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News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

IMAGE:  Artist concept of the planetary body 2014 UZ224, more informally known as DeeDee. ALMA was able to observe the faint millimeter-wavelength "glow " emitted by the object, confirming it is roughly... view more Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have revealed extraordinary details about a recently discovered far-flung member of our solar system, the planetary body 2014 UZ224, more informally known as DeeDee. At about three times the current distance of Pluto from the Sun, DeeDee is the second most distant known trans-Neptunian object (TNO) with a confirmed orbit, surpassed only by the dwarf planet Eris. Astronomers estimate that there are tens-of-thousands of these icy bodies in the outer solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. The new ALMA data reveal, for the first time, that DeeDee is roughly 635 kilometers across, or about two-thirds the diameter of the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest member of our asteroid belt. At this size, DeeDee should have enough mass to be spherical, the criteria necessary for astronomers to consider it a dwarf planet, though it has yet to receive that official designation. "Far beyond Pluto is a region surprisingly rich with planetary bodies. Some are quite small but others have sizes to rival Pluto, and could possibly be much larger," said David Gerdes, a scientist with the University of Michigan and lead author on a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "Because these objects are so distant and dim, it's incredibly difficult to even detect them, let alone study them in any detail. ALMA, however, has unique capabilities that enabled us to learn exciting details about these distant worlds." Currently, DeeDee is about 92 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. An astronomical unit is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, or about 150 million kilometers. At this tremendous distance, it takes DeeDee more than 1,100 years to complete one orbit. Light from DeeDee takes nearly 13 hours to reach Earth. Gerdes and his team announced the discovery of DeeDee in the fall of 2016. They found it using the 4-meter Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile as part of ongoing observations for the Dark Energy Survey, an optical survey of about 12 percent of the sky that seeks to understand the as-yet mysterious force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The Dark Energy Survey produces vast troves of astronomical images, which give astronomers the opportunity to also search for distant solar system objects. The initial search, which includes nearly 15,000 images, identified more than 1.1 billion candidate objects. The vast majority of these turned out to be background stars and even more distant galaxies. A small fraction, however, were observed to move slowly across the sky over successive observations, the telltale sign of a TNO. One such object was identified on 12 separate images. The astronomers informally dubbed it DeeDee, which is short for Distant Dwarf. The optical data from the Blanco telescope enabled the astronomers to measure DeeDee's distance and orbital properties, but they were unable to determine its size or other physical characteristics. It was possible that DeeDee was a relatively small member of our solar system, yet reflective enough to be detected from Earth. Or, it could be uncommonly large and dark, reflecting only a tiny portion of the feeble sunlight that reaches it; both scenarios would produce identical optical data. Since ALMA observes the cold, dark universe, it is able to detect the heat - in the form of millimeter-wavelength light - emitted naturally by cold objects in space. The heat signature from a distant solar system object would be directly proportional to its size. "We calculated that this object would be incredibly cold, only about 30 degrees Kelvin, just a little above absolute zero," said Gerdes. While the reflected visible light from DeeDee is only about as bright as a candle seen halfway the distance to the moon, ALMA was able to quickly home in on the planetary body's heat signature and measure its brightness in millimeter-wavelength light. This allowed astronomers to determine that it reflects only about 13 percent of the sunlight that hits it. That is about the same reflectivity of the dry dirt found on a baseball infield. By comparing these ALMA observations to the earlier optical data, the astronomers had the information necessary to calculate the object's size. "ALMA picked it up fairly easily," said Gerdes. "We were then able to resolve the ambiguity we had with the optical data alone." Objects like DeeDee are cosmic leftovers from the formation of the solar system. Their orbits and physical properties reveal important details about the formation of planets, including Earth. This discovery is also exciting because it shows that it is possible to detect very distant, slowly moving objects in our own solar system. The researchers note that these same techniques could be used to detect the hypothesized "Planet Nine" that may reside far beyond DeeDee and Eris. "There are still new worlds to discover in our own cosmic backyard," concludes Gerdes. "The solar system is a rich and complicated place." The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.


