Expelled outer layers of white dwarf glowing brightly in the infrared
Space news (astrophysics: planetary nebula; Helix Nebula) – 650 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius –
This composite image shows a visually stunning planetary nebula labeled “The Eye of God” more serious observers call the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). Planetary nebula are the remains of a dying star much like our own Sol, only 5 billion years in the future. At this time the Sun will run out of hydrogen to use as its fuel source for the fusion process and will start using helium to create heavier carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Once it runs out of helium to fuse, it will die and expel its outer gas layers, leaving a tiny, hot core called a white dwarf. An Earth-sized core so dense a teaspoon full would weigh more than a few black rhinos.
First discovered in the 18th century, planetary nebula like the Helix Nebula emit across a similar, broad spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. The image shown at the top uses a combination of ultraviolet radiation collected by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer ((GALEX in blue(0.15 to 2.3 microns)) and infrared light detected by their Spitzer Space Telescope ((red(8 to 24 microns) and green(3.6 to 4.5 microns)) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer ((WISE in red(3.4 to 4.5 microns)) showing the subtle differences observed in the different wavelengths of light emitted by ghostly celestial objects like NGC 7293 and NGC 6369 (The Little Ghost).
Astronomers have studied planetary nebulae like the Helix Nebula and M2-9 (Wings of a Butterfly Nebula) as much as any recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The remnant of a rapidly evolving star near the end of its lifespan, the white dwarf star is a tiny, barely perceptible point of light at the center of the nebula in this composite image. Thousands of planetary nebula have been detected within a distance of about 100 million light-years of Earth and astronomers estimate about 10,000 exist in the Milky Way. Making planetary nebula a relatively common celestial mystery observed as we trace our roots to their beginning.
Survey of 170,000 supermassive black holes says “we need to re-examine present theory”
Space news (astrophysics: Unified Theory of Active, Supermassive Black Holes; rethinking the present theory) – supermassive black holes scattered around the cosmos –
One common theme in astronomy and science is “the more we test a current theory, the more we need to re-examine our ideas and thoughts”. Theory one day is tomorrows’ old idea. Astronomers looking at archived WISE data found this out the other day. After examining data collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, they determined varying appearances of similar supermassive black holes could be a more complicated than present theory indicates. That it could be time to rethink the Unified Theory of Active, Supermassive Black holes, now that we have a little data to base our ideas and theories on.
The Unified Theory of Active, Supermassive Black Holes was first proposed in the late 1970s to explain the different appearance of active supermassive black holes with similar natures. Why some active monsters appear to be shrouded by dust and gas, while others are more exposed and easier to view.
“The main purpose of unification was to put a zoo of different kinds of active nuclei under a single umbrella,” said Emilio Donoso of the Instituto de CienciasAstronómicas, de la Tierra y del Espacio in Argentina. “Now, that has become increasingly complex to do as we dig deeper into the WISE data.”
This theory answered this query by suggesting all supermassive black holes are encased in a dusty, doughnut-shaped structure called a torus. That the appearance of the supermassive black hole and torus is dependent on the orientation of the system in space in relation to Earth. For instance, if the torus is viewed edge-on in relation to Earth, the supermassive black hole is hidden from view. However, if the torus is viewed from above or below, the monster within is visible.
“The unified theory was proposed to explain the complexity of what astronomers were seeing,” said Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “It seems that simple model may have been too simple. As Einstein said, models should be made ‘as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Time to rethink the theory
WISE data collected before it was put on standby in 2011 indicates The Unified Theory of Active, Supermassive Black Holes isn’t the whole story and needs to be re-examined. That something other than the shape of the structures surrounding supermassive black holes determines whether a monster is viewable from Earth. Astronomers working on theories concerning supermassive black holes are looking at the data and thinking of new ways for supermassive black holes surrounded by structures of dust and gas to become visible from Earth. They hope their work and findings inspire further study and investment in uncovering more clues to the mysteries surrounding supermassive black holes and understanding of these enigmatic, yet fascinating objects.
“Our finding revealed a new feature about active black holes we never knew before, yet the details remain a mystery,” said Lin Yan of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “We hope our work will inspire future studies to better understand these fascinating objects.”
Proving scientific theory prescribes usage of the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” when developing theories.
You can learn more about the United Theory of Active, Supermassive Black holes here.
Plus nearly a thousand extremely bright, dusty objects nicknamed hot DOGS
Space news (All-sky surveys: infrared; candidate supermassive black holes and dust-obscured galaxies) – The visible universe –
Astronomers working with data provided by an infrared survey of the visible sky conducted by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have identified millions of new candidates for the quasar section in the Galaxy Zoo. All-sky images taken by WISE revealed around 2.5 million candidate supermassive black holes actively feeding on material, some over 10 billion light-years away. They also pinpointed nearly a 1,000 very bright, extremely dusty objects nicknamed hot DOGS believed to be among the brightest galaxies discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.
“These dusty, cataclysmically forming galaxies are so rare WISE had to scan the entire sky to find them,” said Peter Eisenhardt, lead author of the paper on the first of these bright, dusty galaxies, and project scientist for WISE at JPL. “We are also seeing evidence that these record setters may have formed their black holes before the bulk of their stars. The ‘eggs’ may have come before the ‘chickens.”
“WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects,” said Hashima Hasan, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’ve found an asteroid dancing ahead of Earth in its orbit, the coldest star-like orbs known and now, supermassive black holes and galaxies hiding behind cloaks of dust.”
Astronomers detected Trojan asteroid TK7 in October 2010 in images of the sky taken by NASA’s WISE, before verifying its existence on optical images taken by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. Additional study and computer modeling indicate Earth’s small dance partner should stay in a safe orbit for the next 10,000 years at least.
In March 2014 astronomers studying infrared images taken by WISE announced the discovery of around 3,500 new stars lying within 500 light-years of Earth. At the same time, they searched the data looking for evidence of Planet X, or Nemesis, the mythical planet some believe to exist somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. Scientists analyzed millions of infrared images taken by WISE out to a distance well beyond the orbit of our former ninth planet. They didn’t detect any objects the size of a planet out to a distance of around 25,000 times the distance between the Earth and Sol. Many times beyond the orbit of Pluto. No Planet X was found.
The vast majority of the latest candidates for the Galaxy Zoo are objects previously undetected by astronomers due to dust blocking visible light. Fortunately, the infrared eyes of WISE detected glowing dust around the candidates, which allowed scientists to detect them. These latest findings are clues astronomers use to better understand the processes creating galaxies and the monster black holes residing in their centers.
“We’ve got the black holes cornered,” said Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of the WISE black hole study and project scientist for another NASA black-hole mission, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). “WISE is finding them across the full sky, while NuSTAR is giving us an entirely new look at their high-energy X-ray light and learning what makes them tick.”
Organizing the Monster Zoo
The Monster of the Milky Way, the estimated 4 million solar mass black hole astronomers believe resides at the center, periodically feeds upon material falling too deep into its gravity well, and heats up surrounding disks of dust and gas. Astronomers have even witnessed 1 billion solar mass monster black holes change their surrounding environments enough to shut down star formation processes in their host galaxy. Now, astronomers need to go through the millions of candidates and put them in the correct section of the zoo. We might even need to open a few new sections to accommodate unusual candidates found during a closer examination.
You can learn more about supermassive black holes here.
A frosty, chilly star about the same temperature as the North Pole, minus 54 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 48 to minus 13 degrees Celsius)
Space news (astrophysics: faint, cool stars; brown dwarfs) – the fourth closest detected star system to Earth, just 7.2 light-years toward the constellation Hydra –
A young, ambitious astronomer working at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds discovered the dimmest, coolest brown dwarf detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Kevin Lehman first noticed a fast moving object, quickly dubbed WISE J085510.83-071442.5, in March of 2013. Excited at a new discovery, he spent the next few days analyzing more images of the same part of the sky taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Gemini South Telescope on Cerro Pachon in Chile.
“It’s very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our solar system that is so close,” said Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, University Park. “And given its extreme temperature, it should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures.”
Kevin Luhman originally spotted the fast motion of WISE J085510.83-071442.5 in infrared images taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Later analysis of infrared images taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope were needed to determine its chilly temperature of between minus (54-9) Fahrenheit [minus (13 – 48) degrees Celsius]. Astronomers would use measurements taken by Spitzer and WISE at different positions around the sun to determine its distance of 7.2 light-years from Earth using the parallax effect. To scientists, it added up to a brown dwarf or maybe a large Jupiter-size planet lost in space.
“This object appeared to move really fast in the WISE data,” said Luhman. “That told us it was something special.”
Additional calculations estimated the mass of WISE J085510.83-071442.5 at between 3 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter. It could be a gas giant like Jupiter that was flung out of its host star system by gravitational interactions with more massive bodies. Astronomers determined it was more likely a very cool brown dwarf than a large gas giant planet since they have been detected more often. If this is the case, it’s the coldest brown dwarf star discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. A nice shiny feather in the hat of a young, aspiring astronomer on the rise.
“It is remarkable that even after many decades of studying the sky, we still do not have a complete inventory of the sun’s nearest neighbors,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for Spitzer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. JPL manages and operates Spitzer. “This exciting new result demonstrates the power of exploring the universe using new tools, such as the infrared eyes of WISE and Spitzer.”
Work’s never done
Never one to rest on his laurels, in March of 2013, Kevin Luhman discovered a pair of warmer brown dwarf stars just 6.5 light-years from Earth during his analysis of WISE images. Since this time, his search for rapidly moving bodies close to Earth has also shown that the outer solar system probably doesn’t contain a large, undiscovered planet X or Nemesis, as people often refer to it. I did mention he was ambitious.
Along with two satellites orbiting Earth above WISE
Space news (November 09, 2015) – 12,000 light-years from Earth in the Auriga constellation –
A part of the universe full of young, hot stars only a million years old, the Tadpole nebula is one of the best and closest places to study the formation of new stars. At a distance of 12,000 light-years from Sol in the constellation of Auriga, the two tadpole-shaped pillars that give this region of space its name contain numerous new stars with as much as ten times the mass of our sun. Called Sim 129 and 130, the chaotic areas near the heads of these pillars are believed to harbor new stars and protostars in the process of forming.
The mosaic of images above taken by NASA’s WISE spacecraft showcases the Tadpole nebula, plus two slow moving satellites orbiting above WISE, and two slower moving asteroids traveling through the solar system.
Asteroid 1719 left a line of yellow-green tracks running across the image and pictured in the boxes near the center. Discovered in 1950, this ancient wanderer orbits in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, and takes 4.3 years to orbit Sol.
Asteroid 1992 UZ5 is also viewed traveling across the image and is highlighted in the boxes displayed at the upper left. Little data has been gathered on this ancient rock from the dawn of the solar system. Astronomers expect to know more about this visitor from the past in the years ahead.
Highlighted in the off-center ovals near the center top and bottom right of the image are two satellites caught moving in front of WISE that appear as faint green trails.
You can learn more about asteroids from the dawn of the solar system here.
Astronomers say this monster was one of the biggest galaxy clusters of its time
Space news (November 07, 2015) – 8.5 billion light-years away in a remote part of the cosmos –
NASA astronomers conducting a survey of galaxy clusters using the Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) recently viewed one of the biggest galaxy clusters ever recorded. Called Massive Overdense Object (MOO) J1142+1527, this monster galaxy cluster is in a very distant part of the universe and existed around 4 billion years before the birth of Earth.
8.5 billion years have passed since the light seen in the image above reached us here on Earth. MOO J1142+1527 has grown bigger during this time as more galaxies were drawn into the cluster and become even more extreme as far as galaxy clusters go.Containing thousands of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of individual suns, galaxy clusters like this are some of the biggest structures in the cosmos.
“It’s the combination of Spitzer and WISE that lets us go from a quarter billion objects down to the most massive galaxy clusters in the sky,” said Anthony Gonzalez of the University of Florida in Gainesville, lead author of a new study published in the Oct. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“Based on our understanding of how galaxy clusters grow from the very beginning of our universe, this cluster should be one of the five most massive in existence at that time,” said co-author Peter Eisenhardt, the project scientist for WISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Astronomers conducting this survey will now spend the next year sifting through more than 1,700 more galaxy clusters detected by the combined power of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer looking for the largest galaxy clusters in the cosmos. Once they find the biggest galaxy clusters in the universe, they’ll use the data obtained to investigate their evolution and the extreme environments they’re found.
“Once we find the most massive clusters, we can start to investigate how galaxies evolved in these extreme environments,” said Gonzalez.
You can learn more about the mission of the Spitzer Space Telescope here.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) discovered eight potentially dangerous asteroids during a recent one-year mission. Dangerous asteroids, in this case, are classified as objects that due to their volume and near-Earth orbit could pose a future collision threat. This was out of a total of 40 new objects NASA discovered orbiting close to the planet during its year-long mission. You can view a movie of the spacecraft’s progress during the past year using the link at the end of the article.
NEOWISE looked at a total of 245 known near-Earth objects from December 2013 to December 2014. This spacecraft views the sky during the dawn and dust perpendicular to a line between Earth and the sun. This allows it to spot near-Earth objects that come close to the planet. In this case discovering eight potentially dangerous asteroids, we can make plans to deal with, if needed, in the future. They also got a better look at the size and orbit of over 200 near-Earth objects they knew about.
NEOWISE found a total of 35 comets during its year-long mission, including three space scientists knew nothing about. This includes the brightest comet in Earth’s sky, comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), which arrived early in 2015.
No word from NASA on the future of NEOWISE, but we do need a spacecraft monitoring the skies near Earth for potentially hazardous objects on a full-time basis. Hopefully, they can rework this spacecraft’s mission, once again, and put NEOWISE on guard protecting the planet for decades to come.
You can find more information on NASA’s NEOWISE here.
You can find a chart of comet Lovejoy’s progress during the month here.
You can find more information on NASA’s mission to catalog all near-Earth objects here.