Smashing Galaxies Together for Bigger Black Holes, variant

Smashing Galaxies Together for Bigger Black Holes, variant

Edited Hubble Space Telescope montage (created by NASA) of various galaxies with growing black holes due to collisions with other galaxies. Color/processing variant.

Original caption: Some of the Hubble Space Telescope’s most stunning images reveal galaxies in distress. Many of them are in the throes of a gravitational encounter with another galaxy. The photos show perfect pinwheel patterns stretched and pulled into irregular shapes. Streamers of gas and dust flow from galaxies into space. And in this chaos, batches of young, blue stars glow like tree lights, fueled by the dust and gas kicked up by the galactic encounter. For some galaxies, the powerful meeting with a passing galaxy will eventually end in mergers.

But hidden from view deep inside the dusty cores of these merging galaxies is the slow dance of their supermassive black holes toward an eventual union. Visible light cannot penetrate these shrouded central regions. X-ray data, however, have detected the black-hole courtship. And now astronomers analyzing near-infrared images from the sharp-eyed Hubble Space Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii are offering the best view yet of close pairs of black holes as they move slowly toward each other.

The study is the largest survey of the cores of nearby galaxies in near-infrared light. The Hubble observations represent over 20 years’ worth of snapshots from its vast archive. The survey targeted galaxies residing an average distance of 330 million light-years from Earth.

The census helps astronomers confirm computer simulations showing that black holes grow faster during the last 10 million to 20 million years of the galactic merger. The Hubble and Keck Observatory images captured close-up views of this final stage, when the bulked-up black holes are only about 3,000 light-years apart — a near-embrace in cosmic terms. The study shows that galaxy encounters are important for astronomers’ understanding of how black holes became so monstrously big.

These monster black holes also unleash powerful energy in the form of gravitational waves, the kind of ripples in space-time that were just recently detected by ground-breaking experiments. The images also provide a close-up preview of a phenomenon that must have been more common in the early universe, when galaxy mergers were more frequent.

Another original caption: Peering through thick walls of gas and dust surrounding the messy cores of merging galaxies, astronomers are getting their best view yet of close pairs of supermassive black holes as they march toward coalescence into mega black holes.

A team of researchers led by Michael Koss of Eureka Scientific Inc., in Kirkland, Washington, performed the largest survey of the cores of nearby galaxies in near-infrared light, using high-resolution images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The Hubble observations represent over 20 years’ worth of snapshots from its vast archive.

"Seeing the pairs of merging galaxy nuclei associated with these huge black holes so close together was pretty amazing," Koss said. "In our study, we see two galaxy nuclei right when the images were taken. You can’t argue with it; it’s a very ‘clean’ result, which doesn’t rely on interpretation."

The images also provide a close-up preview of a phenomenon that must have been more common in the early universe, when galaxy mergers were more frequent. When galaxies collide, their monster black holes can unleash powerful energy in the form of gravitational waves, the kind of ripples in space-time that were just recently detected by ground-breaking experiments.

The new study also offers a preview of what will likely happen in our own cosmic backyard, in several billion years, when our Milky Way combines with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy and their respective central black holes smash together.

"Computer simulations of galaxy smashups show us that black holes grow fastest during the final stages of mergers, near the time when the black holes interact, and that’s what we have found in our survey," said study team member Laura Blecha of the University of Florida, in Gainesville. "The fact that black holes grow faster and faster as mergers progress tells us galaxy encounters are really important for our understanding of how these objects got to be so monstrously big."

A galaxy merger is a slow process lasting more than a billion years as two galaxies, under the inexorable pull of gravity, dance toward each other before finally joining together. Simulations reveal that galaxies kick up plenty of gas and dust as they undergo this slow-motion train wreck.

The ejected material often forms a thick curtain around the centers of the coalescing galaxies, shielding them from view in visible light. Some of the material also falls onto the black holes at the cores of the merging galaxies. The black holes grow at a fast clip as they engorge themselves with their cosmic food, and, being messy eaters, they cause the infalling gas to blaze brightly. This speedy growth occurs during the last 10 million to 20 million years of the union. The Hubble and Keck Observatory images captured close-up views of this final stage, when the bulked-up black holes are only about 3,000 light-years apart — a near-embrace in cosmic terms.

