Ancient stardust sheds light on the first stars

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Astronomers have used ALMA to detect a huge mass of glowing stardust in a galaxy seen when the Universe was only four percent of its present age. This galaxy was observed shortly after its formation and is the most distant galaxy in which dust has been detected. This observation is also the most distant detection of oxygen in the Universe. These new results provide brand-new insights into the birth and explosive deaths of the very first stars.

This artist’s impression shows what the very distant young galaxy A2744_YD4 might look like. Observations using ALMA have shown that this galaxy, seen when the Universe was just 4 percent of its current age, is rich in dust. Such dust was produced by an earlier generation of stars and these observations provide insights into the birth and explosive deaths of the very first stars in the Universe.

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

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An international team of astronomers, led by Nicolas Laporte of University College London, have used the [Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA — http://eso.org/alma) to observe A2744_YD4, the youngest and most remote galaxy ever seen by ALMA. They were surprised to find that this youthful galaxy contained an abundance of interstellar dust — dust formed by the deaths of an earlier generation of stars.

Follow-up observations using the X-shooter instrument on ESO’s [Very Large Telescope] confirmed the enormous distance to A2744_YD4. The galaxy appears to us as it was when the Universe was only 600 million years old, during the period when the first stars and galaxies were forming.

“Not only is A2744_YD4 the most distant galaxy yet observed by ALMA,” comments Nicolas Laporte, “but the detection of so much dust indicates early supernovae must have already polluted this galaxy.”

Cosmic dust is mainly composed of silicon, carbon and aluminium, in grains as small as a millionth of a centimetre across. The chemical elements in these grains are forged inside stars and are scattered across the cosmos when the stars die, most spectacularly in supernova explosions, the final fate of short-lived, massive stars. Today, this dust is plentiful and is a key building block in the formation of stars, planets and complex molecules; but in the early Universe — before the first generations of stars died out — it was scarce.

The observations of the dusty galaxy A2744_YD4 were made possible because this galaxy lies behind a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 2744. Because of a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, the cluster acted like a giant cosmic “telescope” to magnify the more distant A2744_YD4 by about 1.8 times, allowing the team to peer far back into the early Universe.

The ALMA observations also detected the glowing emission of ionised oxygen from A2744_YD4. This is the most distant, and hence earliest, detection of oxygen in the Universe, surpassing another ALMA result from 2016.

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The detection of dust in the early Universe provides new information on when the first supernovae exploded and hence the time when the first hot stars bathed the Universe in light. Determining the timing of this “cosmic dawn” is one of the holy grails of modern astronomy, and it can be indirectly probed through the study of early interstellar dust.

The team estimates that A2744_YD4 contained an amount of dust equivalent to 6 million times the mass of our Sun, while the galaxy’s total stellar mass — the mass of all its stars — was 2 billion times the mass of our Sun. The team also measured the rate of star formation in A2744_YD4 and found that stars are forming at a rate of 20 solar masses per year — compared to just one solar mass per year in the Milky Way.

“This rate is not unusual for such a distant galaxy, but it does shed light on how quickly the dust in A2744_YD4 formed,” explains Richard Ellis (ESO and University College London), a co-author of the study. “Remarkably, the required time is only about 200 million years — so we are witnessing this galaxy shortly after its formation.”

This means that significant star formation began approximately 200 million years before the epoch at which the galaxy is being observed. This provides a great opportunity for ALMA to help study the era when the first stars and galaxies “switched on” — the earliest epoch yet probed. Our Sun, our planet and our existence are the products — 13 billion years later — of this first generation of stars. By studying their formation, lives and deaths, we are exploring our origins.

 

“With ALMA, the prospects for performing deeper and more extensive observations of similar galaxies at these early times are very promising,” says Ellis.

And Laporte concludes: “Further measurements of this kind offer the exciting prospect of tracing early star formation and the creation of the heavier chemical elements even further back into the early Universe.”

 

Find the paper online at: http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1708/eso1708a.pdf

 

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Materials provided by ESO.

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170308081041.htm

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Unstoppable monster in the early universe

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

ALMA obtains most detailed view of distant starburst galaxy

Astronomers obtained the most detailed anatomy chart of a monster galaxy located 12.4 billion light-years away. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the team revealed that the molecular clouds in the galaxy are highly unstable, which leads to runaway star formation.

ALMA revealed the distribution of molecular gas (left) and dust particles (right). In addition to the dense cloud in the center, the research team found two dense clouds several thousand light-years away from the center. These dense clouds are dynamically unstable and thought to be the sites of intense star formation.

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Tadaki et al.

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Astronomers obtained the most detailed anatomy chart of a monster galaxy located 12.4 billion light-years away. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the team revealed that the molecular clouds in the galaxy are highly unstable, which leads to runaway star formation. Monster galaxies are thought to be the ancestors of the huge elliptical galaxies in today’s universe, therefore these findings pave the way to understand the formation and evolution of such galaxies.

“One of the best parts of ALMA observations is to see the far-away galaxies with unprecedented resolution,” says Ken-ichi Tadaki, a postdoctoral researcher at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the lead author of the research paper published in the journal Nature.

Monster galaxies, or starburst galaxies, form stars at a startling pace; 1000 times higher than the star formation in our Galaxy. But why are they so active? To tackle this problem, researchers need to know the environment around the stellar nurseries. Drawing detailed maps of molecular clouds is an important step to scout a cosmic monster.

Tadaki and the team targeted a chimerical galaxy COSMOS-AzTEC-1. This galaxy was first discovered with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawai`i, and later the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico found an enormous amount of carbon monoxide gas in the galaxy and revealed its hidden starburst. The LMT observations also measured the distance to the galaxy, and found that it is 12.4 billion light-years (Note).

Researchers have found that COSMOS-AzTEC-1 is rich with the ingredients of stars, but it was still difficult to figure out the nature of the cosmic gas in the galaxy. The team utilized the high resolution and high sensitivity of ALMA to observe this monster galaxy and obtain a detailed map of the distribution and the motion of the gas. Thanks to the most extended ALMA antenna configuration of 16 km, this is the highest resolution molecular gas map of a distant monster galaxy ever made.

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“We found that there are two distinct large clouds several thousand light-years away from the center,” explains Tadaki. “In most distant starburst galaxies, stars are actively formed in the center. So it is surprising to find off-center clouds.”

The astronomers further investigated the nature of the gas in COSMOS-AzTEC-1 and found that the clouds throughout the galaxy are very unstable, which is unusual. In a normal situation, the inward gravity and outward pressure are balanced in the clouds. Once gravity overcomes pressure, the gas cloud collapses and forms stars at a rapid pace. Then, stars and supernova explosions at the end of the stellar life cycle blast out gases, which increase the outward pressure. As a result, the gravity and pressure reach a balanced state and star formation continues at a moderate pace. In this way star formation in galaxies is self-regulating. But, in COSMOS-AzTEC-1, the pressure is far weaker than the gravity and hard to balance. Therefore this galaxy shows runaway star formation and has morphed into an unstoppable monster galaxy.

The team estimated that the gas in COSMOS-AzTEC-1 will be completely consumed in 100 million years, which is 10 times faster than in other star forming galaxies.

But why is the gas in COSMOS-AzTEC-1 so unstable? Researchers do not have a definitive answer yet, but galaxy merger is a possible cause. Galaxy collision may have efficiently transported the gas into a small area and ignited intense star formation.

“At this moment, we have no evidence of merger in this galaxy. By observing other similar galaxies with ALMA, we want to unveil the relation between galaxy mergers and monster galaxies,” summarizes Tadaki.

 

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Materials provided by National Institutes of Natural Sciences.

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180829133226.htm

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Hubble dates black hole’s last big meal

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found that the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy ate its last big meal about 6 million years ago, when it consumed a large clump of infalling gas. After the meal, the engorged black hole burped out a colossal bubble of gas weighing the equivalent of millions of suns, which now billows above and below our galaxy’s center.

This illustration shows the light of several distant quasars piercing the northern half of the Fermi Bubbles, an outflow of gas expelled by our Milky Way galaxy’s hefty black hole. The Hubble Space Telescope probed the quasars’ light for information on the speed of the gas and whether the gas is moving toward or away from Earth. Based on the material’s speed, the research team estimated that the bubbles formed from an energetic event between 6 million and 9 million years ago. The inset diagram at bottom left shows the measurement of gas moving toward and away from Earth, indicating the material is traveling at a high velocity. Hubble also observed light from quasars that passed outside the northern bubble. The box at upper right reveals that the gas in one such quasar’s light path is not moving toward or away from Earth. This gas is in the disk of the Milky Way and does not share the same characteristics as the material probed inside the bubble.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levy (STScI)

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For the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, it’s been a long time between dinners. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found that the black hole ate its last big meal about 6 million years ago, when it consumed a large clump of infalling gas. After the meal, the engorged black hole burped out a colossal bubble of gas weighing the equivalent of millions of suns, which now billows above and below our galaxy’s center.

The immense structures, dubbed the Fermi Bubbles, were first discovered in 2010 by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. But recent Hubble observations of the northern bubble have helped astronomers determine a more accurate age for the bubbles and how they came to be.

“For the first time, we have traced the motion of cool gas throughout one of the bubbles, which allowed us to map the velocity of the gas and calculate when the bubbles formed,” said lead researcher Rongmon Bordoloi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “What we find is that a very strong, energetic event happened 6 million to 9 million years ago. It may have been a cloud of gas flowing into the black hole, which fired off jets of matter, forming the twin lobes of hot gas seen in X-ray and gamma-ray observations. Ever since then, the black hole has just been eating snacks.”

The new study is a follow-on to previous Hubble observations that placed the age of the bubbles at 2 million years old.

A black hole is a dense, compact region of space with a gravitational field so intense that neither matter nor light can escape. The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy has compressed the mass of 4.5 million sun-like stars into a very small region of space.

Material that gets too close to a black hole is caught in its powerful gravity and swirls around the compact powerhouse until it eventually falls in. Some of the matter, however, gets so hot it escapes along the black hole’s spin axis, creating an outflow that extends far above and below the plane of a galaxy.

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The team’s conclusions are based on observations by Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), which analyzed ultraviolet light from 47 distant quasars. Quasars are bright cores of distant active galaxies.

Imprinted on the quasars’ light as it passes through the Milky Way bubble is information about the speed, composition, and temperature of the gas inside the expanding bubble.

The COS observations measured the temperature of the gas in the bubble at approximately 17,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Even at those sizzling temperatures, this gas is much cooler than most of the super-hot gas in the outflow, which is 18 million degrees Fahrenheit, seen in gamma rays. The cooler gas seen by COS could be interstellar gas from our galaxy’s disk that is being swept up and entrained into the super-hot outflow. COS also identified silicon and carbon as two of the elements being swept up in the gaseous cloud. These common elements are found in most galaxies and represent the fossil remnants of stellar evolution.

The cool gas is racing through the bubble at 2 million miles per hour. By mapping the motion of the gas throughout the structure, the astronomers estimated that the minimum mass of the entrained cool gas in both bubbles is equivalent to 2 million suns. The edge of the northern bubble extends 23,000 light-years above the galaxy.

“We have traced the outflows of other galaxies, but we have never been able to actually map the motion of the gas,” Bordoloi said. “The only reason we could do it here is because we are inside the Milky Way. This vantage point gives us a front-row seat to map out the kinematic structure of the Milky Way outflow.”

The new COS observations build and expand on the findings of a 2015 Hubble study by the same team, in which astronomers analyzed the light from one quasar that pierced the base of the bubble.

“The Hubble data open a whole new window on the Fermi Bubbles,” said study co-author Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “Before, we knew how big they were and how much radiation they emitted; now we know how fast they are moving and which chemical elements they contain. That’s an important step forward.”

The Hubble study also provides an independent verification of the bubbles and their origin, as detected by X-ray and gamma-ray observations.

“This observation would be almost impossible to do from the ground because you need ultraviolet spectroscopy to detect the fingerprints of these elements, which can only be done from space,” Bordoloi said. “Only with COS do you have the wavelength coverage, the sensitivity, and the spectral resolution coverage to make this observation.”

The Hubble results appeared in the January 10, 2017, edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

 

Story Source:

Materials provided by Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170309132748.htmc

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Looking for signs of the first stars

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

It may soon be possible to detect the universe’s first stars by looking for the blue colour they emit on explosion.

The universe was dark and filled with hydrogen and helium for 100 million years following the Big Bang. Then, the first stars appeared, and metals were created by thermonuclear fusion reactions within stars.

Credit: Copyright Kavli IPMU

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It may soon be possible to detect the universe’s first stars by looking for the blue colour they emit on explosion.

The universe was dark and filled with hydrogen and helium for 100 million years following the Big Bang. Then, the first stars appeared, and metals were created by thermonuclear fusion reactions within stars.

These metals were spread around the galaxies by exploding stars or ‘supernovae’. Studying first-generation supernovae, which are more than 13 billion years old, provides a glimpse into what the universe might have looked like when the first stars, galaxies and supermassive black holes formed. But to-date, it has been difficult to distinguish a first-generation supernova from a later one.

New research, led by Alexey Tolstov from the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, has identified characteristic differences between these supernovae types after experimenting with supernovae models based on observations of extremely metal-poor stars.

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Similar to all supernovae, the luminosity of metal-poor supernovae shows a characteristic rise to a peak brightness followed by a decline. The phenomenon starts when a star explodes with a bright flash, caused by a shock wave emerging from its surface after its core collapses. This is followed by a long ‘plateau’ phase of almost constant luminosity lasting several months, followed by a slow exponential decay.

The team calculated the light curves of metal-poor blue versus metal-rich red supergiant stars. The shock wave and plateau phases are shorter, bluer and fainter in metal-poor supernovae. The team concluded that the colour blue could be used as an indicator of a first-generation supernova. In the near future, new, large telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope scheduled to be launched in 2018, will be able to detect the first explosions of stars and may be able to identify them using this method.

 

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Materials provided by Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU).

 

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170313110618.htm

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Radiation from nearby galaxies helped fuel first monster black holes

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Modeling supports one view of massive black-hole creation in early universe

Researchers have shown how supermassive black holes may have formed in the early universe. They suggest that radiation from a neighboring galaxy could have shut down star-formation in a black-hole hosting galaxy, allowing the nascent black hole to rapidly put on weight.

The massive black hole shown at left in this drawing is able to rapidly grow as intense radiation from a galaxy nearby shuts down star-formation in its host galaxy.

Credit: John Wise, Georgia Tech

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The appearance of supermassive black holes at the dawn of the universe has puzzled astronomers since their discovery more than a decade ago. A supermassive black hole is thought to form over billions of years, but more than two dozen of these behemoths have been sighted within 800 million years of the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

In a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy, a team of researchers from Dublin City University, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and the University of Helsinki, add evidence to one theory of how these ancient black holes, about a billion times heavier than our sun, may have formed and quickly put on weight.

In computer simulations, the researchers show that a black hole can rapidly grow at the center of its host galaxy if a nearby galaxy emits enough radiation to switch off its capacity to form stars. Thus disabled, the host galaxy grows until its eventual collapse, forming a black hole that feeds on the remaining gas, and later, dust, dying stars, and possibly other black holes, to become super gigantic.

“The collapse of the galaxy and the formation of a million-solar-mass black hole takes 100,000 years — a blip in cosmic time,” says study co-author Zoltan Haiman, an astronomy professor at Columbia University. “A few hundred-million years later, it has grown into a billion-solar-mass supermassive black hole. This is much faster than we expected.”

In the early universe, stars and galaxies formed as molecular hydrogen cooled and deflated a primordial plasma of hydrogen and helium. This environment would have limited black holes from growing very big as molecular hydrogen turned gas into stars far enough away to escape the black holes’ gravitational pull. Astronomers have come up with several ways that supermassive black holes might have overcome this barrier.

In a 2008 study, Haiman and his colleagues hypothesized that radiation from a massive neighboring galaxy could split molecular hydrogen into atomic hydrogen and cause the nascent black hole and its host galaxy to collapse rather than spawn new clusters of stars.

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A later study led by Eli Visbal, then a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia, calculated that the nearby galaxy would have to be at least 100 million times more massive than our sun to emit enough radiation to stop star-formation. Though relatively rare, enough galaxies of this size exist in the early universe to explain the supermassive black holes observed so far.

The current study, led by John Regan, a postdoctoral researcher at Ireland’s Dublin City University, modeled the process using software developed by Columbia’s Greg Bryan, and includes the effects of gravity, fluid dynamics, chemistry and radiation.

After several days of crunching the numbers on a supercomputer, the researchers found that the neighboring galaxy could be smaller and closer than previously estimated. “The nearby galaxy can’t be too close, or too far away, and like the Goldilocks principle, too hot or too cold,” said study coauthor John Wise, an associate astrophysics professor at Georgia Tech.

The current study, led by John Regan, a postdoctoral researcher at Ireland’s Dublin City University, attempted to model the process. Using simulations to measure how radiation from one galaxy influenced black hole formation in the other, the researchers found that the neighboring galaxy could be smaller and closer than previously estimated.

“The nearby galaxy can’t be too close, or too far away, and like the Goldilocks principle, too hot or too cold,” said study coauthor John Wise, an associate astrophysics professor at Georgia Tech.

Though massive black holes are found at the center of most galaxies in the mature universe, including our own Milky Way, they are far less common in the infant universe. The earliest supermassive black holes were first sighted in 2001 through a telescope at New Mexico’s Apache Point Observatory as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

The researchers hope to test their theory when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, goes online next year and beams back images from the early universe.

Other models of how these ancient behemoths evolved, including one in which black holes grow by merging with millions of smaller black holes and stars, await further testing. “Understanding how supermassive black holes form tells us how galaxies, including our own, form and evolve, and ultimately, tells us more about the universe in which we live,” said Regan, at Dublin City University.

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170313135043.htm

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Dark matter less influential in galaxies in early universe

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Observations of distant galaxies suggest they were dominated by normal matter

New observations indicate that massive, star-forming galaxies during the peak epoch of galaxy formation, 10 billion years ago, were dominated by baryonic or ‘normal’ matter. This is in stark contrast to present-day galaxies, where the effects of mysterious dark matter seem to be much greater. This surprising result was obtained using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and suggests that dark matter was less influential in the early universe than it is today.

Schematic representation of rotating disc galaxies in the early Universe (right) and the present day (left). Observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope suggest that such massive star-forming disc galaxies in the early Universe were less influenced by dark matter (shown in red), as it was less concentrated. As a result the outer parts of distant galaxies rotate more slowly than comparable regions of galaxies in the local Universe.

Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

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We see normal matter as brightly shining stars, glowing gas and clouds of dust. But the more elusive dark matter does not emit, absorb or reflect light and can only be observed via its gravitational effects. The presence of dark matter can explain why the outer parts of nearby spiral galaxies rotate more quickly than would be expected if only the normal matter that we can see directly were present.

Now, an international team of astronomers led by Reinhard Genzel at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany have used the KMOS and SINFONI instruments at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to measure the rotation of six massive, star-forming galaxies in the distant Universe, at the peak of galaxy formation 10 billion years ago.

What they found was intriguing: unlike spiral galaxies in the modern Universe, the outer regions of these distant galaxies seem to be rotating more slowly than regions closer to the core — suggesting there is less dark matter present than expected.

“Surprisingly, the rotation velocities are not constant, but decrease further out in the galaxies,” comments Reinhard Genzel, lead author of the Nature paper. “There are probably two causes for this. Firstly, most of these early massive galaxies are strongly dominated by normal matter, with dark matter playing a much smaller role than in the Local Universe. Secondly, these early discs were much more turbulent than the spiral galaxies we see in our cosmic neighbourhood.”

Both effects seem to become more marked as astronomers look further and further back in time, into the early Universe. This suggests that 3 to 4 billion years after the Big Bang , the gas in galaxies had already efficiently condensed into flat, rotating discs, while the dark matter halos surrounding them were much larger and more spread out. Apparently it took billions of years longer for dark matter to condense as well, so its dominating effect is only seen on the rotation velocities of galaxy discs today.

This explanation is consistent with observations showing that early galaxies were much more gas-rich and compact than today’s galaxies.

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The six galaxies mapped in this study were among a larger sample of a hundred distant, star-forming discs imaged with the KMOS and SINFONI instruments at ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. In addition to the individual galaxy measurements described above, an average rotation curve was created by combining the weaker signals from the other galaxies. This composite curve also showed the same decreasing velocity trend away from the centres of the galaxies. In addition, two further studies of 240 star forming discs also support these findings.

Detailed modelling shows that while normal matter typically accounts for about half of the total mass of all galaxies on average, it completely dominates the dynamics of galaxies at the highest redshifts.

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170315143828.htm

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Breaking the supermassive black hole speed limit

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

A new computer simulation helps explain the existence of puzzling supermassive black holes observed in the early universe. The simulation is based on a computer code used to understand the coupling of radiation and certain materials.

This is a quasar growing under intense accretion streams.

Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

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A new computer simulation helps explain the existence of puzzling supermassive black holes observed in the early universe. The simulation is based on a computer code used to understand the coupling of radiation and certain materials.

“Supermassive black holes have a speed limit that governs how fast and how large they can grow,” said Joseph Smidt of the Theoretical Design Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, “The relatively recent discovery of supermassive black holes in the early development of the universe raised a fundamental question, how did they get so big so fast?”

Using computer codes developed at Los Alamos for modeling the interaction of matter and radiation related to the Lab’s stockpile stewardship mission, Smidt and colleagues created a simulation of collapsing stars that resulted in supermassive black holes forming in less time than expected, cosmologically speaking, in the first billion years of the universe.

“It turns out that while supermassive black holes have a growth speed limit, certain types of massive stars do not,” said Smidt. “We asked, what if we could find a place where stars could grow much faster, perhaps to the size of many thousands of suns; could they form supermassive black holes in less time?”

A video about the discovery is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD4xECbHx_I&feature=youtu.be 

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It turns out the Los Alamos computer model not only confirms the possibility of speedy supermassive black hole formation, but also fits many other phenomena of black holes that are routinely observed by astrophysicists. The research shows that the simulated supermassive black holes are also interacting with galaxies in the same way that is observed in nature, including star formation rates, galaxy density profiles, and thermal and ionization rates in gasses.

“This was largely unexpected,” said Smidt. “I thought this idea of growing a massive star in a special configuration and forming a black hole with the right kind of masses was something we could approximate, but to see the black hole inducing star formation and driving the dynamics in ways that we’ve observed in nature was really icing on the cake.”

A key mission area at Los Alamos National Laboratory is understanding how radiation interacts with certain materials. Because supermassive black holes produce huge quantities of hot radiation, their behavior helps test computer codes designed to model the coupling of radiation and matter. The codes are used, along with large- and small-scale experiments, to assure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

“We’ve gotten to a point at Los Alamos,” said Smidt, “with the computer codes we’re using, the physics understanding, and the supercomputing facilities, that we can do detailed calculations that replicate some of the forces driving the evolution of the Universe.”

Research paper available at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1703.00449.pdf

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170321110307.htm

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Universe’s ultraviolet background could provide clues about missing galaxies

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Astronomers have developed a way to detect the ultraviolet background of the universe, which could help explain why there are so few small galaxies in the cosmos.

Galaxy UGC 7321 is surrounded by hydrogen gas, and as this gas is irradiated with UV radiation, it emits a diffuse red glow through a process known as fluorescence. This image shows the light emitted by stars inside the galaxy, surrounded by a red ring that represents the fluorescent emission induced by the UV radiation.

Credit: M. Fumagalli/T. Theuns/S. Berry

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Astronomers have developed a way to detect the ultraviolet (UV) background of the Universe, which could help explain why there are so few small galaxies in the cosmos.

UV radiation is invisible but shows up as visible red light when it interacts with gas.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, has now found a way to measure it using instruments on Earth.

The researchers said their method can be used to measure the evolution of the UV background through cosmic time, mapping how and when it suppresses the formation of small galaxies. The study could also help produce more accurate computer simulations of the evolution of the Universe.

The findings are published today (Wednesday, 22 March) in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

UV radiation — a type of radiation also given out by our Sun — is found throughout the Universe and strips smaller galaxies of the gas that forms stars, effectively stunting their growth. It is believed to be the reason why some larger galaxies like our Milky Way don’t have many smaller companion galaxies.

Simulations show that there should be more small galaxies in the Universe, but UV radiation essentially stopped them from developing by depriving them of the gas they need to form stars. Larger galaxies like the Milky Way were able to withstand this cosmic blast because of the thick gas clouds surrounding them.

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Lead author Dr Michele Fumagalli, in the Institute for Computational Cosmology and Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, at Durham University, said: “Massive stars and supermassive black holes produce huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation, and their combined radiation builds-up this ultraviolet background.

“This UV radiation excites the gas in the Universe, causing it to emit red light in a similar way that the gas inside a fluorescent bulb is excited to produce visible light.

“Our research means we now have the ability to measure and map this UV radiation which will help us to further refine models of galaxy formation.”

Co-author Professor Simon Morris, in the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, Durham University, added: “Ultimately this could help us learn more about the evolution of the Universe and why there are so few small galaxies.”

Researchers pointed the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), an instrument of the European Southern Observatory’s Very-Large Telescope, in Chile, at the galaxy UGC 7321, which lies at a distance of 30 million light years from Earth.

MUSE provides a spectrum, or band of colours, for each pixel in the image allowing the researchers to map the red light produced by the UV radiation illuminating the gas in that galaxy.

The research, funded in the UK by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, could also help scientists predict the temperature of the cosmic gas with more accuracy. Co-author Professor Tom Theuns, in Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said: “Ultraviolet radiation heats the cosmic gas to temperatures higher than that of the surface of the Sun.

“Such hot gas will not cool to make stars in small galaxies. This explains why there are so few small galaxies in the Universe, and also why our Milky Way has so few small satellite galaxies.”

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170322092411.htm

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Tracing aromatic molecules in the early Universe

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

A molecule found in car engine exhaust fumes that is thought to have contributed to the origin of life on Earth has made astronomers heavily underestimate the amount of stars that were forming in the early Universe, a study has found. That molecule is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. On Earth it is also found in coal and tar. In space, it is a component of dust.

In this study, astronomers used data from the Keck and Spitzer telescopes to trace the star forming and dusty regions of galaxies at about 10 billion years ago. The picture in the background shows the GOODS field, one of the five regions in the sky that was observed for this study.

Credit: Mario De Leo-Winkler with images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage team.

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A molecule found in car engine exhaust fumes that is thought to have contributed to the origin of life on Earth has made astronomers heavily underestimate the amount of stars that were forming in the early Universe, a University of California, Riverside-led study has found.

That molecule is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). On Earth it is also found in coal and tar. In space, it is a component of dust, which along with gas, fills the space between stars within galaxies.

The study, which was just published in the Astrophysical Journal, represents the first time that astronomers have been able to measure variations of PAH emissions in distant galaxies with different properties. It has important implications for the studies of distant galaxies because absorption and emission of energy by dust particles can change astronomers’ views of distant galaxies.

“Despite the ubiquity of PAHs in space, observing them in distant galaxies has been a challenging task,” said Irene Shivaei, a graduate student at UC Riverside, and leader of the study. “A significant part of our knowledge of the properties and amounts of PAHs in other galaxies is limited to the nearby universe.”

The research was conducted as part of the University of California-based MOSDEF survey, a study that uses the Keck telescope in Hawaii to observe the content of about 1,500 galaxies when the universe was 1.5 to 4.5 billion years old. The researchers observed the emitted visible-light spectra of a large and representative sample of galaxies during the peak-era of star formation activity in the universe.

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In addition, the researchers incorporated infrared imaging data from the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency-operated Herschel Space Observatory to trace the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon emission in mid-infrared bands and the thermal dust emission in far-infrared wavelengths.

The researchers concluded that the emission of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules is suppressed in low-mass galaxies, which also have a lower fraction of metals, which are atoms heavier than hydrogen and helium. These results indicate that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules are likely to be destroyed in the hostile environment of low-mass and metal-poor galaxies with intense radiation.

The researchers also found that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon emission is relatively weaker in young galaxies compared to older ones, which may be due to the fact that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules are not produced in large quantities in young galaxies.

They found that the star-formation activity and infrared luminosity in the universe 10 billion years ago is approximately 30 percent higher than previously measured.

Studying the properties of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon mid-infrared emission bands in distant universe is of fundamental importance to improving our understanding of the evolution of dust and chemical enrichment in galaxies throughout cosmic time. The planned launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 will push the boundaries of our knowledge on dust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon in the early universe.

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170322152750.htm

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New portal to unveil the dark sector of the universe

Cosmos by John Hussey

 

Once upon a time, the Universe was just a hot soup of particles. In those days, together with visible particles, other particles to us hidden or dark might have formed. Billions of years later scientists catalogued 17 types of visible particles, with the most recent one being the Higgs boson, creating the ‘Standard Model’. However, they are still struggling to detect the hidden particles, the ones that constitute the dark sector of the Universe.

Portals can allow the exploration of the dark sector with the Standard Model particles Portals mix or connect the dark sector particles with the Standard Model particles. Through the portals it is possible to explore the dark sector particles using the Standard Model particles. The portals play a basic and critical role in the study of the dark sector particles both theoretically and experimentally.

Credit: Image courtesy of Institute for Basic Science

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Once upon a time, the Universe was just a hot soup of particles. In those days, together with visible particles, other particles to us hidden or dark might have formed. Billions of years later scientists catalogued 17 types of visible particles, with the most recent one being the Higgs boson, creating the ‘Standard Model’. However, they are still struggling to detect the hidden particles, the ones that constitute the dark sector of the Universe.

Scientists at the Center for Theoretical Physics of the Universe, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) have proposed a hypothetical portal that connects two possible dark sector particles; their research could open a new perspective into the murky understanding of the dark sector. Published in Physical Review Letters, this study has implications in cosmology and astroparticle physics.

Physicists have plenty of ideas about what these dark sector particles might look like. One candidate is the axion, which is a very light particle that can solve some theoretical problems of the Standard Model. Another candidate is the dark photon: A very light particle which shares some properties with one of the particles of the Standard Model, that is the photon, the constituent of visible light. However, while photons couple to the electromagnetic charge, dark photons couple to the so-called dark charge, that might be carried by other dark sector particles.

Physicists believe that the dark sector communicates with the Standard Model, via portals. For example, a vector portal would allow the mixing between photons and dark photons. And, an axion portal connects axions and photons. There are only several possible portals physicists have identified, and each portal is a major tool in theoretical and experimental studies in searching for dark sector particles. A team of IBS scientists, hypothesized the existence of a new portal they named the “dark axion portal” that connects dark photons and axions.

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The central idea of the dark axion portal is based on the observation that new heavy quarks may also have a dark charge that couples to the dark photon. Through the heavy quarks, axion, photon, and dark photon can interact with each other.

IBS scientists imagine that the dark axion portal could bring ideas for new experiments. So far, the axion search has been performed using only the axion portal, which connects the axion to a pair of photons (axion — photon — photon coupling). Similarly, the dark photon search has been performed using a different portal, namely a vector portal, which allows a small mixing between the dark photon and photon. The dark axion portal could link the two: “The dark axion portal suggests the first meaningful connection between the two physics, which have been studied separately: It connects the dots. This will allow reinterpretation of the previous data, and potentially make a breakthrough in the axion and dark photon searches,” explains LEE Hye-Sung, corresponding author of the paper.

 

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https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170323083904.htm

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