The strange structures of the Saturn nebula

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

The spectacular planetary nebula NGC 7009, or the Saturn Nebula, emerges from the darkness like a series of oddly-shaped bubbles, lit up in glorious pinks and blues. This colourful image was captured by the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The map — which reveals a wealth of intricate structures in the dust, including shells, a halo and a curious wave-like feature — will help astronomers understand how planetary nebulae develop their strange shapes and symmetries.

The spectacular planetary nebula NGC 7009, or the Saturn Nebula, emerges from the darkness like a series of oddly-shaped bubbles, lit up in glorious pinks and blues. This colorful image was captured by the powerful MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), as part of a study which mapped the dust inside a planetary nebula for the first time.

Credit: ESO/J. Walsh

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The Saturn Nebula is located approximately 5000 light years away in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water Bearer). Its name derives from its odd shape, which resembles everyone’s favourite ringed planet seen edge-on.

But in fact, planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. The Saturn Nebula was originally a low-mass star, which expanded into a red giant at the end of its life and began to shed its outer layers. This material was blown out by strong stellar winds and energised by ultraviolet radiation from the hot stellar core left behind, creating a circumstellar nebula of dust and brightly-coloured hot gas. At the heart of the Saturn Nebula lies the doomed star, visible in this image, which is in the process of becoming a white dwarf [1].

In order to better understand how planetary nebulae are moulded into such odd shapes, an international team of astronomers led by Jeremy Walsh from ESO used the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer  to peer inside the dusty veils of the Saturn Nebula. MUSE is an instrument installed on one of the four Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. It is so powerful because it doesn’t just create an image, but also gathers information about the spectrum — or range of colours — of the light from the object at each point in the image.

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The team used MUSE to produce the first detailed optical maps of the gas and dust distributed throughout a planetary nebula [2]. The resulting image of the Saturn Nebula reveals many intricate structures, including an elliptical inner shell, an outer shell, and a halo. It also shows two previously imaged streams extending from either end of the nebula’s long axis, ending in bright ansae (Latin for “handles”).

Intriguingly, the team also found a wave-like feature in the dust, which is not yet fully understood. Dust is distributed throughout the nebula, but there is a significant drop in the amount of dust at the rim of the inner shell, where it seems that it is being destroyed. There are several potential mechanisms for this destruction. The inner shell is essentially an expanding shock wave, so it may be smashing into the dust grains and obliterating them, or producing an extra heating effect that evaporates the dust.

Mapping the gas and dust structures within planetary nebulae will aid in understanding their role in the lives and deaths of low mass stars, and it will also help astronomers understand how planetary nebulae acquire their strange and complex shapes.

But MUSE’s capabilities extend far beyond planetary nebulae. This sensitive instrument can also study the formation of stars and galaxies in the early Universe, as well as map the dark matter distribution in galaxy clusters in the nearby Universe. MUSE has also created the first 3D map of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula and imaged a spectacular cosmic crash in a nearby galaxy.

 

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Notes

[1] Planetary nebulae are generally short-lived; the Saturn Nebula will last only a few tens of thousands of years before expanding and cooling to such an extent that it becomes invisible to us. The central star will then fade as it becomes a hot white dwarf.

[2] The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has previously provided a spectacular image  of the Saturn Nebula — but, unlike MUSE, it cannot reveal the spectrum at each point over the whole nebula.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170927093319.htm

 

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Duo of titanic galaxies captured in extreme starbursting merger

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Pair of exceptionally rare hyper-luminous galaxies discovered with ALMA

Astronomers have uncovered the never-before-seen close encounter between two astoundingly bright and spectacularly massive galaxies in the early universe.

This is an artist impression of two starbursting galaxies beginning to merge in the early universe.

Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

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New observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have uncovered the never-before-seen close encounter between two astoundingly bright and spectacularly massive galaxies in the early universe. These so-called hyper-luminous starburst galaxies are exceedingly rare at this epoch of cosmic history — near the time when galaxies first formed — and may represent one of the most-extreme examples of violent star formation ever observed.

Astronomers captured these two interacting galaxies, collectively known as ADFS-27, as they began the gradual process of merging into a single, massive elliptical galaxy. An earlier sideswiping encounter between the two helped to trigger their astounding bursts of star formation. Astronomers speculate that this merger may eventually form the core of an entire galaxy cluster. Galaxy clusters are among the most massive structures in the universe.

“Finding just one hyper-luminous starburst galaxy is remarkable in itself. Finding two of these rare galaxies in such close proximity is truly astounding,” said Dominik Riechers, an astronomer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author on a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. “Considering their extreme distance from Earth and the frenetic star-forming activity inside each, it’s possible we may be witnessing the most intense galaxy merger known to date.”

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The ADFS-27 galaxy pair is located approximately 12.7 billion light-years from Earth in the direction of the Dorado constellation. At this distance, astronomers are viewing this system as it appeared when the universe was only about one billion years old.

