Common Chemicals Were Evenly Distributed Across the Early Cosmos

By stars that went supernovae at the end of their life cycles 

This visible light view shows the central part of the Virgo Cluster. The brightest object is the giant elliptical galaxy M87 (left of center). The image spans approximately 1.2 degrees, or about 2.4 times the apparent diameter of a full moon. Credits: NOAO/AURA/NSF Download the image in HD at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
This visible light view shows the central part of the Virgo Cluster. The brightest object is the giant elliptical galaxy M87 (left of center). The image spans approximately 1.2 degrees or about 2.4 times the apparent diameter of a full moon.
Credits: NOAO/AURA/NSF
Download the image in HD at NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

Space news (astrophysics: creation and distribution of heavier chemical elements; supernovae) – watching as the elements of creation were spread evenly across millions of light-years more than ten billion years ago – 

This illustration depicts the Suzaku spacecraft. Suzaku (originally known as Astro-E2) was launched July 10, 2005, and maintains a low-Earth orbit while it observes X-rays from the universe. The satellite was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA) in collaboration with Japanese and U.S. institutions, including NASA. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
This illustration depicts the Suzaku spacecraft. Suzaku (originally known as Astro-E2) was launched July 10, 2005, and maintains a low-Earth orbit while it observes X-rays from the universe. The satellite was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA) in collaboration with Japanese and U.S. institutions, including NASA.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Astronomers using Japan’s Suzaku X-ray Satellite to survey hot, x-ray emitting gas in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster over 54 million light-years away have discovered something about the early universe. The survey showed the building blocks of the cosmos needed to make the planets, stars, and living things were evenly distributed across the cosmos over 10 billion years ago.  

Suzaku mapped iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur in four directions all across the Virgo galaxy cluster for the first time. The northern arm of the survey (top) extends 5 million light-years from M87 (center), the massive galaxy at the cluster's heart. Ratios of these elements are constant throughout the cluster, which means they were mixed well early in cosmic history. The dashed circle shows what astronomers call the virial radius, the boundary where gas clouds are just entering the cluster. Some prominent members of the cluster are labeled as well. The background image is part of the all-sky X-ray survey acquired by the German ROSAT satellite. The blue box at center indicates the area shown in the visible light image. Credits: A. Simionescu (JAXA) and Hans Boehringer (MPE) Download the graphic in HD at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
Suzaku mapped iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur in four directions all across the Virgo galaxy cluster for the first time. The northern arm of the survey (top) extends 5 million light-years from M87 (center), the massive galaxy at the cluster’s heart. Ratios of these elements are constant throughout the cluster, which means they were mixed well early in cosmic history. The dashed circle shows what astronomers call the virial radius, the boundary where gas clouds are just entering the cluster. Some prominent members of the cluster are labeled as well. The background image is part of the all-sky X-ray survey acquired by the German ROSAT satellite. The blue box at center indicates the area shown in the visible light image.
Credits: A. Simionescu (JAXA) and Hans Boehringer (MPE)
Download the graphic in HD at NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

A team of astronomers led by Aurora Simionescu of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara acquired data of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster along four arms extending up to 5 million light-years from its center. Data they used to show the elements of creation were evenly distributed across millions of light-years early in the cosmos. 

Aurora Simionescu of Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara Credits Image: NASA/JAXA
Aurora Simionescu of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara
Credits Image: NASA/JAXA

“Heavier chemical elements from carbon on up are produced and distributed into interstellar space by stars that explode as supernovae at the ends of their lifetimes,” Simionescu said. “This chemical dispersal continues at progressively larger scales through other mechanisms, such as galactic outflows, interactions and mergers with neighboring galaxies, and stripping caused by a galaxy’s motion through the hot gas filling galaxy clusters.” 

