NASA”s ‘Disk Detective’ Invites You to Help Astronomers Classify Embryonic Planetary Systems

To determine which young planetary systems to study closer with the Hubble Space Telescope and in a few years time its successor the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) 

Herbig-Haro 30 is the prototype of a gas-rich young stellar object disk. The dark disk spans 40 billion miles in this image, cutting the bright nebula in two and blocking the central star from direct view. Volunteers can help astronomers find more disks like this through DiskDetective.org. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Burrows (STScI)
Herbig-Haro 30 is the prototype of a gas-rich young stellar object disk. The dark disk spans 40 billion miles in this image, cutting the bright nebula in two and blocking the central star from direct view. Volunteers can help astronomers find more disks like this through DiskDetective.org.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Burrows (STScI)

Space news (NASA crowdsourcing projects: Disk Detective.org; help discover new planetary nurseries) – scanning over 745 million stellar objects across the cosmos looking for new planet nurseries to study – 

The large disk of gas surrounding Fomalhaut is clearly visible in this image. It is not centred on Fomalhaut quite as predicted, hinting that the gravity of another body – perhaps a planet – is pulling it out of shape.
Debris disks, such as this one around the bright star Fomalhaut, tend to be older than 5 million years, possess little or no gas, and contain belts of rocky or icy debris that resemble the asteroid and Kuiper belts found in our own solar system. The radial streaks are scattered starlight. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/UC Berkeley/Goddard/LLNL/JPL
NASA invites all peoples to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by helping astronomers discover new planetary systems by joining their largest crowd-sourcing project to date Disk Detective. Volunteers view brief animations of stellar objects called flip books and then classify each object based on simple criteria. This simple classification system helps astronomers determine which objects, from around 500,000, they need to have a closer look at to see if it might be a planetary nursery.  

“Through Disk Detective, volunteers will help the astronomical community discover new planetary nurseries that will become future targets for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope,” said James Garvin, the chief scientist for NASA Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate. 

Projected to launch in 2018, JWST is an infrared telescope that will observe the early universe, between one million and a few billion years in age. Credit: NASA
Projected to launch in 2018, JWST is an infrared telescope that will observe the early universe, between one million and a few billion years in age.
Credit: NASA

The objects volunteers help classify were originally narrowed down from around 345 million initially identified by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) during a survey of the entire sky between 2010 and 2011. Astronomers used computers to search through WISE data to find the objects volunteers classify through this citizen science initiative to identify more planetary nurseries for astronomers to study. 

“Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains that surround young stars, but many details about the process still elude us,” said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We need more examples of planet-forming habitats to better understand how planets grow and mature.”

DiskDetective with P.I. Marc Kuchner, and James Garvin, Goddard Chief Scientist, NASA/GSFC
DiskDetective with P.I. Marc Kuchner, and James Garvin, Goddard Chief Scientist, NASA/GSFC Marc Kuchner, the principal investigator for DiskDetective.org (left) and James Garvin, the chief scientist for NASA Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate, discuss the crowdsourcing project in front of the hyperwall at Goddard’s Sciece Visualization Lab. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Friedlander

Join today!

NASA needs your help. You can check out DiskDetective.org to get a better idea of the requirements of taking part in this citizen science initiative. The interface used is relatively user-friendly, but the instructions were excellent, so you shouldn’t have any trouble. Just follow the instructions provided. This is your chance to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

“Disk Detective’s simple and engaging interface allows volunteers from all over the world to participate in cutting-edge astronomy research that wouldn’t even be possible without their efforts,” said Laura Whyte, director of citizen science at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Ill., a founding partner of the Zooniverse collaboration. 

Read about NASA’s recent selection of five American aerospace firms to study Mars orbiter concepts.

Learn more about NASA’s selection of seven American university teams to design and engineer space habitat prototypes.

Read and learn more about NASA’s selection of eight teams of ambitious young university students to design space habitats for colonizers heading to Mars.

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Initial Atmospheric Study of Two Earth-Sized Exoplanets

Data shows at least one of two exoplanets studied orbits within the habitable zone of host red dwarf star in system TRAPPIST-1

This illustration shows two Earth-sized worlds passing in front of their parent red dwarf star, which is much smaller and cooler than our sun. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. de Wit (MIT)/G. Bacon (STScI)
This illustration shows two Earth-sized worlds passing in front of their parent red dwarf star, which is much smaller and cooler than our sun. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. de Wit (MIT)/G. Bacon (STScI)

Space news (the search for Earth 2.0: the first atmospheric study of Earth-sized exoplanets; TRAPPIST-1 system) – searching for possible atmospheres surrounding exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c 40 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius – 

This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the Solar System. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star. In this view one of the inner planets is seen in transit across the disc of its tiny and dim parent star.
This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the Solar System. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star. In this view one of the inner planets is seen in transit across the disc of its tiny and dim parent star.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for suitable exoplanets to act as a cradle for a new human genesis recently sampled the atmospheres of two exoplanets orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. They used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to observe TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c in near-infrared wavelengths to look for signs of an atmosphere. They discovered these two exoplanets probably don’t have the fluffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres found around larger, gaseous exoplanets.  

This chart shows the naked eye stars visible on a clear dark night in the sprawling constellation of Aquarius (The Water Carrier). The position of the faint and very red ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is marked. Although it is relatively close to the Sun it is very faint and not visible in small telescopes.
This chart shows the naked eye stars visible on a clear dark night in the sprawling constellation of Aquarius (The Water Carrier). The position of the faint and very red ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is marked. Although it is relatively close to the Sun it is very faint and not visible in small telescopes.

The image seen at the top of the page is an artist’s portrayal of TRAPPIST-1b and 1c, two Earth-sized exoplanets shown passing in front of their host red dwarf star. Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to look for hints of atmospheres surrounding these distant worlds and detected signs increasing the chances of habitability.  

This picture shows the Sun and the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 to scale. The faint star has only 11% of the diameter of the sun and is much redder in colour.
This picture shows the Sun and the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 to scale. The faint star has only 11% of the diameter of the sun and is much redder in color. Credit: ESO

“The lack of a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope increases the chances for habitability on these planets,” said team member Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. “If they had a significant hydrogen-helium envelope, there is no chance that either one of them could potentially support life because the dense atmosphere would act like a greenhouse.” 

Dr. Lewis is an expert in the area of exoplanet atmospheric characterization. Her work focuses on the interplay of dynamical, radiative, and chemical processes (including cloud formation) in exoplanet atmospheres. She has successfully bridged the gap between theory and observation through her pioneering work with Spitzer Space Telescope exoplanet observations and the development of general circulation models for a number of giant exoplanets. Dr. Lewis' work at the Space Telescope Science Institute focuses on enabling transiting exoplanet observations with the James Webb Space Telescope
Dr. Lewis is an expert in the area of exoplanet atmospheric characterization. Her work focuses on the interplay of dynamical, radiative, and chemical processes (including cloud formation) in exoplanet atmospheres. She has successfully bridged the gap between theory and observation through her pioneering work with Spitzer Space Telescope exoplanet observations and the development of general circulation models for a number of giant exoplanets. Dr. Lewis’ work at the Space Telescope Science Institute focuses on enabling transiting exoplanet observations with the James Webb Space Telescope

Julien de Wit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a team of astronomers used spectroscopy to decipher the light, revealing clues to the chemical composition of an atmosphere surrounding these candidates. By taking advantage of a rare double-transit of both exoplanets across the face of their host star, they collected starlight passing through any gas envelope surrounding these exoplanets. This event only occurs every two years, but it allowed for a simultaneous measurement of atmospheric characteristics. The exact composition’s still a mystery at this point, further observations are required to determine more clues. This is an exciting and promising start. 

This artist’s impression shows an imagined view of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and may be the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the Solar System. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star. In this view one of the inner planets is seen in transit across the disc of its tiny and dim parent star.
This artist’s impression shows an imagined view of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and may be the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the Solar System. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star. In this view one of the inner planets is seen in transit across the disc of its tiny and dim parent star.

“These initial Hubble observations are a promising first step in learning more about these nearby worlds, whether they could be rocky like Earth, and whether they could sustain life,” says Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is an exciting time for NASA and exoplanet research.” 