News Article | May 18, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

An international team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has made the first complete millimeter-wavelength image of the ring of dusty debris surrounding the young star Fomalhaut. This remarkably well-defined band of rubble and gas is likely the result of exocomets smashing together near the outer edges of a planetary system 25 light-years from Earth. Earlier ALMA observations of Fomalhaut -- taken in 2012 when the telescope was still under construction - revealed only about one half of the debris disk. Though this first image was merely a test of ALMA's initial capabilities, it nonetheless provided tantalizing hints about the nature and possible origin of the disk. The new ALMA observations offer a stunningly complete view of this glowing band of debris and also suggest that there are chemical similarities between its icy contents and comets in our own solar system. "ALMA has given us this staggeringly clear image of a fully formed debris disk," said Meredith MacGregor, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author on one of two papers accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal describing these observations. "We can finally see the well-defined shape of the disk, which may tell us a great deal about the underlying planetary system responsible for its highly distinctive appearance." Fomalhaut is a relatively nearby star system and one of only about 20 in which planets have been imaged directly. The entire system is approximately 440 million years old, or about one-tenth the age of our solar system. As revealed in the new ALMA image, a brilliant band of icy dust about 2 billion kilometers wide has formed approximately 20 billion kilometers from the star. Debris disks are common features around young stars and represent a very dynamic and chaotic period in the history of a solar system. Astronomers believe they are formed by the ongoing collisions of comets and other planetesimals in the outer reaches of a recently formed planetary system. The leftover debris from these collisions absorbs light from its central star and reradiates that energy as a faint millimeter-wavelength glow that can be studied with ALMA. Using the new ALMA data and detailed computer modeling, the researchers were able to calculate the precise location, width, and geometry of the disk. These parameters confirm that such a narrow ring is likely produced through the gravitational influence of planets in the system, noted MacGregor. The new ALMA observations are also the first to definitively show "apocenter glow," a phenomenon predicted in a 2016 paper by Margaret Pan, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who is also a co-author on the new ALMA papers. Like all objects with elongated orbits, the dusty material in the Fomalhaut disk travels more slowly when it is farthest from the star. As the dust slows down, it piles up, forming denser concentrations in the more distant portions of the disk. These dense regions can be seen by ALMA as brighter millimeter-wavelength emission. Using the same ALMA dataset, but focusing on distinct millimeter-wavelength signals naturally emitted by molecules in space, the researchers also detected vast stores of carbon monoxide gas in precisely the same location as the debris disk. "These data allowed us to determine that the relative abundance of carbon monoxide plus carbon dioxide around Fomalhaut is about the same as found in comets in our own solar system," said Luca Matrà with the University of Cambridge, UK, and lead author on the team's second paper. "This chemical kinship may indicate a similarity in comet formation conditions between the outer reaches of this planetary system and our own." Matrà and his colleagues believe this gas is either released from continuous comet collisions or the result of a single, large impact between supercomets hundreds of times more massive than Hale-Bopp. The presence of this well-defined debris disk around Fomalhaut, along with its curiously familiar chemistry, may indicate that this system is undergoing its own version of the Late Heavy Bombardment, a period approximately 4 billion years ago when the Earth and other planets were routinely struck by swarms of asteroids and comets left over from the formation of our solar system. "Twenty years ago, the best millimeter-wavelength telescopes gave the first fuzzy maps of sand grains orbiting Fomalhaut. Now with ALMA's full capabilities the entire ring of material has been imaged," concluded Paul Kalas, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley and principal investigator on these observations. "One day we hope to detect the planets that influence the orbits of these grains." The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.


