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)
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 –
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.
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.”
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.
Data shows at least one of two exoplanets studied orbits within the habitable zone of host red dwarf star in system TRAPPIST-1
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 –
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
Take the space voyage of NASA across the universe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can learn more about supermassive black holes here.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
Read the scientific paper released on the first identification of black hole seeds here.
Space news (lenticular galaxies) – 100 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major (The Great Bear) –
Thegalaxy seen here is NGC 5308, a typical lenticular galaxy swarmed by star clusters circling around itlike bees around a beehive. The Hubble Space Telescope image seen hereis edge-on in relation to the galaxy, which offers a great view of the halo formed by thedense collection of older starsorbiting this island universe.
Edge-on lenticular galaxies like NGC 5308 are S0 on the Hubble Tuning Fork classification system and are considereda transitional type betweenelliptical 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. Theyalso don’t have spiral arms alive with bright, young stars as observed in spiral galaxies. But arefound in some cases with a bar and in this case areclassified as a barred lenticular galaxy (SBO).
Twin iridescent jets of gas stream outward from a binary planetary nebula at over 1 million kilometers (621,400 miles) an hour.
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.
A bipolar nebulacomposed 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 starsfar too small to be seen by Hubble.
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.
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.
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.
Astronomy news (2013-12-22) – Galileo might have dreamed of unseen life forms existing in a watery soup under the icy surface of Europa when he first discovered Jupiter had moons on January 07, 1610. NASA astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope probably had similar thoughts when they recently saw images of what appears to be water geysers erupting from the south pole of Europa. The image above shows an artist’s conception of what astronomers and scientists believe is plumes of water vapour reaching over 100 miles into space from the south pole of Europa.
Are there life forms or maybe just organic material of some type existing on this watery moon? NASA astronomers, space scientists and interested people around the world are hoping this news will spur NASA officials and congress to provide them with the resources they need to fund the Europa Clipper (a NASA mission designed to travel to Europa to see if the conditions required for life exist).
“If there’s a geyser 200 kilometers tall, and you could fly a spacecraft through it and sample the water coming out from Europa, that would be phenomenal. What if there are organics in it? That’s getting to the question of ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ ” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s top official for space science. “A subsurface ocean at Europa potentially provides all conditions for microbial life — at least life we know,” says study lead author Lorenz Roth, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
Astronomers are currently taking a look at earlier data concerning Europa provided by the Voyager probes during the 1980s and Galileo spacecraft during the 1990s to see if they missed something. Astronomers and planetary scientists suspected back in the 1980s, when they first obtained the data from the Voyager probes, that Europa could have an ocean of water beneath its icy crust deeper and more massive than all of the oceans of Earth. The Galileo spacecraft also detected the magnetic signature of a subsurface ocean beneath the surface ice of Europa and brown regions on the ice planetary scientists think could be due to ice crystals containing possible organic material, formed from water vapor plumes like the ones recently viewed, being deposited on the surface of the moon.
Astronomers are also comparing this data to more recent information concerning Europa, they obtained last year through the repaired Hubble Space Telescope, to see if they can find the telltale signature of hydrogen and oxygen they’re looking for in the data. Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen and this signature will help astronomers and planetary scientists determine if plumes of water vapour are in fact coming from Europa’s southern hemisphere.
“As it hit the vacuum of space, the water would flash freeze and some of it would turn into water vapour. Those water molecules would be split into atomic hydrogen and oxygen in the harsh radiation environment of the Jupiter system. But it wouldn’t just be water in the plume: Whatever else was in that ocean would be squirted into space, too, said James Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division. For a planetary scientist, it’s huge,” Green said of the news.
The image above shows spikes in hydrogen and oxygen levels in two southern hemisphere regions on Europa’s surface that last for brief periods of about seven hours and coincide with the moon reaching its farthest point from Jupiter in its orbit. Astronomers and planetary scientists think current computer models suggest the images obtained through the Hubble Space Telescope could show plumes of water vapour over a hundred miles high streaming into space from the surface of Europa. It remains puzzling to astronomers and scientists why the water vapour plumes seem to coincide with Europa reaching its apocenter, since this is the moment when tidal forces on the moon are at a low point (Astronomers estimate these tidal forces can be over 1,000 times stronger than the tidal forces our own moon experiences due to Earth). Current ideas include the thought that maybe the surface cracks on Europa’s southern pole open once Jupiter’s gravity starts to lessen, allowing water vapour to squeeze out in jets reaching over a hundred miles into space.
Astronomers and planetary scientists at NASA suggest Europa’s plumes are probably like geysers they found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which also seem to appear when the moon reaches its apocenter. They’re excited about this discovery because Europa is only about half as far from Earth than Enceladus, which will allow the Hubble Space Telescope to have a closer look, this time. They hope to be able to use this fact to confirm the discovery of water on Europa and Enceladus and possibly get some quantitative data on the size, density, composition and timing of the plumes. Analysis of the composition of the plumes should also give them the data they need to model the interior of the moon, without having to land on the surface and drill holes.
The implications of the discovery of water on both Enceladus and Europa is stunning to contemplate for human beings, astronomers, and planetary scientists. We believe the human journey to the beginning of space and time should voyage to both of these moons in the future to determine if the ingredients for life exist on these distant bodies. We need to do this for science, mankind and future generations of humanity.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington operates STScI for NASA.
To view the images of the evidence for plumes visit:
Astronomy news (November 28, 2013) – The Hubble Space Telescope, along with the light magnifying ability of the effect called gravitational lensing, has provided the first views of the most distant galaxy seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The astronomers of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) recently discovered three gravity-lensed images of a galaxy that existed over 13.7 billions years ago taken using Hubble’s new panchromatic imaging capabilities. Designated MACS 0647-JD, this ancient star city is currently the most distant galaxy located to date using the Hubble Space Telescope and gravitational lensing.
The CLASH program
The astronomers of CLASH used the Hubble Space Telescope to look at 25 distant galaxy clusters during the period from November 2010 to July 2013. They were looking for light which had been magnified due to the effect known as gravitational lensing as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. They wanted to detect additional Type Ia supernovae, map the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters, detect the most distant galaxies ever and study the internal structure and evolution of the galaxies in and behind these clusters.
The three gravity-lensed images taken by Hubble are of a small galaxy, now designated MACS 0647-JD, which could have been one of the first galaxies to exist in the universe. Astronomers’ analysis of the images suggests this small galaxy was less than 600 light-years across, which may indicate it was in the first stages of galaxy formation. In fact, this smaller galaxy may have been just one building block in the construction of a larger galaxy, and during the past 13.7 billions years could have been part of dozens, hundreds and even thousands of merging events with other galaxies.
Astronomers look at other possibilities
The astronomers of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble recently used the ability of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to help rule out other possible identities of the three images they found. Next, astronomers will use the Spitzer Space Telescope, and other telescopes, to confirm the existence of the galaxy and try to get a better estimate of its age.