It’s not easy to find galaxy nuclei so close together. Most prior observations of colliding galaxies have caught the coalescing black holes at earlier stages when they were about 10 times farther away. The late stage of the merger process is so elusive because the interacting galaxies are encased in dense dust and gas and require high-resolution observations in infrared light that can see through the clouds and pinpoint the locations of the two merging nuclei.

The team first searched for visually obscured, active black holes by sifting through 10 years’ worth of X-ray data from the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) aboard NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Telescope, a high-energy space observatory. "Gas falling onto the black holes emits X-rays, and the brightness of the X-rays tells you how quickly the black hole is growing," Koss explained. "I didn’t know if we would find hidden mergers, but we suspected, based on computer simulations, that they would be in heavily shrouded galaxies.Therefore we tried to peer through the dust with the sharpest images possible, in hopes of finding coalescing black holes."

The researchers combed through the Hubble archive, identifying those merging galaxies they spotted in the X-ray data. They then used the Keck Observatory’s super-sharp, near-infrared vision to observe a larger sample of the X-ray-producing black holes not found in the Hubble archive.

"People had conducted studies to look for these close interacting black holes before, but what really enabled this particular study were the X-rays that can break through the cocoon of dust," Koss said. "We also looked a bit farther in the universe so that we could survey a larger volume of space, giving us a greater chance of finding more luminous, rapidly growing black holes."

The team targeted galaxies with an average distance of 330 million light-years from Earth. Many of the galaxies are similar in size to the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. The team analyzed 96 galaxies from the Keck Observatory and 385 galaxies from the Hubble archive found in 38 different Hubble observation programs. The sample galaxies are representative of what astronomers would find by conducting an all-sky survey.

To verify their results, Koss’s team compared the survey galaxies with 176 other galaxies from the Hubble archive that lack actively growing black holes. The comparison confirmed that the luminous cores found in the researchers’ census of dusty interacting galaxies are indeed a signature of rapidly growing black-hole pairs headed for a collision.

When the two supermassive black holes in each of these systems finally come together in millions of years, their encounters will produce strong gravitational waves. Gravitational waves produced by the collision of two stellar-mass black holes have already been detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Observatories such as the planned NASA/ESA space-based Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) will be able to detect the lower-frequency gravitational waves from supermassive black-hole mergers, which are a million times more massive than those detected by LIGO.

Future infrared telescopes, such as NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope and a new generation of giant ground-based telescopes, will provide an even better probe of dusty galaxy collisions by measuring the masses, growth rate, and dynamics of close black-hole pairs. The Webb telescope may also be able to look in mid-infrared light to uncover more galaxy interactions so encased in thick gas and dust that even near-infrared light cannot penetrate them.

The team’s results will appear online in the Nov. 7, 2018, issue of the journal Nature.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (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, D.C.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-11-08 03:32:08

Tagged: , STSCI-H-p1828a-f-2422×2117 , Edited , NASA , ESA , Montage , HST , Hubble Space Telescope , Galaxies , IR , Infrared , European Space Agency , Black Hole

Blue M98, variant

Blue M98, variant

Edited European Southern Observatory image of the galaxy M98. Color/processing variant.

Original caption: The colour blue has many associations — coldness, sadness, serenity. However, the colour holds a completely different meaning for astronomers, as demonstrated by the edge-on spiral galaxy Messier 98. Messier 98, also known as NGC 4192, is located approximately 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair). In this spectacular image from ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT), the galaxy’s perimeter, rippled with gas and dust, is dotted with pockets of blueish light. These are regions filled with very young stars, which are so hot that they glow with a bright blue hue. These young stars are burning at such high temperatures that they are emitting fierce radiation, burning away some of the dense material that surrounds them. In total, Messier 98 is thought to contain one trillion stars! The NTT is a 3.58-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, which pioneered the use of active optics and was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-06-05 02:39:29

Tagged: , Messier 98 , NGC 4192 , 5 June 2018 , Edited , ESO , European Southern Observatory , Galaxy , M98 , Spiral Galaxy

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, distorted annotation

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, distorted annotation

Edited Chandra Space Telescope visualization of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (our galaxy), with lots of stars and gas and energetic processes. Annotated by NASA and distorted by me.

Image source: chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2018/gcenter360/

Original caption: A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip — complete with a 360-degree view — to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This project, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, allows viewers to control their own exploration of the fascinating environment of volatile massive stars and powerful gravity around the monster black hole that lies in the center of the Milky Way.

The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 150,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy. While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes that can detect light in a variety of forms, including X-ray and infrared light.

This visualization builds on infrared data with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope of 30 massive stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars that orbit within about 1.5 light years of the center of our Galaxy. Powerful winds of gas streaming from the surface of these stars are carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space.

When the outflowing gas collides with previously ejected gas from other stars, the collisions produce shock waves, similar to sonic booms, which permeate the area. These shock waves heat the gas to millions of degrees, which causes it to glow in X-rays. Extensive observations with Chandra of the central regions of the Milky Way have provided critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are interested in better understanding what role these Wolf-Rayet stars play in the cosmic neighborhood at the Milky Way’s center. In particular, they would like to know how the stars interact with the Galactic center’s most dominant resident: the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*). Pre-eminent yet invisible, Sgr A* has the mass equivalent to some four million Suns.

The Galactic Center visualization is a 360-degree movie that immerses the viewer into a simulation of the center of our Galaxy. The viewer is at the location of Sgr A* and is able to see about 25 Wolf-Rayet stars (white, twinkling objects) orbiting Sgr A* as they continuously eject stellar winds (black to red to yellow color scale). These winds collide with each other, and then some of this material (yellow blobs) spirals towards Sgr A*. The movie shows two simulations, each of which start around 350 years in the past and span 500 years. The first simulation shows Sgr A* in a calm state, while the second contains a more violent Sgr A* that is expelling its own material, thereby turning off the accretion of clumped material (yellow blobs) that is so prominent in the first portion.

Scientists have used the visualization to examine the effects Sgr A* has on its stellar neighbors. As the strong gravity of Sgr A* pulls clumps of material inwards, tidal forces stretch the clumps as they get closer to the black hole. Sgr A* also impacts its surroundings through occasional outbursts from its vicinity that result in the expulsion of material away from the giant black hole, as shown in the later part of the movie. These outbursts can have the effect of clearing away some of the gas produced by the Wolf-Rayet winds.

The researchers, led by Christopher Russell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, used the visualization to understand the presence of previously detected X-rays in the shape of a disk that extend about 0.6 light years outward from Sgr A*. Their work shows that the amount of X-rays generated by these colliding winds depends on the strength of outbursts powered by Sgr A*, and also the amount of time that has elapsed since an eruption occurred. Stronger and more recent outbursts result in weaker X-ray emission.

The information provided by the theoretical modeling and a comparison with the strength of X-ray emission observed with Chandra led Russell and his colleagues to determine that Sgr A* most likely had a relatively powerful outburst that started within the last few centuries. Moreover, their findings suggest the outburst from the supermassive black hole is still affecting the region around Sgr A* even though it ended about one hundred years ago.

The 360-degree video of the Galactic Center is ideally viewed in virtual reality (VR) goggles, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. The video can also be viewed on smartphones using the YouTube app. Moving the phone around pans to show a different portion of the movie, mimicking the effect in the VR goggles. Finally, most browsers on a computer also allow 360-degree videos to be shown on YouTube. To look around, either click and drag the video, or click the direction pad in the corner.