News Article | May 18, 2017
Site: spaceref.com

An international team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has made the first complete millimeter-wavelength image of the ring of dusty debris surrounding the young star Fomalhaut. This remarkably well-defined band of rubble and gas is likely the result of exocomets smashing together near the outer edges of a planetary system 25 light-years from Earth. Earlier ALMA observations of Fomalhaut -- taken in 2012 when the telescope was still under construction -- revealed only about one half of the debris disk. Though this first image was merely a test of ALMA's initial capabilities, it nonetheless provided tantalizing hints about the nature and possible origin of the disk. The new ALMA observations offer a stunningly complete view of this glowing band of debris and also suggest that there are chemical similarities between its icy contents and comets in our own solar system. "ALMA has given us this staggeringly clear image of a fully formed debris disk," said Meredith MacGregor, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author on one of two papers accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal describing these observations. "We can finally see the well-defined shape of the disk, which may tell us a great deal about the underlying planetary system responsible for its highly distinctive appearance." Fomalhaut is a relatively nearby star system and one of only about 20 in which planets have been imaged directly. The entire system is approximately 440 million years old, or about one-tenth the age of our solar system. As revealed in the new ALMA image, a brilliant band of icy dust about 2 billion kilometers wide has formed approximately 20 billion kilometers from the star. Debris disks are common features around young stars and represent a very dynamic and chaotic period in the history of a solar system. Astronomers believe they are formed by the ongoing collisions of comets and other planetesimals in the outer reaches of a recently formed planetary system. The leftover debris from these collisions absorbs light from its central star and reradiates that energy as a faint millimeter-wavelength glow that can be studied with ALMA. Using the new ALMA data and detailed computer modeling, the researchers were able to calculate the precise location, width, and geometry of the disk. These parameters confirm that such a narrow ring is likely produced through the gravitational influence of planets in the system, noted MacGregor. The new ALMA observations are also the first to definitively show "apocenter glow," a phenomenon predicted in a 2016 paper by Margaret Pan, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who is also a co-author on the new ALMA papers. Like all objects with elongated orbits, the dusty material in the Fomalhaut disk travels more slowly when it is farthest from the star. As the dust slows down, it piles up, forming denser concentrations in the more distant portions of the disk. These dense regions can be seen by ALMA as brighter millimeter-wavelength emission. Using the same ALMA dataset, but focusing on distinct millimeter-wavelength signals naturally emitted by molecules in space, the researchers also detected vast stores of carbon monoxide gas in precisely the same location as the debris disk. "These data allowed us to determine that the relative abundance of carbon monoxide plus carbon dioxide around Fomalhaut is about the same as found in comets in our own solar system," said Luca Matrà with the University of Cambridge, UK, and lead author on the team's second paper. "This chemical kinship may indicate a similarity in comet formation conditions between the outer reaches of this planetary system and our own." Matrà and his colleagues believe this gas is either released from continuous comet collisions or the result of a single, large impact between supercomets hundreds of times more massive than Hale-Bopp. The presence of this well-defined debris disk around Fomalhaut, along with its curiously familiar chemistry, may indicate that this system is undergoing its own version of the Late Heavy Bombardment, a period approximately 4 billion years ago when the Earth and other planets were routinely struck by swarms of asteroids and comets left over from the formation of our solar system. "Twenty years ago, the best millimeter-wavelength telescopes gave the first fuzzy maps of sand grains orbiting Fomalhaut. Now with ALMA's full capabilities the entire ring of material has been imaged," concluded Paul Kalas, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley and principal investigator on these observations. "One day we hope to detect the planets that influence the orbits of these grains." * "A Complete ALMA Map of the Fomalhaut Debris Disk," M. MacGregor et al., 2017, to appear in the Astrophysical Journal [http://apj.aas.org, preprint: https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.05867]. * "Detection of Exocometary CO Within the 440-Myr-old Fomalhaut Belt: A Similar CO+CO2 Ice Abundance in Exocomets and Solar System Comets," L. Matrà et al., 2017, to appear in the Astrophysical Journal [http://apj.aas.org, preprint: https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.05868]. This work benefited from NASA's Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) research coordination network sponsored by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, NASA grants NNX15AC89G, NNX15AD95G, NSF grant AST-1518332, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship DGE1144152, and from NRAO Student Observing Support. This work has also been possible thanks to an STFC postgraduate studentship and the European Union through ERC grant number 279973. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA. Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


