Billions-of-Stars

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 9/1/15 — Storms Brew in Turbulent Core of M96

Really… what can you say? This incredible image would leave even the most well-versed stargazer with an overwhelming feeling of euphoria.

Called M96 (short for Messier 96), the featured galaxy is located around 35 million light-years from Earth toward the Leo constellation. It is roughly the same size as the Milky Way (between 100,000 and 120,000 light-years across), with roughly the same mass—meaning, it may have as many as 400 billion stars.

Otherwise known as NGC 3368, M96 is an intermediate spiral galaxy, but not your average, run-of-the-mill example. It has an asymmetric quality to it, which is apparent in this new image of its lopsided central core. Instead of residing in the dead center of the galaxy, it is offset a bit, and the disordered spiral arms weakly (and unevenly) sweep back and forth. Ultimately, these attributes suggest that M96 was recently disturbed by one of its neighbors.

Since it is the “anchor” of the M96 group—a small cluster of at least 10 (maybe 20) galaxies, including Messier 95 and Messier 105—there are plenty of suspects. Perhaps no single galaxy is to blame, rather, the complex gravitational happenings within the group impact each of the galaxies in their own way.
Finally, although it was originally added to the Messier Catalog in 1781, it was not discovered by its namesake, Charles Messier. It was discovered by someone who may have worked with him closely, a French astronomer known as Pierre Méchain.

Sources & Resources: http://bit.ly/1JJxdTG

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA and the LEGUS Team (Acknowledgement: R. Gendler)

Astronomy Picture of the Day: February 11th, 2015

Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice’s Hair (Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was made in 2009 and reveals bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe. If you know exactly where to look, you can find a small spot that is a light echo from a bright supernova that was recorded a few years before the image was taken.

Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA - Processing & Licence: Judy Schmidt

Grand Spiral Galaxy  - M 100

Known as a grand design spiral galaxy, M100 is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with spiral arms that are like our own Milky Way Galaxy. This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was made in 2009 and reveals bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe.

Credit: NASA/APOD

Inside the Coma Cluster of Galaxies : Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! The above mosaic of images of a small portion of Coma was taken in unprecedented detail in 2006 by the Hubble Space Telescope to investigate how galaxies in rich clusters form and evolve. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, although some imaged here are clearly spirals. The spiral galaxy on the upper left of the above image can also be found as one of the bluer galaxies on the upper left of this wider field image. In the background thousands of unrelated galaxies are visible far across the universe. via NASA

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A Billion Suns Spell: ✹ Pick a star in your sky. Name your star ,call on it by name. And every night for 10 nights, while holding a single white candle: place one and only one wish upon that star. ✹ On the night of your 10th wish: light a black candle under the open night sky. As you wish on your star one final time, offer your light to that far away sun. The light from your candle will will solidify your wish. Blow out your candle and sleep. The universe will handle it from here. ✹

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 August 30 

M31: The Andromeda Galaxy 

What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda’s image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier’s list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will before it collides with our home galaxy.

Long Distanced

“What’s wrong with you and me? It’s geography” 
It’s 1340 kilometers. It’s 833 miles.
It’s two different countries and an ocean. 
It’s two phones and four hands, where it should be four eyes and two mouths. 
It’s too many messages, not enough whispers. 
It’s a playlist instead of your voice. 
It’s too many days spent dreaming about you, too many nights spent thinking about you. 
It’s two lonely people and one sky.
It’s billion of stars, and you.It’s billion of stars, and me. 
It’s your smile that I don’t get to see, but I’m constantly seeking.
It’s too many goodnights, not enough good nights.
It’s 1340 kilometers, 833 miles. Two countries. An ocean. “It’s geography”.

L.B 

Hubble Finds That the Nearest Quasar Is Powered by a Double Black Hole












NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 27, 2015

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found that Markarian 231 (Mrk 231), the nearest galaxy to Earth that hosts a quasar, is powered by two central black holes furiously whirling about each other.


Image above: This artistic illustration is of a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI).

The finding suggests that quasars—the brilliant cores of active galaxies – may commonly host two central supermassive black holes, which fall into orbit about one another as a result of the merger between two galaxies. Like a pair of whirling skaters, the black-hole duo generates tremendous amounts of energy that makes the core of the host galaxy outshine the glow of its population of billions of stars, which scientists then identify as quasars.