Astronomers first detected this system with the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. It appeared as a single red dot in the telescope’s survey of the southern sky. These initial observations suggested that the apparently faint object was in fact both extremely bright and extremely distant. Follow-up observations with the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX) telescope confirmed these initial interpretations and paved the way for the more detailed ALMA observations.

With its higher resolution and greater sensitivity, ALMA precisely measured the distance to this object and revealed that it was in fact two distinct galaxies. The pairing of otherwise phenomenally rare galaxies suggests that they reside within a particularly dense region of the universe at that period in its history, the astronomers said.

 

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The new ALMA observations also indicate that the ADFS-27 system has approximately 50 times the amount of star-forming gas as the Milky Way. “Much of this gas will be converted into new stars very quickly,” said Riechers. “Our current observations indicate that these two galaxies are indeed producing stars at a breakneck pace, about one thousand times faster than our home galaxy.”

The galaxies — which would appear as flat, rotating disks — are brimming with extremely bright and massive blue stars. Most of this intense starlight, however, never makes it out of the galaxies themselves; there is simply too much obscuring interstellar dust in each.

This dust absorbs the brilliant starlight, heating up until it glows brightly in infrared light. As this light travels the vast cosmic distances to Earth, the ongoing expansion of the universe shifts the once infrared light into longer millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, all thanks to the Doppler effect.

 

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ALMA was specially designed to detect and study light of this nature, which enabled the astronomers to resolve the source of the light into two distinct objects. The observations also show the basic structures of the galaxies, revealing tail-like features that were spun-off during their initial encounter.

The new observations also indicate that the two galaxies are about 30,000 light-years apart, moving at roughly several hundred kilometers per second relative to each other. As they continue to interact gravitationally, each galaxy will eventually slow and fall toward the other, likely leading to several more close encounters before merging into one massive, elliptical galaxy. The astronomers expect this process to take a few hundred million years.

“Due to their great distance and dustiness, these galaxies remain completely undetected at visible wavelengths,” noted Riechers. “Eventually, we hope to combine the exquisite ALMA data with future infrared observations with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. These two telescopes will form an astronomer’s ‘dream team’ to better understand the nature of this and other such exceptionally rare, extreme systems.”

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171113123633.htm

 

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Dark matter and dark energy: Do they really exist?

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Researchers have hypothesized that the universe contains a ‘dark matter.’ They have also posited the existence of a ‘dark energy.’ These two hypotheses account for the movement of stars in galaxies and for the accelerating expansion of the universe. But, according to a researcher, these concepts may be no longer valid: the phenomena can be demonstrated without them. This research exploits a new theoretical model based on the scale invariance of the empty space

View of Milky Way (stock image).

Credit: © 1xpert / Fotolia

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For close on a century, researchers have hypothesised that the universe contains more matter than can be directly observed, known as “dark matter.” They have also posited the existence of a “dark energy” that is more powerful than gravitational attraction. These two hypotheses, it has been argued, account for the movement of stars in galaxies and for the accelerating expansion of the universe respectively. But — according to a researcher at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland — these concepts may be no longer valid: the phenomena they are supposed to describe can be demonstrated without them. This research, which is published in The Astrophysical Journal, exploits a new theoretical model based on the scale invariance of the empty space, potentially solving two of astronomy’s greatest mysteries.

onger valid: the phenomena they are supposed to describe can be demonstrated without them. This research, which is published in The Astrophysical Journal, exploits a new theoretical model based on the scale invariance of the empty space, potentially solving two of astronomy’s greatest mysteries.

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In 1933, the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky made a discovery that left the world speechless: there was, claimed Zwicky, substantially more matter in the universe than we can actually see. Astronomers called this unknown matter “dark matter,” a concept that was to take on yet more importance in the 1970s, when the US astronomer Vera Rubin called on this enigmatic matter to explain the movements and speed of the stars. Scientists have subsequently devoted considerable resources to identifying dark matter — in space, on the ground and even at CERN — but without success. In 1998 there was a second thunderclap: a team of Australian and US astrophysicists discovered the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, earning them the Nobel Prize for physics in 2011. However, in spite of the enormous resources that have been implemented, no theory or observation has been able to define this black energy that is allegedly stronger than Newton’s gravitational attraction. In short, black matter and dark energy are two mysteries that have had astronomers stumped for over 80 years and 20 years respectively.

 

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A new model based on the scale invariance of the empty space

The way we represent the universe and its history are described by Einstein’s equations of general relativity, Newton’s universal gravitation and quantum mechanics. The model-consensus at present is that of a big bang followed by an expansion. “In this model, there is a starting hypothesis that hasn’t been taken into account, in my opinion,” says André Maeder, honorary professor in the Department of Astronomy in UNIGE’s Faculty of Science. “By that I mean the scale invariance of the empty space; in other words, the empty space and its properties do not change following a dilatation or contraction.” The empty space plays a primordial role in Einstein’s equations as it operates in a quantity known as a “cosmological constant,” and the resulting universe model depends on it. Based on this hypothesis, Maeder is now re-examining the model of the universe, pointing out that the scale invariance of the empty space is also present in the fundamental theory of electromagnetism.

