Hubble spots planet orbiting two stars

The new finding from a group using the Hubble Space Telescope. (Someone living on a moon orbiting this gas giant would have quite a skyscape to enjoy.)

Hubble Finds Planet Orbiting Pair of Stars

Two’s company, but three might not always be a crowd — at least in space.

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This artist’s illustration shows a gas giant planet circling a pair of red dwarf stars. [Larger images]
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and a trick of nature, have confirmed the existence of a planet orbiting two stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349, located 8,000 light-years away towards the center of our galaxy.

The planet orbits roughly 300 million miles from the stellar duo, about the distance from the asteroid belt to our sun. It completes an orbit around both stars roughly every seven years. The two red dwarf stars are a mere 7 million miles apart, or 14 times the diameter of the moon’s orbit around Earth.

The Hubble observations represent the first time such a three-body system has been confirmed using the gravitational microlensing technique. Gravitational microlensing occurs when the gravity of a foreground star bends and amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. The particular character of the light magnification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and any associated planets.

The three objects were discovered in 2007 by an international collaboration of five different groups: Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA), the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), the Microlensing Follow-up Network (MicroFUN), the Probing Lensing Anomalies Network (PLANET), and the Robonet Collaboration. These ground-based observations uncovered a star and a planet, but a detailed analysis also revealed a third body that astronomers could not definitively identify.

“The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star,” explained David Bennett of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the paper’s first author.

The sharpness of the Hubble images allowed the research team to separate the background source star and the lensing star from their neighbors in the very crowded star field. The Hubble observations revealed that the starlight from the foreground lens system was too faint to be a single star, but it had the brightness expected for two closely orbiting red dwarf stars, which are fainter and less massive than our sun.

“So, the model with two stars and one planet is the only one consistent with the Hubble data,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s team conducted the follow-up observations with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.

“We were helped in the analysis by the almost perfect alignment of the foreground binary stars with the background star, which greatly magnified the light and allowed us to see the signal of the two stars,” Bennett explained.

Kepler has discovered 10 other planets orbiting tight binary stars, but these are all much closer to their stars than the one studied by Hubble.

Now that the team has shown that microlensing can successfully detect planets orbiting double-star systems, Hubble could provide an essential role in this new realm in the continued search for exoplanets.

The team’s results have been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

ESO: ALMA sees fast star formation in very early high-mass galaxies

Here’s a new report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

ALMA Explores the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

International teams of astronomers have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to explore the distant corner of the Universe first revealed in the iconic images of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). These new ALMA observations are significantly deeper and sharper than previous surveys at millimetre wavelengths. They clearly show how the rate of star formation in young galaxies is closely related to their total mass in stars. They also trace the previously unknown abundance of star-forming gas at different points in time, providing new insights into the “Golden Age” of galaxy formation approximately 10 billion years ago.

This image combines a background picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green) with a new very deep ALMA view of this field (orange, marked with circles). All the objects that ALMA sees appear to be massive star-forming galaxies. This image is based on the ALMA survey by J. Dunlop and colleagues, covering the full HUDF area.
This image combines a background picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green) with a new very deep ALMA view of this field (orange, marked with circles). All the objects that ALMA sees appear to be massive star-forming galaxies. This image is based on the ALMA survey by J. Dunlop and colleagues, covering the full HUDF area. [Larger images]
The new ALMA results will be published in a series of papers appearing in the Astrophysical Journal and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. These results are also among those being presented this week at the Half a Decade of ALMA conference in Palm Springs, California, USA.

In 2004 the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images — pioneering deep-field observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope — were published. These spectacular pictures probed more deeply than ever before and revealed a menagerie of galaxies stretching back to less than a billion years after the Big Bang. The area was observed several times by Hubble and many other telescopes, resulting in the deepest view of the Universe to date.

This video sequence combines a background picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green) with a new very deep ALMA view of this field (orange, marked with circles). All the objects that ALMA sees appear to be massive star-forming galaxies. This image is based on the ALMA survey by J. Dunlop and colleagues, covering the full HUDF area.  CreditNASA/ESA/ESO/J. Dunlop

Astronomers using ALMA have now surveyed this seemingly unremarkable, but heavily studied, window into the distant Universe for the first time both deeply and sharply in the millimetre range of wavelengths [1]. This allows them to see the faint glow from gas clouds and also the emission from warm dust in galaxies in the early Universe.

ALMA has observed the HUDF for a total of around 50 hours up to now. This is the largest amount of ALMA observing time spent on one area of the sky so far.

These cutout images are from a combination of a background picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green) with a new very deep ALMA view of the field (orange, marked with circles). All the objects that ALMA sees appear to be massive star-forming galaxies. This image is based on the ALMA survey by J. Dunlop and colleagues, covering the full HUDF area.
These cutout images are from a combination of a background picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green) with a new very deep ALMA view of the field (orange, marked with circles). All the objects that ALMA sees appear to be massive star-forming galaxies. This image is based on the ALMA survey by J. Dunlop and colleagues, covering the full HUDF area. [Larger images.]
One team led by Jim Dunlop (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom) used ALMA to obtain the first deep, homogeneous ALMA image of a region as large as the HUDF. This data allowed them to clearly match up the galaxies that they detected with objects already seen with Hubble and other facilities.

This study showed clearly for the first time that the stellar mass of a galaxy is the best predictor of star formation rate in the high redshift Universe. They detected essentially all of the high-mass galaxies [2] and virtually nothing else.

This image, called the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), combines Hubble observations taken over the past decade of a small patch of sky in the constellation of Fornax. With a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, it is the deepest image of the Universe ever made, combining data from previous images including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (taken in 2003 and 2004) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field Infrared (2009). The image covers a region less than a tenth of the width of the full Moon across, making it just a 30 millionth of the whole sky. Yet even in this tiny fraction of the sky, the long exposure reveals about 5500 galaxies, some of them so distant that we see them when the Universe was less than 5% of its current age. The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field image contains several of the most distant objects ever identified.
This image, called the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), combines Hubble observations taken over the past decade of a small patch of sky in the constellation of Fornax. With a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, it is the deepest image of the Universe ever made, combining data from previous images including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (taken in 2003 and 2004) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field Infrared (2009). The image covers a region less than a tenth of the width of the full Moon across, making it just a 30 millionth of the whole sky. Yet even in this tiny fraction of the sky, the long exposure reveals about 5500 galaxies, some of them so distant that we see them when the Universe was less than 5% of its current age. The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field image contains several of the most distant objects ever identified. [Larger images.]
Jim Dunlop, lead author on the deep imaging paper sums up its importance:

“This is a breakthrough result. For the first time we are properly connecting the visible and ultraviolet light view of the distant Universe from Hubble and far-infrared/millimetre views of the Universe from ALMA.”

The second team, led by Manuel Aravena of the Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile, and Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, conducted a deeper search across about one sixth of the total HUDF [3].

ALMA surveyed the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, uncovering new details of the star-forming history of the Universe. This close-up image reveals one such galaxy (orange), rich in carbon monoxide, showing it is primed for star formation. The blue features are galaxies imaged by Hubble. This image is based on the very deep ALMA survey by Manuel Aravena, Fabian Walter and colleagues, covering about one sixth of the full HUDF area.
ALMA surveyed the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, uncovering new details of the star-forming history of the Universe. This close-up image reveals one such galaxy (orange), rich in carbon monoxide, showing it is primed for star formation. The blue features are galaxies imaged by Hubble. This image is based on the very deep ALMA survey by Manuel Aravena, Fabian Walter and colleagues, covering about one sixth of the full HUDF area. [Larger images.]

“We conducted the first fully blind, three-dimensional search for cool gas in the early Universe,” said Chris Carilli, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico, USA and member of the research team. “Through this, we discovered a population of galaxies that is not clearly evident in any other deep surveys of the sky.” [4]

Some of the new ALMA observations were specifically tailored to detect galaxies that are rich in carbon monoxide, indicating regions primed for star formation. Even though these molecular gas reservoirs give rise to the star formation activity in galaxies, they are often very hard to see with Hubble. ALMA can therefore reveal the “missing half” of the galaxy formation and evolution process.

