Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Heidelberg, Germany

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Heidelberg, Germany

For similarly named astronomy institutes, see: Institute of Astronomy.The Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie is a research institute of the Max Planck Society. It is located in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany near the top of the Koenigstuhl, adjacent to the historic Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Königstuhl astronomical observatory.The institute was founded in 1967. Its founding directors were H. Elsässer, and G. Munch, who was followed by S. V. W. Beckwith. The current directors are Hans-Walter Rix and Thomas Henning. G. H. Herbig, Karl-Heinz B\"ohm, Immo Appenzeller, Willy Benz, and Rafael Rebolo have been external scientific members. Wikipedia.

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News Article | April 11, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The detection of atmosphere for the first time around an exoplanet named GJ 1132b has excited the scientific world about the prospect of finding evidence of life outside the solar system. The exoplanet orbits a dwarf star GJ 1132 that is some 39 light-years away from Earth. Researchers say the Earth-like planet has a thick, watery atmosphere which exacerbates the scope for finding aliens and other forms of life. The new study published in the Astronomical journal said that GJ 1132b has a radius 1.4 times than that of Earth and in mass exceeds 1.6 times. Unlike the planets in our solar system, it orbits a star that is dimmer than the sun. The presence of the atmosphere has brightened the scope for the existence of life, but it remains to be confirmed. The discovery of atmosphere in the super-Earth exoplanet is a landmark in the hunt for extraterrestrial life. "While this is not the detection of life on another planet, it's an important step in the right direction: The detection of an atmosphere around the super-Earth GJ 1132b marks the first time that an atmosphere has been detected around an Earth-like planet other than Earth itself," said John Southworth, a researcher at Keele University in the UK and first author. However, life-forms are unlikely to survive on this hot world despite the presence of an atmosphere, as the surface temperature of GJ 1132b is around 370 degrees Celsius. According to John Southworth, the hottest temperature at which life could survive on Earth is at 120 degrees Celsius. The presence of life on other planets is probed by scientists by examining the chemical composition of the atmosphere to know the imbalances triggered by living organisms. Earth offers signs of life from the abundance of oxygen. According to Southworth, there is still a long way to go in detecting life on exoplanets. However, he is upbeat that the discovery of atmosphere is a milestone. To confirm the presence of life on the planet, chemical signatures in the celestial bodies are studied — especially the molecules in the planet's atmosphere where light is absorbed in varied ways. The new planet was found to be having a thick atmosphere which may be containing steam, methane, or a combination of both. There is a high probability the planet may be a 'water world' with the atmosphere containing hot steam. The planet GJ 1132b was discovered in 2015 and dubbed as a potential twin of Venus considering the similarity of a rocky world and high temperature at the surface. Spotted in the Vela constellation, the detection of GJ 1132b was enabled by the 2.2-m ESO/MPG telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, where researchers noted variations in brightness as the planet and atmosphere were absorbing starlight when passing before the host star. The research team had scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. Commenting on the research, Marek Kukula the public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich called it a good proof of concept. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | May 25, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Eduardo Bañados and led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old -- formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang -- creates stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way. Their findings are published by Nature. The team's discovery could help solve a cosmic puzzle -- a mysterious population of surprisingly massive galaxies from when the universe was only about 10 percent of its current age. After first observing these galaxies a few years ago, astronomers proposed that they must have been created from hyper-productive precursor galaxies, which is the only way so many stars could have formed so quickly. But astronomers had never seen anything that fit the bill for these precursors until now. This newly discovered population could solve the mystery of how these extremely large galaxies came to have hundreds of billions of stars in them when they formed only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, requiring very rapid star formation. The team made this discovery by accident when investigating quasars, which are supermassive black holes that sit at the center of enormous galaxies, accreting matter. They were trying to study star formation in the galaxies that host these quasars. "But what we found, in four separate cases, were neighboring galaxies that were forming stars at a furious pace, producing a hundred solar masses' worth of new stars per year," Decarli explained. "Very likely it is not a coincidence to find these productive galaxies close to bright quasars. Quasars are thought to form in regions of the universe where the large-scale density of matter is much higher than average. Those same conditions should also be conducive to galaxies forming new stars at a greatly increased rate," added Fabian Walter, also of Max Planck. "Whether or not the fast-growing galaxies we discovered are indeed precursors of the massive galaxies first seen a few years back will require more work to see how common they actually are," Bañados explained. Decarli's team already has follow-up investigations planned to explore this question. The team also found what appears to be the earliest known example of two galaxies undergoing a merger, which is another major mechanism of galaxy growth. The new observations provide the first direct evidence that such mergers have been taking place even at the earliest stages of galaxy evolution, less than a billion years after the Big Bang.


News Article | May 24, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Pasadena, CA-- A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Eduardo Bañados and led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old--formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang--creates stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way. Their findings are published by Nature. The team's discovery could help solve a cosmic puzzle--a mysterious population of surprisingly massive galaxies from when the universe was only about 10 percent of its current age. After first observing these galaxies a few years ago, astronomers proposed that they must have been created from hyper-productive precursor galaxies, which is the only way so many stars could have formed so quickly. But astronomers had never seen anything that fit the bill for these precursors until now. This newly discovered population could solve the mystery of how these extremely large galaxies came to have hundreds of billions of stars in them when they formed only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, requiring very rapid star formation. The team made this discovery by accident when investigating quasars, which are supermassive black holes that sit at the center of enormous galaxies, accreting matter. They were trying to study star formation in the galaxies that host these quasars. "But what we found, in four separate cases, were neighboring galaxies that were forming stars at a furious pace, producing a hundred solar masses' worth of new stars per year," Decarli explained. "Very likely it is not a coincidence to find these productive galaxies close to bright quasars. Quasars are thought to form in regions of the universe where the large-scale density of matter is much higher than average. Those same conditions should also be conducive to galaxies forming new stars at a greatly increased rate," added Fabian Walter, also of Max Planck. "Whether or not the fast-growing galaxies we discovered are indeed precursors of the massive galaxies first seen a few years back will require more work to see how common they actually are," Bañados explained. Decarli's team already has follow-up investigations planned to explore this question. The team also found what appears to be the earliest known example of two galaxies undergoing a merger, which is another major mechanism of galaxy growth. The new observations provide the first direct evidence that such mergers have been taking place even at the earliest stages of galaxy evolution, less than a billion years after the Big Bang. Other members of the research team are: Bram Venemans, Emanuele Farina, Chiara Mazzucchelli, and Hans-Walter Rix of Max Planck Institute for Astronomy; Frank Bertoldi of the University of Bonn; Chris Carilli of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Cambridge University; Xiaohui Fan of University of Arizona; Dominik Riechers of Cornell University, Michael A. Strauss of Princeton University, Ran Wang of Peking University), and Y. Yang of the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute. The researchers were supported by the DFG priority programme 1573 "The physics of the interstellar medium," ERC grant COSMIC-DAWN, the National Science Foundation of China, the National Key Program for Science and Technology Research and Development, and a Carnegie-Princeton fellowship. The discoveries were made at ALMA Observatory, which is a partnership of the ESO, NSF, and NINS, together with the NRC, NSC, ASIAA, and KAS, in cooperation with Chile. The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials


News Article | May 25, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

A team of astronomers have discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old—formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang—creates stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way. Their findings are published by Nature. The team was led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, The team's discovery could help solve a cosmic puzzle--a mysterious population of surprisingly massive galaxies from when the universe was only about 10 percent of its current age. After first observing these galaxies a few years ago, astronomers proposed that they must have been created from hyper-productive precursor galaxies, which is the only way so many stars could have formed so quickly. But astronomers had never seen anything that fit the bill for these precursors until now. This newly discovered population could solve the mystery of how these extremely large galaxies came to have hundreds of billions of stars in them when they formed only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, requiring very rapid star formation. The team made this discovery by accident when investigating quasars, which are supermassive black holes that sit at the center of enormous galaxies, accreting matter. They were trying to study star formation in the galaxies that host these quasars. "But what we found, in four separate cases, were neighboring galaxies that were forming stars at a furious pace, producing a hundred solar masses' worth of new stars per year," Decarli explained. "Very likely it is not a coincidence to find these productive galaxies close to bright quasars. Quasars are thought to form in regions of the universe where the large-scale density of matter is much higher than average. Those same conditions should also be conducive to galaxies forming new stars at a greatly increased rate," added Fabian Walter, also of Max Planck. "Whether or not the fast-growing galaxies we discovered are indeed precursors of the massive galaxies first seen a few years back will require more work to see how common they actually are," Bañados explained. Decarli's team already has follow-up investigations planned to explore this question. The team also found what appears to be the earliest known example of two galaxies undergoing a merger, which is another major mechanism of galaxy growth. The new observations provide the first direct evidence that such mergers have been taking place even at the earliest stages of galaxy evolution, less than a billion years after the Big Bang.