Astronomers study the distribution of the elements of creation during the early moments of the cosmos by shifting through the remains of giant stars that explode at the moment of their death supernovae. The core of a giant star born with more than eight times the mass of the Sun collapses near the end of its lifespan and then expands rapidly in an event called a core-collapse supernova. This rapid expansion scatters elements ranging from oxygen to silicon across the surrounding regions, while other types of supernovae spread elements of creation like iron and nickel across the universe. By surveying a vast region of space, like the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, scientists reconstruct how, when and where the elements of creation were created and distributed during the first moments of the universe.  

Astrophysicists believe the overall elemental composition of a large volume of space depends on the mixture of different supernovae types contributing elements. For example, they have determined the overall chemical makeup of the Sun and solar system required a combination of one Type Ia supernovae for every five core-collapse types.  

“One way to think about this is that we’re looking for the supernova recipe that produced the chemical makeup we see on much larger scales, and comparing it with the recipe for our own sun,” said co-author Norbert Werner, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California. 

 Norbert Werner, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California
Norbert Werner, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California. Credits: KIPAC/NASA/Stanford University

Werner led an earlier study using Suzaku that showed iron was distributed evenly throughout the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. The new Suzuka data provided by the study led by Simionescu and her team shows iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur spread evenly across the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. The elemental ratios obtained during the study are constant across the entire volume of the cluster and roughly consistent with the levels detected in the composition of the Sun and stars in the Milky Way. Extrapolated to the larger cosmos, scientists believe this shows the elements of creation were mixed well during the early moments of the cosmos over ten billion years ago.   

“This means that elements so important to life on Earth are available, on average, in similar relative proportions throughout the bulk of the universe,” explained Simionescu. “In other words, the chemical requirements for life are common throughout the cosmos.” 

Launched on July 10, 2005, the Suzaku mission showed us things about the universe during a space journey lasting over five times its intended lifespan, to become the longest-operating Japanese x-ray observatory in history. A space collaboration between Japan’s Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, the Suzaku X-ray Satellite scanned the x-ray cosmos until retiring from space service on August 26, 2015. Leaving a legacy of revolutionary x-ray discoveries its successor ASTRO-H (HITOMI), Japan’s sixth x-ray astronomy satellite is currently adding to since its launch in February 2016. 

What’s next?

Suzaku provided us with a decade of revolutionary measurements,” said Robert Petre, chief of Goddard’s X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory. “We’re building on that legacy right now with its successor, ASTRO-H, Japan’s sixth X-ray astronomy satellite, and we’re working toward its launch in 2016.” 

Artist concept of Hitomi Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Credits: NASA/JAXA
Artist concept of Hitomi
Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Credits: NASA/JAXA

Proving the saying, “Old Japanese x-ray satellites don’t retire, they sit back and keep watching the show.” 

Learn more about the birth and evolution of black holes and other stellar objects over 11 billion years ago.

Learn and understand more about the clues the Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered about the formation of the Milky Way galaxy.

Learn more about the things scientists have discovered about the crucible of the building blocks of life on Earth.

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Learn more about the discoveries of the Suzaku X-ray Satellite here

Read and discover more about HITOMI (ASTRO-H)

Learn more about the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California here

Discover more about the Virgo Galaxy Cluster

 

 

 

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Starburst Galaxy NGC 1569

Is bursting at its galactic seams, creating new stars at a rate more than 100 times faster than the Milky Way, due to gravitational interactions within its host galaxy group IC 342 

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the iridescent interior of one of the most active galaxies in our local neighbourhood — NGC 1569, a small galaxy located about eleven million light-years away in the constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe). This galaxy is currently a hotbed of vigorous star formation. NGC 1569 is a starburst galaxy, meaning that — as the name suggests — it is bursting at the seams with stars, and is currently producing them at a rate far higher than that observed in most other galaxies. For almost 100 million years, NGC 1569 has pumped out stars over 100 times faster than the Milky Way! As a result, this glittering galaxy is home to super star clusters, three of which are visible in this image — one of the two bright clusters is actually  the superposition of two massive clusters. Each containing more than a million stars, these brilliant blue clusters reside within a large cavity of gas carved out by multiple supernovae, the energetic remnants of massive stars. In 2008, Hubble observed the galaxy's cluttered core and sparsely populated outer fringes. By pinpointing individual red giant stars, Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys enabled astronomers to calculate a new — and much more precise — estimate for NGC 1569’s distance. This revealed that the galaxy is actually one and a half times further away than previously thought, and a member of the IC 342 galaxy group. Astronomers suspect that the IC 342 cosmic congregation is responsible for the star-forming frenzy observed in NGC 1569. Gravitational interactions between this galactic group are believed to be compressing the gas within NGC 1569. As it is compressed, the gas collapses, heats up and forms new stars.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the iridescent interior of one of the most active galaxies in our local neighbourhood — NGC 1569, a small galaxy located about eleven million light-years away in the constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe). 