News Article | May 23, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Pointing the Very Large Array (VLA) at a famous galaxy for the first time in two decades, a team of astronomers got a big surprise, finding that a bright new object had appeared near the galaxy's core. The object, the scientists concluded, is either a very rare type of supernova explosion or, more likely, an outburst from a second supermassive black hole closely orbiting the galaxy's primary, central supermassive black hole. The astronomers observed Cygnus A, a well-known and often-studied galaxy discovered by radio-astronomy pioneer Grote Reber in 1939. The radio discovery was matched to a visible-light image in 1951, and the galaxy, some 800 million light-years from Earth, was an early target of the VLA after its completion in the early 1980s. Detailed images from the VLA published in 1984 produced major advances in scientists' understanding of the superfast "jets" of subatomic particles propelled into intergalactic space by the gravitational energy of supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. "This new object may have much to tell us about the history of this galaxy," said Daniel Perley, of the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K., lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal announcing the discovery. "The VLA images of Cygnus A from the 1980s marked the state of the observational capability at that time," said Rick Perley, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "Because of that, we didn't look at Cygnus A again until 1996, when new VLA electronics had provided a new range of radio frequencies for our observations." The new object does not appear in the images made then. "However, the VLA's upgrade that was completed in 2012 made it a much more powerful telescope, so we wanted to have a look at Cygnus A using the VLA's new capabilities," Perley said. Daniel and Rick Perley, along with Vivek Dhawan, and Chris Carilli, both of NRAO, began the new observations in 2015, and continued them in 2016. "To our surprise, we found a prominent new feature near the galaxy's nucleus that did not appear in any previous published images. This new feature is bright enough that we definitely would have seen it in the earlier images if nothing had changed," said Rick Perley. "That means it must have turned on sometime between 1996 and now," he added. The scientists then observed Cygnus A with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in November of 2016, clearly detecting the new object. A faint infrared object also is seen at the same location in Hubble Space Telescope and Keck observations, originally made between 1994 and 2002. The infrared astronomers, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had attributed the object to a dense group of stars, but the dramatic radio brightening is forcing a new analysis. What is the new object? Based on its characteristics, the astronomers concluded it must be either a supernova explosion or an outburst from a second supermassive black hole near the galaxy's center. While they want to watch the object's future behavior to make sure, they pointed out that the object has remained too bright for too long to be consistent with any known type of supernova. "Because of this extraordinary brightness, we consider the supernova explanation unlikely," Dhawan said. While the new object definitely is separate from Cygnus A's central supermassive black hole, by about 1500 light-years, it has many of the characteristics of a supermassive black hole that is rapidly feeding on surrounding material. "We think we've found a second supermassive black hole in this galaxy, indicating that it has merged with another galaxy in the astronomically-recent past," Carilli said. "These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future." The astronomers suggested that the second black hole has become visible to the VLA in recent years because it has encountered a new source of material to devour. That material, they said, could either be gas disrupted by the galaxies' merger or a star that passed close enough to the secondary black hole to be shredded by its powerful gravity. "Further observations will help us resolve some of these questions. In addition, if this is a secondary black hole, we may be able to find others in similar galaxies," Daniel Perley said. Rick Perley was one of the astronomers who made the original Cygnus A observations with the VLA in the 1980s. Daniel Perley is his son, now also a research astronomer. "Daniel was only two years old when I first observed Cygnus A with the VLA," Rick said. As a high school student in Socorro, New Mexico, Daniel used VLA data for an award-winning science fair project that took him to the international level of competition, then went on to earn a doctoral degree in astronomy. Also at the time of those first VLA observations of Cygnus A, Carilli and Dhawan were office mates as graduate students at MIT. Carilli, now NRAO's Chief Scientist, was Rick's graduate student while working as a predoctoral fellow at NRAO. His doctoral dissertation was on detailed analysis of 1980s VLA images of Cygnus A. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.