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.futurity.org

In the vast expanses between galaxies, only atoms—a haze of hydrogen gas left over from the Big Bang—occupy solitary cubes one meter on a side. On the largest scale, this diffuse material forms a network of filamentary structures known as the “cosmic web,” its tangled strands spanning billions of light years and accounting for the majority of atoms in the universe. Now, a team of astronomers has made the first measurements of small-scale ripples in this primeval hydrogen gas using rare double quasars. Although the regions of cosmic web they studied lie nearly 11 billion light years away, they were able to measure variations in its structure on scales 100,000 times smaller, comparable to the size of a single galaxy. The results appear in the journal Science. Intergalactic gas is so tenuous that it emits no light of its own. Instead astronomers study it indirectly by observing how it selectively absorbs the light coming from faraway sources known as quasars. Quasars constitute a brief hyperluminous phase of the galactic life cycle powered by matter falling into a galaxy’s central supermassive black hole. Acting like cosmic lighthouses, they are bright, distant beacons that allow astronomers to study intergalactic atoms residing between the location of the quasar and the Earth. But because these hyperluminous episodes last only a tiny fraction of a galaxy’s lifetime, quasars are correspondingly rare and are typically separated from each other by hundreds of millions of light years. In order to probe the cosmic web on much smaller length scales, the astronomers exploited a fortuitous cosmic coincidence: They identified exceedingly rare pairs of quasars and measured subtle differences in the absorption of intergalactic atoms along the two sightlines. “Pairs of quasars are like needles in a haystack,” explains Joseph Hennawi, an associate professor in the University of California, Santa Barbara’s physics department who pioneered the application of algorithms from machine learning to efficiently locate quasar pairs in the massive amounts of data produced by digital imaging surveys of the night sky. “In order to find them, we combed through images of billions of celestial objects millions of times fainter than what the naked eye can see,” he says. Once identified, researchers observed the quasar pairs with the largest telescopes in the world, including the 10-meter Keck telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. “One of the biggest challenges was developing the mathematical and statistical tools to quantify the tiny differences we measured in this new kind of data,” says lead author Alberto Rorai, Hennawi’s former PhD student who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge University. Rorai developed these tools as part of the research for his doctoral degree and applied them to spectra of quasars with Hennawi and other colleagues. The astronomers compared their measurements to supercomputer models that simulate the formation of cosmic structures from the Big Bang to the present. On a single laptop, these complex calculations would require almost 1,000 years to complete, but modern supercomputers enabled the researchers to carry them out in just a few weeks. “The input to our simulations are the laws of physics and the output is an artificial universe, which can be directly compared to astronomical data,” says coauthor Jose Oñorbe, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, who led the supercomputer simulation effort. “I was delighted to see that these new measurements agree with the well-established paradigm for how cosmic structures form.” “One reason why these small-scale fluctuations are so interesting is that they encode information about the temperature of gas in the cosmic web just a few billion years after the Big Bang,” explains Hennawi. Astronomers believe that the matter in the universe went through phase transitions billions of years ago, which dramatically changed its temperature. Known as cosmic re-ionization, these transitions occurred when the collective ultraviolet glow of all stars and quasars in the universe became intense enough to strip electrons off atoms in intergalactic space. How and when re-ionization occurred is one of the biggest open questions in the field of cosmology, and these new measurements provide important clues that will help narrate this chapter of cosmic history.