Christopher Russell presented this new visualization and the related scientific findings at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC. Some of the results are based on a paper by Russell et al published in 2017 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. An online version is here. The co-authors of this paper are Daniel Wang from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. and Jorge Cuadra from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-01-11 04:56:18

Tagged: , 11 January 2018 , Edited , NASA , Milky Way , Galaxy , Center , Annotated , Chandra , Chandra Space Telescope , Sgr A* , Gas , Dust , Stars

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy

Edited Chandra Space Telescope visualization of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (our galaxy), with lots of stars and gas and energetic processes.

Image source: chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2018/gcenter360/

Original caption: A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip — complete with a 360-degree view — to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This project, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, allows viewers to control their own exploration of the fascinating environment of volatile massive stars and powerful gravity around the monster black hole that lies in the center of the Milky Way.

The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 150,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy. While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes that can detect light in a variety of forms, including X-ray and infrared light.

This visualization builds on infrared data with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope of 30 massive stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars that orbit within about 1.5 light years of the center of our Galaxy. Powerful winds of gas streaming from the surface of these stars are carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space.

When the outflowing gas collides with previously ejected gas from other stars, the collisions produce shock waves, similar to sonic booms, which permeate the area. These shock waves heat the gas to millions of degrees, which causes it to glow in X-rays. Extensive observations with Chandra of the central regions of the Milky Way have provided critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are interested in better understanding what role these Wolf-Rayet stars play in the cosmic neighborhood at the Milky Way’s center. In particular, they would like to know how the stars interact with the Galactic center’s most dominant resident: the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*). Pre-eminent yet invisible, Sgr A* has the mass equivalent to some four million Suns.

The Galactic Center visualization is a 360-degree movie that immerses the viewer into a simulation of the center of our Galaxy. The viewer is at the location of Sgr A* and is able to see about 25 Wolf-Rayet stars (white, twinkling objects) orbiting Sgr A* as they continuously eject stellar winds (black to red to yellow color scale). These winds collide with each other, and then some of this material (yellow blobs) spirals towards Sgr A*. The movie shows two simulations, each of which start around 350 years in the past and span 500 years. The first simulation shows Sgr A* in a calm state, while the second contains a more violent Sgr A* that is expelling its own material, thereby turning off the accretion of clumped material (yellow blobs) that is so prominent in the first portion.

Scientists have used the visualization to examine the effects Sgr A* has on its stellar neighbors. As the strong gravity of Sgr A* pulls clumps of material inwards, tidal forces stretch the clumps as they get closer to the black hole. Sgr A* also impacts its surroundings through occasional outbursts from its vicinity that result in the expulsion of material away from the giant black hole, as shown in the later part of the movie. These outbursts can have the effect of clearing away some of the gas produced by the Wolf-Rayet winds.

The researchers, led by Christopher Russell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, used the visualization to understand the presence of previously detected X-rays in the shape of a disk that extend about 0.6 light years outward from Sgr A*. Their work shows that the amount of X-rays generated by these colliding winds depends on the strength of outbursts powered by Sgr A*, and also the amount of time that has elapsed since an eruption occurred. Stronger and more recent outbursts result in weaker X-ray emission.

The information provided by the theoretical modeling and a comparison with the strength of X-ray emission observed with Chandra led Russell and his colleagues to determine that Sgr A* most likely had a relatively powerful outburst that started within the last few centuries. Moreover, their findings suggest the outburst from the supermassive black hole is still affecting the region around Sgr A* even though it ended about one hundred years ago.

The 360-degree video of the Galactic Center is ideally viewed in virtual reality (VR) goggles, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. The video can also be viewed on smartphones using the YouTube app. Moving the phone around pans to show a different portion of the movie, mimicking the effect in the VR goggles. Finally, most browsers on a computer also allow 360-degree videos to be shown on YouTube. To look around, either click and drag the video, or click the direction pad in the corner.

Christopher Russell presented this new visualization and the related scientific findings at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC. Some of the results are based on a paper by Russell et al published in 2017 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. An online version is here. The co-authors of this paper are Daniel Wang from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. and Jorge Cuadra from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-01-11 04:56:18

Tagged: , 11 January 2018 , Edited , NASA , Milky Way , Galaxy , Center , Chandra , Chandra Space Telescope , Sgr A* , Gas , Dust , Stars

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, variant

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, variant

Edited Chandra Space Telescope visualization of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (our galaxy), with lots of stars and gas and energetic processes. Processing variant.

Image source: chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2018/gcenter360/

Original caption: A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip — complete with a 360-degree view — to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This project, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, allows viewers to control their own exploration of the fascinating environment of volatile massive stars and powerful gravity around the monster black hole that lies in the center of the Milky Way.

The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 150,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy. While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes that can detect light in a variety of forms, including X-ray and infrared light.

This visualization builds on infrared data with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope of 30 massive stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars that orbit within about 1.5 light years of the center of our Galaxy. Powerful winds of gas streaming from the surface of these stars are carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space.

When the outflowing gas collides with previously ejected gas from other stars, the collisions produce shock waves, similar to sonic booms, which permeate the area. These shock waves heat the gas to millions of degrees, which causes it to glow in X-rays. Extensive observations with Chandra of the central regions of the Milky Way have provided critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are interested in better understanding what role these Wolf-Rayet stars play in the cosmic neighborhood at the Milky Way’s center. In particular, they would like to know how the stars interact with the Galactic center’s most dominant resident: the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*). Pre-eminent yet invisible, Sgr A* has the mass equivalent to some four million Suns.

The Galactic Center visualization is a 360-degree movie that immerses the viewer into a simulation of the center of our Galaxy. The viewer is at the location of Sgr A* and is able to see about 25 Wolf-Rayet stars (white, twinkling objects) orbiting Sgr A* as they continuously eject stellar winds (black to red to yellow color scale). These winds collide with each other, and then some of this material (yellow blobs) spirals towards Sgr A*. The movie shows two simulations, each of which start around 350 years in the past and span 500 years. The first simulation shows Sgr A* in a calm state, while the second contains a more violent Sgr A* that is expelling its own material, thereby turning off the accretion of clumped material (yellow blobs) that is so prominent in the first portion.

Scientists have used the visualization to examine the effects Sgr A* has on its stellar neighbors. As the strong gravity of Sgr A* pulls clumps of material inwards, tidal forces stretch the clumps as they get closer to the black hole. Sgr A* also impacts its surroundings through occasional outbursts from its vicinity that result in the expulsion of material away from the giant black hole, as shown in the later part of the movie. These outbursts can have the effect of clearing away some of the gas produced by the Wolf-Rayet winds.

The researchers, led by Christopher Russell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, used the visualization to understand the presence of previously detected X-rays in the shape of a disk that extend about 0.6 light years outward from Sgr A*. Their work shows that the amount of X-rays generated by these colliding winds depends on the strength of outbursts powered by Sgr A*, and also the amount of time that has elapsed since an eruption occurred. Stronger and more recent outbursts result in weaker X-ray emission.

The information provided by the theoretical modeling and a comparison with the strength of X-ray emission observed with Chandra led Russell and his colleagues to determine that Sgr A* most likely had a relatively powerful outburst that started within the last few centuries. Moreover, their findings suggest the outburst from the supermassive black hole is still affecting the region around Sgr A* even though it ended about one hundred years ago.

The 360-degree video of the Galactic Center is ideally viewed in virtual reality (VR) goggles, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. The video can also be viewed on smartphones using the YouTube app. Moving the phone around pans to show a different portion of the movie, mimicking the effect in the VR goggles. Finally, most browsers on a computer also allow 360-degree videos to be shown on YouTube. To look around, either click and drag the video, or click the direction pad in the corner.

Christopher Russell presented this new visualization and the related scientific findings at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC. Some of the results are based on a paper by Russell et al published in 2017 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. An online version is here. The co-authors of this paper are Daniel Wang from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. and Jorge Cuadra from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-01-11 04:56:18

Tagged: , 11 January 2018 , Edited , NASA , Milky Way , Galaxy , Center , Chandra , Chandra Space Telescope , Sgr A* , Gas , Dust , Stars

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, annotated

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, annotated

Edited Chandra Space Telescope visualization of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (our galaxy), with lots of stars and gas and energetic processes. Annotated by NASA.