Scientists looked at Hubble archival observations of ultraviolet radiation emitted from the center of Mrk 231 to discover what they describe as “extreme and surprising properties.”

If only one black hole were present in the center of the quasar, the whole accretion disk made of surrounding hot gas would glow in ultraviolet rays. Instead, the ultraviolet glow of the dusty disk abruptly drops off toward the center. This provides observational evidence that the disk has a big donut hole encircling the central black hole. The best explanation for the donut hole in the disk, based on dynamical models, is that the center of the disk is carved out by the action of two black holes orbiting each other. The second, smaller black hole orbits in the inner edge of the accretion disk, and has its own mini-disk with an ultraviolet glow.

“We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission,” said Youjun Lu of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“The structure of our universe, such as those giant galaxies and clusters of galaxies, grows by merging smaller systems into larger ones, and binary black holes are natural consequences of these mergers of galaxies,” added co-investigator Xinyu Dai of the University of Oklahoma.

The central black hole is estimated to be 150 million times the mass of our sun, and the companion weighs in at 4 million solar masses. The dynamic duo completes an orbit around each other every 1.2 years.

Hubble orbiting Earth
The lower-mass black hole is the remnant of a smaller galaxy that merged with Mrk 231. Evidence of a recent merger comes from the host galaxy’s asymmetry, and the long tidal tails of young blue stars.

The result of the merger has been to make Mrk 231 an energetic starburst galaxy with a star formation rate 100 times greater than that of our Milky Way galaxy. The infalling gas fuels the black holes’ “engine”, triggering outflows and gas turbulence that incites a firestorm of star birth.

The binary black holes are predicted to spiral together and collide within a few hundred thousand years.

Mrk 231 is located 600 million light-years away.

The results were published in the August 14, 2015 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

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, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington.

For images and more information about the study and the Hubble Space Telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov and http://www.spacetelescope.org/

http://hubblesite.org/news/2015/31

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Robert Gutro/Karl Hille.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch
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is it ok for me to love Brian Cox and this video so much?

What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda’s image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier’s list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will before it collides with our home galaxy.

Image Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler

M31: The Andromeda Galaxy

(via APOD; Image Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler )

What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda’s image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier’s list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will before it collides with our home galaxy.

HUBBLE FINDS THAT THE NEAREST QUASAR IS POWERED BY A DOUBLE BLACK HOLE

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found that Markarian 231 (Mrk 231), the nearest galaxy to Earth that hosts a quasar, is powered by two central black holes furiously whirling about each other.

The finding suggests that quasars – the brilliant cores of active galaxies – may commonly host two central supermassive black holes that fall into orbit about one another as a result of the merger between two galaxies. Like a pair of whirling skaters, the black-hole duo generates tremendous amounts of energy that makes the core of the host galaxy outshine the glow of the galaxy’s population of billions of stars, which scientists then identify as quasars.

Scientists looked at Hubble archival observations of ultraviolet radiation emitted from the center of Mrk 231 to discover what they describe as “extreme and surprising properties.”

If only one black hole were present in the center of the quasar, the whole accretion disk made of surrounding hot gas would glow in ultraviolet rays. Instead, the ultraviolet glow of the dusty disk abruptly drops off towards the center. This provides observational evidence that the disk has a big donut hole encircling the central black hole. The best explanation for the observational data, based on dynamical models, is that the center of the disk is carved out by the action of two black holes orbiting each other. The second, smaller black hole orbits in the inner edge of the accretion disk, and has its own mini-disk with an ultraviolet glow.

“We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission,” said Youjun Lu of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“The structure of our universe, such as those giant galaxies and clusters of galaxies, grows by merging smaller systems into larger ones, and binary black holes are natural consequences of these mergers of galaxies,” added co-investigator Xinyu Dai of the University of Oklahoma.

The central black hole is estimated to be 150 million times the mass of our Sun, and the companion weighs in at 4 million solar masses. The dynamic duo completes an orbit around each other every 1.2 years.

The lower-mass black hole is the remnant of a smaller galaxy that merged with Mrk 231. Evidence of a recent merger comes from the host galaxy’s asymmetry, and the long tidal tails of young blue stars.

The result of the merger has been to make Mrk 231 an energetic starburst galaxy with a star-formation rate 100 times greater than that of our Milky Way galaxy. The infalling gas fuels the black hole “engine,” triggering outflows and gas turbulence that incites a firestorm of star birth.