News Article | May 12, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Quasars (short for quasi-stellar radio sources) have been objects of intrigue for astronomers ever since they were first detected in the 1960s. A quasar is a compact region with a supermassive black hole at its centre, heated to such an extent that it emits massive amounts of energy — briefly outshining the galaxy in which it resides. Our current understanding tells us that for a supermassive black hole to turn into a massive quasar, it would need to accrete matter for at least 100 million years. This means the odds of finding such an object in the early years of the universe are extremely low. However, a team of astronomers has now discovered three ancient quasars that seemingly challenge the conventional wisdom. All of these quasars formed just over a billion years after the universe’s birth, but have still — through an as-of-yet inexplicable mechanism — managed to accumulate the mass of about a billion sons. For comparison, Sagittarius A* — the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy — is merely four million times the mass of the sun. “This is a surprising result,” Christina Eilers, a doctoral student at Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead author of a study detailing the observations, said in a statement. “We don’t understand how these young quasars could have grown the supermassive black holes that power them in such a short time.” In order to calculate the age of these quasars, the astronomers examined how these objects had influenced their “proximity zones” — which are hot, mostly-transparent regions rich in ionized gas around quasars. Once a supermassive black hole turns into a quasar, its proximity zone grows very quickly, and by observing how big this zone is, scientists can estimate the duration the quasar has been active for. For these three quasars, however, the proximity zones were very small, indicating they had been active for only about 100,000 years. "No current theoretical models can explain the existence of these objects," Joseph Hennawi, who leads the team from the Max Planck Institute, said in the statement. "The discovery of these young objects challenges the existing theories of black hole formation and will require new models to better understand how black holes and galaxies formed." This is not the first time astronomers have spotted objects that defy conventional understanding.  In recent years, astronomers have spotted several supermassive black holes that formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang. In March, researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used computer simulations to calculate the rate of evolution of supermassive black holes if their growth is fed by cold and dense accretion streams. The simulated black holes created by the researchers were also seen to be interacting with galaxies in the same way that is observed in nature, mimicking star formation rates, galaxy density profiles, and thermal and ionization rates of gases. The next step would be to look for other ancient quasars that are also more massive than they should be. If more such objects are detected, it would not just help scientists create a better model of how the first supermassive black holes in the universe came to be, but also help understand how the one in the Milky Way’s heart formed and evolved. “We would like to find more of these young quasars,” Eilers said. “While finding these three unusual quasars might have been a fluke, finding additional examples would imply that a significant fraction of the known quasar population is much younger than expected.”


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: phys.org

Basic set-up of the quasar observations: Light from a quasar (right) is absorbed by gas. Absorption is much less in the quasar's proximity zone, which is shown in green for an older quasar, in yellow for a younger quasar. The extent of the proximity zone can be read off the spectrum (bottom). The quasar itself is a central black hole, surrounded by a disk of swirling matter, and possibly sending out particles in two tightly focussed jets (inset, top right). Credit: A. C. Eilers & J. Neidel, MPIA Quasars are luminous objects with supermassive black holes at their centers, visible over vast cosmic distances. Infalling matter increases the black hole mass and is also responsible for a quasar's brightness. Now, using the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii, astronomers led by Christina Eilers have discovered extremely young quasars with a puzzling property: these quasars have the mass of about a billion suns, yet have been collecting matter for less than 100,000 years. Conventional wisdom says quasars of that mass should have needed to pull in matter a thousand times longer than that – a cosmic conundrum. The results have been published in the May 2 edition of the Astrophysical Journal. Within the heart of every massive galaxy lurks a supermassive black hole. How these black holes formed, and how they have grown to be as massive as millions or even billions of suns, is an open question. At least some phases of vigorous growth are highly visible to astronomical observers: Whenever there are substantial amounts of gas swirling into the black hole, matter in the direct vicinity of the black hole emits copious amount of light. The black hole has intermittently turned into a quasar, one of the most luminous objects in the universe. Now, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) have discovered three quasars that challenge conventional wisdom on black hole growth. These quasars are extremely massive, but should not have had sufficient time to collect all that mass. The discovery, which is based on observations at the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii, glimpses into ancient cosmic history: Because of their extreme brightness, quasars can be observed out to large distances. The astronomers observed quasars whose light took nearly 13 billion years to reach Earth. In consequence, the observations show these quasars not as they are today, but as they were almost 13 billion years ago, less than a billion years after the big bang. The quasars in question have about a billion times the mass of the sun. All current theories of black hole growth postulate that, in order to grow that massive, the black holes would have needed to collect infalling matter, and shine brightly as quasars, for at least a hundred million years. But these three quasars proved to be have been active for a much shorter time, less than 100,000 years. "This is a surprising result," explains Christina Eilers, a doctoral student at MPIA and lead author of the present study. "We don't understand how these young quasars could have grown the supermassive black holes that power them in such a short time." To determine how long these quasars had been active, the astronomers examined how the quasars had influenced their environment – in particular, they examined heated, mostly transparent "proximity zones" around each quasar. "By simulating how the light from quasars ionizes and heats gas around them, we can predict how large the proximity zone of each quasar should be," explains Frederick Davies, a postdoctoral researcher at MPIA who is an expert in the interaction between quasar light and intergalactic gas. Once the quasar has been "switched on" by infalling matter, these proximity zones grow very quickly. "Within a lifetime of 100,000 years, quasars should already have large proximity zones." Surprisingly, three of the quasars had very small proximity zones – indicating that the active quasar phase cannot have set in more than 100,000 years earlier. "No current theoretical models can explain the existence of these objects," says Professor Joseph Hennawi, who leads the research group at MPIA that made the discovery. "The discovery of these young objects challenges the existing theories of black hole formation and will require new models to better understand how black holes and galaxies formed." The astronomers have already planned their next steps. "We would like to find more of these young quasars," says Christina Eilers, "While finding these three unusual quasars might have been a fluke, finding additional examples would imply that a significant fraction of the known quasar population is much younger than expected." The scientists have already applied for telescope time to observe several additional candidates. The results, they hope, will constrain new theoretical models about the formation of the first supermassive black holes in the universe – and, by implication, help astronomers understand the history of the giant supermassive black holes at the center of present-day galaxies like our own Milky Way. Explore further: Why the discovery of a bevy of quasars will boost efforts to understand galaxies' origins More information: Anna-Christina Eilers et al. Implications of∼ 6 Quasar Proximity Zones for the Epoch of Reionization and Quasar Lifetimes, The Astrophysical Journal (2017). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aa6c60