Image source: chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2018/gcenter360/

Original caption: A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip — complete with a 360-degree view — to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This project, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, allows viewers to control their own exploration of the fascinating environment of volatile massive stars and powerful gravity around the monster black hole that lies in the center of the Milky Way.

The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 150,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy. While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes that can detect light in a variety of forms, including X-ray and infrared light.

This visualization builds on infrared data with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope of 30 massive stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars that orbit within about 1.5 light years of the center of our Galaxy. Powerful winds of gas streaming from the surface of these stars are carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space.

When the outflowing gas collides with previously ejected gas from other stars, the collisions produce shock waves, similar to sonic booms, which permeate the area. These shock waves heat the gas to millions of degrees, which causes it to glow in X-rays. Extensive observations with Chandra of the central regions of the Milky Way have provided critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are interested in better understanding what role these Wolf-Rayet stars play in the cosmic neighborhood at the Milky Way’s center. In particular, they would like to know how the stars interact with the Galactic center’s most dominant resident: the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*). Pre-eminent yet invisible, Sgr A* has the mass equivalent to some four million Suns.

The Galactic Center visualization is a 360-degree movie that immerses the viewer into a simulation of the center of our Galaxy. The viewer is at the location of Sgr A* and is able to see about 25 Wolf-Rayet stars (white, twinkling objects) orbiting Sgr A* as they continuously eject stellar winds (black to red to yellow color scale). These winds collide with each other, and then some of this material (yellow blobs) spirals towards Sgr A*. The movie shows two simulations, each of which start around 350 years in the past and span 500 years. The first simulation shows Sgr A* in a calm state, while the second contains a more violent Sgr A* that is expelling its own material, thereby turning off the accretion of clumped material (yellow blobs) that is so prominent in the first portion.

Scientists have used the visualization to examine the effects Sgr A* has on its stellar neighbors. As the strong gravity of Sgr A* pulls clumps of material inwards, tidal forces stretch the clumps as they get closer to the black hole. Sgr A* also impacts its surroundings through occasional outbursts from its vicinity that result in the expulsion of material away from the giant black hole, as shown in the later part of the movie. These outbursts can have the effect of clearing away some of the gas produced by the Wolf-Rayet winds.

The researchers, led by Christopher Russell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, used the visualization to understand the presence of previously detected X-rays in the shape of a disk that extend about 0.6 light years outward from Sgr A*. Their work shows that the amount of X-rays generated by these colliding winds depends on the strength of outbursts powered by Sgr A*, and also the amount of time that has elapsed since an eruption occurred. Stronger and more recent outbursts result in weaker X-ray emission.

The information provided by the theoretical modeling and a comparison with the strength of X-ray emission observed with Chandra led Russell and his colleagues to determine that Sgr A* most likely had a relatively powerful outburst that started within the last few centuries. Moreover, their findings suggest the outburst from the supermassive black hole is still affecting the region around Sgr A* even though it ended about one hundred years ago.

The 360-degree video of the Galactic Center is ideally viewed in virtual reality (VR) goggles, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. The video can also be viewed on smartphones using the YouTube app. Moving the phone around pans to show a different portion of the movie, mimicking the effect in the VR goggles. Finally, most browsers on a computer also allow 360-degree videos to be shown on YouTube. To look around, either click and drag the video, or click the direction pad in the corner.

Christopher Russell presented this new visualization and the related scientific findings at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC. Some of the results are based on a paper by Russell et al published in 2017 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. An online version is here. The co-authors of this paper are Daniel Wang from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. and Jorge Cuadra from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-01-11 04:56:18

Tagged: , 11 January 2018 , Edited , NASA , Milky Way , Galaxy , Center , Annotated , Chandra , Chandra Space Telescope , Sgr A* , Gas , Dust , Stars

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, variant

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, variant

Edited Chandra Space Telescope visualization of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (our galaxy), with lots of stars and gas and energetic processes. Geometric variant.

