Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble Zooms in on a Space Oddity

11.01.2011
One of the strangest space objects ever seen is being scrutinized by the penetrating vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. A mysterious, glowing, green blob of gas is floating in space near a spiral galaxy. Hubble uncovered delicate filaments of gas and a pocket of young star clusters in the giant object, which is the size of our Milky Way galaxy.

The Hubble revelations are the latest finds in an ongoing probe of Hanny's Voorwerp (Hanny's Object in Dutch), named for Hanny van Arkel, the Dutch teacher who discovered the ghostly structure in 2007 while participating in the online Galaxy Zoo project.

Galaxy Zoo enlists the public to help classify more than a million galaxies catalogued in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The project has expanded to include the Hubble Zoo, in which the public is asked to assess tens of thousands of galaxies in deep imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the sharpest view yet of Hanny's Voorwerp, Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys have uncovered star birth in a region of the green object that faces the spiral galaxy IC 2497, located about 650 millionlight-years from Earth. Radio observations have shown an outflow of gas arising from the galaxy's core. The new Hubble images reveal that the galaxy's gas is interacting with a small region of Hanny's Voorwerp, which is collapsing and forming stars. The youngest stars are a couple of million years old.

"The star clusters are localized, confined to an area that is over a few thousand light-years wide," explains astronomer William Keel of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, leader of the Hubble study. "The region may have been churning out stars for several million years. They are so dim that they have previously been lost in the brilliant light of the surrounding gas."

Recent X-ray observations have revealed why Hanny's Voorwerp caught the eye of astronomers. The galaxy's rambunctious core produced a quasar, a powerful light beacon powered by a black hole. The quasar shot a broad beam of light in Hanny's Voorwerp's direction, illuminating the gas cloud and making it a space oddity. Its bright green color is from glowing oxygen.

"We just missed catching the quasar, because it turned off no more than 200,000 years ago, so what we're seeing is the afterglow from the quasar," Keel says. "This implies that it might flicker on and off, which is typical of quasars, but we've never seen such a dramatic change happen so rapidly."

The quasar's outburst also may have cast a shadow on the blob. This feature gives the illusion of a gaping hole about 20,000 light-years wide in Hanny's Voorwerp. Hubble reveals sharp edges around the apparent opening, suggesting that an object close to the quasar may have blocked some of the light and projected a shadow on Hanny's Voorwerp. This phenomenon is similar to a fly on a movie projector lens casting a shadow on a movie screen.

Radio studies have revealed that Hanny's Voorwerp is not just an island gas cloud floating in space. The glowing blob is part of a long, twisting rope of gas, or tidal tail, about 300,000 light-years long that wraps around the galaxy. The only optically visible part of the rope is Hanny's Voorwerp. The illuminated object is so huge that it stretches from 44,000 light-years to 136,000 light-years from the galaxy's core.

The quasar, the outflow of gas that instigated the star birth, and the long, gaseous tidal tail point to a rough life for IC 2497.

"The evidence suggests that IC 2497 may have merged with another galaxy about a billion years ago," Keel explains. "The Hubble images show in exquisite detail that the spiral arms are twisted, so the galaxy hasn't completely settled down."

In Keel's scenario, the merger expelled the long streamer of gas from the galaxy and funneled gas and stars into the center, which fed the black hole. The engorged black hole then powered the quasar, which launched two cones of light. One light beam illuminated part of the tidal tail, now called Hanny's Voorwerp.

About a million years ago, shock waves produced glowing gas near the galaxy's core and blasted it outward. The glowing gas is seen only in Hubble images and spectra, Keel says. The outburst may have triggered star formation in Hanny's Voorwerp. Less than 200,000 years ago, the quasar dropped in brightness by 100 times or more, leaving an ordinary-looking core.

New images of the galaxy's dusty core from Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph show an expanding bubble of gas blown out of one side of the core, perhaps evidence of the sputtering quasar's final gasps. The expanding ring of gas is still too small for ground-based telescopes to detect.

"This quasar may have been active for a few million years, which perhaps indicates that quasars blink on and off on timescales of millions of years, not the 100 million years that theory had suggested," Keel says. He added that the

quasar could light up again if more material is dumped around the black hole.

Keel is presenting his results on Jan. 10, 2011, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Wash.

For images and more information about Hanny's Voorwerp and spiral galaxy IC 2497, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2011/01
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
http://heritage.stsci.edu/2011/01
http://www.galaxyzoo.org
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Donna Weaver | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.stsci.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold
26.06.2017 | Toyohashi University of Technology

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>