NASA’s Planning on Visiting the Water Worlds of the Solar System and Beyond

Next stop the ocean worlds of Enceladus and Europa

This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space news (planetary science: water worlds of the solar system; Enceladus and Europa) – planets and moons around the solar system and exoplanets across the universe covered with water

This graphic illustrates how scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas (H2).
The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its deepest and last dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015. Cassini also sampled the plume’s composition during previous flybys, earlier in the mission. From these observations, scientists have determined that nearly 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water vapor, about 1 percent is hydrogen, and the rest is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.
The graphic shows water from the ocean circulating through the seafloor, where it is heated and interacts chemically with the rock. This warm water, laden with minerals and dissolved gasses (including hydrogen and possibly methane) then pours into the ocean creating chimney-like vents.
The hydrogen measurements were made using Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer, or INMS, instrument, which sniffs gasses to determine their composition.
The finding is an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean. Previous results from Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer instrument, published in March 2015, suggested hot water is interacting with rock beneath the ocean; the new findings support that conclusion and indicate that the rock is reduced in its geochemistry. With the discovery of hydrogen gas, scientists can now conclude that there is a source of chemical free energy in Enceladus’ ocean.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer was designed and built by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; the team is based at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.
For more information about the Cassini mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
Image Credit: NASA.

The solar system’s awash in water! NASA missions have provided verifiable facts showing ocean worlds and moons exist in our solar system and beyond, other than Earth. Planetary bodies where water is locked in a frozen embrace and even flowing beneath miles of ice. Liquid water exobiologists are keen to explore for life forms they would love to meet and get to know a little better during the next phase of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Watch this YouTube video on NASA’s search for life on the ocean worlds of the solar system.

Best Evidence Yet for Reoccurring Water Vapor Plumes Erupting from Jupiter’s Moon
When Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moon Europa in 1610, along with three other satellites whirling around the giant planet, he could have barely imagined it was such a world of wonder.
This revelation didn’t happen until 1979 when NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by Jupiter and found evidence that Europa’s interior, encapsulated under a crust of ice, has been kept warm over billions of years. The warmer temperature is due to gravitational tidal forces that flex the moon’s interior — like squeezing a rubber ball — keeping it warm. At the time, one mission scientist even speculated that the Voyagers might catch a snapshot of geysers on Europa.
Such activity turned out to be so elusive that astronomers had to wait over three decades for the peering eye of Hubble to monitor the moon for signs of venting activity. A newly discovered plume seen towering 62 miles above the surface in 2016 is at precisely the same location as a similar plume seen on the moon two years earlier by Hubble. These observations bolster evidence that the plumes are a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the satellite.
The location of the plumes corresponds to the position of an unusually warm spot on the moon’s icy crust, as measured in the late 1990s by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Researchers speculate that this might be circumstantial evidence for material venting from the moon’s subsurface. The material could be associated with the global ocean that is believed to be present beneath the frozen crust. The plumes offer an opportunity to sample what might be in the ocean, in the search for life on that distant moon. Credits: NASA/JPL

Papers published by the journal Science and written by Cassini mission scientists and researchers working with the Hubble Space Telescope indicate hydrogen gas believed pouring from the subsurface ocean of Enceladus could potentially provide chemical energy life could use to survive and evolve. Watch this YouTube video called “NASA: Ingredients for Life at Saturn’s moon Enceladus“, it shows the proof scientists used to come to these conclusions. Their work provides new insights concerning possible oceans of water on moons of Jupiter and Saturn and other ocean moons in the solar system and beyond. 

Best Evidence Yet for Reoccurring Water Vapor Plumes Erupting from Jupiter’s Moon
When Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moon Europa in 1610, along with three other satellites whirling around the giant planet, he could have barely imagined it was such a world of wonder.
This revelation didn’t happen until 1979 when NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by Jupiter and found evidence that Europa’s interior, encapsulated under a crust of ice, has been kept warm over billions of years. The warmer temperature is due to gravitational tidal forces that flex the moon’s interior — like squeezing a rubber ball — keeping it warm. At the time, one mission scientist even speculated that the Voyagers might catch a snapshot of geysers on Europa.
Such activity turned out to be so elusive that astronomers had to wait over three decades for the peering eye of Hubble to monitor the moon for signs of venting activity. A newly discovered plume seen towering 62 miles above the surface in 2016 is at precisely the same location as a similar plume seen on the moon two years earlier by Hubble. These observations bolster evidence that the plumes are a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the satellite.
The location of the plumes corresponds to the position of an unusually warm spot on the moon’s icy crust, as measured in the late 1990s by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Researchers speculate that this might be circumstantial evidence for material venting from the moon’s subsurface. The material could be associated with the global ocean that is believed to be present beneath the frozen crust. The plumes offer an opportunity to sample what might be in the ocean, in the search for life on that distant moon. Credits: NASA/JPL

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. ”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

Portrait of Thomas Zurbuchen taken on Monday, October 17, 2016, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Researchers believe they have found evidence indicating hydrogen gas could be pouring out of hydrothermal vents on the floor of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and into these oceans of water. Any microbes existing in these distant waters could use this gas as a form of chemical energy to operate biological processes. By combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in this ocean of water in a chemical reaction called methanogenesis, geochemists think methane could be produced which could act as the basis of a tree of life similar to the one observed on Earth. 

Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice and vapor from many locations along the famed “tiger stripes” near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The tiger stripes are four prominent, approximately 84-mile- (135-kilometer-) long fractures that cross the moon’s south polar terrain.
This two-image mosaic is one of the highest resolution views acquired by Cassini during its imaging survey of the geyser basin capping the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It clearly shows the curvilinear arrangement of geysers, erupting from the fractures. .From left to right, the fractures are Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus.
As a result of this survey, 101 geysers were discovered: 100 have been located on one of the tiger stripes (PIA17188), and the three-dimensional configurations of 98 of these geysers have also been determined (PIA17186). The source location of the remaining geyser could not be definitively established. These results, together with those of other Cassini instruments, now strongly suggest that the geysers have their origins in the sea known to exist beneath the ice underlying the south polar terrain.
These findings from the imaging survey, of which the two images composing this mosaic are a part, were presented in a paper by Porco, DiNino, and Nimmo and published in the online version of the Astronomical Journal in July 2014: http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-6256/148/3/45.
A companion paper, by Nimmo et al., is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-6256/148/3/46.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini. The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org.
Photojournal notes: This image has been rotated 180 degrees from its original orientation published on February 2, 2010.
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

On Earth, this process is thought to be at the root of the tree of life, and could even be essential, critical to the origin of life on our little blue dot. Life existing on our planet requires three main ingredients, liquid water, a source of energy for metabolic processes, and specific chemical ingredients to develop and continue to thrive. This study shows Enceladus could have the right ingredients for life to exist, but planetary scientists and exobiologists are looking for evidence of the presence of sulfur and phosphorus. 