 

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Do we finally have an explanation for the expansion of the universe and the speed of the galaxies?

When Maeder carried out cosmological tests on his new model, he found that it matched the observations. He also found that the model predicts the accelerated expansion of the universe without having to factor in any particle or dark energy. In short, it appears that dark energy may not actually exist since the acceleration of the expansion is contained in the equations of the physics.

In a second stage, Maeder focused on Newton’s law, a specific instance of the equations of general relativity. The law is also slightly modified when the model incorporates Maeder’s new hypothesis. Indeed, it contains a very small outward acceleration term, which is particularly significant at low densities. This amended law, when applied to clusters of galaxies, leads to masses of clusters in line with that of visible matter (contrary to what Zwicky argued in 1933): this means that no dark matter is needed to explain the high speeds of the galaxies in the clusters. A second test demonstrated that this law also predicts the high speeds reached by the stars in the outer regions of the galaxies (as Rubin had observed), without having to turn to dark matter to describe them. Finally, a third test looked at the dispersion of the speeds of the stars oscillating around the plane of the Milky Way. This dispersion, which increases with the age of the relevant stars, can be explained very well using the invariant empty space hypothesis, while there was before no agreement on the origin of this effect.

 

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Maeder’s discovery paves the way for a new conception of astronomy, one that will raise questions and generate controversy. “The announcement of this model, which at last solves two of astronomy’s greatest mysteries, remains true to the spirit of science: nothing can ever be taken for granted, not in terms of experience, observation or the reasoning of human beings,” concluded André Maeder.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171122113013.htm

 

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How Earth stops high-energy neutrinos in their tracks

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

For the first time, a science experiment has measured Earth’s ability to absorb neutrinos — the smaller-than-an-atom particles that zoom throughout space and through us by the trillions every second at nearly the speed of light. The experiment was achieved with the IceCube detector, an array of 5,160 basketball-sized sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of very clear ice near the South Pole.

This image shows a visual representation of one of the highest-energy neutrino detections superimposed on a view of the IceCube Lab at the South Pole.

Credit: IceCube Collaboration

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For the first time, a science experiment has measured Earth’s ability to absorb neutrinos — the smaller-than-an-atom particles that zoom throughout space and through us by the trillions every second at nearly the speed of light. The experiment was achieved with the IceCube detector, an array of 5,160 basketball-sized sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of very clear ice near the South Pole. The results of this experiment by the IceCube collaboration, which includes Penn State physicists, will be published in the online edition of the journal Nature on November 22, 2017.

“This achievement is important because it shows, for the first time, that very-high-energy neutrinos can be absorbed by something — in this case, the Earth,” said Doug Cowen, professor of physics and astronomy & astrophysics at Penn State. The first detections of extremely-high-energy neutrinos were made by IceCube in 2013, but a mystery remained about whether any kind of matter could truly stop a neutrino’s journey through space. “We knew that lower-energy neutrinos pass through just about anything,” Cowen said, “but although we had expected higher-energy neutrinos to be different, no previous experiments had been able to demonstrate convincingly that higher-energy neutrinos could be stopped by anything.”

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The results in the Nature paper are based on one year of data from about 10,800 neutrino-related interactions. Cowen and Tyler Anderson, an assistant research professor of physics at Penn State, are members of the IceCube collaboration. They are coauthors of the Nature paper who helped to build the IceCube detector and are contributing to its maintenance and management.

This new discovery with IceCube is an exciting addition to our deepening understanding of how the universe works. It also is a little bit of a disappointment for those who hope for an experiment that will reveal something that cannot be explained by the current Standard Model of Particle Physics. “The results of this Ice Cube study are fully consistent with the Standard Model of Particle Physics — the reigning theory that for the past half century has described all the physical forces in the universe except gravity,” Cowen said.

Neutrinos first were formed at the beginning of the universe, and they continue to be produced by stars throughout space and by nuclear reactors on Earth. “Understanding how neutrinos interact is key to the operation of IceCube,” explained Francis Halzen, principal investigator for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of physics. “We were of course hoping for some new physics to appear, but we unfortunately find that the Standard Model, as usual, withstands the test,” Halzen said.

 

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IceCube’s sensors do not directly observe neutrinos, but instead measure flashes of blue light, known as Cherenkov radiation, emitted after a series of interactions involving fast-moving charged particles that are created when neutrinos interact with the ice. By measuring the light patterns from these interactions in or near the detector array, IceCube can estimate the neutrinos’ energies and directions of travel. The scientists found that the neutrinos that had to travel the farthest through Earth were less likely to reach the detector.

