Category Archives: Astronomy

ESO: Record-breaking quasar identified

A new report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Brightest and fastest-growing: astronomers identify
record-breaking quasar

This artist’s impression shows the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, this quasar has been found to be the most luminous object known in the Universe to date. The supermassive black hole, seen here pulling in surrounding matter, has a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun and is growing in mass by the equivalent of another Sun per day, making it the fastest-growing black hole ever known.

Using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have characterised a bright quasar, finding it to be not only the brightest of its kind, but also the most luminous object ever observed. Quasars are the bright cores of distant galaxies and they are powered by supermassive black holes. The black hole in this record-breaking quasar is growing in mass by the equivalent of one Sun per day, making it the fastest-growing black hole to date.

The black holes powering quasars collect matter from their surroundings in a process so energetic that it emits vast amounts of light. So much so that quasars are some of the brightest objects in our sky, meaning even distant ones are visible from Earth. As a general rule, the most luminous quasars indicate the fastest-growing supermassive black holes.

We have discovered the fastest-growing black hole known to date. It has a mass of 17 billion Suns, and eats just over a Sun per day. This makes it the most luminous object in the known Universe,

says Christian Wolf, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and lead author of the study published today in Nature Astronomy. The quasar, called J0529-4351, is so far away from Earth that its light took over 12 billion years to reach us.

The matter being pulled in toward this black hole, in the form of a disc, emits so much energy that J0529-4351 is over 500 trillion times more luminous than the Sun [1].

All this light comes from a hot accretion disc that measures seven light-years in diameter — this must be the largest accretion disc in the Universe,

says ANU PhD student and co-author Samuel Lai. Seven light-years is about 15 000 times the distance from the Sun to the orbit of Neptune.

And, remarkably, this record-breaking quasar was hiding in plain sight.

It is a surprise that it has remained unknown until today, when we already know about a million less impressive quasars. It has literally been staring us in the face until now,

says co-author Christopher Onken, an astronomer at ANU. He added that this object showed up in images from the ESO Schmidt Southern Sky Survey dating back to 1980, but it was not recognised as a quasar until decades later.

Finding quasars requires precise observational data from large areas of the sky. The resulting datasets are so large, researchers often use machine-learning models to analyse them and tell quasars apart from other celestial objects. However, these models are trained on existing data, which limits the potential candidates to objects similar to those already known. If a new quasar is more luminous than any other previously observed, the programme might reject it and classify it instead as a star not too distant from Earth.

An automated analysis of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite passed over J0529-4351 for being too bright to be a quasar, suggesting it to be a star instead. The researchers identified it as a distant quasar last year using observations from the ANU 2.3-metre telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. Discovering that it was the most luminous quasar ever observed, however, required a larger telescope and measurements from a more precise instrument. The X-shooter spectrograph on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama Desert provided the crucial data.

The fastest-growing black hole ever observed will also be a perfect target for the GRAVITY+ upgrade on ESO’s VLT Interferometer (VLTI), which is designed to accurately measure the mass of black holes, including those far away from Earth. Additionally, ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), a 39-metre telescope under construction in the Chilean Atacama Desert, will make identifying and characterising such elusive objects even more feasible.

Finding and studying distant supermassive black holes could shed light on some of the mysteries of the early Universe, including how they and their host galaxies formed and evolved. But that’s not the only reason why Wolf searches for them.

“Personally, I simply like the chase,” he says. “For a few minutes a day, I get to feel like a child again, playing treasure hunt, and now I bring everything to the table that I have learned since.”

Notes

[1] A few years ago, NASA and the European Space Agency reported that the Hubble Space Telescope had discovered a quasar, J043947.08+163415.7, as bright as 600 trillion Suns. However, that quasar’s brightness was magnified by a ‘lensing’ galaxy, located between us and the distant quasar. The actual luminosity of J043947.08+163415.7 is estimated to be equivalent to about 11 trillion Suns (1 trillion is a million million: 1 000 000 000 000 or 1012).

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For the Love of Mars:
A Human History of the Red Planet

Night sky highlights for February 2024

Check out the night sky this month, February 2024. Here are videos and articles highlighting the top sights to observe.

** What’s Up: February 2024 Skywatching Tips from NASA – NASA JPL

What are some skywatching highlights in February 2024?
Venus begins its exit from the morning sky, as Mars makes its comeback. Plus, now through May is a good time to observe spiral galaxy M81.

0:00 Intro
0:13 Moon & planet highlights
1:45 Observing spiral galaxy M81
4:01 February Moon phases

Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at https://science.nasa.gov/skywatch….