Carilli C.L.,U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory | Walter F.,Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2013

Over the past decade, observations of the cool interstellar medium (ISM) in distant galaxies via molecular and atomic fine structure line (FSL) emission have gone from a curious look into a few extreme, rare objects to a mainstream tool for studying galaxy formation out to the highest redshifts. Molecular gas has been observed in close to 200 galaxies at z > 1, including numerous AGN host-galaxies out to z ∼ 7, highly star-forming submillimeter galaxies, and increasing samples of main-sequence color-selected star-forming galaxies at z ∼ 1.5 to 2.5. Studies have moved well beyond simple detections to dynamical imaging at kiloparsec-scale resolution and multiline, multispecies studies that determine the physical conditions in the ISM in early galaxies. Observations of the cool gas are the required complement to studies of the stellar density and star-formation history of the Universe as they reveal the phase of the ISM that immediately precedes star formation in galaxies. Current observations suggest that the order of magnitude increase in the cosmic star-formation rate density from z ∼ 0 to 2 is commensurate with a similar increase in the gas-to-stellar mass ratio in star-forming disk galaxies. Progress has been made in determining the CO luminosity to H2 mass conversion factor at high z, and the dichotomy between high versus low values for main-sequence versus starburst galaxies, respectively, appears to persist with increasing redshift, with a likely dependence on metallicity and other local physical conditions. There may also be two sequences in the relationship between star-formation rate and gas mass: one for starbursts, in which the gas consumption timescale is short (a few 107 years), and one for main sequence galaxies, with an order of magnitude longer gas consumption timescale. Studies of atomic FSL emission are rapidly progressing, with some tens of galaxies detected in the exceptionally bright [Cii] 158-μm line to date. The [Cii] line is proving to be a unique tracer of galaxy dynamics in the early Universe and, together with other atomic FSLs, has the potential to be the most direct means of obtaining spectroscopic redshifts for the first galaxies during cosmic reionization. Copyright ©2013 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


Henning T.,Max Planck Institute for Astronomy | Semenov D.,Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Chemical Reviews | Year: 2013

The wide range of planetary system architectures and exoplanet properties is certainly linked to a range of properties of their birth-places, the disk-like structures around young stars composed of gas and dust particles. These disks share many of the properties of the solar nebula from which the Sun and our planetary system formed, although their masses, radial dimensions, and internal structures can be very different. Dust spectroscopy has revealed the mineralogical composition of the protoplanetary dust particles that are mostly found in the form of amorphous silicates, crystalline forsterite, water ice, and other molecular ices. There is strong observational evidence that the dust particles in disks can grow in size far beyond the typical sub-micrometer sizes of interstellar dust grains.


Henning T.,Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2010

Silicate dust particles are an important player in the cosmic life cycle of matter. They have been detected in a wide variety of environments, ranging from nearby protoplanetary disks to distant quasars.This review summarizes the fundamental properties of silicates relevant to astronomical observations and processes. It provides a review of our knowledge about cosmic silicates, mostly based on results from IR spectroscopy. © 2010 by Annual Reviews.

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