Most of the neutrinos selected for this study were more than a million times more energetic than the neutrinos produced by more familiar sources, like the Sun or nuclear power plants. The analysis also included a small number of astrophysical neutrinos, which are produced outside the Earth’s atmosphere, from cosmic accelerators unidentified to date, perhaps associated with supermassive black holes.

“Neutrinos have quite a well-earned reputation of surprising us with their behavior,” says Darren Grant, spokesperson for the IceCube Collaboration, a professor of physics at the University of Alberta in Canada, and a former postdoctoral scholar at Penn State. “It is incredibly exciting to see this first measurement and the potential it holds for future precision tests.”

 

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In addition to providing the first measurement of the Earth’s absorption of neutrinos, the analysis shows that IceCube’s scientific reach extends beyond its core focus on particle physics discoveries and the emerging field of neutrino astronomy into the fields of planetary science and nuclear physics. This analysis also is of interest to geophysicists who would like to use neutrinos to image the Earth’s interior in order to explore the boundary between the Earth’s inner solid core and its liquid outer core.

“IceCube was built to both explore the frontiers of physics and, in doing so, possibly challenge existing perceptions of the nature of universe. This new finding and others yet to come are in that spirt of scientific discovery,” said James Whitmore, program director in the National Science Foundation’s physics division. Physicists now hope to repeat the study using an expanded, multiyear analysis of data from the full 86-string IceCube array, and to look at higher ranges of neutrino energies for any hints of new physics beyond the Standard Model.

 

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Why is massive star formation quenched in galaxy centers?

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Study points to the role of the magnetic field as responsible for decelerating the formation of massive stars in the center of galaxies

A new study proposes that one of the reasons that slows down the rate at which massive stars form in galaxies is the existence of relatively large magnetic fields. Research has revealed that this process occurs around the center of the galaxy NGC 1097.

Magnetic fields control the collapse of the molecular clouds in the nuclear ring of the galaxy NGC 1097. As a result, formation of massive stars is suppressed in zones of strong magnetic fields (contours).

Credit: Gabriel Pérez, SMM (IAC)

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A study led by a researcher at the IAC and published today in Nature Astronomy points to the role of the magnetic field as responsible for decelerating the formation of massive stars in the center of galaxies. Without this process the Big Bang would be questioned.

The current cosmological model to explain our universe, the “Big Bang” model, aims to describe all the phenomena we observe, which includes the galaxies and their evolution from earliest times to the present day. One of the major problems faced by the standard form of this model is that it has predicted a star formation rate -speed at which new stars are born- which is far too big. All the star forming material in galaxies should have been turned into stars when the universe had only a fraction of its present age, 13,8 billion years. However, over half the galaxies we see, mainly the spirals, are very actively forming stars right now. This discrepancy between theoretical prediction and observation has forced to look much more closely at processes which can slow down the rate of star formation during the lifetimes of galaxies, collectively known as “star formation quenching.” Without quenching the standard Big Bang model fails to predict the universe as we know it.

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There have been a number of mechanisms proposed for quenching, for example “feedback” from supernovae or active galactic nuclei which breaks up the star forming clouds and reduces the star formation rate, but the measurement and verification of yet other possible processes is of great importance. One of this mechanisms has just been published in Nature Astronomy led by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) researcher, Fatemeh Tabatabaei. The study points to magnetic fields and cosmic rays as responsible for massive stars forming slowly.

Studying in great detail the star formation parameters of the central region of the spiral galaxy NGC 1097, they concluded that the presence of a relatively large magnetic field is acting as a quenching agent, due to a magnetic field that exerts a pressure within a gas cloud which can slow down or stop its tendency to collapse and form stars. But the results have gone further, because researchers have shown that this mechanism is in fact working around the center of NGC 1097. They combined observations in the visible and the near infrared from the Hubble Space Telescope with radio observations from the Very Large Array and the Submillimeter Array to explore the effect of the turbulence, stellar radiation, and magnetic field on massive star formation in the galaxy’s nuclear ring. This ring contains a number of clearly distinct zones where stars are forming inside huge molecular cloud complexes. The principal result they obtained was an inverse relation between the star formation rate in a given molecular cloud and the magnetic field within it: the larger the field the slower is the star formation rate.

 

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“To do this, we made a specific separation of the magnetic field and its energy from other sources of energy in the interstellar medium, which are the thermal energy, and the general non-thermal but non-magnetic energy” explains Fatemeh Tabatabaei. “Only by combining the high quality observations at very different wavelengths could we do this and when we separated these energy sources the effect of the magnetic field was surprisingly clear.” Almudena Prieto, another of the authors adds in the same sense: “although I have been working on the central zone of NGC 1097 at optical and infrared wavelengths for some time, only when we took into account the magnetic field could we realize its relevance in decreasing the rate at which stars are formed.”

