Astronomy Photo of the Day — MS0735.6+7421

Meet MS0735.6+7421: a galaxy cluster located at a distance of 2.6 billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Camelopardalis. Like all clusters, MS0735.6+7421 (we’ll call it MS0735 for short) is a loose collection of galaxies that are held together by the force of gravity.

via Astronomy Photo of the Day — MS0735.6+7421.

Giant Galaxies Die from the Inside Out | ESO

Astronomers have shown for the first time how star formation in “dead” galaxies sputtered out billions of years ago. ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have revealed that three billion years after the Big Bang, these galaxies still made stars on their outskirts, but no longer in their interiors. The quenching of star formation seems to have started in the cores of the galaxies and then spread to the outer parts. The results will be published in the 17 April 2015 issue of the journal Science.

via Giant Galaxies Die from the Inside Out | ESO.

Did Astronomers Find the Oldest Spiral Galaxy in the Cosmos?

In July of 2012, astronomers observed a spiral galaxy in the early universe, billions of years before many other spiral galaxies formed while using the Hubble Space Telescope. They were taking pictures of about 300 very distant galaxies in the early universe to study their properties. This distant object existed roughly three billion years after the Big Bang, and light from this part of the universe has been traveling to Earth for about 10.7 billion years.

“The fact that this galaxy exists is astounding,” said David Law, lead author of the study a fellow at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Current wisdom holds that such ‘grand-design’ spiral galaxies simply didn’t exist at such an early time in the history of the universe.” A ‘grand design’ galaxy has prominent, well-formed spiral arms.

“As you go back in time to the early universe, galaxies look really strange, clumpy and irregular, not symmetric,” said Alice Shapley, a UCLA associate professor of physics and astronomy, and co-author of the study. “The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks. Our first thought was, why is this one so different, and so beautiful?”

via Did Astronomers Find the Oldest Spiral Galaxy in the Cosmos?.

Powerful Black-Hole ‘Microquasar’ Found

“By studying microquasars such as MQ1, we get a glimpse of how the early universe evolved, how fast quasars grew and how much energy black holes provided to their environment.”As a comparison, the most powerful microquasar in our galaxy, known as SS433, is about 10 times less powerful than MQ1.” A team of Australian and American astronomers have been studying nearby galaxy M83 and have found this new superpowered small black hole, MQ1, the first object of its kind to be studied in this much detail.

Astronomers have found a few compact objects that are as powerful as MQ1, but have not been able to work out the size of the black hole contained within them until now. The team observed the MQ1 system with multiple telescopes and discovered that it is a standard-sized small black hole, rather than a slightly bigger version that was theorised to account for all its power.

Curtin University senior research fellow Dr Roberto Soria, who is part of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and led the team investigating MQ1, said it was important to understand how stars were formed, how they evolved and how they died, within a spiral shaped galaxy like M83.

via Powerful Black-Hole ‘Microquasar’ Found.

Alien Planet Kepler 78b –A Mystery World that Baffles Astronomers

Alien Planet Kepler-78b \”is a complete mystery,\” says astronomer David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics CfA. \”We dont know how it formed or how it got to where it is today. What we do know is that its not going to last forever.\”Kepler-78b is a planet that shouldnt exist. This scorching lava world circles its star every eight and a half hours at a distance of less than one million miles – one of the tightest known orbits. According to current theories of planet formation, it couldnt have formed so close to its star, nor could it have moved there.\”Kepler-78b is going to end up in the star very soon, astronomically speaking,\” agrees CfA astronomer Dimitar Sasselov. \”It couldnt have formed in place because you cant form a planet inside a star. It couldnt have formed further out and migrated inward, because it would have migrated all the way into the star. This planet is an enigma,\” explains Sasselov.Not only is Kepler-78b a mystery world, it is the first known Earth-sized planet with an Earth-like density. Kepler-78b is about 20 percent larger than the Earth, with a diameter of 9,200 miles, and weighs almost twice as much. As a result it has a density similar to Earths, which suggests an Earth-like composition of iron and rock. The tight orbit of Kepler-78b poses a challenge to theorists. When this planetary system was forming, the young star was larger than it is now. As a result, the current orbit of Kepler-78b would have been inside the swollen star.

via Alien Planet Kepler 78b –A Mystery World that Baffles Astronomers.

The Most Distant Galaxy in the Observable Universe Discovered –30 Billion Light Years from the Milky Way!

The image above from the Hubble Space Telescope CANDELS survey, highlights the most distant galaxy in the universe with a measured distance, dubbed z8_GND_5296. The most distant spectroscopically confirmed galaxy ever found — one created at about 700 million years after the Big Bang — has been detected by astronomers at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.

The researchers suspect they may have zeroed in on the era when the universe made its transition from an opaque state in which most of the hydrogen is neutral to a translucent state in which most of the hydrogen is ionized. So it’s not necessarily that the distant galaxies aren’t there. It could be that they’re hidden from detection behind a wall of neutral hydrogen fog, which blocks the hydrogen emission signal.

The astronomers note that this is one of two major changes in the fundamental essence of the universe since its beginning — the other being a transition from a plasma state to a neutral state. He is leading the effort on a follow-up paper that will use a sophisticated statistical analysis to explore that transition further.

“Everything seems to have changed since then,” said Vithal Tilvi, a Texas A&M postdoctoral research associate and co-author of the paper now available online.“If it was neutral everywhere today, the night sky that we see wouldn’t be as beautiful. What I’m working on is studying exactly why and exactly where this happened. Was this transition sudden, or was it gradual?”

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, creates about one or two Sun-like stars every year or so. But this newly discovered galaxy forms around 300 a year. It was observed by the researchers as it was 13 billion years ago. Because the universe has been expanding the whole time, the researchers estimate the galaxy’s present distance to be roughly 30 billion light years away. The detected emission line at a wavelength of 1.0343 micrometres is likely to be Lyman α emission, placing this galaxy at a redshift z = 7.51, an epoch 700 million years after the Big Bang.

via The Most Distant Galaxy in the Observable Universe Discovered –30 Billion Light Years from the Milky Way!.

“Other Universes are Pulling on Our Universe” — New Planck Data Triggers Controversy Todays Most Popular

Is our universe merely one of billions? Evidence of the existence of multiverse revealed for the first time by a cosmic map of background radiation data gathered by Planck telescope. The first hard evidence that other universes exist has been claimed to have been found by cosmologists studying new Planck data released this past June. They have concluded that it shows anomalies that can only have been caused by the gravitational pull of other universes.\”Such ideas may sound wacky now, just like the Big Bang theory did three generations ago,\” says George Efstathiou, professor of astrophysics at Cambridge University.\”But then we got evidence and now it has changed the whole way we think about the universe.\”Scientists had predicted that it should be evenly distributed, but the map shows a stronger concentration in the south half of the sky and a cold spot that cannot be explained by current understanding of physics. Laura Mersini-Houghton, theoretical physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Richard Holman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, predicted that anomalies in radiation existed and were caused by the pull from other universes in 2005. Mersini-Houghton will be in Britain soon promoting this theory and, we expect, the hard evidence at the Hay Festival on May 31 and at Oxford on June 11.

via “Other Universes are Pulling on Our Universe” — New Planck Data Triggers Controversy Todays Most Popular.

Double Star Adventure

Since I bought my go-to Skywatcher-102 in April (which is brilliant by the way) I have been having issues with actually getting a really good alignment during the set up process. This was purely down to the issue of having to guess where the centre of the eyepiece was.

I was out with the Well’s & Mendip Astronomers last Friday and my friend Hugh was using an illuminated cross-hair eyepiece to get his Mead perfectly centred. Why had I not thought about this?! So, out I went to the local telescope shop (MC2 in Frome) and acquired myself one. Boy did this make things much easier! Giving 2 red cross-hairs within which you can get a perfectly centred object, and therefore a great alignment. So after I had completed the alignment protocol I decided to have a look at some double stars.

As I am not familiar with double stars, I decided to use the feature in the go-to handset, and started working my way down the list.

ALMACH was my first port of call. Situated at 056°00′ +29°05′ it was in fairly good position, rising just above the end of my garden. Located in the constellation of Andromeda Almach is actually a quadruple star system located some 350 light years from Earth. However, only a double star can be resolved through a small telescope. I was viewing at 86x magnification.

Almach(Image from http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~fringwal/bright-gallery.html)

The second object of the night was ALBIREO located at 188°07′ +66°37′ in the constellation of Cygnus and located approximately 430 light years from Earth. This was one that was recommended to me as a great double star, and it did not fail to impress. The pair are another great example of colour, where one is a very bright blue and the other yellow. A very nice contrast between the pair.