Space news (astrophysics: starburst galaxies; NGC 1569) – 11 million light-years away toward the constellation Camelopardalis (The Giraffe) – 

The Hubble Space Telescope image above reveals the chaotic, yet visually stunning core of starburst galaxy NGC 1569. A relatively small galaxy more recent calculations by astronomers show is actually 11 million light-years from Earth, which is one and half times further than previous distance estimates. This starburst galaxy is one of the brightest in galaxy group IC 342, which is just one of many groups of galaxies within the Virgo Supercluster and is located in the constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe) in our night sky. 

ngc1569_hst_full
Grand spiral galaxies often seem to get all the glory, flaunting their young, bright, blue star clusters in beautiful, symmetric spiral arms. But small, irregular galaxies form stars too. In fact, as pictured here, dwarf galaxy NGC 1569 is apparently undergoing a burst of star-forming activity, thought to have begun over 25 million years ago. The resulting turbulent environment is fed by supernova explosions as the cosmic detonations spew out material and trigger further star formation. Two massive star clusters – youthful counterparts to globular star clusters in our own spiral Milky Way galaxy – are seen left of center in the gorgeous Hubble Space Telescope image. The picture spans about 1,500 light-years across NGC 1569. A mere 7 million light-years distant, this relatively close starburst galaxy offers astronomers an excellent opportunity to study stellar populations in rapidly evolving galaxies. NGC 1569 lies in the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis.

Look at the interior of NGC 1569 from different angles and the hues viewed seem to shift across its 5,000 light-year width. For almost 100 million years this starburst galaxy has created new stars at a rate over 100 times faster than our Milky Way. The core was a vigorous, hotbed of star formation bursting at the seams with new and old stars. It’s home to many super star clusters, three of which are visible in this image as brilliant blue clusters, each residing within a large cavity of gas carved out by successive supernovae of red giant supermassive stars. 

This image taken by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope showcases the brilliant core of one of the most active galaxies in our local neighbourhood. The entire core is 5000 light-years wide. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble
This image taken by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope showcases the brilliant core of one of the most active galaxies in our local neighbourhood. The entire core is 5000 light-years wide. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

NGC 1569’s new location puts it smack in the middle of ten galaxies within IC 342 interacting gravitationally, which compressed gas floating among its stars until it collapsed, heated up and formed new stars. A process Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and Advanced Camera for Surveys were able to observe in September 1999, November 2006, and January 2007. Observations allowing for the creation of this stunning, amazing image of a starburst galaxy at work.  

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A Cosmic Explosion Brighter than the Core of the Milky Way

SN 2006gy is the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded and may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (bottom right panel) and ground-based optical telescopes (bottom left). This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars, depicted in the artist's illustration (top panel), were relatively common in the early universe. These data also suggest that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own Galaxy.
SN 2006gy is the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded and may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (bottom right panel) and ground-based optical telescopes (bottom left). This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars, depicted in the artist’s illustration (top panel), were relatively common in the early universe. These data also suggest that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own Galaxy. Credits: NASA/ESA/Chandra/Lick/

Hypernova SN 2006gy was over a hundred times brighter than a typical supernova  

Space news (astrophysics: hypernovae; one of the brightest ever, SN 2006gy) – 240 million light-years toward the constellation Perseus in galaxy NGC 1260 –  

sn2006gy_anim_thm100
Watch this animation of SN 2006gy. Credits: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

It all started in September of 2006 when a fourth-year University of Texas graduate student astronomer working for the Palomar Transient Factory’s (PTF) luminous supernova program Robert Quimby discovered the brightest celestial event up to this date. An exploding star over 100 times brighter than a normal supernova and shining brighter than the core of its host galaxy NGC 1260. 