This result has several interesting consequences and throws light on several types of interrelated astrophysical puzzles. Firstly, as the magnetic field does not allow very large molecular clouds to collapse and form stars, star formation can occur only after the clouds break up into smaller clouds. This means that this region will have a higher fraction of low-mass stars than in other zones of the galaxy. The tendency of very massive galaxies to contain a high fraction of low-mass stars at their centers is a recent discovery, and is still in some ways controversial, but is reinforced by the work reported here. Also of interest is the fact that the presence of supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies does tend to enhance the nuclear magnetic field, so that this quenching mechanism should be most effective in the bulges of galaxies.

 

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Materials provided by Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC)

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171128123348.htm

 

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MUSE probes uncharted depths of Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Deepest ever spectroscopic survey completed

Astronomers using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have conducted the deepest spectroscopic survey ever. They focused on the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, measuring distances and properties of 1600 very faint galaxies including 72 galaxies that have never been detected before. This wealth of new information is giving astronomers insight into star formation in the early Universe.

This color image shows the Hubble Ultra Deep Field region, a tiny but much-studied region in the constellation of Fornax, as observed with the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. But this picture only gives a very partial view of the riches of the MUSE data, which also provide a spectrum for each pixel in the picture. This data set has allowed astronomers not only to measure distances for far more of these galaxies than before — a total of 1600 — but also to find out much more about each of them. Surprisingly 72 new galaxies were found that had eluded deep imaging with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Credit: ESO/MUSE HUDF collaboration

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The MUSE HUDF Survey team, led by Roland Bacon of the Centre de recherche astrophysique de Lyon (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/ENS de Lyon), France, used MUSE (Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer/ to observe the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (heic0406/, a much-studied patch of the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). This resulted in the deepest spectroscopic observations ever made; precise spectroscopic information was measured for 1600 galaxies, ten times as many galaxies as has been painstakingly obtained in this field over the last decade by ground-based telescopes.

The original HUDF images were pioneering deep-field observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope published in 2004. They probed more deeply than ever before and revealed a menagerie of galaxies dating back to less than a billion years after the Big Bang. The area was subsequently observed many times by Hubble and other telescopes, resulting in the deepest view of the Universe to date. Now, despite the depth of the Hubble observations, MUSE has — among many other results — revealed 72 galaxies never seen before in this very tiny area of the sky.

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

Roland Bacon takes up the story: “MUSE can do something that Hubble can’t — it splits up the light from every point in the image into its component colours to create a spectrum. This allows us to measure the distance, colours and other properties of all the galaxies we can see — including some that are invisible to Hubble itself.”

The MUSE data provides a new view of dim, very distant galaxies, seen near the beginning of the Universe about 13 billion years ago. It has detected galaxies 100 times fainter than in previous surveys, adding to an already richly observed field and deepening our understanding of galaxies across the ages.

The survey unearthed 72 candidate galaxies known as Lyman-alpha emitters that shine only in Lyman-alpha light. Current understanding of star formation cannot fully explain these galaxies, which just seem to shine brightly in this one colour. Because MUSE disperses the light into its component colours these objects become apparent, but they remain invisible in deep direct images such as those from Hubble.

 

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“MUSE has the unique ability to extract information about some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe — even in a part of the sky that is already very well studied,” explains Jarle Brinchmann, lead author of one of the papers describing results from this survey, from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences at CAUP in Porto, Portugal. “We learn things about these galaxies that is only possible with spectroscopy, such as chemical content and internal motions — not galaxy by galaxy but all at once for all the galaxies!”

Another major finding of this study was the systematic detection of luminous hydrogen halos around galaxies in the early Universe, giving astronomers a new and promising way to study how material flows in and out of early galaxies.

Many other potential applications of this dataset are explored in the series of papers, and they include studying the role of faint galaxies during cosmic reionisation (starting just 380,000 years after the Big Bang), galaxy merger rates when the Universe was young, galactic winds, star formation as well as mapping the motions of stars in the early Universe.

 

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“Remarkably, these data were all taken without the use of MUSE’s recent Adaptive Optics Facility upgrade. The activation of the AOF after a decade of intensive work by ESO’s astronomers and engineers promises yet more revolutionary data in the future,” concludes Roland Bacon.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171129090243.htm

 

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Gravitational waves could shed light on the origin of black holes

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

The detection of gravitational waves has given astronomers a new way of looking at the universe, and a new study shows how these ripples in the fabric of spacetime might confirm or rule out the existence of a certain type of black hole.

Black hole artist’s concept.

Credit: © nasa_gallery / Fotolia

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A new study published in Physical Review Letters outlines how scientists could use gravitational wave experiments to test the existence of primordial black holes, gravity wells formed just moments after the Big Bang that some scientists have posited could be an explanation for dark matter.