News Article | May 24, 2017
Site: spaceref.com

Pointing the Very Large Array (VLA) at a famous galaxy for the first time in two decades, a team of astronomers got a big surprise, finding that a bright new object had appeared near the galaxy's core. The object, the scientists concluded, is either a very rare type of supernova explosion or, more likely, an outburst from a second supermassive black hole closely orbiting the galaxy's primary, central supermassive black hole. The astronomers observed Cygnus A, a well-known and often-studied galaxy discovered by radio-astronomy pioneer Grote Reber in 1939. The radio discovery was matched to a visible-light image in 1951, and the galaxy, some 800 million light-years from Earth, was an early target of the VLA after its completion in the early 1980s. Detailed images from the VLA published in 1984 produced major advances in scientists' understanding of the superfast "jets" of subatomic particles propelled into intergalactic space by the gravitational energy of supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. "This new object may have much to tell us about the history of this galaxy," said Daniel Perley, of the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K., lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal announcing the discovery. "The VLA images of Cygnus A from the 1980s marked the state of the observational capability at that time," said Rick Perley, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "Because of that, we didn't look at Cygnus A again until 1996, when new VLA electronics had provided a new range of radio frequencies for our observations." The new object does not appear in the images made then. "However, the VLA's upgrade that was completed in 2012 made it a much more powerful telescope, so we wanted to have a look at Cygnus A using the VLA's new capabilities," Perley said. Daniel and Rick Perley, along with Vivek Dhawan, and Chris Carilli, both of NRAO, began the new observations in 2015, and continued them in 2016. "To our surprise, we found a prominent new feature near the galaxy's nucleus that did not appear in any previous published images. This new feature is bright enough that we definitely would have seen it in the earlier images if nothing had changed," said Rick Perley. "That means it must have turned on sometime between 1996 and now," he added. The scientists then observed Cygnus A with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in November of 2016, clearly detecting the new object. A faint infrared object also is seen at the same location in Hubble Space Telescope and Keck observations, originally made between 1994 and 2002. The infrared astronomers, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had attributed the object to a dense group of stars, but the dramatic radio brightening is forcing a new analysis. What is the new object? Based on its characteristics, the astronomers concluded it must be either a supernova explosion or an outburst from a second supermassive black hole near the galaxy's center. While they want to watch the object's future behavior to make sure, they pointed out that the object has remained too bright for too long to be consistent with any known type of supernova. "Because of this extraordinary brightness, we consider the supernova explanation unlikely," Dhawan said. While the new object definitely is separate from Cygnus A's central supermassive black hole, by about 1500 light-years, it has many of the characteristics of a supermassive black hole that is rapidly feeding on surrounding material. "We think we've found a second supermassive black hole in this galaxy, indicating that it has merged with another galaxy in the astronomically-recent past," Carilli said. "These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future." The astronomers suggested that the second black hole has become visible to the VLA in recent years because it has encountered a new source of material to devour. That material, they said, could either be gas disrupted by the galaxies' merger or a star that passed close enough to the secondary black hole to be shredded by its powerful gravity. "Further observations will help us resolve some of these questions. In addition, if this is a secondary black hole, we may be able to find others in similar galaxies," Daniel Perley said. Rick Perley was one of the astronomers who made the original Cygnus A observations with the VLA in the 1980s. Daniel Perley is his son, now also a research astronomer. "Daniel was only two years old when I first observed Cygnus A with the VLA," Rick said. As a high school student in Socorro, New Mexico, Daniel used VLA data for an award-winning science fair project that took him to the international level of competition, then went on to earn a doctoral degree in astronomy. Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


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

Pointing the Very Large Array (VLA) at a famous galaxy for the first time in two decades, a team of astronomers got a big surprise, finding that a bright new object had appeared near the galaxy's core. The object, the scientists concluded, is either a very rare type of supernova explosion or, more likely, an outburst from a second supermassive black hole closely orbiting the galaxy's primary, central supermassive black hole. The astronomers observed Cygnus A, a well-known and often-studied galaxy discovered by radio-astronomy pioneer Grote Reber in 1939. The radio discovery was matched to a visible-light image in 1951, and the galaxy, some 800 million light-years from Earth, was an early target of the VLA after its completion in the early 1980s. Detailed images from the VLA published in 1984 produced major advances in scientists' understanding of the superfast "jets" of subatomic particles propelled into intergalactic space by the gravitational energy of supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. "This new object may have much to tell us about the history of this galaxy," said Daniel Perley, of the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K., lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal announcing the discovery. "The VLA images of Cygnus A from the 1980s marked the state of the observational capability at that time," said Rick Perley, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "Because of that, we didn't look at Cygnus A again until 1996, when new VLA electronics had provided a new range of radio frequencies for our observations." The new object does not appear in the images made then. "However, the VLA's upgrade that was completed in 2012 made it a much more powerful telescope, so we wanted to have a look at Cygnus A using the VLA's new capabilities," Perley said. Daniel and Rick Perley, along with Vivek Dhawan, and Chris Carilli, both of NRAO, began the new observations in 2015, and continued them in 2016. "To our surprise, we found a prominent new feature near the galaxy's nucleus that did not appear in any previous published images. This new feature is bright enough that we definitely would have seen it in the earlier images if nothing had changed," said Rick Perley. "That means it must have turned on sometime between 1996 and now," he added. The scientists then observed Cygnus A with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in November of 2016, clearly detecting the new object. A faint infrared object also is seen at the same location in Hubble Space Telescope and Keck observations, originally made between 1994 and 2002. The infrared astronomers, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had attributed the object to a dense group of stars, but the dramatic radio brightening is forcing a new analysis. What is the new object? Based on its characteristics, the astronomers concluded it must be either a supernova explosion or an outburst from a second supermassive black hole near the galaxy's center. While they want to watch the object's future behavior to make sure, they pointed out that the object has remained too bright for too long to be consistent with any known type of supernova. "Because of this extraordinary brightness, we consider the supernova explanation unlikely," Dhawan said. While the new object definitely is separate from Cygnus A's central supermassive black hole, by about 1500 light-years, it has many of the characteristics of a supermassive black hole that is rapidly feeding on surrounding material. "We think we've found a second supermassive black hole in this galaxy, indicating that it has merged with another galaxy in the astronomically-recent past," Carilli said. "These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future." The astronomers suggested that the second black hole has become visible to the VLA in recent years because it has encountered a new source of material to devour. That material, they said, could either be gas disrupted by the galaxies' merger or a star that passed close enough to the secondary black hole to be shredded by its powerful gravity. "Further observations will help us resolve some of these questions. In addition, if this is a secondary black hole, we may be able to find others in similar galaxies," Daniel Perley said. Rick Perley was one of the astronomers who made the original Cygnus A observations with the VLA in the 1980s. Daniel Perley is his son, now also a research astronomer. "Daniel was only two years old when I first observed Cygnus A with the VLA," Rick said. As a high school student in Socorro, New Mexico, Daniel used VLA data for an award-winning science fair project that took him to the international level of competition, then went on to earn a doctoral degree in astronomy.