The binary black holes are predicted to spiral together and collide within a few hundred thousand years.

Mrk 231 is located 600 million light-years away.

Gaia's first year of scientific observations












ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

25 August 2015

Last Friday, 21 August, ESA’s billion-star surveyor, Gaia, completed its first year of science observations in its main survey mode.

After launch on 19 December 2013 and a six-month long in-orbit commissioning period, the satellite started routine scientific operations on 25 July 2014. Located at the Lagrange point L2, 1.5 million km from Earth, Gaia surveys stars and many other astronomical objects as it spins, observing circular swathes of the sky. By repeatedly measuring the positions of the stars with extraordinary accuracy, Gaia can tease out their distances and motions through the Milky Way galaxy.

Stellar density map
For the first 28 days, Gaia operated in a special scanning mode that sampled great circles on the sky, but always including the ecliptic poles. This meant that the satellite observed the stars in those regions many times, providing an invaluable database for Gaia’s initial calibration.

At the end of that phase, on 21 August 2014, Gaia commenced its main survey operation, employing a scanning law designed to achieve the best possible coverage of the whole sky.

Since the start of its routine phase, the satellite recorded 272 billion positional or astrometric measurements 54.4 billion brightness or photometric data points, and 5.4 billion spectra.

The Gaia team have spent a busy year processing and analysing these data, en route towards the development of Gaia’s main scientific products, consisting of enormous public catalogues of the positions, distances, motions and other properties of more than a billion stars. Because of the immense volumes of data and their complex nature, this requires a huge effort from expert scientists and software developers distributed across Europe, combined in Gaia’s Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC).

“The past twelve months have been very intense, but we are getting to grips with the data, and are looking forward to the next four years of nominal operations,” says Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

“We are just a year away from Gaia’s first scheduled data release, an intermediate catalogue planned for the summer of 2016. With the first year of data in our hands, we are now halfway to this milestone, and we’re able to present a few preliminary snapshots to show that the spacecraft is working well and that the data processing is on the right track.”

Stellar parallax
As one example of the ongoing validation, the Gaia team has been able to measure the parallax for an initial sample of two million stars.

Parallax is the apparent motion of a star against a distant background observed over the period of a year and resulting from the Earth’s real motion around the Sun; this is also observed by Gaia as it orbits the Sun alongside Earth. But parallax is not the only movement seen by Gaia: the stars are also really moving through space, which is called proper motion.

Gaia has made an average of roughly 14 measurements of each star on the sky thus far, but this is generally not enough to disentangle the parallax and proper motions.

To overcome this, the scientists have combined Gaia data with positions extracted from the Tycho-2 catalogue, based on data taken between 1989 and 1993 by Gaia’s predecessor, the Hipparcos satellite.

This restricts the sample to just two million out of the more than one billion that Gaia has observed so far, but yields some useful early insights into the quality of its data.

The nearer a star is to the Sun, the larger its parallax, and thus the parallax measured for a star can be used to determine its distance. In turn, the distance can be used to convert the apparent brightness of the star into its true brightness or ‘absolute luminosity’.

Gaia’s first Hertzsprung-Russell diagram
Astronomers plot the absolute luminosities of stars against their temperatures – which are estimated from the stars’ colours – to generate a ‘Hertzsprung-Russell diagram’, named for the two early 20th century scientists who recognised that such a diagram could be used as a tool to understand stellar evolution.

“Our first Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, with absolute luminosities based on Gaia’s first year and the Tycho-2 catalogue, and colour information from ground-based observations, gives us a taste of what the mission will deliver in the coming years,” says Lennart Lindegren, professor at the University of Lund and one of the original proposers of the Gaia mission.

As Gaia has been conducting its repeated scans of the sky to measure the motions of stars, it has also been able to detect whether any of them have changed their brightness, and in doing so, has started to discover some very interesting astronomical objects.

Gaia has detected hundreds of transient sources so far, with a supernova being the very first on 30 August 2014. These detections are routinely shared with the community at large as soon as they are spotted in the form of ‘Science Alerts’, enabling rapid follow-up observations to be made using ground-based telescopes in order to determine their nature.

One transient source was seen undergoing a sudden and dramatic outburst that increased its brightness by a factor of five. It turned out that Gaia had discovered a so-called ‘cataclysmic variable’, a system of two stars in which one, a hot white dwarf, is devouring mass from a normal stellar companion, leading to outbursts of light as the material is swallowed. The system also turned out to be an eclipsing binary, in which the relatively larger normal star passes directly in front of the smaller, but brighter white dwarf, periodically obscuring the latter from view as seen from Earth.

