of oblateness that is consistent with other types of studies.

The researchers were able to separate some of the solar parameters from the relativistic effects, something not accomplished by earlier studies that relied on ephemeris data. The team developed a novel technique that simultaneously estimated and integrated the orbits of both MESSENGER and Mercury, leading to a comprehensive solution that includes quantities related to the evolution of Sun’s interior and to relativistic effects.

“We’re addressing long-standing and very important questions both in fundamental physics and solar science by using a planetary-science approach,” said Goddard geophysicist Erwan Mazarico. “By coming at these problems from a different perspective, we can gain more confidence in the numbers, and we can learn more about the interplay between the Sun and the planets.”

 

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The team’s new estimate of the rate of solar mass loss represents one of the first times this value has been constrained based on observations rather than theoretical calculations. From the theoretical work, scientists previously predicted a loss of one-tenth of a percent of the Sun’s mass over 10 billion years; that’s enough to reduce the star’s gravitational pull and allow the orbits of the planets to spread by about half an inch, or 1.5 centimeters, per year per AU (an AU, or astronomical unit, is the distance between Earth and the Sun: about 93 million miles).

The new value is slightly lower than earlier predictions but has less uncertainty. That made it possible for the team to improve the stability of G by a factor of 10, compared to values derived from studies of the motion of the Moon.

“The study demonstrates how making measurements of planetary orbit changes throughout the solar system opens the possibility of future discoveries about the nature of the Sun and planets, and indeed, about the basic workings of the universe,” said co-author Maria Zuber, vice president for research at MIT.

 

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Astronomers produce first detailed images of surface of giant star

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

An international team of astronomers has produced the first detailed images of the surface of a giant star outside our solar system, revealing a nearly circular, dust-free atmosphere with complex areas of moving material, known as convection cells or granules, according to a recent study

This is the giant star, ?1Gruis.

Credit European Southern Observatory

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Astronomers have looked back to a time soon after the Big Bang, and have discovered swirling gas in some of the earliest galaxies to have formed in the An international team of astronomers has produced the first detailed images of the surface of a giant star outside our solar system, revealing a nearly circular, dust-free atmosphere with complex areas of moving material, known as convection cells or granules, according to a recent study.

The giant star, named π1Gruis, is one of the stars in the constellation Grus (Latin for the crane, a type of bird), which can be observed in the southern hemisphere. An evolved star in the last major phase of life, π1Gruis is 350 times larger than the Sun and resembles what our Sun will become at the end of its life in five billion years. Studying this star gives scientists insight about the future activity, characteristics and appearance of the Sun.

Convection, the transfer of heat due to the bulk movement of molecules within gases and liquids, plays a major role in astrophysical processes, such as energy transport, pulsation and winds. The Sun has about two million convective cells that are typically 2,000 kilometers across, but theorists believe giant and supergiant stars should only have a few large convective cells because of their low surface gravity. Determining the convection properties of most evolved and supergiant stars, such as the size of granules, has been challenging because their surfaces are frequently obscured by dust.

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In this study, the researchers discovered the surface of the giant star π1Gruis had a complex convective pattern and the typical granule measured 1.2 x 10^11 meters horizontally or 27 percent of the diameter of the star. The findings are published in the journal Nature.

“This is the first time that we have such a giant star that is unambiguously imaged with that level of details,” said Dr. Fabien Baron, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University. “The reason is there’s a limit to the details we can see based on the size of the telescope used for the observations. For this paper, we used an interferometer. The light from several telescopes is combined to overcome the limit of each telescope, thus achieving a resolution equivalent to that of a much larger telescope.”

The star π1Gruis was observed with the PIONIER instrument, which has four combined telescopes, in Chile in September 2014. Baron, who specializes in making images, used interferometric data, image reconstruction software and algorithms to compose images of the star’s surface. Interferometry is relatively new to astronomy, and Georgia State’s Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy array was the first facility to use interferometry to image a star similar to the Sun in 2007.

 

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This study was also the first to confirm theories about the characteristics of granules on giant stars.

“These images are important because the size and number of granules on the surface actually fit very well with models that predict what we should be seeing,” Baron said. “That tells us that our models of stars are not far from reality. We’re probably on the right track to understand these kinds of stars.”

The detailed images also showed different colors on the star’s surface, which correspond to varying temperatures. A star doesn’t have the same surface temperature throughout, and its surface provides our only clues to understand its internals. As temperatures rise and fall, the hotter, more fluid areas become brighter colors (such as white) and the cooler, more dense areas become darker colors (such as red).

In the future, the researchers would like to make even more detailed images of the surface of giant stars and follow the evolution of these granules continuously, instead of only getting snapshot images.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180123102007.htm

 

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Astronomers detect ‘whirlpool’ movement in earliest galaxies; swirling gases soon after Big Bang

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Astronomers have looked back to a time soon after the Big Bang, and have discovered swirling gas in some of the earliest galaxies to have formed in the universe. These ‘newborns’ — observed as they appeared nearly 13 billion years ago — spun like a whirlpool, similar to our own Milky Way. This is the first time that it has been possible to detect movement in galaxies at such an early point in the universe’s history.

This is an artist’s impression of spinning galaxies.

Credit: Amanda Smith, University of CambridgeCredit: NASA, ESA, B. Salmon (STScI)

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Astronomers have looked back to a time soon after the Big Bang, and have discovered swirling gas in some of the earliest galaxies to have formed in the Universe. These ‘newborns’ — observed as they appeared nearly 13 billion years ago — spun like a whirlpool, similar to our own Milky Way. This is the first time that it has been possible to detect movement in galaxies at such an early point in the Universe’s history.

An international team led by Dr Renske Smit from the Kavli Institute of Cosmology at the University of Cambridge used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to open a new window onto the distant Universe, and have for the first time been able to identify normal star-forming galaxies at a very early stage in cosmic history with this telescope. The results are reported in the journal Nature, and will be presented at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Light from distant objects takes time to reach Earth, so observing objects that are billions of light years away enables us to look back in time and directly observe the formation of the earliest galaxies. The Universe at that time, however, was filled with an obscuring ‘haze’ of neutral hydrogen gas, which makes it difficult to see the formation of the very first galaxies with optical telescopes.

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Smit and her colleagues used ALMA to observe two small newborn galaxies, as they existed just 800 million years after the Big Bang. By analysing the spectral ‘fingerprint’ of the far-infrared light collected by ALMA, they were able to establish the distance to the galaxies and, for the first time, see the internal motion of the gas that fuelled their growth.

“Until ALMA, we’ve never been able to see the formation of galaxies in such detail, and we’ve never been able to measure the movement of gas in galaxies so early in the Universe’s history,” said co-author Dr Stefano Carniani, from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute of Cosmology.

The researchers found that the gas in these newborn galaxies swirled and rotated in a whirlpool motion, similar to our own galaxy and other, more mature galaxies much later in the Universe’s history. Despite their relatively small size — about five times smaller than the Milky Way — these galaxies were forming stars at a higher rate than other young galaxies, but the researchers were surprised to discover that the galaxies were not as chaotic as expected.

 

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“In the early Universe, gravity caused gas to flow rapidly into the galaxies, stirring them up and forming lots of new stars — violent supernova explosions from these stars also made the gas turbulent,” said Smit, who is a Rubicon Fellow at Cambridge, sponsored by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. “We expected that young galaxies would be dynamically ‘messy’, due to the havoc caused by exploding young stars, but these mini-galaxies show the ability to retain order and appear well regulated. Despite their small size, they are already rapidly growing to become one of the ‘adult’ galaxies like we live in today.”

The data from this project on small galaxies paves the way for larger studies of galaxies during the first billion years of cosmic time. The research was funded in part by the European Research Council and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

 

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Magnified and stretched out image of extremely distant galaxy

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

An intensive survey deep into the universe by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has yielded the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack: the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

STRETCHED OUT IMAGE OF DISTANT GALAXY. This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. The embryonic galaxy, named SPT0615-JD, existed when the universe was just 500 million years old. Though a few other primitive galaxies have been seen at this early epoch, they have essentially all looked like red dots, given their small sizes and tremendous distances. However, in this case, the gravitational field of a massive foreground galaxy cluster, called SPT-CL J0615-5746, not only amplified the light from the background galaxy but also smeared the image of it into an arc (about 2 arcseconds long). Image analysis shows that the galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses (roughly 1/100th the mass of our fully grown Milky Way galaxy). It is less than 2,500 light-years across, half the size of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The object is considered prototypical of young galaxies that emerged during the epoch shortly after the big bang.

Credit: NASA, ESA, B. Salmon (STScI)

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An intensive survey deep into the universe by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has yielded the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack: the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

The embryonic galaxy named SPT0615-JD existed when the universe was just 500 million years old. Though a few other primitive galaxies have been seen at this early epoch, they have essentially all looked like red dots given their small size and tremendous distances. However, in this case, the gravitational field of a massive foreground galaxy cluster not only amplified the light from the background galaxy but also smeared the image of it into an arc (about 2 arcseconds long).