“We know very well that black holes can be formed by the collapse of large stars, or as we have seen recently, the merger of two neutron stars,” said Savvas Koushiappas, an associate professor of physics at Brown University and coauthor of the study with Avi Loeb from Harvard University. “But it’s been hypothesized that there could be black holes that formed in the very early universe before stars existed at all. That’s what we’re addressing with this work.”

The idea is that shortly after the Big Bang, quantum mechanical fluctuations led to the density distribution of matter that we observe today in the expanding universe. It’s been suggested that some of those density fluctuations might have been large enough to result in black holes peppered throughout the universe. These so-called primordial black holes were first proposed in the early 1970s by Stephen Hawking and collaborators but have never been detected — it’s still not clear if they exist at all.

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The ability to detect gravitational waves, as demonstrated recently by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), has the potential to shed new light on the issue. Such experiments detect ripples in the fabric of spacetime associated with giant astronomical events like the collision of two black holes. LIGO has already detected several black hole mergers, and future experiments will be able to detect events that happened much further back in time.

“The idea is very simple,” Koushiappas said. “With future gravitational wave experiments, we’ll be able to look back to a time before the formation of the first stars. So if we see black hole merger events before stars existed, then we’ll know that those black holes are not of stellar origin.”

Cosmologists measure how far back in time an event occurred using redshift — the stretching of the wavelength of light associated with the expansion of the universe. Events further back in time are associated with larger redshifts. For this study, Koushiappas and Loeb calculated the redshift at which black hole mergers should no longer be detected assuming only stellar origin.

 

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They show that at a redshift of 40, which equates to about 65 million years after the Big Bang, merger events should be detected at a rate of no more than one per year, assuming stellar origin. At redshifts greater than 40, events should disappear altogether.

“That’s really the drop-dead point,” Koushiappas said. “In reality, we expect merger events to stop well before that point, but a redshift of 40 or so is the absolute hardest bound or cutoff point.”

A redshift of 40 should be within reach of several proposed gravitational wave experiments. And if they detect merger events beyond that, it means one of two things, Koushiappas and Loeb say: Either primordial black holes exist, or the early universe evolved in a way that’s very different from the standard cosmological model. Either would be very important discoveries, the researchers say.

 

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For example, primordial black holes fall into a category of entities known as MACHOs, or Massive Compact Halo Objects. Some scientists have proposed that dark matter — the unseen stuff that is thought to comprise most of the mass of the universe — may be made of MACHOs in the form of primordial black holes. A detection of primordial black holes would bolster that idea, while a non-detection would cast doubt upon it.

The only other possible explanation for black hole mergers at redshifts greater than 40 is that the universe is “non-Gaussian.” In the standard cosmological model, matter fluctuations in the early universe are described by a Gaussian probability distribution. A merger detection could mean matter fluctuations deviate from a Gaussian distribution.

“Evidence for non-Gaussianity would require new physics to explain the origin of these fluctuations, which would be a big deal,” Loeb said.

The rate at which detections are made past a redshift of 40 — if indeed such detections are made — should indicate whether they’re a sign of primordial black holes or evidence for non-Gaussianity. But a non-detection would present a strong challenge to those ideas.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171130141043.htm

 

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Astronomer’s map reveals location of mysterious fast-moving gas

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

The most detailed map ever of clouds of high-velocity gas in the universe around us has now been developed by scientsits. The map covers the entire sky and shows curious clouds of neutral hydrogen gas that are moving at a different speed to the normal rotation of the Milky Way.

An all-sky map showing the radial velocity of neutral hydrogen gas belonging to the high-velocity clouds of the Milky Way and two neighboring galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.

Credit: ICRAR

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An Australian scientist has created the most detailed map ever of clouds of high-velocity gas in the Universe around us.

The map covers the entire sky and shows curious clouds of neutral hydrogen gas that are moving at a different speed to the normal rotation of the Milky Way.

It was created by astronomer Dr Tobias Westmeier, from The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, and published in the leading journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Dr Westmeier said the map suggests that at least 13 per cent of the sky is covered by high-velocity clouds.

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“These gas clouds are moving towards or away from us at speeds of up to a few hundred kilometres per second,” he said. “They are clearly separate objects.”

The map was compiled by taking a picture of the sky and masking out gas that is moving at the same pace as the Milky Way to show the location of gas travelling at a different speed.

The result is the most sensitive and highest resolution all-sky map of high-velocity clouds ever created.

It shows the gas in spectacular detail, revealing never before seen filaments, branches and clumps within the clouds.

“Starting to see all that structure within these high-velocity clouds is very exciting,” Dr Westmeier said.

“It’s something that wasn’t really visible in the past, and it could provide new clues about the origin of these clouds and the physical conditions within them.”

 

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The research used data from the HI4PI survey, a study of the entire sky released late last year. The survey combines observations from CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory in Australia and the Effelsberg 100m Radio Telescope operated by the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

Dr Westmeier said astronomers had proposed several hypotheses about where high-velocity clouds come from.