SN 2006gy is the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded and may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (bottom right panel) and ground-based optical telescopes (bottom left). This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars, depicted in the artist's illustration (top panel), were relatively common in the early universe. These data also suggest that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own Galaxy.
SN 2006gy is the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded and may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (bottom right panel) and ground-based optical telescopes (bottom left). This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars, depicted in the artist’s illustration (top panel), were relatively common in the early universe. These data also suggest that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own Galaxy. Credits: NASA/ESA/Chandra/Lick/Keck.

“This was a truly monstrous explosion, a hundred times more energetic than a typical supernova,” said Nathan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley, who led a team of astronomers from California and the University of Texas at Austin. “That means the star that exploded might have been as massive as a star can get, about 150 times that of our sun. We’ve never seen that before.”  

nsmith
Nathan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley. Credit: University of California at Berkeley/NASA

Teams of astronomers working with the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope at the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in California and M.W. Keck Observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii immediately began observing the event designated supernova SN 2006gy. Analysis of data showed it occurred over 240 million light-years away in galaxy NGC 1260 and took 70 days to reach maximum brightness. Staying brighter than any previously recorded event for over three months, SN 2006gy was still as bright as a normal supernova eight months later. 

SN 2006gy is the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded and may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (bottom right panel) and ground-based optical telescopes (bottom left). This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars, depicted in the artist's illustration (top panel), were relatively common in the early universe. These data also suggest that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own Galaxy.
SN 2006gy is the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded and may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (bottom right panel) and ground-based optical telescopes (bottom left). This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars, depicted in the artist’s illustration (top panel), were relatively common in the early universe. These data also suggest that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own Galaxy. Credits: NASA/ESA/Chandra/Lick/Keck.

“Of all exploding stars ever observed, this was the king,” said Alex Filippenko, leader of the ground-based observations at the Lick Observatory at Mt. Hamilton, Calif., and the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. “We were astonished to see how bright it got, and how long it lasted.”  

Alex-Filippenko-formal-Dec2012a-small-crop
Alex Filippenko, professor of astronomy for University of California, Berkeley. Credits: University of California, Berkeley.

Astronomers were reasonably sure at this point the progenitor of supernova SN 2006gy was one of the largest, most massive types of stars ever to exist. But they needed to rule out the most likely alternative explanation for the event. The possibility a white dwarf star with a mass slightly higher than Sol went supernova in a dense, hydrogen-rich environment.  

Another team of astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory went to work at this point to rule this possibility out of their equations. If this was the case, they knew X-ray emission from the event should be at least 1,000 times more luminous than the readings they were getting.     

“This provides strong evidence that SN 2006gy was, in fact, the death of an extremely massive star,” said Dave Pooley of the University of California at Berkeley, who led the Chandra observations. 

The progenitor star for SN 2006gy is thought to have ejected a large volume of mass before the hypernova event occurred. This is similar to events observed by astronomers in the case of Eta Carinae, a nearby supermassive star they’re watching closely for signs of an impending supernova. Only 7,500 light-years toward the constellation Carina, compared to 240 million for galaxy NGC 1260, this star going supernova would be the celestial event of the century on Earth. It would be bright enough to see in the daylight sky.

livio
Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist, a bestselling author, and a popular lecturer. Credits: MarioLivio.com

“We don’t know for sure if Eta Carinae will explode soon, but we had better keep a close eye on it just in case,” said Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who was not involved in the research. “Eta Carinae’s explosion could be the best star-show in the history of modern civilization.” 

