Forming rings of X-ray light that expand with time, creating a shooting target effect
Space news (astrophysics: binary star systems; black hole/sun-like star systems) – 8,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cygnus, next to flaring 10 solar mass black hole –
It all started just before 2:32 p.m. on June 15, 2015, when NASA’s Swift X-ray Burst Alert Satellite detected a rising wave of high-speed, extremely-energetic X-rays emanating from the direction of the constellation Cygnus. Additional detections of the same flare ten minutes later by a Japanese experiment on the International Space Station called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) and other detectors. Allowed astronomers to determine the outburst detected originated 8,000 light-years away in low-mass X-ray binary V404 Cygni, where previous data indicated a stellar-mass black hole and sun-like star orbited each other. A black hole and sun-like star binary system that up to this point had been sleeping since its last outburst in 1989.
Fifteen days later on June 30, a team of scientists from around the world led by Andrew Beardmore of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom investigated V404 Cygni a little closer using NASA’s Swift X-ray Burst Alert Satellite. Images taken (above) revealed a series of concentric rings of X-ray light centered on a 10 solar mass black hole (dot at the center of image).
Astronomers believe the x-ray rings are the result of echoing x-ray light from a large flare on June 26, 2016, at 1:40 p.m. EDT. The flare emitted x-rays in all directions. Multiple dust layers at around 4,000 and 1,000 light-years from V404 Cygni reflected some of these x-rays towards Earth. This reflected light travels a greater distance and reaches us slightly later than light traveling a straighter path. The small time difference produced an x-ray echo, formed x-ray rings expanding in spacetime.
“The flexible planning of Swift observations has given us the best dust-scattered X-ray ring images ever seen,” Beardmore said. “With these observations, we can make a detailed study of the normally invisible interstellar dust in the direction of this black hole.”
The team is currently watching V404 Cygni, waiting for its next outburst, and preparing Swift to collect additional data to determine exactly what’s going on here. They hope to hit the bulls eye in human understanding of the collection on x-ray sources detected across the cosmos. Regular monitoring of this binary system using a suite of telescopes and instruments could give us clues to how a stellar-mass black hole and sun-like star end up orbiting each other. About the origin and formation of the unusual types of binary systems detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.
Mining of Kepler space mission data reveals “supernova’s shockwave” in visible light
Space news (massive supernovae) – 1.2 billion light-years from Earth –
An international team of scientists at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana mining three years of Kepler Space Telescope data for massive supernovae discovered something never seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Buried in the Kepler data Peter Garnavich and team observed for the first time the brilliant flash of a massive supernova’s shockwave in visible light as it reached the surface of the exploding star.
“In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky,” said Garnavich. “You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.”
Garnavich’s the leader of the Kepler Extragalactic Survey (KEGS) research team, which is currently mining NASA’s Kepler K2 mission data looking for massive supernovae. NASA’s repurposed planet hunter is expected to detect around a dozen more events during its mission to capture the light from hundreds of distant galaxies and trillions of stars.
Astronomers call the brilliant flash of a supernova’s shockwave “a shock breakout”. This event only lasts around twenty minutes in the cases observed, so catching the flash as it happens is truly a milestone for astronomers studying supernovae. By piecing together individual moments of a supernova astronomers hope to learn more about the history of chemical complexity and the evolution of life.
“All heavy elements in the universe come from supernova explosions. For example, all the silver, nickel, and copper in the earth and even in our bodies came from the explosive death throes of stars,” said Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Life exists because of supernovae.”
Massive supernovae and their less energetic brothers are the seeds of chemical complexity in the cosmos, spreading the elements of creation across the breadth of the universe. Understanding the physics behind these titanic events can help tell us how these elements of creation were spread across the universe.
Kepler observes two massive supernovae
The Kepler Space Telescope observed a type II supernova shockwave in visible light as it broke the surface of the star for the first time in history as supermassive red giant KSN 2011d went supernova in 2011. Containing roughly 500 times the mass of Sol, this supermassive star at the moment the shockwave from the supernova reached its surface was 130,000,000 times brighter than the Sun. Continuing to explodeand grow, the star eventually reached a maximum brightness over 1 billion times greater than Sol 14 days later.
The Kepler Space Telescope also observed a second type II supernova in 2011. Red super massive star KSN 2011a contains 300 times as much mass as Sol and occupies a volume of space that would easily engulf the orbit of Earth around the Sun. Only 700 million light-years from Earth, astronomers weren’t able to observe a shock breakout in the data for this supernova, but they think it might be due to gas masking the shockwave as it reached the surface of the star.
“That is the puzzle of these results,” said Garnavich. “You look at two supernovae and see two different things. That’s maximum diversity.”
“While Kepler cracked the door open on observing the development of these spectacular events, K2 will push it wide open observing dozens more supernovae,” said Tom Barclay, senior research scientist and director of the Kepler and K2 guest observer office at Ames. “These results are a tantalizing preamble to what’s to come from K2!”
Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?
Space news (July 13, 2015) – collisions indicating possible gravitational effects of unseen orbiting exoplanets or consequences of the star traveling through interstellar space –
Space scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a visible-light imaging survey of the debris field systems around 10 young stars between the ages of 10 million to 1 billion years old. Debris fields they studied in order to better understand the early solar system and formation of the planets.
“It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.
What did the survey find?
Space scientists studying the evolution of stars and the formation of planets used to think debris fields surrounding young stars should be composed of simple pancake-like structures.
The complexity and diversity in debris fields studied in this recent survey strongly suggest this scenario is a little more involved than theories suggest. Facts indicate the possibility of gravitational effects of unseen exoplanets hidden within the dusty debris, the results of the young star traveling through interstellar space, or something unthought of as the reason for the deviation from theory.
“We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said. “These are actually pretty complicated three-dimensional debris systems, often with embedded smaller structures. Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets.” The astronomers used Hubble’s Space Telescope
Imaging Spectrograph to study 10 previously discovered circumstellar debris systems.
Star HD 181327 Shows Huge Debris Spray
The ring-like debris system surrounding star HD 181327 has irregularities space scientists think could be due to a recent collision between two bodies on the outer part of the system.
“This spray of material is fairly distant from its host star — roughly twice the distance that Pluto is from the sun,” said co-investigator Christopher Stark. “Catastrophically destroying an object that massive at such a large distance is difficult to explain, and it should be very rare. If we are in fact seeing the recent aftermath of a massive collision, the unseen planetary system may be quite chaotic.”
“Another interpretation for the irregularity is that the disk has been mysteriously warped by the star’s passage through interstellar space, directly interacting with the unseen interstellar material. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said. “Our team is currently analyzing follow-up observations that will help reveal the true cause of the irregularity.”
As of 07/09/2015 space scientists have verified the existence of 1858 exoplanets, including 468 exosolar systems with multiple planets, and 92 Earth-size terrestrial-type planets. The structure and overall architecture of the systems discovered so far are more diverse than astrophysicists first proposed.
During this time, space scientists have only viewed about two dozen light-scattering, circumstellar debris systems due to their comparative faintness and proximity to their parent stars. Despite the small sample size in exoplanetary debris systems astronomers view a surprising variety of architectures.
“We are now seeing a similar diversity in the architecture of the accompanying debris systems,” Schneider said. “How are the planets affecting the disks, and how are the disks affecting the planets? There is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris that might affect the evolution of these exoplanetary debris systems.”
Space scientists will now use the results obtained through this survey and the overall study of the debris system disks viewed to devise new theories and experiments to determine more about the evolution and growth of young stars in the cosmos.
They’ll also use the data and information gained to begin looking at how our solar system formed and evolved during the past 4.6 billion years. They want to study collisions between objects like HD 181327 and Earth-like planets to give more insight into the birth and evolution of our planet and the Moon during the first moments of the solar system.
You can learn more about and follow NASA’s space mission here.
Four percent of star systems seen during human journey to the beginning of space and time contain four stars
Space news (March 09, 2015) – 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries –
Astronomers operating instruments fitted to the Palomar Observatory in San Diego recently discovered the second exoplanet found existing in a quadruple star system. The first such exo-planet, KIC 4862625, was found in 2013 by citizen researchers using data obtained using the Kepler Space Telescope. This latest discovery indicates to many scientists and interested citizens that it’s more common for planets to exist in multiple star systems than first thought.
“About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving,” said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Called 30 Ari, this newly discovered quadruple star system is just 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The exo-planet is huge at over ten times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the parent star in an interesting 335 days. Could life exist on such a planet? Astronomers and space scientists think this is unlikely, but what do they know for certain?
The planet only orbits the primary star, not the second star which is relatively close to the first star at 23 astronomical units. The third and fourth stars are locked in a gravitational battle with this pair of stars at a distance of 1,670 A.U. from the primary star.
What would the view be like from the surface of this exoplanet? The first pair of the four stars would appear as a single small sun in the sky, along with two exceedingly bright stars visible during the day. Life existing on this planet would be one tough customer.
The image below is an artists conception of the 30 Ari star system.
This planet could have brothers and sisters orbiting one of the stars within the system and even moons itself. Life could exist on one of these worlds. But we best leave these thoughts and ideas for the science fiction books.
We have discovered star systems with as many as four suns during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. So far, about four percent of systems viewed have at least four stars, and we have just started the journey. What will we discover next?
What’s next for astronomers and planetary scientists? A detailed study of multiple star systems, including 30 Ari, and their family dynamics. This should also hopefully tell us more about other possible exoplanets and moons in the 30 Ari star system.
Astronomers also want to take a look at why the second star, which in fact was only recently discovered, doesn’t seem to have changed the orbit of the exoplanet discovered. This does seem rather odd? We’ll have to wait and see what they discover.
Were there even suitable planets upon which life could survive?
Space news (February 03, 2015) 117 light-years away in the constellation Lyra –
Astronomers have often wondered if life could have evolved in the early universe? Space scientists using data provided by NASA’s Kepler mission recently discovered a planetary system containing as many as five earth-sized planets that formed when the universe was two billion years old.
The five earth-sized planets discovered orbit close to their home star in the star system called Kepler-444, range in size between Mercury and Venus. They also take less than ten days to complete each orbit, which means the weather on these planets is hotter and more extreme than any planet in our solar system.
Earth-based life would never survive on these planets unless of course, these planets were once further from their home star. If these planets were once located within the habitable zone of their home planet? It’s possible life once evolved and flourished on one or more of these early planets.
“While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in the Milky Way, we have no indication that any of these planets have now or ever had life on them,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “At their current orbital distances, life as we know it could not exist on these ancient worlds.”
Space scientists studying the age of planets within a star system measure small changes in the brightness of the parent sun produced by pressure waves within the star. These pressure waves result in small variations in star temperature and luminosity leading to very small changes in brightness. Asteroseismologists – asteroseismology is the study of the interior of suns – use these measurements to determine the diameter, mass, and age of the parent sun. The age of the planets within a star system is the same as the parent sun since they formed at about the same time.
The existence of earth-sized planets in the early universe indicates life could have evolved and survived. This news doesn’t tell us how common solar systems with planets of this size were, but it does mean the possibility existed.
Space scientists will now begin looking further back in time and at more early star systems to see if they can find more earth-sized planets life could have evolved on. Any intelligent life evolving in these planets would have long ago moved to another planet. Is it possible we could be descendants of life that evolved in the early universe? If any civilization had the time to develop the technology required to travel the universe and seed planets it would be one that developed on one of these early earth-sized planets.
For more information on NASA’s Kepler space mission go here.
Is a sign smaller exoplanets could have similar or more hospitable environments
Space news (November 07, 2014) 120 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –
NASA space scientists using the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes detected clear skies and steamy water vapor on exoplanet HAT-P-11b. This is the first detection of molecules on an exoplanet the size of Neptune or smaller. It’s also a sign smaller exoplanets have similar or more hospitable environments.
How did space scientists detect clear skies and steamy vapor on a planet 120 light-years away in the Constellation Cygnus? Astronomers used the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to observe HAT-P-11b as it passed in front of its parent star in relation to Earth. By analyzing the starlight passing through the atmosphere of the exoplanet, space scientists determined the specific molecules making it up.
This scientific technique is called Transmission Spectroscopy and it was particularly effective in the case of HAT-P-11b because of this Neptune-size exoplanet (exo-Neptune), unlike previous ones detected, has no clouds in the atmosphere to block the starlight from coming through, which allowed for the detection of water vapor molecules.
“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”
“When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, College Park, lead author of a new study appearing in Nature. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.”
“We think that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions, which reflect their formation histories,” said study co-author Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Now with data like these, we can begin to piece together a narrative for the origin of these distant worlds.”
“We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from the University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.”
NASA space scientists will now use the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to begin looking at more exoplanets the size of HAT-P-11b for clear skies and water vapor. They’ll also hope to use Transmission Spectroscopy to detect smaller exoplanets, more like our home planet, called super-Earths orbiting distant stars. Once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online in 2018, they’ll begin looking at any super-Earths detected for signs of water vapor and other molecules.
Space news (astronomy leaders of tomorrow: The International Astronomical Search Campaign)
An asteroid is a piece of solid rock with an irregular body ranging in size between 500 meters and hundreds of kilometers. The majority of these bodies can be found in the main asteroid belt, a region of space between Mars and Jupiter. Pieces of rocky material left over from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago, NASA scientists estimate there are as many as 40,000 asteroids contained within this main asteroid belt, with a combined mass less than the Moon. Confirming the identity and calculating the orbit of the asteroids contained within this belt is part of the space mission of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
The International Astronomical Search Campaign (IASC) is an educational outreach program created to allow high school and college students around the country to participate in identifying and calculating the orbit of every rocky body within the main asteroid belt. Originally created and developed by Patrick Miller of Hardin-Simmons University in the state of Texas, this program has helped tens of thousands of students in 250 schools and 25 countries on five continents learn more about astronomy.
Students participating in the program download images taken of an asteroid within the main asteroid belt in the last few hours by telescopes (24 and 32 inches) located in the Astronomical Institute in Illinois. Students must determine the identity and calculate the three-dimensional orbit of an asteroid using Astrometrica, a software package users need to download directly from the IASC website, within a three-day window.
The telescopes take three images of an asteroid at six-minute intervals, which means it would have moved around five pixels in relation to distant background stars in each image. Astrometrica highlights objects in each image fitting these criteria by putting a red circle around them.
In order to determine an object is an asteroid, students must sort through objects that have moved in the images, and ones that are static. They do this by taking a look at the fit of the point spread function, the signal-to-noise ratio, and any change in the size of an object in the images. If an object has moved in a relatively straight line, stayed about the same size, has a signal-to-noise ratio greater than five, and is approximately round in shape, then it’s probably an asteroid.
Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time today!
A typical International Astronomical Search Campaign lasts about 45 days, during which new asteroids are often discovered, identified, and their orbits determined. This is your chance to become an astronomy leader of tomorrow, by participating in the International Astronomical Search Campaign, and WISE’s mission to identify and calculate the orbit of every rocky body in the main asteroid belt.
You can find more information and news on the space mission of NASA’s WISE spacecraft here.
You can find more on the current campaigns of the International Astronomical Search Campaign here.
Schools desiring to take part in the International Astronomical Search Campaign contact the IASC Director, Dr. J. Patrick Miller by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earth-sized planets could be more common than we first assumed
Space news (astrophysics: exoplanets; Kepler-186f )
NASA astronomers working with the Kepler Space Telescope have discovered the first Earth-sized planet orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of its host star. Kepler-186f, as its name implies, is in the Kepler-186 star system, around 500 light-years from Sol in the constellation Cygnus. A discovery that implies planets the size of Earth, residing within their host star’s habitable zone, could be more common than we first thought.
Space scientists believe there’s a good chance Kepler-186f is a rocky planet, similar in many ways to the Earth. The fact it resides within the habitable zone implies liquid water could exist on the surface of this planet and possibly life based on the same principles as on Earth. The M dwarf, or red dwarf, sun it orbits is a common star making up about 70 percent of the suns in our home galaxy and is only half the volume and mass of Sol. This star is also orbited by four other planets, according to the latest information, but this number could change as more data is obtained.
“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind’s quest to find truly Earth-like worlds.”
NASA astronomers have no idea, yet, what Kepler-186f is made of, or even its mass. They’ll now focus more instruments and time to look into some of these facts, and hopefully, soon we’ll know a lot more about this possible twin-Earth.
“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Elisa Quintana, a research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”
Earth-size planets are more familiar to scientists than the larger planets discovered lying within the habitable zone of their host stars. It will be easier to understand the data they obtain concerning Kepler-186f, and hopefully, this translates into a better picture of the planet.
“M dwarfs are the most numerous stars,” said Quintana. “The first signs of other life in the galaxy may well come from planets orbiting an M dwarf.”
What would a day on Kepler-186f be like? This planet is near the outer boundary of its host star’s habitable zone, which results in it receiving about 30 percent of the energy Earth gets from Sol. Viewed from the surface of the planet at high noon, the host star would only be as bright as Sol an hour before sunset. A day on Kepler-186f isn’t going to be a walk in the park on a sunny day.
“Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has,” said Thomas Barclay, a research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth.”
What’s next for the team?
The next step for NASA astronomers is to find Earth-size planets that are a true twin for Earth, which will be a day to remember. Determining the chemical composition of any planets found will be an exciting time for both astronomers and humankind. A planet with a similar chemical composition to Earth would open up eyes and change the prospect of the possibility of alien life in the galaxy and universe.