The astronomers observed Cygnus A, a well-known and often-studied galaxy discovered by radio-astronomy pioneer Grote Reber in 1939. The radio discovery was matched to a visible-light image in 1951, and the galaxy, some 800 million light-years from Earth, was an early target of the VLA after its completion in the early 1980s. Detailed images from the VLA published in 1984 produced major advances in scientists' understanding of the superfast "jets" of subatomic particles propelled into intergalactic space by the gravitational energy of supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. "This new object may have much to tell us about the history of this galaxy," said Daniel Perley, of the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K., lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal announcing the discovery. "The VLA images of Cygnus A from the 1980s marked the state of the observational capability at that time," said Rick Perley, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "Because of that, we didn't look at Cygnus A again until 1996, when new VLA electronics had provided a new range of radio frequencies for our observations." The new object does not appear in the images made then. "However, the VLA's upgrade that was completed in 2012 made it a much more powerful telescope, so we wanted to have a look at Cygnus A using the VLA's new capabilities," Perley said. Daniel and Rick Perley, along with Vivek Dhawan, and Chris Carilli, both of NRAO, began the new observations in 2015, and continued them in 2016. "To our surprise, we found a prominent new feature near the galaxy's nucleus that did not appear in any previous published images. This new feature is bright enough that we definitely would have seen it in the earlier images if nothing had changed," said Rick Perley. "That means it must have turned on sometime between 1996 and now," he added. The scientists then observed Cygnus A with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in November of 2016, clearly detecting the new object. A faint infrared object also is seen at the same location in Hubble Space Telescope and Keck observations, originally made between 1994 and 2002. The infrared astronomers, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had attributed the object to a dense group of stars, but the dramatic radio brightening is forcing a new analysis. What is the new object? Based on its characteristics, the astronomers concluded it must be either a supernova explosion or an outburst from a second supermassive black hole near the galaxy's center. While they want to watch the object's future behavior to make sure, they pointed out that the object has remained too bright for too long to be consistent with any known type of supernova. "Because of this extraordinary brightness, we consider the supernova explanation unlikely," Dhawan said. While the new object definitely is separate from Cygnus A's central supermassive black hole, by about 1500 light-years, it has many of the characteristics of a supermassive black hole that is rapidly feeding on surrounding material. "We think we've found a second supermassive black hole in this galaxy, indicating that it has merged with another galaxy in the astronomically-recent past," Carilli said. "These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future." The astronomers suggested that the second black hole has become visible to the VLA in recent years because it has encountered a new source of material to devour. That material, they said, could either be gas disrupted by the galaxies' merger or a star that passed close enough to the secondary black hole to be shredded by its powerful gravity. "Further observations will help us resolve some of these questions. In addition, if this is a secondary black hole, we may be able to find others in similar galaxies," Daniel Perley said. Rick Perley was one of the astronomers who made the original Cygnus A observations with the VLA in the 1980s. Daniel Perley is his son, now also a research astronomer. "Daniel was only two years old when I first observed Cygnus A with the VLA," Rick said. As a high school student in Socorro, New Mexico, Daniel used VLA data for an award-winning science fair project that took him to the international level of competition, then went on to earn a doctoral degree in astronomy.