A trove of galaxies, rich in carbon monoxide (indicating star-forming potential) were imaged by ALMA (orange) in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The blue features are galaxies imaged by Hubble.This image is based on the very deep ALMA survey by Manuel Aravena, Fabian Walter and colleagues, covering about one sixth of the full HUDF area.
A trove of galaxies, rich in carbon monoxide (indicating star-forming potential) were imaged by ALMA (orange) in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The blue features are galaxies imaged by Hubble.This image is based on the very deep ALMA survey by Manuel Aravena, Fabian Walter and colleagues, covering about one sixth of the full HUDF area. [Larger images]

“The new ALMA results imply a rapidly rising gas content in galaxies as we look back further in time,” adds lead author of two of the papers, Manuel Aravena (Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile). “This increasing gas content is likely the root cause for the remarkable increase in star formation rates during the peak epoch of galaxy formation, some 10 billion years ago.”

The results presented today are just the start of a series of future observations to probe the distant Universe with ALMA. For example, a planned 150-hour observing campaign of the HUDF will further illuminate the star-forming potential history of the Universe.

“By supplementing our understanding of this missing star-forming material, the forthcoming ALMA Large Program will complete our view of the galaxies in the iconic Hubble Ultra Deep Field,” concludes Fabian Walter.

Notes

[1] Astronomers specifically selected the area of study in the HUDF, a region of space in the faint southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), so ground-based telescopes in the southern hemisphere, like ALMA, could probe the region, expanding our knowledge about the very distant Universe.

Probing the deep, but optically invisible, Universe was one of the primary science goals for ALMA.

[2] In this context “high mass” means galaxies with stellar masses greater than 20 billion times that of the Sun ( 2 × 1010solar masses). For comparison, the Milky Way is a large galaxy and has a mass of around 100 billion solar masses.

[3] This region of sky is about seven hundred times smaller than the area of the disc of the full Moon as seen from Earth. One of the most startling aspects of the HUDF was the vast number of galaxies found in such a tiny fraction of the sky.

[4] ALMA’s ability to see a completely different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum from Hubble allows astronomers to study a different class of astronomical objects, such as massive star-forming clouds, as well as objects that are otherwise too faint to observe in visible light, but visible at millimetre wavelengths.

The search is referred to as “blind” as it was not focussed on any particular object.

The new ALMA observations of the HUDF include two distinct, yet complementary types of data: continuum observations, which reveal dust emission and star formation, and a spectral emission line survey, which looks at the cold molecular gas fueling star formation. The second survey is particularly valuable because it includes information about the degree to which light from distant objects has been redshifted by the expansion of the Universe. Greater redshift means that an object is further away and seen farther back in time. This allows astronomers to create a three-dimensional map of star-forming gas as it evolves over cosmic time.

Space artists seek to continue illustrating worlds beyond earth

Here is an interesting article on the history and current state of space inspired art and the role it can play in advancing science and exploration: Space Art Propelled Scientific Exploration of the Cosmos—But Its Star is Fading Fast | Atlas Obscura.

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“The methane river delta on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, as depicted by space artist Ron Miller. (Photo: Ron Miller)”

Since 51 Pegasi b first swam into view 20 years ago, over 3,000 other exoplanets have been discovered. They vary in size, density and absurdity with some planets believed to have atmospheres of vaporized rock and mantles of liquid diamond. As such you’d think these would be boom times for space artists like Lynette Cook but in fact it’s been quite the opposite. Her space art career has never been more tenuous.

“The budgets to hire people like me on the part of publishers and science organizations has really dwindled in recent years,” she says. Partly this is due to recent changes in print economics. Cook has watched as publishers have become increasingly willing to use inaccurate and poorly rendered “no-fee” illustrations to keep costs down. “I saw a shift,” says Cook, “from commissioning new art, to wanting me to rework earlier images, so they looked different (but didn’t cost as much), to reusing older art “as is” for new discoveries.” Eventually her clients simply stopped calling, “as if they were stars in the heavens that were winking out.”

See the HobbySpace Art Section for more resources on the topic.