Mr. Geoffrey L. Yoder is currently the acting Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.
Mr. Geoffrey L. Yoder is currently the acting Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.

Estimates put the age of the host red dwarf star at around 500 million years, which is young for a star with a potential lifespan of trillions of years. Red dwarf stars burn a lot cooler, but completely consume their supply of hydrogen, unlike more massive types of stars. The most common star in the cosmos, astronomers think 20 out of 30 near-Earth suns could be red dwarfs. The numbers indicate searching nearby red dwarfs for an exoplanet with the right ingredients for habitability is a good place to begin our search. 

Dr. Susan Lederer stands next to the UKIRT Telescope located on Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai’i, which was used to confirm the existence of the newly discovered exoplanets and constrain their orbital periods. Says Lederer, "For such a small, cool, star giving off so much of its light in the infrared, the UKIRT telescope, designed solely for infrared observations, was ideally suited for confirming the existence of these Earth-sized planets.”
Dr. Susan Lederer stands next to the UKIRT Telescope located on Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai’i, which was used to confirm the existence of the newly discovered exoplanets and constrain their orbital periods. Says Lederer, “For such a small, cool, star giving off so much of its light in the infrared, the UKIRT telescope, designed solely for infrared observations, was ideally suited for confirming the existence of these Earth-sized planets.”

The team and other astronomers plan on making follow-up measurements of these two exoplanets using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and other assets to look for thinner gas layers containing heavier atoms than hydrogen as in Earth’s atmosphere.  

“With more data, we could perhaps detect methane or see water features in the atmospheres, which would give us estimates of the depth of the atmospheres,” said Hannah Wakeford, the paper’s second author, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

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Hannah Wakeford. Credits: Linked

Toward the future

In the years ahead, using assets like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers should be able to determine the exact composition of any atmospheres surrounding these exoplanets and others. Finding the signatures of water vapor and methane, or even carbon dioxide and ozone is a significant step toward possible habitability for lifeforms. The power of Webb should also allow planetary scientists to measure the surface and atmospheric temperature and pressure of each exoplanet. Both key factors to determining if these exoplanets orbiting red dwarf TRAPPIST-1 are possible cradles for the genesis of life. 

“Thanks to several giant telescopes currently under construction, including ESO’s E-ELT and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope due to launch for 2018, we will soon be able to study the atmospheric composition of these planets and to explore them first for water, then for traces of biological activity. That’s a giant step in the search for life in the Universe,” says Julien de Wit. 

Julien De Witt: Credits: Linked
Julien De Witt: Credits: Linked

“These Earth-sized planets are the first worlds that astronomers can study in detail with current and planned telescopes to determine whether they are suitable for life,” said de Wit. “Hubble has the facility to play the central atmospheric pre-screening role to tell astronomers which of these Earth-sized planets are prime candidates for more detailed study with the Webb telescope.” 

Read about a recent discovery about supermassive black holes changing current theories.

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Read the official study here.

Check out NASA’s interactive exploration of the Exoplanet Zoo.

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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. 

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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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Looming Cosmic Clouds Crisscross Giant Elliptical Galaxy Centaurus A

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Revealing the youthful glow of blue star clusters and a dusty core hidden from view 

Space news (astrophysics: giant elliptical galaxies; Centaurus A) – 11 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Centaurus (NGC 5128) –  

The closest galaxy to Earth with an active nucleus containing a supermassive black hole that ejects jets of high-speed, extremely energetic particles into space, the giant elliptical island universe Centaurus A’s (NGC 5128) a nearby laboratory in which astronomers test present theories.  

The stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of Centaurus A (above) reveals a scene resembling cosmic clouds on a stormy day. Dark lanes of gas and dust crisscross its warped disk, revealing the youthful glow of blue star clusters, and red patches indicating shockwaves from a recent merger with a spiral galaxy. Shockwaves that cause hydrogen gas clouds to contract, starting the process of new star formation. 

cena_comp

The startling composite image of Centaurus A above combines X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra Observatory, optical data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array. The core of NGC 5128 is a mess of gas, dust, and stars in visible light, but X-rays and radio waves reveal a stunning jet of high-speed, extremely energetic particles emanating from its active nucleus. 