** Tonight’s Sky: February 2024 – Space Telescope Science InstituteTonight’s Sky

In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky: The northern hemisphere is treated to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse. Keep watching for the awe-inspiring space-based views of the Orion Nebula, which is sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars.

“Tonight’s Sky” is a monthly video of constellations you can observe in the night sky. The series is produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, home of science operations for the Hubble Space Telescope, in partnership with NASA’s Universe of Learning. This is a recurring show, and you can find more episodes—and other astronomy videos—at https://hubblesite.org/resource-galle….

** What to see in the night sky: February 2024BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel reveal what to see in the night sky tonight and throughout February, including the best comets, clair-obscure effects on the Moon, Orion, Gemini and star clusters.

00:00 Intro
00:13 Mercury, Venus and Mars
02:23 Jupiter and Saturn
03:41 Uranus and Neptune
06:22 Comets
11:25 Einstein Crater
13:34 Lunar X and V, Jewelled Handle
15:31 Orion
16:30 Castor and Pollux
17:50 M35
19:05 Ursa Major
20:15 Leo and the Sickle
22:00 Beehive Cluster
23:06 M67
25:08 Hydra

** Sky & Telescope’s Sky Tour Podcast – February | The Winter Hexagon and Constellations Near Orion – Sky & Telescope Youtube

Our monthly Sky Tour #astronomy #podcast provides an informative and entertaining 10-minute guided tour of the nighttime sky. Listen to the February episode and keep tabs on the Moon, say goodbye to a couple of planets, trace out the Winter Hexagon; and explore some lesser-known constellations near Orion. So bundle up, grab your curiosity, and come along on this month’s Sky Tour.

See also

** What’s in the Night Sky February 2024 Venus Mars Conjunction | SpaceX StarlinkAlyn Wallace

** Night Sky Notebook February 2024Peter Detterline

What’s happening in the sky in February 2024 when you look up!

** See also:

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Stellaris: People of the Stars

ESO: Observation of supernova producing compact object (black hole or neutron star)

A new report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Missing link found:
Supernovae give rise to black holes or neutron stars

This artist’s impression is based on the aftermath of a supernova explosion as seen by two teams of astronomers with both ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT). The supernova observed, SN 2022jli, occurred when a massive star died in a fiery explosion, leaving behind a compact object — a neutron star or a black hole. This dying star, however, had a companion which was able to survive this violent event. The periodic interactions between the compact object and its companion left periodic signals in the data, which revealed that the supernova explosion had indeed resulted in a compact object.

Astronomers have found a direct link between the explosive deaths of massive stars and the formation of the most compact and enigmatic objects in the Universe — black holes and neutron stars. With the help of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) and ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT), two teams were able to observe the aftermath of a supernova explosion in a nearby galaxy, finding evidence for the mysterious compact object it left behind.

When massive stars reach the end of their lives, they collapse under their own gravity so rapidly that a violent explosion known as a supernova ensues. Astronomers believe that, after all the excitement of the explosion, what is left is the ultra-dense core, or compact remnant, of the star. Depending on how massive the star is, the compact remnant will be either a neutron star — an object so dense that a teaspoon of its material would weigh around a trillion kilograms here on Earth — or a black hole — an object from which nothing, not even light, can escape.

Astronomers have found many clues hinting at this chain of events in the past, such as finding a neutron star within the Crab Nebula, the gas cloud left behind when a star exploded nearly a thousand years ago. But they had never before seen this process happen in real time, meaning that direct evidence of a supernova leaving behind a compact remnant has remained elusive.

In our work, we establish such a direct link

says Ping Chen, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, and lead author of a study published today in Nature and presented at the 243rd American Astronomical Society meeting in New Orleans, USA.

The researchers’ lucky break came in May 2022, when South African amateur astronomer Berto Monard discovered the supernova SN 2022jli in the spiral arm of the nearby galaxy NGC 157, located 75 million light-years away. Two separate teams turned their attention to the aftermath of this explosion and found it to have a unique behaviour.

This artist’s impression shows the process by which a massive star within a binary system becomes a supernova. This series of events occurred in the supernova SN 2022jli, and was revealed to researchers through observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and New Technology Telescope (NTT). After a massive star exploded as a supernova, it left behind a compact object — a neutron star or a black hole. The companion star survived the explosion, but its atmosphere became puffier as a result. The compact object and its companion star continued to orbit one another, with the compact object regularly stealing matter from the other’s puffy atmosphere. This accretion of matter was seen in the researchers’ data as regular fluctuations of brightness, as well as periodic movements of hydrogen gas.