The massive star Eta Carinae (almost hidden in the center) underwent a giant explosion some 150 years ago. The outburst spread the material that is visible today in this very sharp Hubble image. Even though Eta Carinae is more than 8,000 light-years away, structures only 15 thousand million kilometre across (about the diameter of our solar system) can be distinguished. Dust lanes, tiny condensations, and strange radial streaks al appear with unprecedented clarity. A huge, billowing pair of gas and dust clouds are captured in this stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of the supermassive star Eta Carinae. Credit: Jon Morse (University of Colorado), and NASA/ESA
The massive star Eta Carinae (almost hidden in the center) underwent a giant explosion some 150 years ago. The outburst spread the material that is visible today in this very sharp Hubble image. Even though Eta Carinae is more than 8,000 light-years away, structures only 15 thousand million kilometre across (about the diameter of our solar system) can be distinguished. Dust lanes, tiny condensations, and strange radial streaks al appear with unprecedented clarity.
A huge, billowing pair of gas and dust clouds are captured in this stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of the supermassive star Eta Carinae.
Credit:
Jon Morse (University of Colorado), and NASA/ESA

So many questions

Astronomers think in the case of hypernova SN 2006gy things might have taken a slightly different pathway than previously recorded supernovae. Some scientists think the massive star that exploded could be much more like the supermassive stars that existed during the early moments of the cosmos. Supermassive stars that exploded in supernovae and spread the elements of creation across the cosmos, rather than collapsing to a black hole as theorized.  

“In terms of the effect on the early universe, there’s a huge difference between these two possibilities,” said Smith. “One [sprinkles] the galaxy with large quantities of newly made elements and the other locks them up forever in a black hole.” 

Why would these supermassive stars be different than other huge stars observed in the Milky Way? The human search for answers to these and other mysterious questions before us continues as we journey backward to the beginning of space and time. 

We’ll update you with any additional data astronomers come across as the journey continues. Until next time, keep dreaming of the possibilities. 

Warren Wong 

Editor and Chief 

The Human Journey to the beginning of space and time. 

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Wolf-Rayet Star WR 31a Blows Hubble a Bubble

An interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gasses expanding at a rate of around 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) per hour 

Sparkling at the centre of this beautiful NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a Wolf–Rayet star known as WR 31a, located about 30 000 light-years away in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). The distinctive blue bubble appearing to encircle WR 31a, and its uncatalogued stellar sidekick, is a Wolf–Rayet nebula — an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases. Created when speedy stellar winds interact with the outer layers of hydrogen ejected by Wolf–Rayet stars, these nebulae are frequently ring-shaped or spherical. The bubble — estimated to have formed around 20 000 years ago — is expanding at a rate of around 220 000 kilometres per hour! Unfortunately, the lifecycle of a Wolf–Rayet star is only a few hundred thousand years — the blink of an eye in cosmic terms. Despite beginning life with a mass at least 20 times that of the Sun, Wolf–Rayet stars typically lose half their mass in less than 100 000 years. And WR 31a is no exception to this case. It will, therefore, eventually end its life as a spectacular supernova, and the stellar material expelled from its explosion will later nourish a new generation of stars and planets.
Credit: NASA/ESA

Space news (March 11, 2016) – 30,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina (The Keel) – 

The Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a, near the centre of this Hubble image, is a bright celestial beacon ejecting hydrogen in layers that are interacting with extremely fast-moving stellar winds to produce the ring-shaped bubble of an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other gases viewed. 

Wolf-Rayet stars are the most massive stars detected during the human journey to the stars. WR 31a started life with over 20 times the mass of Sol. Our Sun is a main sequence star which is actually a little bigger than average. The more mass a star has, the shorter its expected life, which accounts for the short life span of this bright celestial beacon. In the words of NASA, massive stars “Live fast and die hard”. 

The mass of WR 31a puts it at the lower end of the mass scale for Wolf-Rayet stars, with the most massive estimates coming in at over 200 times the mass of our sun. The estimates of the mass of this type of star are still being worked on, so don’t take them to heart. 

Astronomers estimate WR 31a is only 20,000 years old, give or take a few thousand, which is around 10 percent of its life expectancy according to current theory. The life cycle of Wolf-Rayet stars is only a couple hundreds thousand years long, a mere blink of the eye in cosmic terms, which means this massive star will end its days as a spectacular supernova. 

The event we refer to as supernova is an essential part of the life cycle of the cosmos. Deep within these massive stars, the building blocks of the cosmos are created. It’s here the carbon, magnesium, calcium, and other elements that make up 4-5 percent of the universe are made using the extreme conditions that exist. 

We’re all stardust traveling on a pale-blue dot in the distance, across the vastness of space-time to an unknown but dreamed of ending. 

Watch this YouTube video on Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a.

Read about astronomers viewing gravitational waves for the first time.

Learn about the first moments of supernovae.

Read about mysterious waves detected moving across the planet-forming region of a nearby star.

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Learn more about the supernova

Astronomers Witness First Cosmic-moments of Rare, Newborn Supernovae

Three Type Ia supernovae they study in order to measure cosmic distances and lift the veil of mystery surrounding dark energy

This graphic depicts a light curve of the newly discovered Type Ia supernova, KSN 2011b, from NASA's Kepler spacecraft. The light curve shows a star's brightness (vertical axis) as a function of time (horizontal axis) before, during and after the star exploded. The white diagram on the right represents 40 days of continuous observations by Kepler. In the red zoom box, the agua-colored region is the expected 'bump' in the data if a companion star is present during a supernova. The measurements remained constant (yellow line) concluding the cause to be the merger of two closely orbiting stars, most likely two white dwarfs. The finding provides the first direct measurements capable of informing scientists of the cause of the blast. Credits: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel
This graphic depicts a light curve of the newly discovered Type Ia supernova, KSN 2011b, from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. The light curve shows a star’s brightness (vertical axis) as a function of time (horizontal axis) before, during and after the star exploded. The white diagram on the right represents 40 days of continuous observations by Kepler. In the red zoom box, the agua-colored region is the expected ‘bump’ in the data if a companion star is present during a supernova. The measurements remained constant (yellow line) concluding the cause to be the merger of two closely orbiting stars, most likely two white dwarfs. The finding provides the first direct measurements capable of informing scientists of the cause of the blast.
Credits: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel

Space news (astrophysics: supernovae; 3 new candidates) – billions of light-years from Earth –

A team of determined astronomers studying the largest explosions viewed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time recently found three new candidates. Three candidates, they found after viewing 400 galaxies for two years using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Kepler’s unprecedented pre-event supernova observations and Swift’s agility in responding to supernova events have both produced important discoveries at the same time but at very different wavelengths,” says Paul Hertz, Director of Astrophysics for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Not only do we get insight into what triggers a Type Ia supernova, but these data allow us to better calibrate Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, and that has implications for our ability to eventually understand the mysteries of dark energy.”

In the data they collected over this two year period using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, this amazing team of explorers found three new and distant Type Ia supernovae, designated KSN 2011b, KSN 2011c, KSN 2012a. Due to the frequent observations of Kepler in the direction of the three distant supernovae, the data collected even contains the first moments of each tremendous blast. Measurements that will allow scientists to piece together the events leading to these events and the reasons for such a tremendous release of energy.

Astrophysicists believe Type Ia supernovae erupt with the same apparent brightness because in all cases the exploding body is a white dwarf star. It’s this property scientists use as a standard candle to more accurately measure the distance to objects around the cosmos than was previously possibly.

