Europe is playing a key role in this global programme with three new instruments, including the €1 billion Herchel Space Observatory (HSO), and the European Science Foundation (ESF) has been helping to coordinate the effort by bringing many of the principle users of these facilities together at an international conference. Delegates included leading specialists in all aspects of galaxy and star formation.
Galaxies are formed when areas of dust and gas collapse under gravity, forming clumps within which densities become sufficient to trigger the nuclear fusion required for star formation. But the devil is in the detail, and this has been obscured from optical telescopes by clouds of dust that absorb visible light. However the dust re-emits this visible light absorbed from galaxies at longer wavelengths, and the latest telescopes are now able to detect this at sufficient sensitivity to unravel the processes being observed, as Eelco van Kampen, chair of the ESF Research Conference The Origin of Galaxies: Exploring Galaxy Evolution with the New Generation of Infrared-Millimeter Facilities, pointed out. “The main reason for a new golden age is the sheer number of new instruments that will become available over the next few years, literally opening up the universe in the far-infrared to millimeter wavelengths,” said van Kampen.
It is not just that galaxy formation can now be observed indirectly via the radiation emitted from the dust that obscures a direct view, but the new telescopes are also able to span a much broader spectrum of wavelengths. This is crucial for understanding what is happening, because many processes, and also individual chemical elements, only reveal themselves via the radiation they emit across multiple wavelengths, rather than their intensity at a particular point of the spectrum, or single “colour”. “The main gain is that the whole 'spectral energy distribution' (SED for short) can be mapped for each source, which means that one does not only measure total luminosity, but also 'colours' and emission from specific molecules,” said van Kampen. “From the SED one can derive many properties of the sources, including temperatures and composition.”
Although there is great confidence that dramatic progress will be made, there is uncertainty over the exact nature of the discoveries to come, creating eager anticipation among astronomers. “There will be many surprises, as this is still a relatively uncharted wavelength range,” said van Kampen. “It is hard to predict whether surprises will be on the same scale as those in gamma-rays, where many short-lived bursts appeared quite unexpectedly, but there is great potential for the unexpected!” Gamma ray bursts lasting a split second are caused by the most powerful explosions known, and provided evidence of black holes – objects whose gravity is so intense that even light does not travel fast enough to escape.
For European researchers, there is an additional aspect to the challenge – all the observations from the crucial HSO telescope have to be made within about three years before the equipment runs out of its vital helium cooling fluid, which cannot practically be replenished. The telescope has to be kept cool to avoid emitting infra red radiation from its own fabric, which would swamp the faint signals from distant dust clouds. “The Herschel Space Telescope has to be cooled significantly to reduce background noise, and for this purpose will be housed in a superfluid helium cryostat,” said van Kampen. “The need for cooling means that the telescope lifetime is limited by its helium supply. We are promised at least 3 years of routine operations, but this could be somewhat longer if we are lucky.”
Apart from the HSO, Europe is contributing to two other instruments to the international galaxy observing effort: SCUBA-2, which is a wide field camera for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) 16400 feet up in the Chilean Andes.
The conference, which was one of the series of research conferences organised by the ESF Research Conferences Scheme, was held at Universitätszentrum Obergurgl near Innsbruck in Austria, from 24-29 March 2007. This event was organised by the ESF in partnership with the Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung in Österreich (FWF) and the Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck (LFUI).
The European Science Foundation is based in Strasbourg, France, see www.esf.org The ESF is an association of 75 member organisations from 30 European countries. Since its inception in 1974, it has co-ordinated a wide range of pan-European scientific initiatives.
More information: www.esf.org/activities/esf-conferences/details/confdetail224.html?conf=224
Thomas Lau | alfa
Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences