With characteristics indicating the presence of specific atoms and molecules
Space news (April 01, 2016) – looking for the chemical fingerprints of atoms and molecules in the spectrum of a star 2,300 light-years from Earth –
The bright, young star near the center of the Hubble image above is IRAS 12196-6300, a star showing signs of infancy in the presence of smoky clouds of gas and dust seen floating above and below it. In this case, created as light from the star reflects off high concentrations of nearby dust leftover from its formation.
At just under ten million years old, IRAS 12196-6300 hasn’t started burning hydrogen at its core. The light from this star, when broken into a spectrum using a prism, breaks into hundreds, even thousands, of segments separated by dark gaps, or “lines”. Each dark gap is the result of a specific chemical element in the outer solar gasses absorbing light from the continuous, unbroken spectrum generated by the star.
The eventual strength of the dark gap (absorption line) – the amount of continuous solar spectrum absorbed – is directly related to the abundance of each specific chemical element in the outer solar gasses. By comparing characteristics of absorption lines and doing additional experiments astronomers are able to determine relative elemental abundances in the outer solar gasses of a star.
Learn more about the building of the biggest telescope in history, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and plans to shoot “The Universe: The Motion Picture using this state-of-the-art eye-on-the-sky.
Space news (March 31, 2016) – high up on an Andes Mountain peak in Las Campanas, Chile –
High up on the dry, barren Cerro Las Campanas in the Atacama Desert in Chile construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) began on November 11, 2015. The latest of many state-of-the-art telescopes housed in the Las Campanas Observatory, the GMT implements primary mirrors that are a marvel of modern engineering and glassmaking. Part of a new breed of super-giant-sized ground-based telescopes, it’s designed to open windows peering into unknown regions of the cosmos.
Six 27-foot (8.4 meters) mirror segments surround a central mirror, forming an optical surface 80-feet in diameter with a total light-collecting area of 3961 sq ft (386 square meters). Light from the edge of the cosmos will reflect off of the primary mirrors, strike seven smaller, flexible secondary mirrors, and then hit the center mirror before heading to advanced CCD imaging devices. The concentrated light is then measured to determine distance and composition of the material at the edge of the universe.
Utilizing a flexible secondary mirror with a surface capable of adjusting to counteract atmospheric turbulence, the GMT will have a resolving power ten times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. Gathering more light than any telescope ever designed or engineered, controlled by advanced, state-of-the-art computers, it will transform twinkling lights into clear, steady points of light. Known as “adaptive optics” the actuators under the surface of the secondary mirrors constantly adjust, allowing the GMT to see through the Earth’s atmosphere.
The light gathering ability and resolution of the GMT can image light reflected off of exoplanets orbiting stars light-years away, despite the glare of the host star. One day, light reflected off a rocky planet, much like Earth, will fall upon the mirror assembly of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Analysis of the light will show a blue planet, with oxygen in the atmosphere and soil, much like Earth. A planet capable of acting as a cradle for a new human Genesis, if we can travel to it?
Perched on a dry Andes mountain at 8,500 ft (2,550 meters), the air above the telescope’s clear and clean, and the night sky dark. From here, the GMT will give us insight into the makeup of stellar matter that formed the first galaxies to appear after the Big Bang. The mystery of dark matter and dark energy and the ultimate fate of our universe. The destinations and secrets of the cosmos it reveals will alter our view of reality and understanding of the bigger universe. The Giant Magellan Telescope’s our next great spaceship-to-the-stars.
Space news (March 28, 2016) – Searching 200,000 stars looking for transiting Earth-to–gas giant size bodies passing in front of their home sun in relation to Sol–
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite’s (TESS) anextgeneration planet-finding spacecraftdesigned to enable the search for Earth 2.0. TESS will conduct a three-year mission to monitor the brightness of over 200,000 suns, looking for temporary drops in brightness as exoplanets pass in front of their parent sun in relation to Earth.It will undertake the firsttwo-year all-sky transit survey to identify exoplanets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting at a range of orbital distances and various stellar types. TESS will search for small rocky planets lying within the Goldilocks zone of their home stars we could call Earth 2.0.
Earth 2.0 refers to an exoplanet suitable for Earth-based life to survive and prosper, with the ingredients-of-life humans need to continue as a species. Astrophysicists expect TESS to detect more than 3000 transiting exoplanet candidates, including about 500 Earth-sized to Super-sized bodies, less than twice Earth’s radius. Planetary scientists will catalog the brightest and nearest sunsto Solwith transiting rocky exoplanets.
This catalog of prime candidates for Earth 2.0 is scheduled for additional study using current Earth and space-based telescopes. In the future, astrophysicists will use the James Webb Space Telescope and new ground-based instruments to take a closer look at each candidate. These follow-up observations will refine measurements of each planets’ mass, radius, density and atmospheric conditions. The hope is to identify exoplanets with the right ingredients-of-life, which could act as a cradle for the next human Genesis.The world we could one day live on!
Launch’s just months away
The tentative working launch date for TESS is August of 2017, but June 2018 could be closer to the mark. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and deliver it to the correct orbital position. From its position high above the Earth, TESS will survey the night sky looking for slight dips in the brightness of distant stars as unseen exoplanets pass in front. Slight dips that could reveal the existence of an exoplanet where life could exist. A place called Earth 2.0!
High up on a wind-swept Cerro Pachon ridge in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in north-central Chile construction on site facilities for a new breed of telescope started in July 2014. Called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the next-generation telescopic system being constructed will take more than 800 panoramic images each night during a ten-year assignment to map the visible sky. Its mission to create an animated, three-dimensional motion picture of the universe and reveal secrets of the cosmos.
From its normally deserted mountaintop site approximately 60 miles (100 km) inland by road from La Serena, the LSST will survey the night sky, recording the entire visible universe in its wide field-of-view twice each week. Capable of detecting faint objects as much as 10 million times fainter than can be seen with the human eye, this new breed telescope will peer into the darkest mysteries confounding modern astronomy. From the location of dark matter to the properties of dark energy to the formation and evolution of the Milky Way to tracking near-Earth asteroids that could change our way of life forever.
The public will also take part in the science goals of the LSST and learn new things about the universe as astronomers discover them as never before. Citizen scientists will extend the science goals of the LSST, gain knowledge, and skills. Students in classrooms across the nation will be engaged to take part in science programs, gain skills, and astronomy knowledge. Promoting astronomy research, awareness of LSST programs, and public participation in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.
Construction at the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope site is scheduled to finish sometime in 2020 and full science operations to begin sometime around 2022. One of the most important events in the future of ground-based astronomy, the night the LSST begins scanning the sky, a window peering into unknown regions of the cosmos opens.
Space news (March 09, 2016) – deep within the faint northern constellation Vulpecula (The Fox) –
Just one of over 3,000 spectacular planetary nebula astronomers have detected hidden within the Milky Way, the stunningly symmetrical icy blue wings of Hen 2-437 float upon the stars of Vulpecula in the Hubble image above.
Just an icy blue cosmic moth adrift upon a sea of stars, Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula similar to hourglass shaped PNHb 12 (Hubble 12) and the stunning M2-9 (The Twin Jet Nebula).
An example of a sun-like star in the final stages of its life cycle, material ejected by the dying star streamed outward into space to create the two icy blue wings of Hen 2-427 seen here.
Sol will one day, billions of years in the future, swell to become a red giant and then expel its gaseous outer layers into space. Shrinking down to form a white dwarf, while ejected material is slowly compressed and pushed outward by stellar winds. The cast off gas streams outward into space to form the two icy blue lobes of Hen 2-437.
An interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gasses expanding at a rate of around 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) per hour
Space news (March 11, 2016) – 30,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina (The Keel) –
The Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a, near the centre of this Hubble image, is a bright celestial beacon ejecting hydrogen in layers that are interacting with extremely fast-moving stellar winds to produce the ring-shaped bubble of an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other gases viewed.
Wolf-Rayet stars are the most massive stars detected during the human journey to the stars. WR 31a started life with over 20 times the mass of Sol. Our Sun is a main sequence star which is actually a little bigger than average. The more mass a star has, the shorter its expected life, which accounts for the short life span of this bright celestial beacon. In the words of NASA, massive stars “Live fast and die hard”.
The mass of WR 31a puts it at the lower end of the mass scale for Wolf-Rayet stars, with the most massive estimates coming in at over 200 times the mass of our sun. The estimates of the mass of this type of star are still being worked on, so don’t take them to heart.
Astronomers estimate WR 31a is only 20,000 years old, give or take a few thousand, which is around 10 percent of its life expectancy according to current theory. The life cycle of Wolf-Rayet stars is only a couple hundreds thousand years long, a mere blink of the eye in cosmic terms, which means this massive star will end its days as a spectacular supernova.
The event we refer to as supernova is an essential part of the life cycle of the cosmos. Deep within these massive stars, the building blocks of the cosmos are created. It’s here the carbon, magnesium, calcium, and other elements that make up 4-5 percent of the universe are made using the extreme conditions that exist.
We’re all stardust traveling on a pale-blue dot in the distance, across the vastness of space-time to an unknown but dreamed of ending.
Discovery shows distant supermassive black holes with relativistic jets could be more common than astronomers first thought
Space news (March 06, 2016) – over 11 billion light-years from Earth –
Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory recently discovered a distant, powerful jet emanating from a quasar called B3 0727+409 while observing another stellar object. The system discovered was interesting because scientists had previously found very few early supermassive black holes with powerful jets giving off X-rays. This discovery has astronomers looking for data to confirm the belief supermassive black holes with powerful jets were more common during the first few billion years after the Big Bang than first thought.
Astronomers were lucky to detect this quasar since no radio signal has been detected from this object. Normally, they would detect similar quasars using radio observations but will use this opportunity to study how these jets emit X-rays. This question has been a matter of debate among astrophysicists, but in this case, they have a few clues to follow.
“We essentially stumbled onto this remarkable jet because it happened to be in Chandra’s field of view while we were observing something else,” explains co-author Lukasz Stawarz of Jagiellonian University in Poland.
The light from the jet emanating from quasar B3 0727+409 was emitted when the universe was only 2.7 billion years old, or just over twenty percent of its present age. At this time the intensity of the microwave background microwave radiation (CMB) remaining after the Big Bang was much greater than today. In this case, it looks like the CMB is somehow being boosted to X-ray wavelengths and astronomers think this could be a lead.
“Because we’re seeing this jet when the Universe was less than three billion years old, the jet is about 150 times brighter in X-rays than it would be in the nearby Universe,” said Aurora Simionescu at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Studies (ISAS) who led the study.
Computer simulations show that as electrons in the jet fly from the supermassive black hole at nearly the speed of light, they collide with microwave photons in the CMB and boost their energy into the X-ray band. This is the X-ray signal Chandra detected, but this means the electrons in the jet must continue to move at this speed for its entire length, which is over 300,000 light-years. A finding that has scientists scratching their heads.
Astronomers have detected many long jets emitted by nearby supermassive black holes, but very few from early quasars with jets emitting X-rays. Astronomers could have missed many similar systems since they weren’t trying to detect them. Now, they’ll follow the breadcrumbs to get a better picture of the early universe and try to understand the evolution of supermassive black holes during the past 13.77 billion years a little better.
Astronomers look for similar events to study in detail
“Scientists have so far identified very few jets distant enough that their X-ray brightness is amplified by the CMB as clearly as in the B3 0727+409 system.” But, Stawarz adds, “if bright X-ray jets can exist with very faint or undetected radio counterparts, it means that there could be much more of them out there because we haven’t been systematically looking for them.”
“Supermassive black hole activity, including the launching of jets, may be different in the early Universe than what we see later on,” said co-author Teddy Cheung of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. “By finding and studying more of these distant jets, we can start to grasp how the properties of supermassive black holes might change over billions of years.”
You can take a video tour of B3 0727+409 aboard the Chandra X-ray Observatory here.
We’ll update you as astronomers learn more about relativistic jets and similar systems.
Producing a super powerful blast observed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory
Space news (February 22, 2016) – 26 million light-years from Earth, deep within the Messier 51 galaxy system –
Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory recently caught the supermassive black hole in galaxy NGC 5195 burping after a meal composed of gas and maybe even stars. This giant black hole is one of the closest to Earth that’s currently erupting violent blasts of X-rays. Studying these violent outbursts presents an opportunity to learn more about the processes creating some of the most energetic events observed in the cosmos.
“For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as ‘eating’ stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” said Eric Schlegel of The University of Texas at San Antonio, who led the study. “Our observation is important because this behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events.”
A smaller companion galaxy, NGC 5195 is currently merging with a larger spiral galaxy NGC 5194 (The Whirlpool). Astronomers believe this ongoing merger was the trigger for the two arcs of X-ray emission they originally detected near its center. The energy released as the supermassive black hole expelled material outward into the cosmos would be sufficient to produce the X-ray arcs detected. Material that was part of the original gas that was funneled toward the supermassive black hole as the two galaxies interacted over millions of years would suffice.
“We think these arcs represent fossils from two enormous blasts when the black hole expelled material outward into the galaxy,” said co-author Christine Jones of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass. “This activity is likely to have had a big effect on the galactic landscape.”
Astronomers followed up the original observations of these arcs by Chandra using the 0.9-meter telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. They detected a slender region of emission of relatively cool hydrogen gas in an optical image suggesting X-ray emitting gas swept up hydrogen gas from the center of the galaxy. Scientists call this phenomenon by which a supermassive black hole changes its host galaxy “feedback”.
In the case of the X-ray glowing arcs astronomers observed coming from the region of the supermassive black hole in the center of companion galaxy NGC 5195. Scientists believe the outer arc plowed up enough gas and material to start the formation of new stars over a period of three to six million years. This points to the “feedback” phenomenon being a process of creation in the universe, not just massive destruction.
“We think that feedback keeps galaxies from becoming too large,” said co-author Marie Machacek of CfA. “But at the same time, it can be responsible for how some stars form. This shows that black holes can create, not just destroy.”
Astrophysicists also want to study the blasts emanating from near the supermassive black hole because of their location in galaxy NGC 5195. In previously detected active supermassive black holes in other galaxies, rapid outflows haven’t been detected in regions this far out. It could be possible we’re viewing an intermediate stage in the feedback process operating between the black hole and interstellar gas.
Scientists will continue to study the powerful blasts coming from the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 5195. This will allow them to gain knowledge on how these massive blasts change the environment of their home galaxy. It will also allow them to study how these powerful blasts would alter the evolution of a galaxy.
Take a video tour of dwarf galaxy NGC 5195 aboard the Chandra X-ray Observatory here.