“We know for certain the origin of one of the long trails of gas, known as the Magellanic Stream, because it seems to be connected to the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds,” he said.

“But all the rest, the origin is unknown.”

 

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Until about a decade ago, even the distances to high-velocity clouds had been a mystery, Dr Westmeier said.

“We now know that the clouds are very close to the Milky Way, within about 30,000 light years of the disc,” he said.

“That means it’s likely to either be gas that is falling into the Milky Way or outflows from the Milky Way itself.

“For example, if there is star formation or a supernova explosion it could push gas high above the disc.”

The map will be freely available to astronomers around the world, helping us to learn more about high-velocity clouds and the local Universe.

 

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Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171204091213.htm

 

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Scientists observe supermassive black hole in infant universe

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Findings present a puzzle as to how such a huge object could have grown so quickly

A team of astronomers has detected the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed. The black hole sits in the center of an ultrabright quasar and presents a puzzle as to how such a huge object could have grown so quickly.

Artist’s conceptions of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered, which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. It is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the epoch of reionization, when the universe’s first light sources turned on.

Credit: Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

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A team of astronomers, including two from MIT, has detected the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed. The black hole sits in the center of an ultrabright quasar, the light of which was emitted just 690 million years after the Big Bang. That light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us — a span of time that is nearly equal to the age of the universe.

The black hole is measured to be about 800 million times as massive as our sun — a Goliath by modern-day standards and a relative anomaly in the early universe.

“This is the only object we have observed from this era,” says Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn’t exist. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It’s very puzzling.”

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Adding to the black hole’s intrigue is the environment in which it formed: The scientists have deduced that the black hole took shape just as the universe was undergoing a fundamental shift, from an opaque environment dominated by neutral hydrogen to one in which the first stars started to blink on. As more stars and galaxies formed, they eventually generated enough radiation to flip hydrogen from neutral, a state in which hydrogen’s electrons are bound to their nucleus, to ionized, in which the electrons are set free to recombine at random. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day.

The team believes that the newly discovered black hole existed in an environment that was about half neutral, half ionized.

“What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50 — it’s a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out,” Simcoe says. “This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on.”

Simcoe and postdoc Monica L. Turner are the MIT co-authors of a paper detailing the results, published today in the journal Nature. The other lead authors are from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Pasadena, California.

 

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A shift, at high speed

The black hole was detected by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at Carnegie, who found the object while combing through multiple all-sky surveys, or maps of the distant universe. Bañados was looking in particular for quasars — some of the brightest objects in the universe, that consist of a supermassive black hole surrounded by swirling, accreting disks of matter.

After identifying several objects of interest, Bañados focused in on them using an instrument known as FIRE (the Folded-port InfraRed Echellette), which was built by Simcoe and operates at the 6.5-meter-diameter Magellan telescopes in Chile. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra. The light from very distant, early cosmic objects shifts toward redder wavelengths on its journey across the universe, as the universe expands. Astronomers refer to this Doppler-like phenomenon as “redshift”; the more distant an object, the farther its light has shifted toward the red, or infrared end of the spectrum. The higher an object’s redshift, the further away it is, both in space and time.

Using FIRE, the team identified one of Bañados’ objects as a quasar with a redshift of 7.5, meaning the object was emitting light around 690 million years after the Big Bang. Based on the quasar’s redshift, the researchers calculated the mass of the black hole at its center and determined that it is around 800 million times the mass of the sun.

“Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a supermassive black hole,” Simcoe says.

 

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When the first stars turned on

The newly identified quasar appears to inhabit a pivotal moment in the universe’s history. Immediately following the Big Bang, the universe resembled a cosmic soup of hot, extremely energetic particles. As the universe rapidly expanded, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas during an era that is sometimes referred to as the dark ages — a period bereft of any sources of light. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons. As more stars turned on throughout the universe, their photons reacted with neutral hydrogen, ionizing the gas and setting off what’s known as the epoch of re-ionization.

Simcoe, Bañados, and their colleagues believe the newly discovered quasar existed during this fundamental transition, just at the time when the universe was undergoing a drastic shift in its most abundant element.

The researchers used FIRE to determine that a large fraction of the hydrogen surrounding the quasar is neutral. They extrapolated from that to estimate that the universe as a whole was likely about half neutral and half ionized at the time they observed the quasar. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang.

 

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“This adds to our understanding of our universe at large because we’ve identified that moment of time when the universe is in the middle of this very rapid transition from neutral to ionized,” Simcoe says. “We now have the most accurate measurements to date of when the first stars were turning on.”

There is one large mystery that remains to be solved: How did a black hole of such massive proportions form so early in the universe’s history? It’s thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment. Extremely large black holes, such as the one identified by Simcoe and his colleagues, should form over periods much longer than 690 million years.

“If you start with a seed like a big star, and let it grow at the maximum possible rate, and start at the moment of the Big Bang, you could never make something with 800 million solar masses — it’s unrealistic,” Simcoe says. “So there must be another way that it formed. And how exactly that happens, nobody knows.”

This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with support from construction of FIRE from NSF and from Curtis and Kathleen Marble.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Original written by Jennifer Chu.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171206131946.htm

 

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Astrophysicists settle cosmic debate on magnetism of planets and stars

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Laser experiments verify ‘turbulent dynamo’ theory of how cosmic magnetic fields are created

Using one of the world’s most powerful laser facilities, a team of scientists experimentally confirmed a long-held theory for cosmic magnetic field generation: the turbulent dynamo. By creating a hot turbulent plasma the size of a penny, that lasts a few billionths of a second, the researchers recorded how the turbulent motions can amplify a weak magnetic field to the strengths of those observed in our sun, distant stars, and galaxies

This is a 3-D radiation magneto-hydrodynamic FLASH simulation of the experiment, performed on the Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory. The values demonstrate strong amplification of the seed magnetic fields by turbulent dynamo.

Credit: Petros Tzeferacos/University of Chicago

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The universe is highly magnetic, with everything from stars to planets to galaxies producing their own magnetic fields. Astrophysicists have long puzzled over these surprisingly strong and long-lived fields, with theories and simulations seeking a mechanism that explains their generation.

Using one of the world’s most powerful laser facilities, a team led by University of Chicago scientists experimentally confirmed one of the most popular theories for cosmic magnetic field generation: the turbulent dynamo. By creating a hot turbulent plasma the size of a penny, that lasts a few billionths of a second, the researchers recorded how the turbulent motions can amplify a weak magnetic field to the strengths of those observed in our sun, distant stars, and galaxies.

The paper, published this week in Nature Communications, is the first laboratory demonstration of a theory, explaining the magnetic field of numerous cosmic bodies, debated by physicists for nearly a century. Using the FLASH physics simulation code, developed by the Flash Center for Computational Science at UChicago, the researchers designed an experiment conducted at the OMEGA Laser Facility in Rochester, NY to recreate turbulent dynamo conditions.

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Confirming decades of numerical simulations, the experiment revealed that turbulent plasma could dramatically boost a weak magnetic field up to the magnitude observed by astronomers in stars and galaxies.

“We now know for sure that turbulent dynamo exists, and that it’s one of the mechanisms that can actually explain magnetization of the universe,” said Petros Tzeferacos, research assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics and associate director of the Flash Center. “This is something that we hoped we knew, but now we do.”

A mechanical dynamo produces an electric current by rotating coils through a magnetic field. In astrophysics, dynamo theory proposes the reverse: the motion of electrically-conducting fluid creates and maintains a magnetic field. In the early 20th century, physicist Joseph Larmor proposed that such a mechanism could explain the magnetism of the Earth and Sun, inspiring decades of scientific debate and inquiry.

 

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While numerical simulations demonstrated that turbulent plasma can generate magnetic fields at the scale of those observed in stars, planets, and galaxies, creating a turbulent dynamo in the laboratory was far more difficult. Confirming the theory requires producing plasma at extremely high temperature and volatility to produce the sufficient turbulence to fold, stretch and amplify the magnetic field.

To design an experiment that creates those conditions, Tzeferacos and colleagues at UChicago and the University of Oxford ran hundreds of two- and three-dimensional simulations with FLASH on the Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory. The final setup involved blasting two penny-sized pieces of foil with powerful lasers, propelling two jets of plasma through grids and into collision with each other, creating turbulent fluid motion.

“People have dreamed of doing this experiment with lasers for a long time, but it really took the ingenuity of this team to make this happen,” said Donald Lamb, the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Astronomy & Astrophysics and director of the Flash Center. “This is a huge breakthrough.”

 

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The team also used FLASH simulations to develop two independent methods for measuring the magnetic field produced by the plasma: proton radiography, the subject of a recent paper from the FLASH group, and polarized light, based on how astronomers measure the magnetic fields of distant objects. Both measurements tracked the growth in mere nanoseconds of the magnetic field from its weak initial state to over 100 kiloGauss — stronger than a high-resolution MRI scanner and a million times stronger than the magnetic field of the Earth.

“This work opens up the opportunity to verify experimentally ideas and concepts about the origin of magnetic fields in the universe that have been proposed and studied theoretically over the better part of a century,” said Fausto Cattaneo, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the paper.

Now that a turbulent dynamo can be created in a laboratory, scientists can explore deeper questions about its function: how quickly does the magnetic field increase in strength? How strong can the field get? How does the magnetic field alter the turbulence that amplified it?

 

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“It’s one thing to have well-developed theories, but it’s another thing to really demonstrate it in a controlled laboratory setting where you can make all these kinds of measurements about what’s going on,” Lamb said. “Now that we can do it, we can poke it and probe it.”

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Chicago.

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180209131436.htm

 

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