Just After the Big Bang: Galaxies Created Stars a Hundred Times Faster Now

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

A team of astronomers has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old — formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang — creates stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way.

This is an artist’s impression of a quasar and neighboring merging galaxy. The galaxies observed by the team are so distant that no detailed images are possible at present. This combination of images of nearby counterparts gives an impression of how they might look in more detail.

Credit: The image was created by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy using material from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

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A team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Eduardo Bañados and led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old — formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang — creates stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way.

Their findings are published by Nature.

The team’s discovery could help solve a cosmic puzzle — a mysterious population of surprisingly massive galaxies from when the universe was only about 10 percent of its current age.

After first observing these galaxies a few years ago, astronomers proposed that they must have been created from hyper-productive precursor galaxies, which is the only way so many stars could have formed so quickly. But astronomers had never seen anything that fit the bill for these precursors until now.

This newly discovered population could solve the mystery of how these extremely large galaxies came to have hundreds of billions of stars in them when they formed only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, requiring very rapid star formation.

The team made this discovery by accident when investigating quasars, which are supermassive black holes that sit at the center of enormous galaxies, accreting matter. They were trying to study star formation in the galaxies that host these quasars.

“But what we found, in four separate cases, were neighboring galaxies that were forming stars at a furious pace, producing a hundred solar masses’ worth of new stars per year,” Decarli explained.

“Very likely it is not a coincidence to find these productive galaxies close to bright quasars. Quasars are thought to form in regions of the universe where the large-scale density of matter is much higher than average. Those same conditions should also be conducive to galaxies forming new stars at a greatly increased rate,” added Fabian Walter, also of Max Planck.

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“Whether or not the fast-growing galaxies we discovered are indeed precursors of the massive galaxies first seen a few years back will require more work to see how common they actually are,” Bañados explained.

Decarli’s team already has follow-up investigations planned to explore this question.

The team also found what appears to be the earliest known example of two galaxies undergoing a merger, which is another major mechanism of galaxy growth. The new observations provide the first direct evidence that such mergers have been taking place even at the earliest stages of galaxy evolution, less than a billion years after the Big Bang.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by Carnegie Institution for Science.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170524131149.htm

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Do stars fall quietly into black holes, or crash into something utterly unknown?

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Astronomers have put a basic principle of black holes to the test, showing that matter completely vanishes when pulled in. Their results constitute another successful test for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

This artist’s impression shows a star crossing the event horizon of a supermassive black hole located in the center of a galaxy. The black hole is so large and massive that tidal effects on the star are negligible, and the star is swallowed whole. The effects of gravitational lensing distorting the light of the star are not shown here.

Credit: Mark A. Garlick/CfA

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Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University have put a basic principle of black holes to the test, showing that matter completely vanishes when pulled in. Their results constitute another successful test for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Most scientists agree that black holes, cosmic entities of such great gravity that nothing can escape their grip, are surrounded by a so-called event horizon. Once matter or energy gets close enough to the black hole, it cannot escape — it will be pulled in. Though widely believed, the existence of event horizons has not been proved.

“Our whole point here is to turn this idea of an event horizon into an experimental science, and find out if event horizons really do exist or not,” said Pawan Kumar, a professor of astrophysics at The University of Texas at Austin.

Supermassive black holes are thought to lie at the heart of almost all galaxies. But some theorists suggest that there’s something else there instead — not a black hole, but an even stranger supermassive object that has somehow managed to avoid gravitational collapse to a singularity surrounded by an event horizon. The idea is based on modified theories of General Relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravity.

While a singularity has no surface area, the noncollapsed object would have a hard surface. So material being pulled closer — a star, for instance — would not actually fall into a black hole, but hit this hard surface and be destroyed.

Kumar, his graduate student Wenbin Lu, and Ramesh Narayan, a theorist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, have come up with a test to determine which idea is correct.

“Our motive is not so much to establish that there is a hard surface,” Kumar said, “but to push the boundary of knowledge and find concrete evidence that really, there is an event horizon around black holes.”

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The team figured out what a telescope would see when a star hit the hard surface of a supermassive object at the center of a nearby galaxy: The star’s gas would envelope the object, shining for months, perhaps even years.

Once they knew what to look for, the team figured out how often this should be seen in the nearby universe, if the hard-surface theory is true.

“We estimated the rate of stars falling onto supermassive black holes,” Lu said. “Nearly every galaxy has one. We only considered the most massive ones, which weigh about 100 million solar masses or more. There are about a million of them within a few billion light-years of Earth.”