ESO: Secrets of a giant space blob uncovered

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

ALMA Uncovers Secrets of Giant Space Blob 

An international team using ALMA, along with ESO’s Very Large Telescope and other telescopes, has discovered the true nature of a rare object in the distant Universe called a Lyman-alpha Blob. Up to now astronomers did not understand what made these huge clouds of gas shine so brightly, but ALMA has now seen two galaxies at the heart of one of these objects and they are undergoing a frenzy of star formation that is lighting up their surroundings. These large galaxies are in turn at the centre of a swarm of smaller ones in what appears to be an early phase in the formation of a massive cluster of galaxies. The two ALMA sources are expected to evolve into a single giant elliptical galaxy.

This rendering shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha Blob similar to LAB-1. This simulation tracks the evolution of gas and dark matter using one of the latest models for galaxy formation running on the NASA Pleiades supercomputer. This view shows the distribution of gas within the dark matter halo, colour coded so that cold gas (mainly neutral hydrogen) appears red and hot gas appears white. Embedded at the centre of this system are two strongly star-forming galaxies, but these are surrounded by hot gas and many smaller satellite galaxies that appear as small red clumps of gas here. Lyman-alpha photons escape from the central galaxies and scatter off the cold gas associated with these satellites to give rise to an extended Lyman-alpha Blob.
This rendering [see larger images] shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha Blob similar to LAB-1. This simulation tracks the evolution of gas and dark matter using one of the latest models for galaxy formation running on the NASA Pleiades supercomputer. This view shows the distribution of gas within the dark matter halo, colour coded so that cold gas (mainly neutral hydrogen) appears red and hot gas appears white. Embedded at the centre of this system are two strongly star-forming galaxies, but these are surrounded by hot gas and many smaller satellite galaxies that appear as small red clumps of gas here. Lyman-alpha photons escape from the central galaxies and scatter off the cold gas associated with these satellites to give rise to an extended Lyman-alpha Blob.
Lyman-alpha Blobs (LABs) are gigantic clouds of hydrogen gas that can span hundreds of thousands of light-years and are found at very large cosmic distances. The name reflects the characteristic wavelength of ultraviolet light that they emit, known as Lyman-alpha radiation [1]. Since their discovery, the processes that give rise to LABs have been an astronomical puzzle. But new observations with ALMA may now have now cleared up the mystery.

One of the largest Lyman-alpha Blobs known, and the most thoroughly studied, is SSA22-Lyman-alpha blob 1, or LAB-1. Embedded in the core of a huge cluster of galaxies in the early stages of formation, it was the very first such object to be discovered — in 2000 — and is located so far away that its light has taken about 11.5 billion years to reach us.

This diagram explains how a Lyman-alpha Blob, one of the largest and brightest objects in the Universe, shines.
This diagram explains how a Lyman-alpha Blob, one of the largest and brightest objects in the Universe, shines. [Larger version.]
A team of astronomers, led by Jim Geach, from the Centre for Astrophysics Research of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, has now used the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array’s (ALMA) unparallelled ability to observe light from cool dust clouds in distant galaxies to peer deeply into LAB-1. This allowed them to pinpoint and resolve several sources of submillimetre emission [2].

They then combined the ALMA images with observations from the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), which map the Lyman-alpha light. This showed that the ALMA sources are located in the very heart of the Lyman-alpha Blob, where they are forming stars at a rate over 100 times that of the Milky Way.

This video zoom sequence starts with a wide-field view of the dim constellation of Aquarius (The Water Carrier) and slowly closes in on one of the largest known single objects in the Universe, the Lyman-alpha blob LAB1. Observations with the ESO VLT show, for the first time, that the giant “blob” must be powered by galaxies embedded within the cloud. Credit: ESO/A. Fujii/Digitized Sky Survey 2/M. Hayes. Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind)

Deep imaging with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and spectroscopy at the W. M. Keck Observatory [3] showed in addition that the ALMA sources are surrounded by numerous faint companion galaxies that could be bombarding the central ALMA sources with material, helping to drive their high star formation rates.