After the explosion, the brightness of most supernovae simply fades away with time; astronomers see a smooth, gradual decline in the explosion’s ‘light curve’. But SN 2022jli’s behaviour is very peculiar: as the overall brightness declines, it doesn’t do so smoothly, but instead oscillates up and down every 12 days or so.

In SN 2022jli’s data we see a repeating sequence of brightening and fading

says Thomas Moore, a doctoral student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, who led a study of the supernova published late last year in the Astrophysical Journal. Moore noted in his paper.

This is the first time that repeated periodic oscillations, over many cycles, have been detected in a supernova light curve

Both the Moore and Chen teams believe that the presence of more than one star in the SN 2022jli system could explain this behaviour. In fact, it’s not unusual for massive stars to be in orbit with a companion star in what is known as a binary system, and the star that caused SN 2022jli was no exception. What is remarkable about this system, however, is that the companion star appears to have survived the violent death of its partner and the two objects, the compact remnant and the companion, likely kept orbiting each other.

The data collected by the Moore team, which included observations with ESO’s NTT in Chile’s Atacama Desert, did not allow them to pin down exactly how the interaction between the two objects caused the highs and lows in the light curve. But the Chen team had additional observations. They found the same regular fluctuations in the system’s visible brightness that the Moore team had detected, and they also spotted periodic movements of hydrogen gas and bursts of gamma rays in the system. Their observations were made possible thanks to a fleet of instruments on the ground and in space, including X-shooter on ESO’s VLT, also located in Chile.

Putting all the clues together, the two teams generally agree that when the companion star interacted with the material thrown out during the supernova explosion, its hydrogen-rich atmosphere became puffier than usual. Then, as the compact object left behind after the explosion zipped through the companion’s atmosphere on its orbit, it would steal hydrogen gas, forming a hot disc of matter around itself. This periodic stealing of matter, or accretion, released lots of energy that was picked up as regular changes of brightness in the observations.

Even though the teams could not observe light coming from the compact object itself, they concluded that this energetic stealing can only be due to an unseen neutron star, or possibly a black hole, attracting matter from the companion star’s puffy atmosphere.

Our research is like solving a puzzle by gathering all possible evidence,” Chen says. “All these pieces lining up lead to the truth.

With the presence of a black hole or neutron star confirmed, there is still plenty to unravel about this enigmatic system, including the exact nature of the compact object or what end could await this binary system. Next-generation telescopes such as ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, scheduled to begin operation later this decade, will help with this, allowing astronomers to reveal unprecedented details of this unique system.

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For the Love of Mars:
A Human History of the Red Planet

Night sky highlights for January 2024

Check out the night sky this month, January 2024. Here are videos highlighting the top sights to observe.

** What’s Up: January 2024 Skywatching Tips from NASA – NASA JPL

What are some skywatching highlights in January 2024?
The year kicks off with the Quadrantid meteors, and some great Moon-planet pairings. Plus, did you know the stars shift in the sky by four minutes each day?

0:00 Intro
0:15 Quadrantid meteor shower
0:54 Moon & planet highlights
2:12 4-minute-per-day rule
3:46 January Moon phases

Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/skywatch….

** Tonight’s Sky: January 2024 – Space Telescope Science InstituteTonight’s Sky

In January, the northern hemisphere features beautiful views of Capella, a pair of giant yellow stars; Aldebaran, a red giant star; and two star clusters—the Hyades and the Pleiades. Keep watching for the awe-inspiring space-based views of the Crab Nebula, the remains of a star that exploded as a supernova.

** What to see in the night sky: January 2024BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel reveal the top things to see in the night sky this month, including the planets of the Solar System, clair obscur effects on the Moon, Comet 144P/Kushia and Orion.

00:00 Intro
00:16 – Mercury
01:17 – Venus
02:57 – Jupiter
06:23 – Saturn
07:02 – Uranus and Neptune
09:16 – Comet 144P/Kushida
10:42 – Quadrantid meteor shower
11:09 – Clair obscur effects
11:49 – Galilean moons
12:14 – Mare Orientale
14:20 – Dione transits Saturn
17:37 – Sirius
20:40 – Orion
24:35 – Monoceros
25:54 – Rosette Nebula

** Sky & Telescope’s Sky Tour Podcast – January | The Quadrantid Meteor Shower and Spotting Planets – Sky & Telescope Youtube

Our monthly Sky Tour #astronomy #podcast provides an informative and entertaining 10-minute guided tour of the nighttime sky. Listen to the January episode and watch one of the year’s better #meteor showers, then take up the challenge of spotting five #planets; size up a celestial queen with an ego problem; and learn about a celestial hunter who, uh, also has an ego problem. So bundle up, grab your curiosity, and come along on this month’s Sky Tour.

See also

** What’s in the Night Sky January 2024 – Quadrantid Meteor Shower | Mercury-Mars ConjunctionAlyn Wallace

00:00 Intro
00:36 Quadrantids
01:35 Northern Hemisphere Sky
02:31 Southern Hemisphere Sky
03:20 Planets and Moon
04:34 #WITNS Winners

*** 2024 Unmissable Night Sky Events!Alyn Wallace

00:00 2023
00:34 Aurora Boost
01:30 January
02:40 February
02:53 March
03:40 April
06:01 May
06:35 June
07:12 July
07:25 August
07:57 September
08:25 October
10:22 December

** Night Sky Notebook January 2024Peter Detterline

** See also:

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Stellaris: People of the Stars

Night sky highlights for December 2023

Check out the night sky this month, December 2023. Here are videos highlighting the top sights to observe.

** What’s Up: December 2023 Skywatching Tips from NASA – NASA JPL

What are some skywatching highlights in December 2023?
Clear skies will make for ideal viewing of the Geminid meteor shower, and grab your binoculars to search for asteroid Vesta.

0:00 Intro
0:14 Moon & planet highlights
0:59 Geminid meteors peak
2:05 Observing asteroid Vesta
4:08 December Moon phases

Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/skywatch….

** Tonight’s Sky: December 2023 – Space Telescope Science InstituteTonight’s Sky

Step outside on a cold December night when the stars shine bright to find the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus. They will help you locate a binary star system, a fan-shaped open star cluster, and a variable star. Stay tuned for space-based views of a ragged spiral galaxy, an open star cluster, and an edge-on galaxy.

**  Geminids, Venus, Jupiter, Orion, Comet Tsuchinshan | Night sky December 2023BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Find out what’s in the night sky tonight, December 2023, with astronomers Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel as your guide.
Venus and Jupiter are bright, the Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak and asteroid Vesta reaches opposition.
Comet 62P/Tsuchinshan increases in brightness and Orion returns with its wealth of deep-sky wonders.

00:00 – Intro
00:14 – Mercury
00:55 – Venus
02:33 – Jupiter
03:02 – Saturn
03:44 – Uranus and Neptune
05:39 – Mare Orientale
06:58 – Jupiter occults Ganymede
07:55 – Geminid meteor shower
10:02 – Vesta at opposition
10:31 – Comet 62P/Tsuchinshan
15:22 – Orion and deep-sky objects
22:16 – Taurus
23:36 – Auriga and open clusters
25:00 – Camelopardalis
26:36 Kemble’s Cascade

** Sky & Telescope’s Sky Tour Podcast – December | The Geminid Meteor Shower and Bright Evening Stars – Sky & Telescope Youtube

Our monthly Sky Tour #astronomy #podcast provides an informative and entertaining 10-minute guided tour of the nighttime sky. Listen to the December episode and keep tabs on the #Moon’s whereabouts, watch for some impressive #shootingstars, track down four #planets, and gaze at a tall tower of bright evening #stars. So bundle up, grab your curiosity, and come along on this month’s Sky Tour.

Listen and subscribe to this podcast at https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/ and don’t forget to subscribe to S&T’s YouTube channel to get alerts about new videos, including this monthly podcast

Learn more about #observing and #stargazing on our website, https://skyandtelescope.org/ and subscribe to our monthly magazine at https://skyandtelescope.org/subscribe.

**** The Geminid Meteor Shower 2023 – Sky & Telescope Youtube

Watch the #Geminid #meteorshower on the evening of December 13th and the morning of December 14th with tips from Sky & Telescope! The #geminids are one of the top #meteor showers of the year. Learn about what the Geminids are and how they form.

See also

** What’s in the Night Sky December 2023 Geminid Meteor Shower | Astronaut’s Tool Bag – Alyn Wallace

00:00 Intro
00:22 Last Chance!
00:46 Northern Hemisphere Sky
02:01 Southern Hemisphere Sky
02:39 Geminid Meteor Shower
04:15 Astronaut Tool Bag
05:35 Betelgeuse Eclipse
06:40 Planets
07:28 Full Moon
07:47 #WITNS Winners

** Night Sky Notebook December 2023Peter Detterline

** See also:

=== Amazon Ads ===

Celestron
70mm Travel Scope
Portable Refractor Telescope
Fully-Coated Glass Optics
Ideal Telescope for Beginners
BONUS Astronomy Software Package

==

Stellaris: People of the Stars