They then searched a recent archive of telescope observations. Pan-STARRS, a 1.8-meter telescope in Hawaii, recently completed a project to survey half of the northern hemisphere sky. The telescope scanned the area repeatedly during a period of 3.5 years, looking for “transients” — things that glow for a while and then fade. Their goal was to find transients with the expected light signature of a star falling toward a supermassive object and hitting a hard surface.

“Given the rate of stars falling onto black holes and the number density of black holes in the nearby universe, we calculated how many such transients Pan-STARRS should have detected over a period of operation of 3.5 years. It turns out it should have detected more than 10 of them, if the hard-surface theory is true,” Lu said.

 

They did not find any.

“Our work implies that some, and perhaps all, black holes have event horizons and that material really does disappear from the observable universe when pulled into these exotic objects, as we’ve expected for decades,” Narayan said. “General Relativity has passed another critical test.”

Now the team is proposing to improve the test with an even larger telescope: the 8.4-meter Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST, now under construction in Chile). Like Pan-STARRS, LSST will make repeated surveys of the sky over time, revealing transients — but with much greater sensitivity.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Texas at Austin.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170530115127.htm

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ALMA returns to Boomerang Nebula

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

A companion star crashing into a red giant star may explain the chilling power to the Boomerang Nebula.

Composite image of the Boomerang Nebula, a pre-planetary nebula produced by a dying star. ALMA observations (orange) showing the hourglass-shaped outflow, which is embedded inside a roughly round ultra-cold outflow. The hourglass outflow stretches more than three trillion kilometers from end to end (about 21,000 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth), and is the result of a jet that is being fired by the central star, sweeping up the inner regions of the ultra-cold outflow like a snow-plow. The ultra-cold outflow is about 10 times bigger. The ALMA data are shown on top of an image from the Hubble Space Telescope (blue).

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble; NRAO/AUI/NSF

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An ancient, red giant star in the throes of a frigid death has produced the coldest known object in the cosmos — the Boomerang Nebula. How this star was able to create an environment strikingly colder than the natural background temperature of deep space has been a compelling mystery for more than two decades.

The answer, according to astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), may be that a small companion star has plunged into the heart of the red giant, ejecting most the matter of the larger star as an ultra-cold outflow of gas and dust.

This outflow is expanding so rapidly — about 10 times faster than a single star could produce on its own — that its temperature has fallen to less than half a degree Kelvin (minus 458.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Zero degrees Kelvin is known as absolute zero, the point at which all thermodynamic motion stops.

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The ALMA observations enabled the researchers to unravel this mystery by providing the first precise calculations of the nebula’s extent, age, mass, and kinetic energy.

“These new data show us that most of the stellar envelope from the massive red giant star has been blasted out into space at speeds far beyond the capabilities of a single, red giant star, ” said Raghvendra Sahai, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author on a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. “The only way to eject so much mass and at such extreme speeds is from the gravitational energy of two interacting stars, which would explain the puzzling properties of the ultra-cold outflow.” Such close companions may be responsible for the early and violent demise of most stars in the universe, Sahai noted.

“The extreme properties of the Boomerang challenge the conventional ideas about such interactions and provide us with one of the best opportunities to test the physics of binary systems that contain a giant star,” adds Wouter Vlemmings, an astronomer at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and co-author on the study.

The Boomerang Nebula is located about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus. The red giant star at its center is expected to shrink and get hotter, ultimately ionizing the gas around it to produce a planetary nebula. Planetary nebulae are dazzling objects created when stars like our sun (or a few times bigger) shed their outer layers as an expanding shell near the end of their nuclear-fusion-powered life. The Boomerang Nebula represents the very early stages of this process, a so-called pre-planetary nebula.

When the Boomerang Nebula was first observed in 1995, astronomers noted that it was absorbing the light of the Cosmic Microwave Background, which is the leftover radiation from the Big Bang. This radiation provides the natural background temperature of space — only 2.725 degrees above absolute zero. For the Boomerang Nebula to absorb that radiation, it had to be even colder than this lingering, dim energy that has been continually cooling for more than 13 billion years.

The new ALMA observations also produced an evocative image of this pre-planetary nebula, showing an hourglass-shaped outflow inside a roughly round ultra-cold outflow. The hourglass outflow stretches more than three trillion kilometers from end to end (about 21,000 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth), and is the result of a jet that is being fired by the central star, sweeping up the inner regions of the ultra-cold outflow like a snowplow.