NewAlbireo(Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/NewAlbireo.jpg)

Targets number three and four were DABIH & ηCASS. Target number five was Mizar in the constellation Ursa Major. Located at 314°34′ +36°38′ At a distance of 82 light years, they are relatively close, in astronomical terms. They are by far my favorite double stars so far. They have a very clear bright blue colour even in the fairly light polluted surroundings of my house. Both Mizar and Alcor its companion are spectral type A.Mizar

(Image from http://astropixels.com/stars/Mizar-01.html)

The last two objects on my double star viewing adventure for that night was Polaris (yes, a double star, though the companion was very faint, it was still visible) and Rasalgthi in the constellation of Hercules. This view was very interesting, as both stars were clearly red. Its always nice to be able to see colour, and from that we can determine so many physical parameters of the star.

ras-alg(Image from http://www.oneminuteastronomer.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/ras-alg.jpg)

By this time, the mist was starting to roll in, and the temperature was rapidly dropping. So I decided to push the scope, and try and view the ice giants Neptune and Uranus. I had written in the last two editions of the OAS Magazine (http://en.calameo.com/read/001319831ab434b818f09) about where to find Neptune and Uranus, so decided to use the go-to and see what I could see.

Once the scope had finished slewing, I peered into the eyepiece. There it was, Neptune. A tiny blue disc set against a backdrop of stars. It was exceptionally small, but clearly disc shaped. I was now viewing at 130x magnification. Next stop, Uranus. Waited for the beep, and took a look. There it was. A yellowing tiny disc. The rings were not visible, but it could clearly be differentiated from the stars behind. This was the first time I had ever seen any of the ice giants through my own kit. A very impressive way to finish a successful but brief viewing session.

Cooperation is the key!

I was reading my latest copy of Nature, and in it, there is an article on ESO’s VLT.  This revolutionary land based telescope will have a mirror that is 38 meters in diameter. It is an unprecedented piece of equipment. Or at least it would be, if it were under construction.

The article reads that Brazil had signed an agreement with ESO as the first non European country to be involved in the group. Its contribution (some 1.1 billion euros) would allow for the construction of the telescope, high in the Atacama desert. Some of the best possible skies that can be achieved on Earth. The project has now stalled, because Brazil now feels that its contribution (the same figure as the UK and France) is too high, as they have less astronomers than those countries. They should either pay less, or have more telescope time.

Where I agree that perhaps a financial reduction could be considered by ESO due to Brazil’s lesser number of astronomers, I think that Brazil is being very short sighted here. Perhaps they should consider that people might be interested in becoming astronomers if they knew there was such a wonderful scope right on the door step.

I feel that the astronomy community has become far too revolved around rivalry and competition, and forgotten how to work together. We are one race, one people on one planet in a universe of billions. The only way humanity will progress, is if we learn to work together. Especially in the field of astronomy. Why bother constructing larger and larger solo scopes, collaborate. Work together. Many hands, many eyes. Scientists from all over the world, working as one unit. To advance science. To advance knowledge.

Money will only last as long as it lasts, knowledge will last forever!

ESO's VLT

The Nature article & Image – http://www.nature.com/news/brazil-delays-stargazing-pact-1.13670

Brown dwarfs: From zeroes to astronomical heroes.

“The most unloved, drab objects in all of space are fast becoming the new cosmic “it” objects, providing insights into exoplanets and a lot more besides

AS IF space wasn’t lonely enough, pity the brown dwarf. Compared with their stellar siblings, these astronomical objects are something of a failure. And while they have much in common with planets, they don’t seem to fit in there either.

This awkward status as cosmic in-betweener means brown dwarfs are often overshadowed by their flashier counterparts, such as alien worlds or fiery supernovae. Yet not fitting in is precisely what makes brown dwarfs far more interesting and useful than we once thought.

As new evidence of these celestial outcasts emerges, they are challenging our ideas about the differences between planets and stars. Some have weather unlike anything seen before, from molten iron falling as rain to silicate snow. And the traits they share with exoplanets means that we can learn things that telescopes pointed at alien worlds cannot reveal. The most unloved destinations in space are fast becoming the new cosmic “it” objects.”

via Brown dwarfs: From zeroes to astronomical heroes – space – 26 August 2013 – New Scientist.

This is a brilliant article from New Scientist. It wasn’t until I read this, that I truly began to appreciate the strange world that is Brown Dwarfs. They are fusing stars, and yet have atmospheres. They have weather including rain and clouds (rain of liquid iron, and clouds of silicon, which I admit is pretty extreme weather, but none the less!)  and have temperatures that range from anywhere around 2100 degrees, right down to 27 degrees….YES 27 degrees! thats about as hot as an average Mediterranean holiday, AND ITS A STAR! The masses of brown dwarfs range from 13-75 times the mass of Jupiter, so we are still talking pretty darn big objects.

Also, the name is quite the misnomer. Brown dwarfs are NOT brown. If you could observe one up close and personal, you would see that, in fact, they are a dark orange. The burn so dimly that they are extremely hard to detect from Earth.

 

This leaves open the possibilities for strange forms of life. We know life exists around the deep underwater thermal vents, where temperatures and pressures are EXTREME. So, this could be an excellent location for life to form. All hypothetical of course. But an interesting thing to think about.