The whirlpool galaxy M51 in a distance of approximately 30 million light years appears almost face-on and displays a beautiful system of spiral arms. A European team of astronomers observed M51 with the LOFAR Telescope in the frequency range 115-175 MHz and obtained the most sensitive galaxy image at frequencies below 1 GHz so far.
With LOFAR's high sensitivity, the disk of M51 in the radio regime could be traced much further out than before. The astronomers detected cosmic electrons and magnetic fields 40,000 light years away from the center of M51. With LOFAR~Rs high angular resolution, the spiral arms are clearly visible. Magnetic fields and cosmic rays are densest in spiral arms.
LOFAR radio map of the whirlpool galaxy M51 and its neighbourhood at a frequency of 150 MHz. The field covers 4 by 2.6 degrees. Inlet: Overlay onto optical image of M51. David Mulcahy et al., Astronomy & Astrophysics.
The view of galaxies in the radio regime is different to their optical appearance. Whereas optical images show predominantly the visible light from stars, the radio waves unravel two constituents of galaxies that are invisible to optical telescopes: electrons, almost as fast as light, and magnetic fields. Their role for the stability and evolution of galaxies is increasingly under discussion.
The electrons are "cosmic ray" particles produced in the shock fronts of giant supernova explosions. Magnetic fields are generated by dynamo processes driven by gas motions. When the electrons spiral around the magnetic field lines, radio waves are emitted, a process called synchrotron emission. Its intensity increases with the number and energy of the electrons and with magnetic field strength.
For many decades, radio astronomy has been unable to explore low frequencies below 300 MHz because the ionosphere acts as a barrier of low-frequency radio waves (which are completely blocked below about 10 MHz). Sophisticated methods of data processing and superfast computers are needed to recover the emission. Due to these technical challenges, spiral galaxies have hardly been studied before at these very low radio frequencies. The only observations were of poor resolution and no details could be made out.
The target of investigation in David Mulcahy’s PhD project was the beautiful spiral galaxy Messier 51 at a distance of about 30 million light years which is visible already in a small telescope in the constellation “Canes Venatici”, not far away from the famous Big Dipper (in German: “Großer Wagen”) in the sky.
“Low-frequency radio waves are important as they carry information about electrons of relatively low energies that are able to propagate further away from their places of origin in the star-forming spiral arms and are able to illuminate the magnetic fields in the outer parts of galaxies”, says David Mulcahy. “We need to know whether magnetic fields are expelled from galaxies and what their strength is out there.”
"This beautiful image, coupled with the important scientific result it represents, illustrates the fantastic advances that can be made at low radio frequencies with the LOFAR telescope”, continues Anna Scaife from Southampton University, co-author of the paper. “Unravelling the mysteries of magnetic fields is crucial to understanding how our Universe works. For too long, many of the big questions about magnetic fields have simply been untestable and this new era of radio astronomy is very exciting."
The Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), designed and constructed by ASTRON in the Netherlands, is a brand new radio telescope giving access to very low radio frequencies.
LOFAR explores the relatively unexplored frequency range below 240 MHz and consists of a multitude of small and simple antennas without moving parts. LOFAR consists of 38 stations in the Netherlands, 6 stations in Germany and one station each in the UK, France and Sweden. The novelty is the online combination of the signals from all stations in a powerful computing cluster located at the University of Groningen (Netherlands).
Observations of M51 with LOFAR below FM radio frequencies (at 30-80 MHz) have already taken place. „This opens a new window to the Universe where we do not know how galaxies will look like“, concludes Rainer Beck, who supervised David Mulcahy’s PhD project. „Maybe we will see how galaxies are magnetically connected to intergalactic space. This is a key experiment in preparation for the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA) that should tell us how cosmic magnetic fields are generated.“
The nature of the low-frequency emission of M51: First observations of a nearby galaxy with LOFAR, by D.D. Mulcahy, A. Horneffer, R. Beck, et al.,, 2014 Astronomy & Astrophysics (DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201424187).
Dr. Rainer Beck
Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie.
Dr. David Mulcahy,
University of Southampton.
Dr. Norbert Junkes,
Press and Public Outreach,
Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie.
Norbert Junkes | Max-Planck-Institut
Present-day measurements yield insights into clouds of the past
27.05.2016 | Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI)
NASA scientist suggests possible link between primordial black holes and dark matter
25.05.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
A biological and energy-efficient process, developed and patented by the University of Innsbruck, converts nitrogen compounds in wastewater treatment facilities into harmless atmospheric nitrogen gas. This innovative technology is now being refined and marketed jointly with the United States’ DC Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water). The largest DEMON®-system in a wastewater treatment plant is currently being built in Washington, DC.
The DEMON®-system was developed and patented by the University of Innsbruck 11 years ago. Today this successful technology has been implemented in about 70...
Permanent magnets are very important for technologies of the future like electromobility and renewable energy, and rare earth elements (REE) are necessary for their manufacture. The Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany, has now succeeded in identifying promising approaches and materials for new permanent magnets through use of an in-house simulation process based on high-throughput screening (HTS). The team was able to improve magnetic properties this way and at the same time replaced REE with elements that are less expensive and readily available. The results were published in the online technical journal “Scientific Reports”.
The starting point for IWM researchers Wolfgang Körner, Georg Krugel, and Christian Elsässer was a neodymium-iron-nitrogen compound based on a type of...
In the Beyond EUV project, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen and for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena are developing key technologies for the manufacture of a new generation of microchips using EUV radiation at a wavelength of 6.7 nm. The resulting structures are barely thicker than single atoms, and they make it possible to produce extremely integrated circuits for such items as wearables or mind-controlled prosthetic limbs.
In 1965 Gordon Moore formulated the law that came to be named after him, which states that the complexity of integrated circuits doubles every one to two...
Characterization of high-quality material reveals important details relevant to next generation nanoelectronic devices
Quantum mechanics is the field of physics governing the behavior of things on atomic scales, where things work very differently from our everyday world.
When current comes in discrete packages: Viennese scientists unravel the quantum properties of the carbon material graphene
In 2010 the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of the exceptional material graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms...
24.05.2016 | Event News
20.05.2016 | Event News
19.05.2016 | Event News
27.05.2016 | Awards Funding
27.05.2016 | Life Sciences
27.05.2016 | Life Sciences