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The ultra-cold outflow is more than 10 times bigger. Traveling more than 150 kilometers per second, it took material at its outer edges approximately 3,500 years to reach these extreme distances after it was first ejected from the dying star.

These conditions, however, will not last long. Even now, the Boomerang Nebula is slowly warming.

“We see this remarkable object at a very special, very short-lived period of its life,” noted Lars-Åke Nyman, an astronomer at the Joint ALMA Observatory in Santiago, Chile, and co-author on the paper. “It’s possible these super cosmic freezers are quite common in the universe, but they can only maintain such extreme temperatures for a relatively short time.”

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).

 

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Materials provided by National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170605110924.htm

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Jackpot! Cosmic magnifying-glass effect captures universe’s brightest galaxies

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Boosted by natural magnifying lenses in space, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured unique close-up views of the universe’s brightest infrared galaxies, which are as much as 10,000 times more luminous than our Milky Way.

These six Hubble Space Telescope images reveal a jumble of misshapen-looking galaxies punctuated by exotic patterns such as arcs, streaks, and smeared rings. These unusual features are the stretched shapes of the universe’s brightest infrared galaxies that are boosted by natural cosmic magnifying lenses. Some of the oddball shapes also may have been produced by spectacular collisions between distant, massive galaxies. The faraway galaxies are as much as 10,000 times more luminous than our Milky Way. The galaxies existed between 8 billion and 11.5 billion years ago.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Lowenthal (Smith College)

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Boosted by natural magnifying lenses in space, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured unique close-up views of the universe’s brightest infrared galaxies, which are as much as 10,000 times more luminous than our Milky Way.

The galaxy images, magnified through a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, reveal a tangled web of misshapen objects punctuated by exotic patterns such as rings and arcs. The odd shapes are due largely to the foreground lensing galaxies’ powerful gravity distorting the images of the background galaxies. The unusual forms also may have been produced by spectacular collisions between distant, massive galaxies in a sort of cosmic demolition derby.

“We have hit the jackpot of gravitational lenses,” said lead researcher James Lowenthal of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. “These ultra-luminous, massive, starburst galaxies are very rare. Gravitational lensing magnifies them so that you can see small details that otherwise are unimaginable. We can see features as small as about 100 light-years or less across. We want to understand what’s powering these monsters, and gravitational lensing allows us to study them in greater detail.”

The galaxies are ablaze with runaway star formation, pumping out more than 10,000 new stars a year. This unusually rapid star birth is occurring at the peak of the universe’s star-making boom more than 8 billion years ago. The star-birth frenzy creates lots of dust, which enshrouds the galaxies, making them too faint to detect in visible light. But they glow fiercely in infrared light, shining with the brilliance of 10 trillion to 100 trillion suns.

Gravitational lenses occur when the intense gravity of a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies magnifies the light of fainter, more distant background sources. Previous observations of the galaxies, discovered in far-infrared light by ground- and space-based observatories, had hinted of gravitational lensing. But Hubble’s keen vision confirmed the researchers’ suspicion.

Lowenthal is presenting his results June 6, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas.

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According to the research team, only a few dozen of these bright infrared galaxies exist in the universe, scattered across the sky. They reside in unusually dense regions of space that somehow triggered rapid star formation in the early universe.

The galaxies may hold clues to how galaxies formed billions of years ago. “There are so many unknowns about star and galaxy formation,” Lowenthal explained. “We need to understand the extreme cases, such as these galaxies, as well as the average cases, like our Milky Way, in order to have a complete story about how galaxy and star formation happen.”

In studying these strange galaxies, astronomers first must detangle the foreground lensing galaxies from the background ultra-bright galaxies. Seeing this effect is like looking at objects at the bottom of a swimming pool. The water distorts your view, just as the lensing galaxies’ gravity stretches the shapes of the distant galaxies. “We need to understand the nature and scale of those lensing effects to interpret properly what we’re seeing in the distant, early universe,” Lowenthal said. “This applies not only to these brightest infrared galaxies, but probably to most or maybe even all distant galaxies.”

Lowenthal’s team is halfway through its Hubble survey of 22 galaxies. An international team of astronomers first discovered the galaxies in far-infrared light using survey data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Planck space observatory, and some clever sleuthing. The team then compared those sources to galaxies found in ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory’s catalog of far-infrared objects and to ground-based radio data taken by the Very Large Array in New Mexico. The researchers next used the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico to measure their exact distances from Earth. The LMT’s far-infrared images also revealed multiple objects, hinting that the galaxies were being gravitationally lensed.

These bright objects existed between 8 billion and 11.5 billion years ago, when the universe was making stars more vigorously than it is today. The galaxies’ star-birth production is 5,000 to 10,000 times higher than that of our Milky Way. However, the ultra-bright galaxies are pumping out stars using only the same amount of gas contained in the Milky Way.

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So, the nagging question is, what is powering the prodigious star birth? “We’ve known for two decades that some of the most luminous galaxies in the universe are very dusty and massive, and they’re undergoing bursts of star formation,” Lowenthal said. “But they’ve been very hard to study because the dust makes them practically impossible to observe in visible light. They’re also very rare: they don’t appear in any of Hubble’s deep-field surveys. They are in random parts of the sky that nobody’s looked at before in detail. That’s why finding that they are gravitationally lensed is so important.”

These galaxies may be the brighter, more distant cousins of the ultra-luminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGS), hefty, dust-cocooned, starburst galaxies, seen in the nearby universe. The ULIRGS’ star-making output is stoked by the merger of two spiral galaxies, which is one possibility for the stellar baby boom in their more-distant relatives. However, Lowenthal said that computer simulations of the birth and growth of galaxies show that major mergers occur at a later epoch than the one in which these galaxies are seen.

Another idea for the star-making surge is that lots of gas, the material that makes stars, is flooding into the faraway galaxies. “The early universe was denser, so maybe gas is raining down on the galaxies, or they are fed by some sort of channel or conduit, which we have not figured out yet,” Lowenthal said. “This is what theoreticians struggle with: How do you get all the gas into a galaxy fast enough to make it happen?”

The research team plans to use Hubble and the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii to try to distinguish between the foreground and background galaxies so they can begin to analyze the details of the brilliant monster galaxies.

Future telescopes, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, an infrared observatory scheduled to launch in 2018, will measure the speed of the galaxies’ stars so that astronomers can calculate the mass of these ultra-luminous objects.

“The sky is covered with all kinds of galaxies, including those that shine in far-infrared light,” Lowenthal said. “What we’re seeing here is the tip of the iceberg: the very brightest of all.”

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170606155722.htm

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Recipe for star clusters

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Take one gas cloud 500 light years in diameter, add 5 million years, process for one month on supercomputer

Clusters of stars across the vast reaches of time and space of the entire universe were all created the same way, researchers have determined.

A snapshot of a simulated giant molecular cloud marked with with star clusters in formation.

Credit: McMaster University

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Researchers Corey Howard, Ralph Pudritz and William Harris, authors of a paper published June 25 in the journal Nature Astronomy, used highly-sophisticated computer simulations to re-create what happens inside gigantic clouds of concentrated gases known to give rise to clusters of stars that are bound together by gravity.

Pudritz and Harris, both professors of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster, were Howard’s PhD thesis supervisors and guided his research. Howard recently completed post-doctoral research at the university.

The state-of-the-art simulations follow a cloud of interstellar gas 500 light years in diameter, projecting 5 million years’ worth of evolution wrought by turbulence, gravity and feedback from intense radiation pressure produced by massive stars within forming clusters.

The research shows how those forces create dense filaments that funnel gas into what ultimately become super-bright clusters of stars that can merge with other clusters to form vast globular clusters.

“Most stars in galaxies form as members of star clusters within dense molecular clouds, so one of the most basic questions in astronomy is how do clusters that range from hundreds to millions of stars form under a wide variety of conditions,” Pudritz says. “Our simulations were carefully designed to determine whether or not this a universal process.”

The authors programmed data for such variables as gas pressure, space turbulence and radiation force into their simulation and let it run using resources that included SciNet, Canada’s largest supercomputer centre.

After a month, the program turned out star clusters identical to those known to exist, showing that the researchers had managed to reverse-engineer the formation of star clusters, taking a major step towards understanding their formation, which has long been a subject of debate among astrophysicists.

“Our work shows that, given a large enough collection of gas, a massive star cluster is the natural outcome,” Howard says. “Since massive star clusters trace the conditions of the galaxies in which they form, we may also be able use this knowledge to reverse-engineer the conditions in the distant universe.”

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Many had previously argued that clusters of different sizes and ages had formed differently, the authors said, but the new research shows they all form the same way.

The simulations show that the outcome depends on the initial reservoir of gas, that will, after turbulence, gravity and feedback have done their work, create clusters of stars of various sizes over the course of a few million years.

“This is the first convincing route to modelling the formation of star clusters,” Harris says. “It applies across all mass scales — little clusters and big ones — and it should work at any particular time in the universe’s history, in any particular galaxy.”

