Category Archives: Education

ESO: VLT spots planet orbiting most massive star pair so far

The latest report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

ESO telescope images planet around most massive star pair to date

This image shows the most massive planet-hosting star pair to date, b Centauri, and its giant planet b Centauri b. This is the first time astronomers have directly observed a planet orbiting a star pair this massive and hot.  The star pair, which has a total mass of at least six times that of the Sun, is the bright object in the top left corner of the image, the bright and dark rings around it being optical artefacts. The planet, visible as a bright dot in the lower right of the frame, is ten times as massive as Jupiter and orbits the pair at 100 times the distance Jupiter orbits the Sun. The other bright dot in the image (top right) is a background star. By taking different images at different times, astronomers were able to distinguish the planet from the background stars.  The image was captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope and using a coronagraph, which blocked the light from the massive star system and allowed astronomers to detect the faint planet.

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) has captured an image of a planet orbiting b Centauri, a two-star system that can be seen with the naked eye. This is the hottest and most massive planet-hosting star system found to date, and the planet was spotted orbiting it at 100 times the distance Jupiter orbits the Sun. Some astronomers believed planets could not exist around stars this massive and this hot — until now.

Finding a planet around b Centauri was very exciting since it completely changes the picture about massive stars as planet hosts,”

explains Markus Janson, an astronomer at Stockholm University, Sweden and first author of the new study published online today in Nature.

Located approximately 325 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, the b Centauri two-star system (also known as HIP 71865) has at least six times the mass of the Sun, making it by far the most massive system around which a planet has been confirmed. Until now, no planets had been spotted around a star more than three times as massive as the Sun.

Most massive stars are also very hot, and this system is no exception: its main star is a so-called B-type star that is over three times as hot as the Sun. Owing to its intense temperature, it emits large amounts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

The large mass and the heat from this type of star have a strong impact on the surrounding gas, that should work against planet formation. In particular, the hotter a star is, the more high-energy radiation it produces, which causes the surrounding material to evaporate faster.

B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments, so it was believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them,”

Janson says.

But the new discovery shows planets can in fact form in such severe star systems.

The planet in b Centauri is an alien world in an environment that is completely different from what we experience here on Earth and in our Solar System,

explains co-author Gayathri Viswanath, a PhD student at Stockholm University.

It’s a harsh environment, dominated by extreme radiation, where everything is on a gigantic scale: the stars are bigger, the planet is bigger, the distances are bigger.

Indeed, the planet discovered, named b Centauri (AB)b or b Centauri b, is also extreme. It is 10 times as massive as Jupiter, making it one of the most massive planets ever found. Moreover, it moves around the star system in one of the widest orbits yet discovered, at a distance a staggering 100 times greater than the distance of Jupiter from the Sun. This large distance from the central pair of stars could be key to the planet’s survival.

This artist’s impression shows a close up of the planet b Centauri b, which orbits a binary system with mass at least six times that of the Sun. This is the most massive and hottest planet-hosting star system found to date. The planet is ten times as massive as Jupiter and orbits the two-star system at 100 times the distance Jupiter orbits the Sun.

These results were made possible thanks to the sophisticated Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE) mounted on ESO’s VLT in Chile. SPHERE has successfully imaged several planets orbiting stars other than the Sun before, including taking the first ever-image of two planets orbiting a Sun-like star.

However, SPHERE was not the first instrument to image this planet. As part of their study, the team looked into archival data on the b Centauri system and discovered that the planet had actually been imaged more than 20 years ago by the ESO 3.6-m telescope, though it was not recognised as a planet at the time.

With ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), due to start observations later this decade, and with upgrades to the VLT, astronomers may be able to unveil more about this planet’s formation and features.

“It will be an intriguing task to try to figure out how it might have formed, which is a mystery at the moment,”

concludes Janson.

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Night sky highlights for December 2021

** What’s Up: December 2021 Skywatching Tips from NASA – NASA JPL

What are some skywatching highlights in December 2021? See three planets after sunset, but say goodbye to Venus as the “Evening Star” at the end of the month. Then have a hunt for newly discovered Comet Leonard in the early morning through mid-month. Finally, get up early on Dec. 14 to watch for Geminid meteors after local moonset, around 2 a.m. 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/whats-up….

** Tonight’s Sky: DecemberSpace 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.

** What to see in the night sky: December 2021BBC Sky at Night Magazine

What can you see in the night sky tonight? Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel December 2021’s night-sky highlights.

** What’s in the Night Sky December 2021 #WITNS | Comet Leonard | Geminid Meteor Shower | Solar Eclipse Alyn Wallace

** Night Sky Notebook December 2021Peter Detterline

** See also:

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Searching for Life in the Galaxy

ESO: VLT uncovers closest pair of supermassive black holes yet found

The latest report from  ESO (European Southern Observatory):

ESO telescope uncovers closest pair of supermassive black holes yet

This image shows close-up (left) and wide (right) views of the two bright galactic nuclei, each housing a supermassive black hole, in NGC 7727, a galaxy located 89 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Aquarius. Each nucleus consists of a dense group of stars with a supermassive black hole at its centre. The two black holes are on a collision course and form the closest pair of supermassive black holes found to date. It is also the pair with the smallest separation between two supermassive black holes found to date — observed to be just 1600 light-years apart in the sky.   The image on the left was taken with the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile while the one on the right was taken with ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope.

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), astronomers have revealed the closest pair of supermassive black holes to Earth ever observed. The two objects also have a much smaller separation than any other previously spotted pair of supermassive black holes and will eventually merge into one giant black hole.

Located in the galaxy NGC 7727 in the constellation Aquarius, the supermassive black hole pair is about 89 million light-years away from Earth. Although this may seem distant, it beats the previous record of 470 million light-years by quite some margin, making the newfound supermassive black hole pair the closest to us yet.

Supermassive black holes lurk at the centre of massive galaxies and when two such galaxies merge, the black holes end up on a collision course. The pair in NGC 7727 beat the record for the smallest separation between two supermassive black holes, as they are observed to be just 1600 light-years apart in the sky.

“It is the first time we find two supermassive black holes that are this close to each other, less than half the separation of the previous record holder,”

says Karina Voggel, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Observatory in France and lead author of the study published online today in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“The small separation and velocity of the two black holes indicate that they will merge into one monster black hole, probably within the next 250 million years,”

adds co-author Holger Baumgardt, a professor at the University of Queensland, Australia. The merging of black holes like these could explain how the most massive black holes in the Universe come to be.

Voggel and her team were able to determine the masses of the two objects by looking at how the gravitational pull of the black holes influences the motion of the stars around them. The bigger black hole, located right at the core of NGC 7727, was found to have a mass almost 154 million times that of the Sun, while its companion is 6.3 million solar masses.

Just as people at a busy crossroad may accidentally bump into each other, so too can galaxies in the Universe! But in this case, the outcome is more dramatic than a small nudge. When two galaxies clash, they merge into each other, giving birth to a new, bigger one. One example is the NGC 7727 galaxy, shown in this image from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile. Located 89 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Aquarius, NGC 7727 is believed to be the result of a clash between two galaxies that occurred about one billion years ago. The consequences of this tremendous cosmic bump are still evident in the peculiar, irregular shape of NGC 7727 and the streams of stars in its outer regions.  The image was taken in visible light as part of the VST-ATLAS survey. The goal of the survey is to map a vast region of the Southern Sky — so large you could fit about 19,000 full moons in it! By studying the galaxies in this region, astronomers aim to shed new light on the nature of dark energy, the mysterious force permeating the Universe and causing its accelerating expansion.

It is the first time the masses have been measured in this way for a supermassive black hole pair. This feat was made possible thanks to the close proximity of the system to Earth and the detailed observations the team obtained at the Paranal Observatory in Chile using the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s VLT, an instrument Voggel learnt to work with during her time as a student at ESO. Measuring the masses with MUSE, and using additional data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, allowed the team to confirm that the objects in NGC 7727 were indeed supermassive black holes.

Astronomers suspected that the galaxy hosted the two black holes, but they had not been able to confirm their presence until now since we do not see large amounts of high-energy radiation coming from their immediate surroundings, which would otherwise give them away.

“Our finding implies that there might be many more of these relics of galaxy mergers out there and they may contain many hidden massive black holes that still wait to be found,says Voggel. “It could increase the total number of supermassive black holes known in the local Universe by 30 percent.”

The search for similarly hidden supermassive black hole pairs is expected to make a great leap forward with ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), set to start operating later this decade in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“This detection of a supermassive black hole pair is just the beginning,” says co-author Steffen Mieske, an astronomer at ESO in Chile and Head of ESO Paranal Science Operations. “With the HARMONI instrument on the ELT we will be able to make detections like this considerably further than currently possible. ESO’s ELT will be integral to understanding these objects.”

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Nanoracks to deploy FEES2 picosat from the ISS

Nanoracks and GP Advanced Projects (GPAP) will soon deploy a picosat a third the size of a standard CubeSat from the International Space Station.  GPAP refers to its picosat design as a 1/3U CubeSat (10cm x 10cm x 3cm). The first demo reached orbit in 2020 and was called the Flexible Experimental Embedded Satellite  or FEES.

FEES is a 1/3U Cubesat for in-orbit demonstration and validation of electronic components.

Cubesats systems were born in 1999 as a result of the cooperation between California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University, which defined the standards of this new satellite category. Typical Cubesats have a 10x10x10 cm dimension, 1U volume and are nominally in the nanosat or picosat satellite class.

These attributes being set, Cubesats allow affordable cost launch and different applications, since they lend themselves to educational, scientific and commercial purposes.

More than fifteen years later than the first cubesat prototype, we knew we could go even further. This vision led us to the development a 1/3U Cubesat, miniaturising the Cubesat technology in just 30% of former volume. FEES is the result of our commitment to this project.

Incredible partners like Politecnico di Milano, Brno University of Technology, CESI, LINKIT, Laser and Pandigital joined us in the program, giving birth to a 10x10x3cm satellite with a 300g mass which has been launched into orbit in October 2020.

Here is the announcement of the deployment of second FEES satellite (FEES2) into orbit, this time from the ISS:

Nanoracks to Deploy First-Ever 0.3U CubeSat from Space Station

NOVEMBER 23, 2021 – Torino, Italy – Nanoracks Europe is on track to set a new record as the company prepares to deploy the first-ever 0.3U CubeSat from the International Space Station (ISS). The satellite, named FEES2, was developed by the Italian company GP Advanced Projects and is approximately the thickness of a cherry. It will be one of the smallest trackable objects deployed directly from the Space Station.

FEES2 (Flexible Experimental Embedded Satellite-2) is a platform for demonstrating and validating CubeSat technology in orbit. The mission will test critical satellite components, such as GPS receivers and attitude control systems that have specifically been designed for miniaturized experiments.

GP Advanced Projects (GPAP) selected Nanoracks Europe for the integration services, launch brokerage, and deployment of FEES2 in June 2021 to reach orbit quickly and efficiently. Nanoracks’ proven business model provides flexible opportunities for its customers to demonstrate innovative technologies utilizing the ISS.

Guido Parissenti, CEO and co-founder of GPAP, remarked that

“The ISS has been a sort of booster for our company’s growth. Thanks to this deployment opportunity, which we contracted just five months ago, we will reach a major milestone towards the building of the first Italian nanosatellite constellation for IoT [Internet of Things], which is our long-term goal.”

The miniaturization of space technologies is a trend that allows for broader participation in space research and for CubeSat developers to make progress more rapidly. Companies like GP Advanced Projects that are seeking to deploy small satellites might have had difficulties reaching orbit in the past due to funding or launch accommodations. This mission demonstrates that such deployments are not only possible but that they can also be completed in a very short amount of time.

To approve FEES2 for deployment from the ISS, Nanoracks performed a feasibility study with NASA to verify the satellite’s trackability and quantify its deployment parameters. After careful evaluation, FEES2 was approved for integration into a Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD). The satellite is now integrated into an NRCSD with several other CubeSats and is manifested on the 24th SpaceX Commercial Resupply (SpX CRS-24) mission to the ISS, which is planned to launch in December 2021.

“We were excited that GP Advanced Projects entrusted Nanoracks to get the job done,”

said Adriana Aiello, Systems Engineer for Nanoracks Europe.

“Of course, we were going to make this happen for GP Advanced Projects – this is our specialty. Our customers’ needs challenge us to be innovators and disruptors, and we’re proud to bring a new customer and new technology to the Space Station.”

[Nanoracks Europe’s CEO, Veronica La Regina, said,]

“This is an absolutely exciting opportunity for Nanoracks Europe to make a difference in enabling wider access to space in our community,” […] . “Nanoracks’ passion for opening space access is one of our greatest assets, and this mission proves to be yet another example of the tenacity for making new things happen.”

Nanoracks offers a variety of satellite launch opportunities, including deployments from the International Space Station, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft, the SpaceX Rideshare program, and from India’s PSLV. Learn more about Nanoracks’ satellite opportunities here.

About Nanoracks: Nanoracks, a Voyager Space Company, is the world’s leading commercial space services provider. Nanoracks owns and operates private hardware on the International Space Station and has launched over 1,300 research experiments, deployed over 300 small satellites, and owns and operates the Bishop Airlock on the ISS. Today, Nanoracks leverages over a decade of experience to develop new commercial space systems in direct response to customer needs. These space systems include converting commercial launch vehicle upper stages into functional secondary platforms, building new habitable space stations, supplying payload and crew airlock systems and services infrastructure, and more. Follow @Nanoracks on Twitter to learn more.

About GP Advanced Projects: GP Advanced Projects is an innovative SME active in both production and management of space projects. The company is developing PiCo, a picosatellite constellation dedicated to IoT data retrieval anywhere in the world. The first demonstrator satellite has been successfully deployed in March 2021.

In addition, thanks to its experience in project & innovation management, GP Advanced Projects enabled different non-space companies and institutions entering the space sector; the company is also actively engaged in scientific projects for both ESA and NASA.

For more information, visit https://www.gpadvancedprojects.com/

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ESO: Black hole discovered in star cluster outside the Milky Way

A new report from ESO (European Southern Observatory):

Black hole found hiding in star cluster outside our galaxy

This artist’s impression shows a compact black hole 11 times as massive as the Sun and the five-solar-mass star orbiting it. The two objects are located in NGC 1850, a cluster of thousands of stars roughly 160 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a Milky Way neighbour. The distortion of the star’s shape is due to the strong gravitational force exerted by the black hole.  Not only does the black hole’s gravitational force distort the shape of the star, but it also influences its orbit. By looking at these subtle orbital effects, a team of astronomers were able to infer the presence of the black hole, making it the first small black hole outside of our galaxy to be found this way. For this discovery, the team used the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), astronomers have discovered a small black hole outside the Milky Way by looking at how it influences the motion of a star in its close vicinity. This is the first time this detection method has been used to reveal the presence of a black hole outside of our galaxy. The method could be key to unveiling hidden black holes in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, and to help shed light on how these mysterious objects form and evolve.

The newly found black hole was spotted lurking in NGC 1850, a cluster of thousands of stars roughly 160 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbour galaxy of the Milky Way.

Similar to Sherlock Holmes tracking down a criminal gang from their missteps, we are looking at every single star in this cluster with a magnifying glass in one hand trying to find some evidence for the presence of black holes but without seeing them directly,

says Sara Saracino from the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, who led the research now accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The result shown here represents just one of the wanted criminals, but when you have found one, you are well on your way to discovering many others, in different clusters.

This first “criminal” tracked down by the team turned out to be roughly 11 times as massive as our Sun. The smoking gun that put the astronomers on the trail of this black hole was its gravitational influence on the five-solar-mass star orbiting it.

This image shows NGC1850, a cluster of thousands of stars roughly 160 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a Milky Way neighbour. The reddish filaments surrounding the cluster, made of vast clouds of hydrogen, are believed to be the remnants of supernova explosions.  The image is an overlay of observations conducted in visible light with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The VLT captured the wide field of the image and the filaments, while the central cluster was imaged by the HST.   Among many stars, this cluster is home to a black hole 11 times as massive as the Sun and to a five-solar-mass star orbiting it. By looking at the star’s orbit, a team of astronomers were able to infer the presence of the black hole, making it the first small black hole outside of our galaxy to be found this way. For this discovery, the team used the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument at the VLT.

Astronomers have previously spotted such small, “stellar-mass” black holes in other galaxies by picking up the X-ray glow emitted as they swallow matter, or from the gravitational waves generated as black holes collide with one another or with neutron stars.

However, most stellar-mass black holes don’t give away their presence through X-rays or gravitational waves.

The vast majority can only be unveiled dynamically,

says Stefan Dreizler, a team member based at the University of Göttingen in Germany.

When they form a system with a star, they will affect its motion in a subtle but detectable way, so we can find them with sophisticated instruments.

This dynamical method used by Saracino and her team could allow astronomers to find many more black holes and help unlock their mysteries.

Every single detection we make will be important for our future understanding of stellar clusters and the black holes in them,

says study co-author Mark Gieles from the University of Barcelona, Spain.

The detection in NGC 1850 marks the first time a black hole has been found in a young cluster of stars (the cluster is only around 100 million years old, a blink of an eye on astronomical scales). Using their dynamical method in similar star clusters could unveil even more young black holes and shed new light on how they evolve. By comparing them with larger, more mature black holes in older clusters, astronomers would be able to understand how these objects grow by feeding on stars or merging with other black holes. Furthermore, charting the demographics of black holes in star clusters improves our understanding of the origin of gravitational wave sources.

To carry out their search, the team used data collected over two years with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) mounted at ESO’s VLT, located in the Chilean Atacama Desert.

MUSE allowed us to observe very crowded areas, like the innermost regions of stellar clusters, analysing the light of every single star in the vicinity. The net result is information about thousands of stars in one shot, at least 10 times more than with any other instrument,”

says co-author Sebastian Kamann, a long-time MUSE expert based at Liverpool’s Astrophysics Research Institute. This allowed the team to spot the odd star out whose peculiar motion signalled the presence of the black hole. Data from the University of Warsaw’s Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment and from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope enabled them to measure the mass of the black hole and confirm their findings.

ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope in Chile, set to start operating later this decade, will allow astronomers to find even more hidden black holes.

The ELT will definitely revolutionise this field,” says Saracino. “It will allow us to observe stars considerably fainter in the same field of view, as well as to look for black holes in globular clusters located at much greater distances.”

ESO’s VISTA telescope reveals a remarkable image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our nearest galactic neighbours. VISTA has been surveying this galaxy and its sibling the Small Magellanic Cloud, as well as their surroundings, in unprecedented detail. This survey allows astronomers to observe a large number of stars, opening up new opportunities to study stellar evolution, galactic dynamics, and variable stars.

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The Planet Factory:
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More Things in the Heavens:
How Infrared Astronomy Is Expanding
Our View of the Universe