This set of images from NASA’s Cassini mission shows how the gravitational pull of Saturn affects the amount of spray coming from jets at the active moon Enceladus. Enceladus has the most spray when it is farthest away from Saturn in its orbit (inset image on the left) and the least spray when it is closest to Saturn (inset image on the right).
Water ice and organic particles gush out of fissures known as “tiger stripes” at Enceladus’ south pole. Scientists think the fissures are squeezed shut when the moon is feeling the greatest force of Saturn’s gravity. They theorize the reduction of that gravity allows the fissures to open and release the spray. Enceladus’ orbit is slightly closer to Saturn on one side than the other. A simplified version of that orbit is shown as a white oval.
Scientists correlate the brightness of the Enceladus plume to the amount of solid material being ejected because the fine grains of water ice in the plume are very bright when lit from behind. Between the dimmest and brightest images, they detected a change of about three to four times in brightness, approximately the same as moving from a dim hallway to a brightly lit office.
This analysis is the first clear finding that shows the jets at Enceladus vary in a predictable manner. The background image is a mosaic made from data obtained by Cassini’s imaging science subsystem in 2006. The inset image on the left was obtained on Oct. 1, 2011. The inset image on the right was obtained on Jan. 30, 2011.
A related image, PIA17039, shows just the Enceladus images. The Saturn system mosaic was created from data obtained by Cassini’s imaging cameras in 2006.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, DC. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer was built by JPL, with a major contribution by the Italian Space Agency. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer science team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/.
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/SSI

Previous data shows the rocky core of this moon is similar to meteorites containing these two elements, so they’re thought to be chemically similar in nature, and scientists are looking for the same chemical ingredients of life found on Earth, primarily carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and of course hydrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur.

Linda Spilker
Cassini Project Scientist. Credits: NASA

“Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft about to make one of its dives between Saturn and its innermost rings as part of the mission’s grand finale.
Cassini will make 22 orbits that swoop between the rings and the planet before ending its mission on Sept. 15, 2017, with a final plunge into Saturn. The mission team hopes to gain powerful insights into the planet’s internal structure and the origins of the rings, obtain the first-ever sampling of Saturn’s atmosphere and particles coming from the main rings, and capture the closest-ever views of Saturn’s clouds and inner rings.
During its time at Saturn, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean that showed indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its moon Titan.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini detected hydrogen in plumes of gas and frozen matter spewing from Enceladus during the spacecraft’s deepest pass over its surface on October 28, 2015. This combined with previous data obtained by Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) during earlier flybys around 2005, helped scientists determine that nearly 98 percent of the material spraying from the surface of the moon is water. The remaining two percent is thought to be around 1 percent hydrogen with some carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and assorted unknown molecules in the mix. 

Cassini has shown us two independent detections of possible water spewing from the surface of Enceladus. NASA and its partners are currently looking over proposals to send spacecraft to determine if there is an ocean of water beneath its surface by taking a sample. The Europa Life Finder (ELF) is the proposal NASA’s seriously looking at undertaking at this point, but reports indicate a few other proposals are also being discussed. We’ll provide additional information on other proposals as they’re released to media outlets.

“Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes,” said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.

Two different observations of possible plumes of water spraying from the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus provides proof hydrothermal activity is occurring beneath. Geophysicists believe hot water is combining chemically with rock and other matter at the bottom of an ocean of water underneath its icy surface to produce hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas exobiologists think could be used as energy, food of a sort, to sustain life forms exobiologists want to meet and learn more about. A meeting that would change our place in the cosmos, the way we think about the universe, and reality.

Looking for an interplanetary vacation destination? Consider a visit to Europa, one of the Solar System’s most tantalizing moons. Ice-covered Europa follows an elliptical path in its 85-hour orbit around our ruling gas giant Jupiter. Heat generated from strong tidal flexing by Jupiter’s gravity keeps Europa’s salty subsurface ocean liquid all year round. That also means even in the absence of sunlight Europa has energy that could support simple life forms. Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to make reservations at restaurants on Europa, where you might enjoy a dish of the local extreme shrimp. But you can always choose another destination from Visions of the Future.

Astronomers and researchers working with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016 reported on an observation of a possible plume erupting from the icy surface of Europa in the same general location Hubble observed a possible plume in 2014. This location also corresponds to the unusually warm region with cracks in the icy surface observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft back in the 1990s. This provides evidence this phenomenon could be periodic, intermittent in this region of the moon. Mission planners are looking at this region as a possible location to obtain a sample of water erupting from a possible ocean of water beneath its icy surface. Watch this video on Europa.

Estimates of the size of this most recently observed plume indicate it rose about 62 miles (~100 kilometers) from the surface of Europa, while the plume in 2014 only reached a height of around 30 miles (50 kilometers). 

William Sparks
Space Telescope Science Institute. Credits: Space Science Institute/NASA/JPL

“The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map. We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly,” said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Sparks led the Hubble plume studies in both 2014 and 2016.

One interesting thought’s the plumes and the hot spot is somehow linked. If this is the case, it could mean the vented water’s falling onto the surface of the moon, which would change the structure and chemistry of the surface grains and allow them to retain heat longer than the surrounding region. This location would be a great place to search for the ingredients of life and a possible entry point into an ocean of water beneath.

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

These observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and future looks enable future space missions to Europa and other ocean worlds in the solar system. Specifically, laying the groundwork for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is set for a launch sometime in the 2020s. 

James Green: Director of Planetary Science, NASA Headquarters. Credits: NASA

“If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters.

NASA has indicated they’re looking to identify a possible site with persistent, intermittent plume activity as a target location for a mission to Europa to explore using its powerful suite of science instruments. Another team’s currently at work on a powerful ultraviolet camera to add to the Europa Clipper that would offer data similar to that provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, while some members of the Cassini team are working on a very sensitive, next generation INMS instrument to put on the spacecraft. 

Water’s the story of life on Earth! Science has shown it played and plays the main part in the birth, evolution, and sustenance of life on Earth. 

NASA’s planning on taking the human journey to the beginning of space and time to the ocean worlds of the solar system during the decades ahead. To search for the ingredients of life and even possibly simple one-celled life forms, of an unknown type. We plan on going along for the ride to have a look for ourselves and we hope to see your name on the ship manifest. We’ll save a seat for you.

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by taking part in NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Participants take part in the search for hidden worlds between Neptune and Proxima Centauri.

NASA’s and FEMA are currently tracking the progress of a 300 to 800 ft asteroid they think has around a 2 percent chance of hitting the Earth around September 20, 2020.

Planetary scientists searching the Red Planet for signs of past and present water believe they have found evidence indicating Mars once was a lot wetter and a possible location for the evolution of life.

Travel into the Heart of a Cosmic Storm

This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This stormy scene shows a stellar nursery known as N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across. N159 contains many hot young stars. These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material. At the heart of this cosmic cloud lies the Papillon Nebula, a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity. This small, dense object is classified as a High-Excitation Blob, and is thought to be tightly linked to the early stages of massive star formation. N159 is located over 160 000 light-years away. It resides just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic1402), another massive star-forming complex within the LMC. It was previously imaged by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which also resolved the Papillon Nebula for the first time.
Electric-blue wisps of gas and young stars in early stages of star birth startle the senses in this stunning Hubble Space Telescope image. Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Space news (astrophysics: stellar nurseries; HII region N159) – 180,000 light-years from Earth deep within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) –

Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The stunning Hubble Space Telescope image seen above shows the heart of a cosmic maelstrom, glowing gas, and dark dust deep within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of many satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. This stormy region of space contains stellar nursery N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across with many hot young suns emitting intense ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet light causing nearby hydrogen gas to glow and torrential stellar winds carving ridges, arcs, and filaments out of surrounding gas and dust. 

papillon_hst_big
The Papillon Nebula is seen in the inset image in  the top right of the main image of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: M. Heydari-Malayeri(Paris Observatory) et al, WFPC2, HST, ESA, NASA

Early stages of star birth

Near the heart of this cosmic maelstrom lies the butterfly-shaped Papillon Nebula, a small, dense stellar object astronomers refer to as a High-Excitation Blob, they have linked to the early stages of the formation of a massive star. This region of space was first detected using Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

Image Credit & Copyright: Processing - Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari Data - Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory
The Tarantula Nebula Image Credit & Copyright: Processing – Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari Data – Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory

Nebula N159’s just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic 1402), a star-forming region also imaged by Hubble’s WFPC2. Hidden within this region of space astronomers found several massive stars they’re currently studying looking for clues to the growth and evolution of the most massive stars in the galaxy. The image seen here was taken using the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. 

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Learn more about the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Discover the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Learn more about High-Excitation Blobs.

 

The Death of the Sun 

Will leave behind a hot, shining corpse called a white dwarf

This image of NGC 2440 shows the colourful
This image of NGC 2440 shows the colourful “last hurrah” of a star like our Sun. The star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star’s remaining core. Ultraviolet light from the dying star makes the material glow. The burned-out star, called a white dwarf, is the white dot in the centre. Credits: NASA/Hubble

Space news (astrophysics: the death of a Sun-like star; planetary nebula NGC 2440) – 4,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Puppis, watching the stunning, colorful last moments of a star like our own Sun –

Death is not extinguishing the light: it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come (quote by Rabindranath Tagore)

NGC 2440 is another planetary nebula ejected by a dying star, but it has a much more chaotic structure than NGC 2346. The central star of NGC 2440 is one of the hottest known, with a surface temperature near 200,000 degrees Celsius. The complex structure of the surrounding nebula suggests to some astronomers that there have been periodic oppositely directed outflows from the central star, somewhat similar to that in NGC2346, but in the case of NGC 2440 these outflows have been episodic, and in different directions during each episode. The nebula is also rich in clouds of dust, some of which form long, dark streaks pointing away fromthe central star. In addition to the bright nebula, which glows becauseof fluorescence due to ultraviolet radiation from the hot star, NGC 2440 is surrounded by a much larger cloud of cooler gas which is invisible in ordinary light but can be detected with infrared telescopes. NGC 2440 lies about 4,000 light-years from Earth in thedirection of the constellation Puppis. The Hubble Heritage team made this image from observations of NGC 2440acquired by Howard Bond (STScI) and Robin Ciardullo (Penn State). Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI).
NGC 2440 is a planetary nebula ejected by a dying star, with a little bit of extra character thrown in for visual entertainment. The central star of NGC 2440 has a surface temperature of around 200,000 degrees Celsius and chaotic nature suggesting periodic oppositely flowing outbursts, similar to the process seen in NGC 2346. In the case of this planetary nebula, however,  the outflows were periodic, and in different directions during each period. The Hubble Heritage team made this image from observations of NGC 2440 acquired by Howard Bond (STScI) and Robin Ciardullo (Penn State).
Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI).

Around 5 billion years in the future, give or take a hundred million, our Sun’s expected to send last hurrahs to the cosmos as seen here in this Hubble Telescope image of planetary nebula NGC 2440. Casting off its outer layers of gas forming a cocoon around the burned-out remains called a white dwarf, it will glow as ultraviolet light it emits strikes the material surrounding it. The Milky Way galaxy’s sprinkled with similar stellar objects astronomers in the 18th and 19th centuries named planetary nebula due to their resemblance when viewed through small telescopes of the time to the disks of distant Uranus and Neptune. Shining at a surface temperature of more than 360,000 degrees Fahrenheit (200,000 degrees Celsius), NGC 2440’s one of the hottest planetary nebula discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