Unusually, both stars in this system seem to have plenty of helium and little hydrogen. Gaia’s discovery data and follow-up observations may help astronomers to understand how the two stars lost their hydrogen.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula
Gaia has also discovered a multitude of stars whose brightness undergoes more regular changes over time. Many of these discoveries were made between July and August 2014, as Gaia performed many subsequent observations of a few patches of the sky close to the ecliptic poles. This closely sampled sequence of observations made it possible to find and study variable stars located in these regions.

Located close to the south ecliptic pole is the famous Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy and close companion of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Gaia has delivered detailed light curves for dozens of RR Lyrae type variable stars in the LMC, and the fine details revealed in them testify to the very high quality of the data.

Another curious object covered during the same mission phase is the Cat’s Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula also known as NGC 6543, which lies close to the north ecliptic pole.

Planetary nebulae are formed when the outer layers of an aging low-mass star are ejected and interact with the surrounding interstellar medium, leaving behind a compact white dwarf. Gaia made over 200 observations of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, and registered over 84 000 detections that accurately trace out the intricate gaseous filaments that such objects are famous for. As its observations continue, Gaia will be able to see the expansion of the nebular knots in this and other planetary nebulae.

Gaia’s asteroid detections
Closer to home, Gaia has detected a wealth of asteroids, the small rocky bodies that populate our solar system, mainly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Because they are relatively nearby and orbiting the Sun, asteroids appear to move against the stars in astronomical images, appearing in one snapshot of a given field, but not in images of the same field taken at later times.

Gaia scientists have developed special software to look for these ‘outliers’, matching them with the orbits of known asteroids in order to remove them from the data being used to study stars. But in turn, this information will be used to characterise known asteroids and to discover thousands of new ones.

Finally, in addition to the astrometric and photometric measurements being made by Gaia, it has been collecting spectra for many stars. The basic use of these data is to determine the motions of the stars along the line-of-sight by measuring slight shifts in the positions of absorption lines in their spectra due to the Doppler shift. But in the spectra of some hot stars, Gaia has also seen absorption lines from gas in foreground interstellar material, which will allow the scientists to measure its distribution.

“These early proof-of-concept studies demonstrate the quality of the data collected with Gaia so far and the capabilities of the processing pipeline. The final data products are not quite ready yet, but we are working hard to provide the first of them to the community next year. Watch this space,” concludes Timo.

About Gaia


Gaia is an ESA mission to survey one billion stars in our galaxy and local galactic neighbourhood in order to build the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way and answer questions about its origin and evolution.

The mission’s primary scientific product will be a catalogue with the positions, motions, brightnesses, and colours of the surveyed stars. An intermediate version of the catalogue will be released in 2016. In the meantime, Gaia’s observing strategy, with repeated scans of the entire sky, is allowing the discovery and measurement of many transient events across the sky, which are shared with the community at large in the form of Science Alerts.

The nature of the Gaia mission leads to the acquisition of an enormous quantity of complex, extremely precise data, and the data-processing challenge is a huge task in terms of expertise, effort and dedicated computing power. A large pan-European team of expert scientists and software developers, the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), located in and funded by many ESA member states, is responsible for the processing and validation of Gaia’s data, with the final objective of producing the Gaia Catalogue. Scientific exploitation of the data will only take place once they are openly released to the community. 

For more information about Gaia mission, visit: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia

More about…

Gaia overview: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia/Gaia_overview

Gaia factsheet: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia/Gaia_factsheet

Frequently asked questions: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia/Frequently_Asked_Questions_about_Gaia

Gaia brochure: http://www.esa.int/About_Us/ESA_Publications/ESA_BR-296_Gaia_ESA_s_galactic_census

Related articles:

How many stars are there in the Universe?: http://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.ch/2015/07/counting-stars-with-gaia.html

The billion-pixel camera: http://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.ch/2011/07/eye-of-gaia-billion-pixel-camera-to-map.html

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Gaia – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/Medialab/DPAC/IDT/FL/DPCE/AGIS/NASA/HEIC/The Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA/DPAC/UB/IEEC/CU4, L. Galluccio, F. Mignard, P. Tanga (Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur).

Greetings, Orbiter.ch
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