“No other candidate galaxy has been found at such a great distance that also gives you the spatial information that this arc image does. By analyzing the effects of gravitational lensing on the image of this galaxy, we can determine its actual size and shape,” said the study’s lead author Brett Salmon of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. He is presenting his research at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

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View Sample Video – Cosmology – Telescopes – Hubble – 15 Years of Discovery

First predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, the warping of space by the gravity of a massive foreground object can brighten and distort the images of far more distant background objects. Astronomers use this “zoom lens” effect to go hunting for amplified images of distant galaxies that otherwise would not be visible with today’s telescopes.

SPT0615-JD was identified in Hubble’s Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey (RELICS) and companion S-RELICS Spitzer program. “RELICS was designed to discover distant galaxies like these that are magnified brightly enough for detailed study,” said Dan Coe, Principal Investigator of RELICS. RELICS observed 41 massive galaxy clusters for the first time in the infrared with Hubble to search for such distant lensed galaxies. One of these clusters was SPT-CL J0615-5746, which Salmon analyzed to make this discovery.

Upon finding the lens-arc, Salmon thought, “Oh, wow! I think we’re on to something!”

By combining the Hubble and Spitzer data, Salmon calculated the lookback time to the galaxy of 13.3 billion years. Preliminary analysis suggests the diminutive galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses (roughly 1/100th the mass of our fully grown Milky Way galaxy). It is less than 2,500 light-years across, half the size of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The object is considered prototypical of young galaxies that emerged during the epoch shortly after the big bang.

 

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The galaxy is right at the limits of Hubble’s detection capabilities, but just the beginning for the upcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope’s powerful capabilities, said Salmon. “This galaxy is an exciting target for science with the Webb telescope as it offers the unique opportunity for resolving stellar populations in the very early universe.” Spectroscopy with Webb will allow for astronomers to study in detail the firestorm of starbirth activity taking place at this early epoch, and resolve its substructure.

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

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

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180111162932.htm

 

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Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Statistical analysis of supermassive black holes suggests that the spin of the black hole may play a role in the generation of powerful high-speed jets blasting radio waves. By analyzing nearly 8000 quasars from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, research team found that the oxygen emissions are 1.5 times stronger in radio loud quasars than in radio quiet quasars. This implies that spin is an important factor in the generation of jets

The rotation of the black hole may cause the high-speed jet which makes the object radio-loud.

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Statistical analysis of supermassive black holes suggests that the spin of the black hole may play a role in the generation of powerful high-speed jets blasting radio waves and other radiation across the Universe.

Black holes absorb light and all other forms of radiation, making them impossible to detect directly. But the effects of black holes, in particular accretion disks where matter is shredded and superheated as it spirals down into the black hole, can release enormous amounts of energy. The accretion disks around supermassive black holes (black holes with masses millions of times that of the Sun) are some of the brightest objects in the Universe. These objects are called “quasi-stellar radio sources” or “quasars,” but actually this is a misnomer; only about 10% of quasars emit strong radio waves. We now know that “radio loud” quasars occur when a fraction of the matter in the accretion disk avoids the final fate of falling into the black hole and comes blasting back out into space in high-speed jets emitted from the poles of the black hole. But we still don’t understand why jets form some times and not other times.

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View Sample Video – Cosmology – Black Holes – Monster Black Holes

A team led by Dr. Andreas Schulze at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan investigated the possibility that the spin of the supermassive black hole might play a role in determining if the high-speed jets form. Because black holes cannot be observed directly, Schulze’s team instead measured emissions from oxygen ions [O III] around the black hole and accretion disk to determine the radiative efficiency; i.e. how much energy matter releases as it falls into the black hole. From the radiative efficiency they were able to calculate the spin of the black hole at the center.

By analyzing nearly 8000 quasars from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Schulze’s team found that on average the O III oxygen emissions are 1.5 times stronger in radio loud quasars than in radio quiet quasars. This implies that spin is an important factor in the generation of jets.

Schulze cautions, “Our approach, like others, relies on a number of key assumptions. Our results certainly don’t mean that spin must be the only factor for differentiation between radio-loud and radio-quiet quasars. The results do suggest, however, that we shouldn’t count spin out of the game. It might be determining the loudness of these distant accreting monsters.”

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by National Institutes of Natural Sciences

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180112095929.htm

 

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