This  image shows one of the largest known single objects in the Universe,  the Lyman-alpha blob LAB-1. This picture is a composite of two different images taken with the FORS instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT)  — a wider image showing the surrounding galaxies and a much deeper observation of the blob itself  at the centre made to detect its polarisation. The intense Lyman-alpha ultraviolet radiation from the blob appears green after it has been stretched by the  expansion of the Universe during its long journey to Earth. These new observations show for the first  time that the light from this object is polarised. This means that the  giant "blob" must be powered by galaxies embedded within the cloud. 
This image shows one of the largest known single objects in the Universe, the Lyman-alpha blob LAB-1. This picture is a composite of two different images taken with the FORS instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT)  — a wider image showing the surrounding galaxies and a much deeper observation of the blob itself at the centre made to detect its polarisation. The intense Lyman-alpha ultraviolet radiation from the blob appears green after it has been stretched by the expansion of the Universe during its long journey to Earth. These new observations show for the first time that the light from this object is polarised. This means that the giant “blob” must be powered by galaxies embedded within the cloud. [Larger versions.]
The team then turned to a sophisticated simulation of galaxy formation to demonstrate that the giant glowing cloud of Lyman-alpha emission can be explained if ultraviolet light produced by star formation in the ALMA sources scatters off the surrounding hydrogen gas. This would give rise to the Lyman-alpha Blob we see.

Jim Geach, lead author of the new study, explains:

Think of a streetlight on a foggy night — you see the diffuse glow because light is scattering off the tiny water droplets. A similar thing is happening here, except the streetlight is an intensely star-forming galaxy and the fog is a huge cloud of intergalactic gas. The galaxies are illuminating their surroundings.”

Understanding how galaxies form and evolve is a massive challenge. Astronomers think Lyman-alpha Blobs are important because they seem to be the places where the most massive galaxies in the Universe form. In particular, the extended Lyman-alpha glow provides information on what is happening in the primordial gas clouds surrounding young galaxies, a region that is very difficult to study, but critical to understand.

Jim Geach concludes,

What’s exciting about these blobs is that we are getting a rare glimpse of what’s happening around these young, growing galaxies. For a long time the origin of the extended Lyman-alpha light has been controversial. But with the combination of new observations and cutting-edge simulations, we think we have solved a 15-year-old mystery: Lyman-alpha Blob-1 is the site of formation of a massive elliptical galaxy that will one day be the heart of a giant cluster. We are seeing a snapshot of the assembly of that galaxy 11.5 billion years ago.”

This  visible-light wide-field image of the region around the giant  Lyman-alpha blob LAB1 was created from photographs taken through blue  and red filters and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The blob  itself lies at the centre of the image but, despite being huge and very  luminous, it is so distant that it is too faint to be seen clearly on  this picture. The field of view is approximately 2.9 degrees across. 
This visible-light wide-field image of the region around the giant Lyman-alpha blob LAB1 was created from photographs taken through blue and red filters and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The blob itself lies at the centre of the image but, despite being huge and very luminous, it is so distant that it is too faint to be seen clearly on this picture. The field of view is approximately 2.9 degrees across. [Larger versions.]
Notes

[1] The negatively charged electrons that orbit the positively charged nucleus in an atom have quantised energy levels. That is, they can only exist in specific energy states, and they can only transition between them by gaining or losing precise amounts of energy. Lyman-alpha radiation is produced when electrons in hydrogen atoms drop from the second-lowest to the lowest energy level. The precise amount of energy lost is released as light with a particular wavelength, in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, which astronomers can detect with space telescopes or on Earth in the case of redshifted objects. For LAB-1, at redshift of z~3, the Lyman-alpha light is seen as visible light.

[2] Resolution is the ability to see that objects are separated. At low resolution, several bright sources at a distance would seem like a single glowing spot, and only at closer quarters would each source be distinguishable. ALMA’s high resolution has resolved what previously appeared to be a single blob into two separate sources.

[3] The instruments used were the Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph (STIS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the Multi-Object Spectrometer For Infra-Red Exploration (MOSFIRE) mounted on the Keck 1 telescope on Hawaii.

BINARY SPACE SpaceTraveler mission simulator now includes OSIRIS-REx

An update to the SpaceTraveler Solar System & Space Missions Simulator at BINARY SPACE now includes the OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu, which just launched this month. (See  the posting OSIRIS-REx to return sample of asteroid Bennu.)

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Note that SpaceTraveler is not a game type of simulator but an educational tool to investigate the flights of actual spacecraft missions via their orbital trajectory and maneuvering data.