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Elliptical galaxy Centaurus A is a peculiar galaxy with unusual and chaotic lanes of dust running across its center making it hard for astronomers to study its core. Also called NGC 5128, Centaurus A has red stars and a round shape characteristic of a giant elliptical galaxy, a type normally low in dark dust lanes. Image Credit & Copyright: Roberto Colombari

What could power such an event?

The power source for the relativistic jets observed streaming from the active galactic nucleus of Centaurus A’s a supermassive black hole with the estimated mass of over 10 million suns. Beaming out from the galactic nucleus toward the upper left, the high-speed jet travels nearly 13,000 light-years, while a shorter jet shoots from the core in the opposing direction. Astronomers think the source of the chaos in active galaxy Centaurus A’s the noted collision with a spiral galaxy about 100 million years ago. 

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Thick lanes of dust obscure the center of Elliptical Galaxy Centaurus A from CFHT Credit & Copyright: Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT) & Giovanni Anselmi (Coelum Astronomia), Hawaiian Starlight 

The amazing high-energy, extremely-fast, 30,000 light-year-long particle jet is the most striking feature in the false-color X-ray image taken by the Chandra Observatory. Beaming upward toward the left corner of the image, the relativistic jet seems to blast from the core of Centaurus A. A core containing an active, monster black hole pulling nearby matter into the center of its gravity well. An unknown realm mankind dreams about visiting one day. 

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This image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows in unprecedented detail the galaxy Centaurus A’s last big meal: a spiral galaxy seemingly twisted into a parallelogram-shaped structure of dust. Spitzer’s ability to see dust and also see through it allowed the telescope to peer into the center of Centaurus A and capture this galactic remnant as never before. Credit: NASA/Spitzer

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Journey across the cosmos on a runaway supermassive star streaking out of 30 Doradus, the Tarantula Nebula.

Read about and witness the spectacular shockwave of a supernova in visible light for the first time.

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New Evidence Suggests Some Early Supermassive Black Holes Formed During the Direct Collapse of a Gas Cloud

 

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Combined data from Spitzer, Hubble and the Chandra X-ray Observatory were used to create this illustration of the direct collapse of a gas cloud into a supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA/Chandra/Spitzer/Hubble/ESA.

The seed out of which some of these mysterious, lurking monsters were born

Space news (astrophysics: black hole formation: early black holes) – supermassive black holes scattered around the observable universe – 

Astronomers believe and data suggests at the center of nearly all large galaxies, including the Milky Way, lurks a supermassive black hole with millions and even billions of times the mass of our sun. Gigantic black holes that in some cases formed less than a billion years after the birth of the cosmos. For the first time, they have uncovered evidence suggesting some of these early supermassive black holes formed directly during the collapse of a giant gas cloud. A finding making astronomers rethink current theories on the formation of these enigmatic, invisible monsters.

 

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This illustration shows a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy far, far away. Light skimming past the event horizon (black area) is stretched and distorted like light hitting a fun house mirror.Credits: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI)

“Our discovery, if confirmed, explains how these monster black holes were born,” said Fabio Pacucci of Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS) in Pisa, Italy, who led the study. “We found evidence that supermassive black hole seeds can form directly from the collapse of a giant gas cloud, skipping any intermediate steps.”

 

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This Hubble Space Telescope’s spectrograph image shows a zig-zag pattern representing rapidly rotating gas (880, 000 mph) within 26 light-years of the supermassive black hole at the core of galaxy M84. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble.

Intermediate steps like the formation of a supermassive star and its subsequent destruction during a supernova. Evidence to date suggests black holes are formed during this process and then supermassive black holes are produced by mergers between black holes. But this new finding suggests things get a little weirder than first thought. Maybe things are weirder than we could ever imagine. It could be the first supermassive black holes seeds were intermediate mass black holes, monsters in the 20,000 solar mass range. Watch this YouTube video on black hole formation.

 

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Within the inset region in this composite Hubble and Chandra X-ray image is shown the Monster of the Milky Way -Sagittarius A- A 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole astronomers believe lurks at the core of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster. Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra/Hubble.

Imagine the volume of a gas cloud capable of contracting directly into an object tens times, or more, the mass of Sol. Black hole seeds built up by drawing in cold gas and dust appear to have formed within the first billion years of the cosmos. Maybe once they confirm the existence of the two black hole seeds they think they detected. They can try to get some data on the mass of these early black hole seeds. At the moment, no mass data is available. Watch this YouTube video on black hole seeds.

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This artist’s conception of an estimated 20 million solar mass supermassive black hole at the core of one of the smallest, densest galaxies ever discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

The forming of a supermassive black hole directly from the collapse of a massive cloud of gas seems even weirder than the observed formation process for supermassive black holes. But we’re not in Kansas anymore, so anything could theoretically be possible. I am certain, things are even weirder than we can imagine.

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This artist’s conception of two supermassive holes entwined in a death spiral destined to end in the birth of a bigger version of the two monsters is called WISE J233237.05-505643.5. At 3.8 billion light-years this is one of the most distant suspected supermassive black holes binary systems detected. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI.

“There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take,” said co-author Andrea Ferrara, also of SNS. “Our work suggests we are narrowing in on an answer, where the black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate.”

A black hole located in the middle of the spiral galaxy NGC 4178
The inset image in this Chandra X-ray Observatory image of spiral galaxy NGC 4178 shows an X-ray source at the location of a suspected 200,000 solar mass supermassive black hole. This monster is one of the lowest mass supermassive black holes ever detected at the core of a galaxy. Astronomers are studying this supermassive black hole closely since its also located in a galaxy not expected to host such a monster. All of the data collected seems to indicate a slightly different origin, which makes astronomers a little curious. Drredit: NASA/ESA/ Chandra/.

The team used computer models of the formation of black hole seeds combined with new techniques and methods to identify two possible candidates for early supermassive black holes in long-exposure Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer images. The data collected on these two candidates matches the theoretical profile expected and estimates of their age suggest they formed when the cosmos was less than a billion years old. But more study is needed to verify the data and existence of these theoretical early black hole seeds.

 

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Astronomers recently detected the Monster of the Milky Way -Sagittarius A- snacking on material passing too close, possibly an asteroid. The resulting X-ray flares detected in September 2013 were the largest ever recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, so far. Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

“Black hole seeds are extremely hard to find and confirming their detection is very difficult,” said Andrea Grazian, a co-author from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy. “However, we think our research has uncovered the two best candidates to date.”

 

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Astronomers combined X-ray data from Chandra with microwave and visible images to reveal jets and radio-emitting lobes emanating from the 55 million solar mass central supermassive black hole in galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128). Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

What’s next?

The team plans additional observations to see if these two candidates have other properties of black hole seeds as computer simulations predict. Real evidence to prove or disprove their early supermassive black hole formation theory might have to wait for a few years. Until the James Webb Space Telescope, European Extremely Large Telescope and other assets come online. The team and other astronomers are currently designing the theoretical framework needed to interpret future data and pinpoint the existence of some of the first supermassive black holes ever to exist. Watch this YouTube video on the jet of Centaurus A.

 

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This optical/radio composite image shows the vast radio-emitting lobes of Centaurus A in orange extending nearly a million light-years from the galaxy. The image of the right here shows the inner 4.16 light-years of the jet and counter-jet of this estimated 55 million solar mass monster. Credit: NASA.

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Learn more about two dancing, merging supermassive black holes astronomers are watching closely.

Ancient Star Clusters Often Swarm Around Lenticular Galaxies

Like bees around a cosmic beehive

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Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Space news (lenticular galaxies) – 100 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major (The Great Bear) –

The galaxy seen here is NGC 5308, a typical lenticular galaxy swarmed by star clusters circling around it like bees around a beehive. The Hubble Space Telescope image seen here is edge-on in relation to the galaxy, which offers a great view of the halo formed by the dense collection of older stars orbiting this island universe. 

Edge-on lenticular galaxies like NGC 5308 are S0 on the Hubble Tuning Fork classification system and are considered a transitional type between elliptical and spiral galaxies. But scientists are still trying to figure out the right formation theory for this type of galaxy. We’ll talk more about the current lenticular galaxy formation theory in a later article.

