"We were getting ready for a routine engineering run when all of a sudden the nova went off. It was very bright and easy to observe, so we took this opportunity and turned it into gold," says team member Marc Kuchner of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Kuchner and his colleagues used the "nulling" mode of the Keck Interferometer, which is part of the NASA-funded Keck Interferometer. This state-of-the-art instrument combines starlight using two 10-meter (33 feet) telescopes. In the nulling mode, the interferometer suppresses the blinding light of a star so researchers can study the surrounding environment. The instrument helps researchers observe very faint objects near bright sources and produces ten times more resolving power than a single Keck telescope working alone. It is the only instrument of its kind in operation.
The Keck Nuller was undergoing tests on February 12, 2006, when a nova flared up in the constellation Ophiuchus. The system, known as RS Ophiuchi, consists of a white dwarf and a red giant. The red giant is gradually shedding its massive gaseous outer layers, and the white dwarf is sweeping up much of this wind, growing in mass over time. As the matter builds up on the white dwarf’s surface it eventually reaches a critical temperature that ignites a thermonuclear explosion that causes the system to brighten 600-fold. RS Ophiuchi was previously seen to blow its stack in 1898, 1933, 1958, 1967, and 1985, so astronomers were eagerly anticipating the 2006 eruption.
Just 3.8 days after the nova was detected, the group observed the explosion with the Keck Nuller. The team set the instrument to cancel out the nova’s light, allowing the group to see the much fainter surrounding material. The group next adjusted the nuller to observe the extremely bright blast zone.
The instrument’s versatility was key to a surprising discovery. The nuller saw no dust in the bright zone, presumably because the nova’s blast wave vaporized dust particles. But farther from the white dwarf, at distances starting around 20 times the Earth-Sun distance, the nuller recorded the spectral signature of silicate dust. The blast wave had not yet reached this zone, so the dust must have pre-dated the explosion.
"This flies in the face of what we expected. Astronomers had previously thought that nova explosions actually create dust," says Richard Barry of NASA Goddard, lead author of a paper on the Keck observations that will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.
The team thinks the dust is created as the white dwarf plows through the red giant’s wind, creating a pinwheel pattern of higher-density regions that is reminiscent of galaxy spiral arms. Inside these spiral arms, atoms reach low enough temperatures and high enough densities to allow atoms to stick together to form dust particles. The nova’s blast wave has since destroyed RS Ophiuchi’s pinwheel pattern, but it should re-form over the next few years, and future Spitzer Space Telescope observations could see it.
Most studies of RS Ophiuchi have relied on spectroscopic models, but those methods have not been able to distinguish various nova components with as much detail as the interferometer. The Keck Nuller measured one component of the RS Ophiuchi system to an accuracy of just 4 milliarcseconds, or about the size of a basketball seen 7,500 miles away.
Barry is also coauthor of a paper based on Spitzer observations of RS Ophiuchi. This paper reports independent evidence for silicate dust that predates the 2006 explosion.
"The RS Ophiuchi observations are just a small taste of the power and potential we expect from the Keck Nuller," says coauthor William Danchi of NASA Goddard. "But ultimately we want to launch a nulling interferometer into space to image extrasolar planets. These Keck results are a technological and scientific pathfinder toward that future."
Robert Naeye | EurekAlert!
Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy