"The reason this result is so significant is that we need the Hubble constant to tell us the size of the Universe, its age, and how much matter it contains," said Max Bonamente from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., lead author on the paper describing the results. "Astronomers absolutely need to trust this number because we use it for countless calculations."
The Hubble constant is calculated by measuring the speed at which objects are moving away from us and dividing by their distance. Most of the previous attempts to determine the Hubble constant have involved using a multi-step, or distance ladder, approach in which the distance to nearby galaxies is used as the basis for determining greater distances.
The most common approach has been to use a well-studied type of pulsating star known as a Cepheid variable, in conjunction with more distant supernovae to trace distances across the Universe. Scientists using this method and observations from the Hubble Space Telescope were able to measure the Hubble constant to within 10%. However, only independent checks would give them the confidence they desired, considering that much of our understanding of the Universe hangs in the balance.
By combining X-ray data from Chandra with radio observations of galaxy clusters, the team determined the distances to 38 galaxy clusters ranging from 1.4 billion to 9.3 billion light years from Earth. These results do not rely on the traditional distance ladder. Bonamente and his colleagues find the Hubble constant to be 77 kilometers per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is equal to 3.26 million light years), with an uncertainty of about 15%.
This result agrees with the values determined using other techniques. The Hubble constant had previously been found to be 72, give or take 8 kilometers per second per kiloparsec based on Hubble Space Telescope observations. The new Chandra result is important because it offers the independent confirmation that scientists have been seeking and fixes the age of the Universe between 12 and 14 billion years.
"These new results are entirely independent of all previous methods of measuring the Hubble constant," said team member Marshall Joy also of MSFC.
The astronomers used a phenomenon known as the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect, where photons in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) interact with electrons in the hot gas that pervades the enormous galaxy clusters. The photons acquire energy from this interaction, which distorts the signal from the microwave background in the direction of the clusters. The magnitude of this distortion depends on the density and temperature of the hot electrons and the physical size of the cluster.
Using radio telescopes to measure the distortion of the microwave background and Chandra to measure the properties of the hot gas, the physical size of the cluster can be determined. From this physical size and a simple measurement of the angle subtended by the cluster, the rules of geometry can be used to derive its distance. The Hubble constant is determined by dividing previously measured cluster speeds by these newly derived distances.
This project was championed by Chandra's telescope mirror designer, Leon Van Speybroeck, who passed away in 2002. The foundation was laid when team members John Carlstrom (University of Chicago) and Marshall Joy obtained careful radio measurements of the distortions in the CMB radiation using radio telescopes at the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Array and the Caltech Owens Valley Radio Observatory. In order to measure the precise X-ray properties of the gas in these distant clusters, a space-based X-ray telescope with the resolution and sensitivity of Chandra was required.
"It was one of Leon's goals to see this project happen, and it makes me very proud to see this come to fruition," said Chandra Project Scientist Martin Weisskopf of MSFC.
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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...
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