Also known as LEDA 48860 and UGC 8722, galaxies like this island universe are often referred to as armless spiral galaxies by astronomers. They usually have no obvious structure in their disks and are composed primarily of older, red stars. Lenticular galaxies like NGC 5308 often also appear more like elliptical galaxies than spirals, but usually have more dust.

Lenticular galaxies can often be mistaken for EO type galaxies if their central bulge isn’t very bright. They also don’t have spiral arms alive with bright, young stars as observed in spiral galaxies. But are found in some cases with a bar and in this case are classified as a barred lenticular galaxy (SBO).

Learn more about lenticular galaxies.

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Read about the Red Rectangle, a very unusual celestial object.

Discover one of the biggest, most massive stars in the galaxy.

Read about astronomers viewing a new galaxy forming.

The Twin Jet Nebula Flies on the Wings of a Cosmic Butterfly

Twin iridescent jets of gas stream outward from a binary planetary nebula at over 1 million kilometers (621,400 miles) an hour.

 Seemingly flapping cosmic wings of gas, the Butterfly Nebula has only been flying across the constellation Ophiuchus for around 1,200 years. A binary star system with suns in the final days of their life cycles, astronomers are currently studying this unusual celestial object in hopes of understanding the processes creating such stunning beauty.

Seemingly flapping cosmic wings of gas, the Butterfly Nebula has only been flying across the constellation Ophiuchus for around 1,200 years. A binary star system with suns in the final days of their life cycles, astronomers are currently studying this unusual celestial object in hopes of understanding the processes creating such stunning beauty.

Space news (September 24, 2015) –

First recorded flying across the constellation Ophiuchus – about 2,100 light-years from Earth – by Rudolph Minkowski in 1947, the Twin Jet Nebula (PN M2-9), or Wings of a Butterfly Nebula, is a remarkably complex and stunningly beautiful 1,200-year-old bipolar planetary nebula.

Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski 28 May 1895 1961 Bruce Medalist 4 January 1976
Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski
28 May 1895 1961 Bruce Medalist 4 January 1976 Image credit: phys-astro.sonoma.edu

A bipolar nebula composed of an average star between 1 to 1.4 solar masses nearing the end of its life cycle and a smaller white dwarf between 0.6 to 1.0 solar masses that orbit a common center of mass. The Twin Jet Nebula gets its name from the shape of its two lobes, which look like butterfly wings to many viewers. 

Astrophysicists think the shape of the wings (lobes) is mainly due to the unusual motion of the larger star and white dwarf around their common center of mass. Orbiting each other in around 100 years, the smaller white dwarf is thought to have stripped gas away from its larger companion star, which then formed an expanding ring of material around the stars far too small to be seen by Hubble.

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This disk of material was then stretched into the shape of two lobes resembling two butterfly wings, rather than a uniform sphere, due to the unusual motion of the two stars around their center of mass. The faint patches of blue within the wings, starting near the binary star system and extending outward horizontally, are twin jets of gas streaming outward at over 1 million kilometers an hour. These jets slowly change their orientation, precessing across the lobes (wings) as the two stars orbit each other.

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Astronomers have noted a west to east, left to right, the precession of the Butterfly Nebula. Credit: NASA/Hubble

Astrophysicists are now taking a closer look at the Twin Jet Nebula, and other bipolar nebulae, to try to determine if such systems always contain two stars orbiting a common center of mass. Currently, astronomers are discussing this possibility, and other scenarios possibly leading to the birth and growth of similar celestial objects and other phenomena.

Hubble Sees Supersonic Exhaust From Nebula

Two astronomers working with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the ESO’s New Technology Telescope also recently conducted a study of 130 planetary nebulae. Dr. Brian Rees and Dr. Albert Zijlstra of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom found the long axis of many bipolar planetary nebulae studied all line up along the plane of the Milky Way. This alignment could have something to do with the magnetic field of the bulge at the center of our galaxy they think. You can read the abstract here.

You can learn more about bipolar nebulae here.

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Read about some of the discoveries made during NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recent visit to Pluto and its system of moons.

Learn more about main sequence suns like our Sol.

Learn how ancient Peruvian astronomers thousands of years ago devised a system to mark the rising and falling off the Sun.