It may look like a butterfly, but it's bigger than our Solar System. NGC 2346 is a planetary nebula made of gas and dust that has evolved into a familiar shape. At the heart of the bipolar planetary nebula is a pair of close stars orbiting each other once every sixteen days. The tale of how the butterfly blossomed probably began millions of years ago, when the stars were farther apart. The more massive star expanded to encompass its binary companion, causing the two to spiral closer and expel rings of gas. Later, bubbles of hot gas emerged as the core of the massive red giant star became uncovered. In billions of years, our Sun will become a red giant and emit a planetary nebula - but probably not in the shape of a butterfly, because the Sun has no binary star companion.
Planetary nebula NGC 2346 looks like a butterfly to many viewers, but you could comfortably fit our solar system within its boundaries. Two stars orbit closely together within every sixteen days. In a few billion years, our Sun will expand to become a red giant star and eject material to create a similar looking planetary nebula. Scientists think it will look different, however, because our Sun has no companion star. Credit: Massimo Stiavelli (STScI), Inge Heyer (STScI) et al., & the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/ STScI/ NASA)

Study of this planetary nebula’s chaotic structure suggests it shed its outer layers of mass in episodic outbursts heading in different directions as seen in the two bowtie-shaped lobes observed in the image at the top. Long, dark clouds of dust forming dark streaks traveling away from NGC 2440 can also be seen, along with expelled helium indicated by blue, oxygen highlighted in blue-green, and nitrogen and hydrogen in red. Matter expelled by the white dwarf glows in different colors, depending on its composition, density, and distance from the hot star.

A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team
This is a full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). In a few billion years it will expand into a red giant star and eject material that will become a similar, but different, looking planetary nebula than NGC 2440. Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team

The final days of stars like the Sun

The present theory concerning the final days of a white dwarf star says it will end its days as a black dwarf star. Unknown billions of years in the future, astronomers believe white dwarf stars could stop emitting light and heat and become cold, stellar bodies. Cold, dark stars our telescopes and present technology would have extreme difficulty detecting accept for the effects of their gravity wells on objects traveling nearby. Unfortunately, our universe is only about 14 billions years old, which is too young for black dwarf stars to exist, if the theory is correct. 

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Learn more about black dwarf stars.

X-ray Light Source CX330 Detected in Bulge of Milky Way

Most isolated young star discovered launching jets of material into surrounding gas and dust

An unusual celestial object called CX330 was first detected as a source of X-ray light in 2009. It has been launching “jets” of material into the gas and dust around it. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An unusual celestial object called CX330 was first detected as a source of X-ray light in 2009. It has been launching “jets” of material into the gas and dust around it.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space news (astrophysics: massive, young stars in star-forming regions; unusual, isolated young star baffles astronomers) – approximately 27,000 light-years from Earth in an isolated region of the bulge of the Milky Way – 

704250main_chandra-telescope_full
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory first detected unusual stellar object CX330. Credits: NASA/Chandra

Astronomers surveying the universe looking for unusual celestial objects to study to add to human knowledge and understanding have found something they haven’t seen before. Unusual celestial object CX 330 was first noticed in data obtained during a survey of the bulge of the Milky Way in 2009 by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as a source of X-ray light. Additional observations of the source showed it also emitted light in optical wavelengths, but with so few clues to go on, astronomers had no idea what they were looking at. 

During more recent observations of CX 330 during August of 2015, astronomers discovered it had recently been active, launching jets of material into gas and dust surrounding it. During a period from 2007 to 2010, it had increased in brightness by hundreds of times, which made scientists curious to examine previous data obtained from the same region of the bulge. 

Using the unique orbit of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and a depth-perceiving trick called parallax, astronomers have determined the distance to an invisible Milky Way object called OGLE-2005-SMC-001. This artist's concept illustrates how this trick works: different views from both Spitzer and telescopes on Earth are combined to give depth perception. Credits: NASA/Spitzer
Using the unique orbit of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and a depth-perceiving trick called parallax, astronomers have determined the distance to an invisible Milky Way object called OGLE-2005-SMC-001. This artist’s concept illustrates how this trick works: different views from both Spitzer and telescopes on Earth are combined to give depth perception. Credits: NASA/Spitzer

Looking at data obtained by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) in 2010, they realized the surrounding gas and dust was heated to the point of ionization.  Comparing this data to observations taken with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in 2007, astronomers determined they were looking at a young star in an outburst phase, forming in an isolated region of the cosmos.

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Chris Britta Credits: Texas Tech University

“We tried various interpretations for it, and the only one that makes sense is that this rapidly growing young star is forming in the middle of nowhere,” said Chris Britta postdoctoral researcher at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and lead author of a study on CX330 recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

By combining this data with observations taken by a variety of both ground and space-based telescopes they were able to get an even clearer picture of CX330. An object very similar to FU Orionis, but likely more massive, compact, and hotter, and lying in a less populated region of space. Launched faster jets of outflow that heated a surrounding disk of gas and dust to the point of ionization, and increased the flow of material falling onto the star.

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Tom Maccarone Credits: Texas Tech University

“The disk has probably heated to the point where the gas in the disk has become ionized, leading to a rapid increase in how fast the material falls onto the star,” said Thomas Maccarone, study co-author and associate professor at Texas Tech.

The fact CX 330 lies in an isolated region of space, unlike the previous nine examples of this type of star observed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, tweaks the interest of astronomers. The other nine examples all lie in star-forming regions of the Milky Way galaxy with ample material for new stars to form from, but the closest star-forming region to this young star is over 1,000 light-years away.

Joel Green Credits: NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute
Joel Green Credits: NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute

“CX330 is both more intense and more isolated than any of these young outbursting objects that we’ve ever seen,” said Joel Green, study co-author and researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “This could be the tip of the iceberg — these objects may be everywhere.”

We really know nothing about CX 330. More observations are required to determine more. It’s possible all young stars go through a similar outburst period as observed in the case of CX 330. The periods are just too brief in cosmological time for astronomers to observe with current technology. The real clue’s the isolation of this example as compared to previous models. 

How did CX 330 become so isolated? One idea often floated is the possibility it formed in a star-forming region, before being ejected to a more isolated region of space. This seems unlikely considering astronomers believe this young star’s only about a million years old. Even if this age’s wrong, this star’s still consuming its surrounding disk of dust and gas and must have formed near its current location. It just couldn’t have traveled the required distance from a star-forming region to its current location, without completely stripping away its surrounding disk of gas and dust. 

Astronomers are learning more about the formation of stars studying CX 330, that’s for sure. Using two competing ideas, called “hierarchical” and “competitive” models, scientists search for answers to unanswered questions concerning CX 330. At this point, they favor the chaotic and turbulent environment of the “hierarchical” model, as a better fit for the theoretical formation of a lone star.

What’s next?

It’s still possible material exists nearby CX 330, such as intermediate to low-mass stars, that astronomers haven’t observed, yet.  When last viewed in August 2015, this young star was still in an outburst phase. During future observations planned with new telescopes in different wavelengths, we could get a better picture of events surrounding this unusual celestial object. Stay tuned to this channel for more information.

For people wondering if planets could form around this young star? Some astronomers are hoping planets will form from the disk of CX 330, they’ll be able to examine closer for the chemical signature of the scars left by the outbursts observed. Unfortunately, at the rate this star’s consuming its surrounding disk of gas and dust, having enough left over for the formation of planets seems unlikely. 

“You said you like it hot, right!” If CX 330’s a really massive star, which seems likely. It’s short, violent lifespan would be a truly hot time for any planet and inhabitants. 

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For more information on the travel plans to CX 330, contact NASA.

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How do Astronomers Precisely Determine Distances to Objects on the Other Side of the Milky Way Galaxy?

By studying light echoes, rings of x-rays observed around binary star system Circinus X-1

A light echo in X-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has provided a rare opportunity to precisely measure the distance to an object on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy. The rings exceed the field-of-view of Chandra’s detectors, resulting in a partial image of X-ray data. Credits: NASA/CXC/U. Wisconsin/S. Heinz
The image above shows a light echo in x-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory which astronomers used to precisely measure the distance to a stellar object across the spiral disk of the Milky Way galaxy. The sizes of the light echoes detected in this image exceed the ability of the detectors, which has resulted in a partial construction of X-ray data. Credits: NASA/CXC/U. Wisconsin/S. Heinz

Space news (astrophysics: measuring distances of objects; light echoes) – 30,700 light-years from Earth in the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy, observing X-rays emitted by a neutron star in double star system Circinus X-1 reflecting off massive, surrounding clouds of gas and dust –

The youngest member of an important class of objects has been found using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Australia Compact Telescope Array. A composite image shows the X-rays in blue and radio emission in purple, which have been overlaid on an optical field of view from the Digitized Sky Survey. This discovery, described in the press release, allows scientists to study a critical phase after a supernova and the birth of a neutron star.
The youngest member of an important class of objects has been found using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Australia Compact Telescope Array. A composite image shows the X-rays in blue and radio emission in purple, which have been overlaid on an optical field of view from the Digitized Sky Survey. This discovery allows scientists to study a critical phase after a supernova and the birth of a neutron star. Credits: NASA/Chandra

Determining the apparent distance of objects tens of thousands of light-years from Earth across the breadth of the Milky Way was a difficult problem to solve during the early days of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. During the years since these early days, astronomers have developed a few techniques and methods to help calculate distances to stellar objects on the other side of the galaxy. 

The most recently measured distance to an object on the other side of the Milky Way used the newest method developed. By detecting the rings from X-ray light echoes around the star Circinus X-1, a double star system containing a neutron star. Astronomers were able to determine the apparent distance to this system is around 30,700 light-years from Earth.

“It’s really hard to get accurate distance measurements in astronomy and we only have a handful of methods,” said Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who led the study. “But just as bats use sonar to triangulate their location, we can use the X-rays from Circinus X-1 to figure out exactly where it is.”

 Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison
Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison Credits: University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The rings are faint echoes from an outburst of x-rays emitted by Circinus X-1 near the end of 2013. The x-rays reflected off of separate clouds of gas and dust surrounding the star system, with some being sent toward Earth. The reflected x-rays arrived from different angles over a three month period, which created the observed X-ray rings. Using radio data scientists were able to determine the distance to each cloud of gas and dust, while detected X-ray echoes and simple geometry allowed for an accurate measurement of the distance to Circinus X-1 from Earth.

“We like to call this system the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but this one has nothing to do with Sauron,” said co-author Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “The beautiful match between the Chandra X-ray rings and the Mopra radio images of the different clouds is really a first in astronomy.”

Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales Credits: University of New South Wales
Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales Credits: University of New South Wales

In addition to this new distance measurement to Circinus X-1, astrophysicists determined this binary system’s naturally brighter in X-rays and other light than previously thought. This points to a star system that has repeatedly passed the threshold of brightness where the outward pressure of emitted radiation is balanced by the inward force of gravity. Astronomers have witnessed this equilibrium more often in binary systems containing a black hole, not a neutron star as in this case. The jet of high-energy particles emitted by this binary system’s also moving at 99.9 percent of the speed of light, which is a feature normally associated with a

The jet of high-energy particles emitted by this binary system’s also moving at 99.9 percent of the speed of light, which is a feature normally associated with a relativistic jet produced by a system containing a black hole. Scientists are currently studying this to see if they can determine why this system has such an unusual blend of characteristics.  

“Circinus X-1 acts in some ways like a neutron star and in some like a black hole,” said co-author Catherine Braiding, also of the University of New South Wales. “It’s extremely unusual to find an object that has such a blend of these properties.”

Astronomers think Circinus X-1 started emitting X-rays observers on Earth could have detected starting about 2,500 years ago. If this is true, this X-ray binary system’s the youngest detected, so far, during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

This new X-ray data is being used to create a detailed three-dimensional map of the dust clouds between Circinus X-1 and Earth. 

What’s next?

Astrophysicists are preparing to measure distances to other stellar objects on the other side of the Milky Way using the latest distance measurement method. This new astronomy tool’s going to come in handy during the next leg of the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Become a NASA Disk Detective and help classify embryonic planetary systems.

Read about the final goodbye of the Rosetta spacecraft, just before it crashes into the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

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You can view the published results of this study in The Astrophysical Journal and online here.