Such simulations would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago, the authors say. The success of this project, they say, suggests that similar research on other complex problems, such as the formation of entire galaxies down to the births of specific individual stars, could soon be within reach.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by McMaster University.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180625192659.htm

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Celestial boondocks: Study supports the idea we live in a void

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

A new study not only firms up the idea that we exist in one of the holes of the Swiss cheese structure of the cosmos, but helps ease the apparent disagreement between different measurements of the Hubble Constant, the unit cosmologists use to describe the rate at which the universe is expanding today.

The universe as simulated by the Millennium Simulation is structured like Swiss cheese in filaments and voids. The Milky Way, according to UW-Madison astronomers, exists in one of the holes or voids of the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

Credit: Millennium Simulation Project

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Cosmologically speaking, the Milky Way and its immediate neighborhood are in the boondocks.

In a 2013 observational study, University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer Amy Barger and her then-student Ryan Keenan showed that our galaxy, in the context of the large-scale structure of the universe, resides in an enormous void — a region of space containing far fewer galaxies, stars and planets than expected.

Now, a new study by a UW-Madison undergraduate, also a student of Barger’s, not only firms up the idea that we exist in one of the holes of the Swiss cheese structure of the cosmos, but helps ease the apparent disagreement or tension between different measurements of the Hubble Constant, the unit cosmologists use to describe the rate at which the universe is expanding today.

Results from the new study were presented June 6, 2017 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The tension arises from the realization that different techniques astrophysicists employ to measure how fast the universe is expanding give different results. “No matter what technique you use, you should get the same value for the expansion rate of the universe today,” explains Ben Hoscheit, the Wisconsin student presenting his analysis of the apparently much larger than average void that our galaxy resides in. “Fortunately, living in a void helps resolve this tension.”

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The reason for that is that a void — with far more matter outside the void exerting a slightly larger gravitational pull — will affect the Hubble Constant value one measures from a technique that uses relatively nearby supernovae, while it will have no effect on the value derived from a technique that uses the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the leftover light from the Big Bang.

The new Wisconsin report is part of the much bigger effort to better understand the large-scale structure of the universe. The structure of the cosmos is Swiss cheese-like in the sense that it is composed of “normal matter” in the form of voids and filaments. The filaments are made up of superclusters and clusters of galaxies, which in turn are composed of stars, gas, dust and planets. Dark matter and dark energy, which cannot yet be directly observed, are believed to comprise approximately 95 percent of the contents of the universe.

The void that contains the Milky Way, known as the KBC void for Keenan, Barger and the University of Hawaii’s Lennox Cowie, is at least seven times as large as the average, with a radius measuring roughly 1 billion light years. To date, it is the largest void known to science. Hoscheit’s new analysis, according to Barger, shows that Keenan’s first estimations of the KBC void, which is shaped like a sphere with a shell of increasing thickness made up of galaxies, stars and other matter, are not ruled out by other observational constraints.

“It is often really hard to find consistent solutions between many different observations,” says Barger, an observational cosmologist who also holds an affiliate graduate appointment at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “What Ben has shown is that the density profile that Keenan measured is consistent with cosmological observables. One always wants to find consistency, or else there is a problem somewhere that needs to be resolved.”

The bright light from a supernova explosion, where the distance to the galaxy that hosts the supernova is well established, is the “candle” of choice for astronomers measuring the accelerated expansion of the universe. Because those objects are relatively close to the Milky Way and because no matter where they explode in the observable universe, they do so with the same amount of energy, it provides a way to measure the Hubble Constant.

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Alternatively, the cosmic microwave background is a way to probe the very early universe. “Photons from the CMB encode a baby picture of the very early universe,” explains Hoscheit. “They show us that at that stage, the universe was surprisingly homogeneous. It was a hot, dense soup of photons, electrons and protons, showing only minute temperature differences across the sky. But, in fact, those tiny temperature differences are exactly what allow us to infer the Hubble Constant through this cosmic technique.”

A direct comparison can thus be made, Hoscheit says, between the ‘cosmic’ determination of the Hubble Constant and the ‘local’ determination derived from observations of light from relatively nearby supernovae.

The new analysis made by Hoscheit, says Barger, shows that there are no current observational obstacles to the conclusion that the Milky Way resides in a very large void. As a bonus, she adds, the presence of the void can also resolve some of the discrepancies between techniques used to clock how fast the universe is expanding.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Original written by Terry Devitt.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170607142930.htm

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Cosmic inflation: Higgs says goodbye to his ‘little brother’

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

In the first moments after the Big Bang, the Universe was able to expand even billions of billions of billions of times faster than today. Such rapid expansion should be due to a primordial force field, acting with a new particle: inflaton. From the latest analysis of the decay of mesons, carried out in the LHCb experiment by physicists from Cracow and Zurich, it appears, however, that the most probable light inflaton almost certainly does not exist.

Inflatons, hypothetical particles beyond the Standard Model, were sought in mesons decays observed by the LHCb experiment at CERN. The image shows a typical, fully reconstructed LHCb event.

Credit: LHCb Collaboration, CERN

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In the first moments after the Big Bang, the Universe was able to expand even billions of billions of billions of times faster than today. Such rapid expansion should be due to a primordial force field, acting with a new particle: inflaton. From the latest analysis of the decay of mesons, carried out in the LHCb experiment by physicists from Cracow and Zurich, it appears, however, that the most probable light inflaton, a particle with the characteristics of the famous Higgs boson but less massive, almost certainly does not exist.

Just after the Big Bang, the Universe probably passed through a phase of inflation, an extreme burst of expansion. If inflation did really occur, there should be a new force field behind it. Its force carriers would be hypothetical, hitherto unobserved particles, inflatons, which should have many features reminiscent of the famous Higgs boson. Physicists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN) in Cracow and the University of Zurich (UZH) searched for traces of light inflatons in the decay of B+ mesons recorded by detectors in the LHCb experiment at CERN near Geneva. Detailed analysis of the data, carried out with funds provided by the Polish National Science Centre, however, places a large question mark over the existence of light inflatons.

Despite having weak effects, gravity decides about the appearance of the Universe on its greatest scales. As a consequence, all modern cosmological models have their foundations in our best theory of gravity: Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Already the first cosmological models constructed on the theory of relativity suggested that the Universe was a dynamic creation. Today we know that it used to be extremely dense and hot, and 13.8 billion years ago it suddenly started to expand. The theory of relativity allows for predictions of the course of this process starting from fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

“One of the earliest survivors of these events visible to this day is the microwave background radiation that formed a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. It currently corresponds to a temperature of about 2.7 kelvins and uniformly fills the entire Universe. It is this homogeneity that has proved to be a great puzzle,” says Dr. Marcin Chrzaszcz (IFJ PAN) and explains, “When we look into the sky, the deep space fragments visible in one direction may be so distant from those visible in another direction that light has not yet had time to pass between them. So nothing that has happened in one of these areas should affect the other. But wherever we look, the temperature of distant regions of the cosmos is almost identical! How could it have become so uniform?”

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The uniformity of microwave background radiation is explained by the mechanism proposed by Alan Guth in 1981. In his model, the Universe initially expanded slowly, and all its fragments observed today had time to interact and level out the temperature. According to Guth, at some point, however, there must have been a very short but extremely rapid expansion of space-time. The new force field responsible for this inflation expanded the Universe to such an extent that today it exhibits a remarkable uniformity (as far as the temperature of the cosmological microwave background is concerned).

“A new field always means the existence of a particle that is the carrier of the effect. Cosmology has thus become interesting for physicists examining phenomena in the microscale. For a long time a good candidate for the inflaton appeared to be the famous Higgs boson. But when in 2012 the higgs was finally observed in the European LHC accelerator, it turned out to be too heavy. If higgs with its mass was responsible for inflation, today’s relict radiation would look different than currently observed by the COBE, WMAP and Planck satellites,” says Dr. Chrzaszcz.

Theoreticians proposed a solution to this surprising situation: the inflaton would be a completely new particle, with the properties of higgs, but with clearly smaller mass. In quantum mechanics, the identical nature of characteristics causes particles to be able to oscillate: they cyclically transform one into another. An inflation model constructed in this way would have only one parameter, describing the frequency of oscillation/transformation between the inflaton and the Higgs boson.

“The mass of the new inflaton could be small enough for the particle to appear in the decay of B+ mesons. And these beauty mesons are particles recorded in large number by the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. So we decided to look for decay of mesons happening through the interaction with the inflaton in the data collected in the LHC in 2011-12,” says PhD student Andrea Mauri (UZH).

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If light inflatons actually existed, the B+ meson would sometimes decay into a kaon (K+ meson) and a Higgs particle, which would convert into an inflaton as a result of the oscillation. After travelling a few metres in the detector, the inflaton would decay into two elementary particles: muon and antimuon. Detectors of the LHCb experiment would not record the presence of either the higgs or the inflaton. Researchers from the IFJ PAN, however, expected to see the emission of kaons and the appearance of muon-antimuon pairs respectively.

“Depending on the parameter describing the frequency of the inflaton-higgs oscillation, the course of B+ meson decay should be slightly different. In our analysis we were looking for decays of up to 99% of the possible values of this parameter — and we found nothing. We can therefore say with great certainty that light inflaton simply does not exist,” says Dr. Chrzaszcz.

Theoretically, low-mass inflaton may still be hidden in one percent of the unexamined variations in oscillation. These cases will eventually be excluded by future analyses using newer data that is now being collected at the LHC. However, physicists have to slowly become accustomed to the idea that if inflaton exists, it is a more massive particle than was thought or that it occurs in more than one variation. If, however, over time these variants also prove not to correspond to reality, inflation, which explains the observed homogeneity of the Universe so well, will become — very literally — the greatest mystery of modern cosmology.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170608123607.htm

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New strategy to search for ancient black holes

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

An interdisciplinary team of physicists and astronomers has devised a new strategy to search for ‘primordial’ black holes produced in the early universe. Such black holes are possibly responsible for the gravitational wave events observed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

Artist’s concept of a black hole accreting gas and producing a jet of high-energy particles.

Credit: NASA

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An interdisciplinary team of physicists and astronomers at the University of Amsterdam’s GRAPPA Center of Excellence for Gravitation and Astroparticle Physics has devised a new strategy to search for ‘primordial’ black holes produced in the early universe. Such black holes are possibly responsible for the gravitational wave events observed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

In a paper that appeared in Physical Review Letters this week, the researchers specifically show that the lack of bright X-ray and radio sources at the center of our galaxy strongly disfavours the possibility that these objects constitute all of the mysterious dark matter in the universe.

The existence of black holes tens of times more massive than our Sun was confirmed recently by the observation of gravitational waves, produced by the merger of pairs of massive black holes, with the LIGO interferometer. The origin of these objects is unclear, but one exciting possibility is that they originated in the very early universe, shortly after the Big Bang. It has been suggested that these ‘primordial’ black holes may constitute all of the universe’s dark matter — the mysterious substance that appears to permeate all astrophysical and cosmological structures, and that is fundamentally different from the matter made of atoms that we are familiar with.

An interdisciplinary team of UvA physicists and astronomers proposed to search for primordial black holes in our galaxy by studying the X-ray and radio emission that these objects would produce as they wander through the galaxy and accrete gas from the interstellar medium. The researchers have shown that the possibility that these objects constitute all of the dark matter in the galaxy is strongly disfavoured by the lack of bright sources observed at the galactic center.

‘Our results are based on a realistic modelling of the accretion of gas onto the black holes, and of the radiation they emit, which is compatible with current astronomical observations. These results are robust against astrophysical uncertainties’, says Riley Connors, PhD student at the UvA and an expert in black hole astrophysics. ‘What’s even more interesting’, adds Daniele Gaggero, first author of the publication, ‘is that with more sensitive future radio and X-ray telescopes, our proposed search strategy may allow us to discover a population of primordial black holes in our galaxy, even if their contribution to the dark matter is small.’

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‘A convincing implementation of our original idea was possible thanks to the collective effort of an interdisciplinary team of scientists at the GRAPPA Center of Excellence for Astroparticle Physics’, says Gianfranco Bertone, GRAPPA spokesperson. ‘This includes theorists studying dark matter and the formation of black holes, astrophysicists modelling the subsequent accretion process, and astronomers working on radio and X-ray observations.’

The new findings are expected to shed light on the formation and origin of primordial black holes as well as of standard astrophysical black holes that are formed when stars collapse.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA).

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170613102933.htm

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Einstein proved right in another galaxy

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Astronomers have made the most precise test of gravity outside our own solar system. By combining data taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the researchers show that gravity in this galaxy behaves as predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, confirming the theory’s validity on galactic scales.

The gravitational lens from LRG 3-757 galaxy taken with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

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An international team of astronomers have made the most precise test of gravity outside our own solar system.

By combining data taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the researchers show that gravity in this galaxy behaves as predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, confirming the theory’s validity on galactic scales.

In 1915 Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity (GR) to explain how gravity works. Since then GR has passed a series of high precision tests within the solar system, but there have been no precise tests of GR on large astronomical scales.

It has been known since 1929 that the Universe is expanding, but in 1998 two teams of astronomers showed that the Universe is expanding faster now than it was in the past. This surprising discovery — which won the Nobel Prize in 2011 — cannot be explained unless the Universe is mostly made of an exotic component called dark energy. However, this interpretation relies on GR being the correct theory of gravity on cosmological scales. Testing the long distance properties of gravity is important to validate our cosmological model.

A team of astronomers, led by Dr Thomas Collett of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, used a nearby galaxy as a gravitational lens to make a precise test of gravity on astronomical length scales.

Dr Collett said: “General Relativity predicts that massive objects deform space-time, this means that when light passes near another galaxy the light’s path is deflected. If two galaxies are aligned along our line of sight this can give rise to a phenomenon, called strong gravitational lensing, where we see multiple images of the background galaxy. If we know the mass of the foreground galaxy, then the amount of separation between the multiple images tells us if General Relativity is the correct theory of gravity on galactic scales.”

A few hundred strong gravitational lenses are known, but most are too distant to precisely measure their mass, so they can’t be used to accurately test GR. However, the galaxy ESO325-G004 is amongst the closest lenses, at 500 million light years from Earth.

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Dr Collett continues: “We used data from the Very Large Telescope in Chile to measure how fast the stars were moving in E325 — this let us infer how much mass there must be in E325 to hold these stars in orbit. We then compared this mass to the strong lensing image separations that we observed with the Hubble Space telescope and the result was just what GR predicts with 9 per cent precision. This is the most precise extrasolar test of GR to date, from just one galaxy.”

“The Universe is an amazing place providing such lenses which we can then use as our laboratories,” adds team member Professor Bob Nichol, Director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. “It is so satisfying to use the best telescopes in the world to challenge Einstein, only to find out how right he was.”

The research is published today in the journal Science. The work was funded by the University of Portsmouth and the UK Science and Technologies Funding Council.

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180621141043.htm

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Last of universe’s missing ordinary matter

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Researchers have helped to find the last reservoir of ordinary matter hiding in the universe.

A simulation of the cosmic web, or diffuse tendrils of gas connecting galaxies across the universe.

Credit: NASA, ESA, E. Hallman (CU Boulder); Nicastro et al. Observations of the missing baryons in the warm–hot intergalactic medium. Nature, 2018; 558 (7710): 406 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0204-1

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have helped to find the last reservoir of ordinary matter hiding in the universe.

Ordinary matter, or “baryons,” make up all physical objects in existence, from stars to the cores of black holes. But until now, astrophysicists had only been able to locate about two-thirds of the matter that theorists predict was created by the Big Bang.

In the new research, an international team pinned down the missing third, finding it in the space between galaxies. That lost matter exists as filaments of oxygen gas at temperatures of around 1 million degrees Celsius, said CU Boulder’s Michael Shull, a co-author of the study.

The finding is a major step for astrophysics. “This is one of the key pillars of testing the Big Bang theory: figuring out the baryon census of hydrogen and helium and everything else in the periodic table,” said Shull of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS).

The new study, which will appear June 20 in Nature, was led by Fabrizio Nicastro of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) — Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Researchers have a good idea of where to find most of the ordinary matter in the universe — not to be confused with dark matter, which scientists have yet to locate: About 10 percent sits in galaxies, and close to 60 percent is in the diffuse clouds of gas that lie between galaxies.

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In 2012, Shull and his colleagues predicted that the missing 30 percent of baryons were likely in a web-like pattern in space called the warm-hot intergalactic medium (WHIM). Charles Danforth, a research associate in APS, contributed to those findings and is a co-author of the new study.

To search for missing atoms in that region between galaxies, the international team pointed a series of satellites at a quasar called 1ES 1553 — a black hole at the center of a galaxy that is consuming and spitting out huge quantities of gas. “It’s basically a really bright lighthouse out in space,” Shull said.

Scientists can glean a lot of information by recording how the radiation from a quasar passes through space, a bit like a sailor seeing a lighthouse through fog. First, the researchers used the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope to get an idea of where they might find the missing baryons. Next, they homed in on those baryons using the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton) satellite.

The team found the signatures of a type of highly-ionized oxygen gas lying between the quasar and our solar system — and at a high enough density to, when extrapolated to the entire universe, account for the last 30 percent of ordinary matter.

“We found the missing baryons,” Shull said.

He suspects that galaxies and quasars blew that gas out into deep space over billions of years. Shull added that the researchers will need to confirm their findings by pointing satellites at more bright quasars.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Original written by Daniel Strain

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180620150053.htm

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