Astronomers use computer simulations to simulate the debris field of a Type Ia supernovae (brown) slamming into a companion star (blue) at tens of millions of miles per hour. Resulting ultraviolet light escapes as the supernova shell sweeps over the companion star, which is detected by the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Alert Telescope and other instruments. Credits: UC Berkeley, Daniel Kasen
Astronomers use computer simulations to simulate the debris field of a Type Ia supernovae (brown) slamming into a companion star (blue) at tens of millions of miles per hour. Resulting ultraviolet light escapes as the supernova shell sweeps over the companion star, which is detected by the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Alert Telescope and other instruments. Credits: UC Berkeley, Daniel Kasen

Astronomers also believe that every Type Ia supernovae are either the result of two white dwarf stars merging, or a white dwarf gathering so much material from a nearby companion star, it causes a thermonuclear reaction resulting in the white dwarf going supernova.

Our Kepler supernova discoveries strongly favor the white dwarf merger scenario, while the Swift study, led by Cao, proves that Type Ia supernovae can also arise from single white dwarfs,” said Robert Olling, a research associate at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study. “Just as many roads lead to Rome, nature may have several ways to explode white dwarf stars.”

In the case of KSN 2011b, KSN 2011c, and KSN 2012a, astronomers found no evidence to support the existence of material being taken from a companion star. This leads them to believe the cause in these cases is collision and merger between two closely orbiting white dwarf stars. 

Now, astronomers will use NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and other Earth and space-based telescopes to search for Type Ia supernovae among thousands of galaxies included in the study. This will allow them to determine the distance of stellar objects across the cosmos more accurately. It will also help them delve deeper into the mystery surrounding dark energy and its true nature. 

The search for supernovae continues

The Kepler spacecraft has delivered yet another surprise, playing an unexpected role in supernova science by providing the first well-sampled early time light curves of Type Ia supernovae,” said Steve Howell, Kepler project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “Now in its new mission as K2, the spacecraft will search for more supernovae among many thousands of galaxies.”

Learn more about supernovae here.

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Learn more about the search for the identity of dark energy here.

Learn more about the things astronomers are learning about the formation of new stars.

Read about plans of private firm Planetary Resources Inc. to mine an asteroid in the near future.

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Hubble Finds Youngest, Nearby Black Hole Candidate

Characteristics of 30-year old supernova remnant SN 1979C are consistent with predicted theory on birth of black hole or possibly a rapidly spinning neutron star

•If SN 1979C does indeed contain a black hole, it will give astronomers a chance to learn more about which stars make black holes and which create neutron stars. Image: NASA/Chandra
Far away in galaxy M100 we search for black holes. If SN 1979C does indeed contain a black hole, it will give astronomers a chance to learn more about which stars make black holes and which create neutron stars.
Image: NASA/Chandra

Space news (December 11, 2015) – 50 million light-years from Earth, in galaxy M100 –

One of the most enigmatic cosmic objects discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, black holes continue to entrance and mystify both astronomers studying them and common people trying to imagine the possibility of such monsters existing. Black holes are also one of the most difficult celestial objects to detect since not even light rays can escape from the strength of their gravitational-embrace, once they travel beyond the imaginary point-of-no-return astronomers call the “event horizon” of a black hole.

Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, after analysis of additional data provided by NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft, and German’s ROSAT Observatory, believe they have evidence to suggest 30-year old supernova remnant SN 1979C could be a black hole.

NASA and German ROSAT Observatory scans the x-ray sky.
The ROSAT Observatory scans the x-ray sky looking for supernovas that could have given birth to a black hole. Image: NASA.

Supernova remnant SN 1979C shined X-rays steadily during constant observation from 1995 to 2007. This suggests to astronomers either a black hole eating material left over from the supernova or a hidden binary companion feeding hot material to the monster hidden within 

“If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed,” said Daniel Patnaude of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. who led the study.

Astronomers have detected new black holes that existed during the ancient past through gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) associated with them. SN 1979C is listed in a class of supernovae not expected to produce GRBs, which theory predicts could be the most common way to make a black hole.   

This may be the first time the common way of making a black hole has been observed,” said co-author Abraham Loeb, also of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “However, it is very difficult to detect this type of black hole birth because decades of X-ray observations are needed to make the case.