Image source: chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2018/gcenter360/

Original caption: A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip — complete with a 360-degree view — to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This project, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, allows viewers to control their own exploration of the fascinating environment of volatile massive stars and powerful gravity around the monster black hole that lies in the center of the Milky Way.

The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 150,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy. While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes that can detect light in a variety of forms, including X-ray and infrared light.

This visualization builds on infrared data with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope of 30 massive stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars that orbit within about 1.5 light years of the center of our Galaxy. Powerful winds of gas streaming from the surface of these stars are carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space.

When the outflowing gas collides with previously ejected gas from other stars, the collisions produce shock waves, similar to sonic booms, which permeate the area. These shock waves heat the gas to millions of degrees, which causes it to glow in X-rays. Extensive observations with Chandra of the central regions of the Milky Way have provided critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are interested in better understanding what role these Wolf-Rayet stars play in the cosmic neighborhood at the Milky Way’s center. In particular, they would like to know how the stars interact with the Galactic center’s most dominant resident: the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*). Pre-eminent yet invisible, Sgr A* has the mass equivalent to some four million Suns.

The Galactic Center visualization is a 360-degree movie that immerses the viewer into a simulation of the center of our Galaxy. The viewer is at the location of Sgr A* and is able to see about 25 Wolf-Rayet stars (white, twinkling objects) orbiting Sgr A* as they continuously eject stellar winds (black to red to yellow color scale). These winds collide with each other, and then some of this material (yellow blobs) spirals towards Sgr A*. The movie shows two simulations, each of which start around 350 years in the past and span 500 years. The first simulation shows Sgr A* in a calm state, while the second contains a more violent Sgr A* that is expelling its own material, thereby turning off the accretion of clumped material (yellow blobs) that is so prominent in the first portion.

Scientists have used the visualization to examine the effects Sgr A* has on its stellar neighbors. As the strong gravity of Sgr A* pulls clumps of material inwards, tidal forces stretch the clumps as they get closer to the black hole. Sgr A* also impacts its surroundings through occasional outbursts from its vicinity that result in the expulsion of material away from the giant black hole, as shown in the later part of the movie. These outbursts can have the effect of clearing away some of the gas produced by the Wolf-Rayet winds.

The researchers, led by Christopher Russell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, used the visualization to understand the presence of previously detected X-rays in the shape of a disk that extend about 0.6 light years outward from Sgr A*. Their work shows that the amount of X-rays generated by these colliding winds depends on the strength of outbursts powered by Sgr A*, and also the amount of time that has elapsed since an eruption occurred. Stronger and more recent outbursts result in weaker X-ray emission.

The information provided by the theoretical modeling and a comparison with the strength of X-ray emission observed with Chandra led Russell and his colleagues to determine that Sgr A* most likely had a relatively powerful outburst that started within the last few centuries. Moreover, their findings suggest the outburst from the supermassive black hole is still affecting the region around Sgr A* even though it ended about one hundred years ago.

The 360-degree video of the Galactic Center is ideally viewed in virtual reality (VR) goggles, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. The video can also be viewed on smartphones using the YouTube app. Moving the phone around pans to show a different portion of the movie, mimicking the effect in the VR goggles. Finally, most browsers on a computer also allow 360-degree videos to be shown on YouTube. To look around, either click and drag the video, or click the direction pad in the corner.

Christopher Russell presented this new visualization and the related scientific findings at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC. Some of the results are based on a paper by Russell et al published in 2017 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. An online version is here. The co-authors of this paper are Daniel Wang from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. and Jorge Cuadra from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Posted by sjrankin on 2018-01-11 04:56:18

Tagged: , 11 January 2018 , Edited , NASA , Milky Way , Galaxy , Center , Chandra , Chandra Space Telescope , Sgr A* , Gas , Dust , Stars

Blue Galaxy

Blue Galaxy

Edited European Southern Observatory image of the galaxy NGC 4192 (or M98).

Original caption: The colour blue has many associations — coldness, sadness, serenity. However, the colour holds a completely different meaning for astronomers, as demonstrated by the edge-on spiral galaxy Messier 98. Messier 98, also known as NGC 4192, is located approximately 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair). In this spectacular image from ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT), the galaxy’s perimeter, rippled with gas and dust, is dotted with pockets of blueish light. These are regions filled with very young stars, which are so hot that they glow with a bright blue hue. These young stars are burning at such high temperatures that they are emitting fierce radiation, burning away some of the dense material that surrounds them. In total, Messier 98 is thought to contain one trillion stars! The NTT is a 3.58-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, which pioneered the use of active optics and was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror.

Posted by sjrankin on 2017-01-28 11:31:18

Tagged: , Messier 98 , NGC 4192 , 28 January 2017 , Edited , ESO , European Southern Observatory , Galaxy

V1247 Orionis

V1247 Orionis

Edited European Southern Observatory image of the star V1247 Orionis, set in a ring of dust and gas.

Original caption: This image from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) shows V1247 Orionis, a young, hot star surrounded by a dynamic ring of gas and dust, known as a circumstellar disc. This disc can be seen here in two parts: a clearly defined central ring of matter and a more delicate crescent structure located further out.

The region between the ring and crescent, visible as a dark strip, is thought to be caused by a young planet carving its way through the disc. As the planet orbits around its parent star, its motion creates areas of high pressure on either side of its path, similar to how a ship creates bow waves as it cuts through water. These areas of high pressure could become protective barriers around sites of planet formation; dust particles are trapped within them for millions of years, allowing them the time and space to clump together and grow.

The exquisite resolution of ALMA allows astronomers to study the intricate structure of such a dust trapping vortex for the first time. The image reveals not only the crescent-shaped dust trap at the outer edge of the dark strip, but also regions of excess dust within the ring, possibly indicating a second dust trap that formed inside of the potential planet’s orbit. This confirms the predictions of earlier computer simulations.

Dust trapping is one potential solution to a major stumbling block in current theories of how planets form, which predicts that particles should drift into the central star and be destroyed before they have time to grow to planetesimal sizes (the radial drift problem).

Links
Science paper
Credit:
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/S. Kraus (University of Exeter, UK)

Posted by sjrankin on 2017-10-17 01:24:56

Tagged: , 17 October 2017 , Edited , ESO , European Southern Observatory , V1247 Orionis , Star , Dust , Gas , Ring

V1247 Orionis, variant

V1247 Orionis, variant

Edited European Southern Observatory image of the star V1247 Orionis, set in a ring of dust and gas. Color/processing variant.

Original caption: This image from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) shows V1247 Orionis, a young, hot star surrounded by a dynamic ring of gas and dust, known as a circumstellar disc. This disc can be seen here in two parts: a clearly defined central ring of matter and a more delicate crescent structure located further out.

The region between the ring and crescent, visible as a dark strip, is thought to be caused by a young planet carving its way through the disc. As the planet orbits around its parent star, its motion creates areas of high pressure on either side of its path, similar to how a ship creates bow waves as it cuts through water. These areas of high pressure could become protective barriers around sites of planet formation; dust particles are trapped within them for millions of years, allowing them the time and space to clump together and grow.

The exquisite resolution of ALMA allows astronomers to study the intricate structure of such a dust trapping vortex for the first time. The image reveals not only the crescent-shaped dust trap at the outer edge of the dark strip, but also regions of excess dust within the ring, possibly indicating a second dust trap that formed inside of the potential planet’s orbit. This confirms the predictions of earlier computer simulations.

Dust trapping is one potential solution to a major stumbling block in current theories of how planets form, which predicts that particles should drift into the central star and be destroyed before they have time to grow to planetesimal sizes (the radial drift problem).

Links
Science paper
Credit:
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/S. Kraus (University of Exeter, UK)

Posted by sjrankin on 2017-10-17 01:24:56

Tagged: , 17 October 2017 , Edited , ESO , European Southern Observatory , V1247 Orionis , Star , Dust , Gas , Ring