News Article | May 23, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Scientists may have found a new supernova explosion or supermassive black hole in a galaxy about 600 million light years from Earth after pointing a telescope there for the first time in a couple of decades and spotting something super bright near its center. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory said the bright object was not in the Cygnus A galaxy when the Very Large Array last viewed it in 1996. “It must have turned on sometime between 1996 and now,” the observatory’s Rick Perley said in a statement. They know it’s a new bright spot because despite upgrades that have been made to the telescope since the mid-’90s, “this new feature is bright enough that we definitely would have seen it in the earlier images [even] if nothing had changed.” Read: How a Black Hole vs. a Supernova Would Murder You in Space Based on what it looks like, the scientists said the bright spot is either a supernova explosion or an “outburst” from a secondary supermassive black hole orbiting the one that lies at the galaxy’s center. The supermassive black hole explanation is the more likely contender, because of just how bright the object is, but if it is a supernova — an explosion of a massive star — it’s a rare kind. “While they want to watch the object’s future behavior to make sure, they pointed out that the object has remained too bright for too long to be consistent with any known type of supernova,” the observatory said. “It has many of the characteristics of a supermassive black hole that is rapidly feeding on surrounding material.” Cygnus A is known for being one of the greatest sources of radio waves in space, and the closest one to Earth that is so active on that side of the electromagnetic spectrum. But much of its history is a mystery. Where would this secondary supermassive black hole have come from and why is it orbiting so close to the main one in Cygnus A? It’s possible that Cygnus A ate up another galaxy, lassoing its black hole into the system. This kind of cannibalism is fairly common in the universe. Astronomers have recently found a few supermassive black holes lurking at the center of tiny galaxies called ultracompact dwarf galaxies. They believe such massive objects exist in such small systems because those dwarf galaxies were once much larger, but collided with other galaxies and had their contents stripped away. The victor of those galactic collisions ran away with the extra stars and planets and left behind a loser of a supermassive black hole with a smaller community of matter around it. There are also mergers of galaxies that result from these commonly occurring collisions. “These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future,” the NRAO’s chief scientist Chris Carilli explained. If the bright spot is indeed a supermassive black hole that was roped into the galaxy from another, it could tell astronomers more about what Cygnus A’s life was like before telescopes and before it was discovered. In the time since scientists first found Cygnus A, the black hole would have been there all along, if that’s what the object turns out to be. But the telescope would have been able to spot it now because, the observatory explained, the black hole might have “encountered a new source of material to devour,” such as gas or a star that got too close and was shredded into a stream of atoms and dragged into the void. When a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy gobbles up a space meal, it can emit material in a sort of burp known as galactic outflow, a powerful wind of gas. Scientists have recently discovered that baby stars can be formed in that hot gas the black hole passes.


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: phys.org

An image of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant that was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Credit: NASA, ESA, NRAO/AUI/NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires) Astronomers have produced a highly detailed image of the Crab Nebula, by combining data from telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves seen by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to the powerful X-ray glow as seen by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. And, in between that range of wavelengths, the Hubble Space Telescope's crisp visible-light view, and the infrared perspective of the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Crab Nebula, the result of a bright supernova explosion seen by Chinese and other astronomers in the year 1054, is 6,500 light-years from Earth. At its center is a super-dense neutron star, rotating once every 33 milliseconds, shooting out rotating lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and light—a pulsar (the bright dot at image center). The nebula's intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion. This image combines data from five different telescopes: The VLA (radio) in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X-ray) in purple. The new VLA, Hubble, and Chandra observations all were made at nearly the same time in November of 2012. A team of scientists led by Gloria Dubner of the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET), and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina then made a thorough analysis of the newly revealed details in a quest to gain new insights into the complex physics of the object. They are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal. "Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula. Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it," Dubner said.

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