The idea SN 1979C is a young, recently-formed black hole made from the remnants of a star with 20 times the mass of Sol, that went supernova some thirty Earth-years ago, is consistent with present theory. In 2005, a theory was put forth claiming the bright source of X-rays detected steaming from the supernova remnant is powered by a jet emanating from the monster that’s unable to penetrate the thick hydrogen envelope surrounding it.

Astronomers think there could be one other possibility for the identity of SN 1979C. It could be a rapidly spinning neutron star, with an extremely powerful wind of high energy particles. Present theory predicts this would produce the bright X-ray emissions detected during 12 years of constant observation. 

If this is true, this would make this supernova remnant the youngest known example of a celestial object called a pulsar wind nebula. The Crab Nebula is the best-known example of a bright pulsar wind nebula, but we would have to go back over 900 years to view it as a 30-year old. SN 1979C is a lot younger, which is a great opportunity to study one of the most enigmatic, yet difficult to detect celestial objects viewed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

It’s very rewarding to see how the commitment of some of the most advanced telescopes in space, like Chandra, can help complete the story,” said Jon Morse, head of the Astrophysics Division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Jon Morse is a pioneer, leader and hero of the human journey to the beginning of space and time
Jon Morse is a pioneer, leader and hero of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Image: Space.com.

Study continues

Astronomers will now continue to study SN 1979C, to see if they can determine its identity. No matter it’s true identity or nature, we can expect this celestial object to be one of the most studied examples of a young supernova remnant during recent times. 

You can learn more about black holes here.

Discover the journey of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory here.

Learn more about NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center here.

Learn about the mission of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics here.

Take NASA’s journey through space history here.

Learn about NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer here.

Take the journey of the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft here.

Discover German’s ROSAT Observatory here.

Learn about hydrocarbon dunes detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Saturn’s frozen moon Titan.

Read about the Monster of the Milky Way as it comes to life.

Learn how astronomers study a galactic nursery using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Just add water, gasses, and simple organic molecules 

Space news (July 27, 2015) – the search for life beyond Earth – a simple recipe for extraterrestrial life –

The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.
The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.

NASA scientists studying the origins of organic compounds important to the development of life on Earth think they’re on the trail of a cosmic “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life”. Recent experiments conducted by astrobiologists working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland indicate asteroids and meteorites could have been the source of complex organic compounds essential to the evolution of life on Earth. Essential organic compounds they have been able to reproduce in laboratory experiments from simpler organic compounds, water, and gasses in simulations of the space environments of meteorites and asteroids. 

“We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,” said Karen Smith of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.”

“This work is part of a broad research program in the field of Astrobiology at NASA Goddard. We are working to understand the origins of biologically important molecules and how they came to exist throughout the Solar System and on Earth. The experiments performed in our laboratory demonstrate an important possible connection between the complex organic molecules formed in cold interstellar space and those we find in meteorites.”

The Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Deep within immense clouds of gas and dust created by exploding stars (supernovae) and the winds of red giant stars coming to the end of their days are countless dust grains. Many of these dust grains will end up part of asteroids and meteorites like the millions of bodies in the Main Asteroid Belt, Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud. Asteroids and meteorites that bombarded the Earth from space during the formation of the planets and Solar System.

Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.
Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.

NASA space scientists were able to reproduce a “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life” using an aluminum plate cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 Celsius) as the cold surface of an interstellar dust grain carried by an asteroid or meteorite heading to Earth 4.5 billion years ago. The experiments were conducted in a vacuum chamber used to replicate conditions in space to which they added gasses containing water, carbon dioxide, and the simple organic compound pyridine. Bombarding the cold surface with high energy protons from a particle accelerator to simulate cosmic radiation and other radiation found in space produced more complex organic compounds like vitamin B3.  

Data collected by the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta's lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gases we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol. 
Data collected by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gasses we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol.

To learn more about the European Space Agency and its work with the Rosetta mission go here.

To learn more about NASA’s space mission and the search for life beyond Earth visit here.

Learn more about the Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Learn more about plans to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa to have a look for the ingredients that make life possible.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn about the planets space scientists are finding orbiting four star systems.