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The Plasma Jets of Active Supermassive Black Holes

Transform surrounding regions and actively evolve host galaxies 

This artist's rendition illustrates a rare galaxy that is extremely dusty, and produces radio jets. Scientists suspect that these galaxies are created when two smaller galaxies merge. A few billion years after the Big Bang, astronomers suspect that small galaxies across the Universe regularly collided forcing the gas, dust, stars, and black holes within them to unite. The clashing of galactic gases was so powerful it ignited star formation, while fusing central black holes developed an insatiable appetite for gas and dust. With stellar nurseries and black holes hungry for galactic gas, a struggle ensued. Scientists say this struggle for resources is relatively short-lived, lasting only 10 to 100 million years. Eventually, much of the gas will be pushed out of the galaxy by the powerful winds of newborn stars, stars going supernovae (dying in a cataclysmic explosion), or radio jets shooting out of central supermassive black holes. The removal of gas will stunt the growth of black holes by "starving'' them, and quench star formation. They believe that these early merging structures eventually grew into some of the most massive galaxies in the Universe.
This artist’s rendition illustrates a rare galaxy that is extremely dusty and produces radio jets. Scientists suspect that these galaxies are created when two smaller galaxies merge.
A few billion years after the Big Bang, astronomers suspect that small galaxies across the Universe regularly collided forcing the gas, dust, stars, and black holes within them to unite. The clashing of galactic gasses was so powerful it ignited star formation while fusing central black holes developed an insatiable appetite for gas and dust. With stellar nurseries and black holes hungry for galactic gas, a struggle ensued.
Scientists say this struggle for resources is relatively short-lived, lasting only 10 to 100 million years. Eventually, much of the gas will be pushed out of the galaxy by the powerful winds of newborn stars, stars going supernovae (dying in a cataclysmic explosion), or radio jets shooting out of central supermassive black holes. The removal of gas will stunt the growth of black holes by “starving” them and quench star formation.
They believe that these early emerging structures eventually grew into some of the most massive galaxies in the Universe. Credits: NASA/JPL

Space news (astrophysics: spinning black holes; bigger, brighter plasma jets) – in the core of galaxies across the cosmos, observing the spin of supermassive black holes – 

In this radio image, two jets shoot out of the center of active galaxy Cygnus A. GLAST may solve the mystery of how these jets are produced and what they are made of. Credit: NRAO
In this radio image, two jets shoot out of the center of active galaxy Cygnus A. GLAST may solve the mystery of how these jets are produced and what they are made of. Credit: NRAO

Have you ever had the feeling the world isn’t the way you see it? That reality’s different than the view your senses offer you? The universe beyond the Earth is vast beyond comprehension and weird in ways human imagination struggles to fathom. Beyond the reach of your senses, the fabric of spacetime warps near massive objects, and even light bends to the will of gravity. In the twilight zone where your senses fear to tread, the cosmos twists and turns in weird directions and appears to leave the universe and reality far behind. Enigmas wrapped in cosmic riddles abound and mysteries to astound and bewilder the human soul are found. 

The galaxy NGC 4151 is located about 45 million light-years away toward the constellation Canes Venatici. Activity powered by its central black hole makes NGC 4151 one of the brightest active galaxies in X-rays. Credit: David W. Hogg, Michael R. Blanton, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Collaboration. Credits: NASA/JPL
The galaxy NGC 4151 is located about 45 million light-years away toward the constellation Canes Venatici. Activity powered by its central black hole makes NGC 4151 one of the brightest active galaxies in X-rays. Credit: David W. Hogg, Michael R. Blanton, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Collaboration. Credits: NASA/JPL

Imagine an object containing the mass of millions even billions of stars like the Sun. Squeeze that matter into a region of infinitely small volume, a region so dense the gravitational force it exerts warps spacetime and prevents even light from escaping its grasp. This object’s what astronomers call a supermassive black hole, a titanic monster your eyes can’t see with a gravitational pull that would stretch your body to infinity as you approached and crossed its outer boundary, the event horizon. Beyond this point, spacetime and reality take a turn toward the extreme, and the rules of science don’t apply. You have entered the realm of one of the most mysterious and enigmatic objects discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.  

In the newly discovered type of AGN, the disk and torus surrounding the black hole are so deeply obscured by gas and dust that no visible light escapes, making them very difficult to detect. This illustration shows the scene from a more distant perspective than does the other image. Click on image for high-res version. Image credit: Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State University.
In the newly discovered type of AGN, the disk and torus surrounding the black hole are so deeply obscured by gas and dust that no visible light escapes, making them very difficult to detect. This illustration shows the scene from a more distant perspective than does the other image. Click on image for high-res version. Image credit: Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State University.

Astronomers hunting for supermassive black holes have pinpointed their realms to be the center of massive galaxies and even the center of galaxy clusters. From this central location in each galaxy, the gravitational well of each supermassive black hole appears to act as an anchor point for the billions of stars within, and astronomers believe a force for change and evolution of every galaxy and galaxy cluster in which they exist. Surrounded and fed by massive clouds of gas and matter called accretion disks, with powerful particle jets streaming from opposite sides like the death ray in Star Wars, fierce, hot winds sometimes moving at millions of miles per hour blow from these supermassive monsters in all directions. 

These galaxy clusters show that younger, more distant galaxy clusters contained far more active galactic nuclei (AGN) than older, nearby ones. It was found that the clusters at 58% of the Universe's current age contained about 20 times more AGN than those at 82% of Universe's age. The galaxies in the earlier Universe contained much more gas that allowed for more star formation and black hole growth. In the Chandra X-ray images, red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays.
These galaxy clusters show that younger, more distant galaxy clusters contained far more active galactic nuclei (AGN) than older, nearby ones. It was found that the clusters at 58% of the Universe’s current age contained about 20 times more AGN than those at 82% of Universe’s age. The galaxies in the earlier Universe contained much more gas that allowed for more star formation and black hole growth. In the Chandra X-ray images, red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays. Credits: NASA/Chandra

“A lot of what happens in an entire galaxy depends on what’s going on in the minuscule central region where the black hole lies,” said theoretical astrophysicist David Garofalo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Garofalo is the lead author of a new paper that appeared online May 27 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Other authors are Daniel A. Evans of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and Rita M. Sambruna of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. 

These galaxy clusters show that younger, more distant galaxy clusters contained far more active galactic nuclei (AGN) than older, nearby ones. It was found that the clusters at 58% of the Universe's current age contained about 20 times more AGN than those at 82% of Universe's age. The galaxies in the earlier Universe contained much more gas that allowed for more star formation and black hole growth. In the Chandra X-ray images, red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays.
These galaxy clusters show that younger, more distant galaxy clusters contained far more active galactic nuclei (AGN) than older, nearby ones. It was found that the clusters at 58% of the Universe’s current age contained about 20 times more AGN than those at 82% of Universe’s age. The galaxies in the earlier Universe contained much more gas that allowed for more star formation and black hole growth. In the Chandra X-ray images, red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays. Credits: NASA/Chandra

Astronomers studying powerful particle jets streaming from supermassive black holes use to think these monsters spin either in the same direction as their accretion disks, called prograde black holes, or against the flow, retrograde black holes. For the past few decades, Garofalo and team have worked with a theory that the faster the spin of a black hole, the more powerful the particle jets streaming from it. Unfortunately, anomalies in the form of some prograde black holes with no jets have been discovered. This has scientists turning their ideas upside down and sideways, to see if flipping their “spin paradigm” model on its head explains recent anomalies in the theory. 

This composite image shows a vast cloud of hot gas (X-ray/red), surrounding high-energy bubbles (radio/blue) on either side of the bright white area around the supermassive black hole. By studying the inner regions of the galaxy with Chandra, scientists estimated the rate at which gas is falling toward the galaxy's supermassive black hole. These data also allowed an estimate of the power required to produce the bubbles, which are each about 10,000 light years in diameter. Surprisingly, the analysis indicates that most of the energy released by the infalling gas goes into producing jets of high-energy particles that create the huge bubbles, rather than into an outpouring of light as observed in many active galactic nuclei.
This composite image shows a vast cloud of hot gas (X-ray/red), surrounding high-energy bubbles (radio/blue) on either side of the bright white area around the supermassive black hole. By studying the inner regions of the galaxy with Chandra, scientists estimated the rate at which gas is falling toward the galaxy’s supermassive black hole. These data also allowed an estimate of the power required to produce the bubbles, which are each about 10,000 light years in diameter. Surprisingly, the analysis indicates that most of the energy released by the infalling gas goes into producing jets of high-energy particles that create the huge bubbles, rather than into an outpouring of light as observed in many active galactic nuclei. X-ray: NASA/CXC/KIPAC/S.Allen et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA/G.Taylor; Infrared: NASA/ESA/McMaster Univ./W.Harris

Using data collected during a more recent study that links their previous theory with observations of galaxies at varying distances from Earth across the observable universe. Astronomers found more distant radio-loud galaxies with jets are powered by retrograde black holes, while closer radio-quiet black holes have prograde black holes. The study showed supermassive black holes found at the core of galaxies evolve over time from a retrograde to prograde state.  

This illustration shows the different features of an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and how our viewing angle determines what type of AGN we observe. The extreme luminosity of an AGN is powered by a supermassive black hole at the center. Some AGN have jets, while others do not. Click on image for unlabeled, high-res version. Image credit: Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State University.
This illustration shows the different features of an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and how our viewing angle determines what type of AGN we observe. The extreme luminosity of an AGN is powered by a supermassive black hole at the center. Some AGN have jets, while others do not. Click on image for unlabeled, high-res version. Image credit: Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State University.

“This new model also solves a paradox in the old spin paradigm,” said David Meier, a theoretical astrophysicist at JPL not involved in the study. “Everything now fits nicely into place.” 

A mere 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is a giant elliptical galaxy - the closest active galaxy to Earth. This remarkable composite view of the galaxy combines image data from the x-ray ( Chandra), optical(ESO), and radio(VLA) regimes. Centaurus A's central region is a jumble of gas, dust, and stars in optical light, but both radio and x-ray telescopes trace a remarkable jet of high-energy particles streaming from the galaxy's core. The cosmic particle accelerator's power source is a black hole with about 10 million times the mass of the Sun coincident with the x-ray bright spot at the galaxy's center. Blasting out from the active galactic nucleus toward the upper left, the energetic jet extends about 13,000 light-years. A shorter jet extends from the nucleus in the opposite direction. Other x-ray bright spots in the field are binary star systems with neutron stars or stellar mass black holes. Active galaxy Centaurus A is likely the result of a merger with a spiral galaxy some 100 million years ago.
A mere 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is a giant elliptical galaxy – the closest active galaxy to Earth. This remarkable composite view of the galaxy combines image data from the x-ray ( Chandra), optical(ESO), and radio(VLA) regimes. Centaurus A’s central region is a jumble of gas, dust, and stars in optical light, but both radio and x-ray telescopes trace a remarkable jet of high-energy particles streaming from the galaxy’s core. The cosmic particle accelerator’s power source is a black hole with about 10 million times the mass of the Sun coincident with the x-ray bright spot at the galaxy’s center. Blasting out from the active galactic nucleus toward the upper left, the energetic jet extends about 13,000 light-years. A shorter jet extends from the nucleus in the opposite direction. Other x-ray bright spots in the field are binary star systems with neutron stars or stellar mass black holes. Active galaxy Centaurus A is likely the result of a merger with a spiral galaxy some 100 million years ago. Credits: X-ray – NASA, CXC, R.Kraft (CfA), et al.; Radio – NSF, VLA, M.Hardcastle (U Hertfordshire) et al.; Optical – ESO, M.Rejkuba (ESO-Garching) et al.

Astrophysicists studying backward spinning black holes believe more powerful particle jets stream from these supermassive black holes because additional space exists between the monster and the inner edge of the accretion disk. This additional space between the monster and accretion disk provides more room for magnetic fields to build-up, which fuels the particle jet and increases its power. This idea is known as Reynold’s Conjecture, after the theoretical astrophysicist Chris Reynolds of the University of Maryland, College Park. 

