Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Orbiting observatory detects organic chemistry in one of the most luminous galaxies ever found

19.12.2003


An instrument aboard NASA’s recently launched orbiting infrared observatory has found evidence of organic molecules in an enormously powerful galaxy some 3.25 billion light years from the Earth. So powerful is the source, that it is equal to 10 trillion times the luminosity of the sun, making it one of the brightest galaxies ever detected.



The instrument on the newly named Spitzer Space Telescope (previously called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, or SIRTF) is the infrared spectrograph, or IRS. James Houck, professor of astronomy at Cornell University, heads the scientific team on the $39 million IRS contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, manager of the mission for NASA.

Houck participated in a press conference at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., today (Dec. 18) at which the first observations and data from the half-billion-dollar observatory, launched Aug. 25, were released. Among the most spectacular details released were dazzling images taken with the space telescope’s infrared-array camera and with its multiband-imaging photometer. The images include a glowing stellar nursery; a swirling, dusty galaxy; a disc of planet-forming debris; and organic material in the distant universe.


The IRS, one of three instruments carried by the space telescope, is the most sensitive infrared spectrograph ever to go into space. In less than 15 minutes it produced a spectrum of the distant galaxy IRAS 00183, first observed by the infrared astronomical satellite (IRAS) in 1983. The spectrum "gives evidence for organic chemistry in a distant galaxy shortly after the formation of the Earth," says Houck. (While the Spitzer observatory’s cameras take infrared snapshots of distant galaxies and dust clouds, and objects too cool to emit visible light, the IRS determines their precise infrared colors. Astronomers are then able to read the peaks and valleys in the spectrum, called emission and absorption lines, to determine the chemical mix of the object being observed.)

In an optical image, the IRAS galaxy appears as no more than a faint smudge. But the IRS spectrum -- the first detailed look at the galaxy -- shows a broad silicate feature. The dominant absorber of visible energy is tiny silicate dust particles. The silicate dust is so opaque that only a small percentage of the visible light escapes the galaxy, says Houck.

"We are seeing the merger of two galaxies. This produces one of two effects: Either what we are seeing is a brief flash of incredibly strong star formation, or one or both of the galaxies contained a black hole before colliding. The massive black holes are releasing the energy by swallowing stars and gas," says Houck. In both cases, he says, the collision would compress gas that would trigger the star formation or the release of energy from the black hole, a process called "feeding the monster."

Both scenarios have problems, Houck concedes. "One is, how do you get enough gas close enough to a black hole to make all this happen? And how do you get stars to form so quickly all at the same time?"

Houck’s IRS team also released a spectrum of HH46IR, a "dusty, dirty cloud" in our galaxy, the Milky Way, that visible light is unable to penetrate. The spectrum shows the cloud to be a region of star formation containing organic materials, including methyl alcohol, carbon dioxide ice and carbon monoxide gas and ice.

Houck also notes that the IRS is "working well" and is likely to be "a workhorse for years to come." During November, he relates, the instrument was subject to a massive proton "storm" in space, with 1.6 billion atomic particles (mostly protons) bombarding a square centimeter of the instrument in just two days. "It was a staggering event," he says.

David Brand | Cornell News
Further information:
http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Dec03/Spitzer.Houck.deb.html
http://sirtf.caltech.edu/
http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/SIRTF/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Tracing aromatic molecules in the early universe
23.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside

nachricht New study maps space dust in 3-D
23.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

When Air is in Short Supply - Shedding light on plant stress reactions when oxygen runs short

23.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Researchers use light to remotely control curvature of plastics

23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>