The optical counterparts of many active galactic nuclei (circled) detected by the Swift BAT Hard X-ray Survey clearly show galaxies in the process of merging. These images, taken with the 2.1-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, show galaxy shapes that are either physically intertwined or distorted by the gravity of nearby neighbors. These AGN were known prior to the Swift survey, but Swift has found dozens of new ones in more distant galaxies. Credit: NASA/Swift/NOAO/Michael Koss and Richard Mushotzky (Univ. of Maryland)
The optical counterparts of many active galactic nuclei (circled) detected by the Swift BAT Hard X-ray Survey clearly show galaxies in the process of merging. These images, taken with the 2.1-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, show galaxy shapes that are either physically intertwined or distorted by the gravity of nearby neighbors. These AGN were known prior to the Swift survey, but Swift has found dozens of new ones in more distant galaxies. Credit: NASA/Swift/NOAO/Michael Koss and Richard Mushotzky (Univ. of Maryland)

“If you picture yourself trying to get closer to a fan, you can imagine that moving in the same rotational direction as the fan would make things easier,” said Garofalo. “The same principle applies to these black holes. The material orbiting around them in a disk will get closer to the ones that are spinning in the same direction versus the ones spinning the opposite way.”  

Swift's Hard X-ray Survey offers the first unbiased census of active galactic nuclei in decades. Dense clouds of dust and gas, illustrated here, can obscure less energetic radiation from an active galaxy's central black hole. High-energy X-rays, however, easily pass through. Credit: ESA/NASA/AVO/Paolo Padovani
Swift’s Hard X-ray Survey offers the first unbiased census of active galactic nuclei in decades. Dense clouds of dust and gas, illustrated here, can obscure less energetic radiation from an active galaxy’s central black hole. High-energy X-rays, however, easily pass through. Credit: ESA/NASA/AVO/Paolo Padovani

Scientists believe the powerful particle jets and winds emanating from supermassive black holes found at the center of galaxies also play a key role in shaping their evolution and eventual fate. Often even slowing the formation rate of new stars in a host galaxy and nearby island universes as well.  

“Jets transport huge amounts of energy to the outskirts of galaxies, displace large volumes of the intergalactic gas, and act as feedback agents between the galaxy’s very center and the large-scale environment,” said Sambruna. “Understanding their origin is of paramount interest in modern astrophysics.” 

What lies just beyond the reach of our senses and technology, beneath the exterior of these supermassive black holes? Scientists presently study these enigmatic stellar objects looking for keys to the doors of understanding beyond the veil of gas and dust surrounding these titanic beasts. Keys they hope one day to use to unlock even greater secrets of reality just beyond hidden doors of understanding.  

Watch this video on active galactic nuclei.

Read and learn more about the supermassive black holes astronomers detect in a region called the COSMOS field.

Read about the recent detection by astronomers of read-end collisions between knots in the particle jets of supermassive black holes.

Learn what astronomers have discovered about feedback mechanisms in the feeding processes of active supermassive black holes.

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Discover more about what scientists have discovered about the powerful particle jets emanating from supermassive black holes here

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Read and learn more about galaxies here

Discover more about spinning black holes.  

Simple Elliptical Galaxy UGC 1382 Astonishes Astronomers

With 10 times the mass than first estimates and a younger inner region than outer, this out-of-the-way galaxy appears to be composed of assorted parts from other island universes 

pia20695-16

Space news (astrophysics: unusual, rare galaxy types; UGC 1382) – 250 million light-years from Earth in an out-of-the-way, isolated little corner of the cosmos – 

Living in a suburban neighborhood of an out-of-the-way little town or city is beneficial if you want to stop change due to foreign influences and exchanges. In a similar way, astronomers believe humongous, bizarre galaxy UGC 1382 kept its stunning size and the backward ages of its inner and outer components. At around 720,000 light-years across its more than seven times wider than the Milky Way and one of the largest isolated galaxies detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The inner regions of this unusual galaxy are also younger than its outer parts, which would be like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than its outer rings. It’s like UGC 1382 was put together from different parts of other galaxies that are held together by a delicate balance between processes and forces. An equilibrium scientists study in order to gain more understanding and knowledge of the evolution of galaxies and the universe. 

Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories
Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories

“This rare, ‘Frankenstein’ galaxy formed and is able to survive because it lies in a quiet little suburban neighborhood of the universe, where none of the hubbub of the more crowded parts can bother it,” said study co-author Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, California. “It is so delicate that a slight nudge from a neighbor would cause it to disintegrate.” 

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech
The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech

Seibert and graduate student Lea Hagen discovered the massive size and backward ages of the inner and outer portions of UGC 1382 while looking at images of the galaxy taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) in ultraviolet wavelengths. They had been searching for data on star formation in average elliptical galaxies, instead, a titan with intangible arms extending far outside UGC 1382 emerged from the darkness.   

“We saw spiral arms extending far outside this galaxy, which no one had noticed before, and which elliptical galaxies should not have,” said Hagen, who led the study. “That put us on an expedition to find out what this galaxy is and how it formed.” 

Painstakingly searching through data of the galaxy obtained by a team of telescopes astronomers built a new model of the structure and dimensions of this mysterious behemoth. Spanning nearly 720,000 light-years, UGC 1382 is one of the largest galaxies ever discovered. Very few new stars form in this island universe because gas is spread thinly along its rotating disk. Astronomers are studying the history of star formation and evolution of this unusual galaxy looking for clues to explain the mysteries uncovered. 

The most tantalizing clue’s the relative ages of the various parts of galaxy UGC 1382 are backward compared to previous galaxies observed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Normally, astrophysicists expect to see new star formation primarily in the outer, newer regions of a galaxy, while the older, inner regions contain mainly older stars. By combining data collected by the team, scientists determined the unusual structure and evolution of star formation in this massive galaxy. 

“The center of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disk surrounding it,” Seibert said. “It’s old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings.” 

The final conclusion

Astronomers think this unique galaxy resulted around 3 billion years ago when two smaller galaxies began orbiting a larger, possibly lenticular galaxy, which eventually settled into current galaxy UGC 1382. They continue to study this unusual galaxy looking for additional clues to explain its unique structure and evolution compared to other members of the Galaxy Zoo. This data will enable the search for more examples of this galaxy to help explain its unusual structure and evolution. 

“By understanding this galaxy, we can get clues to how galaxies form on a larger scale, and uncover more galactic neighborhood surprises,” Hagen said. 

Learn how astronomers think galaxy CGCG254-021 Got Its Tail.

Read about giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A.

Learn more about lenticular galaxies.

Take the space voyage of NASA

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Read and learn more about galaxy UGC 1382

Learn more about the discoveries made by the GALEX mission here

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Read about the discoveries made by the Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS) here

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Read about the space discoveries of Carnegie’s du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory here