Hanny’s Voorwerp – Still Alive and Kicking….

by Tammy Plotner on June 9, 2008

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Hanny\'s VoorwerpBack a few month’s ago, we had an article about Galaxy Zoo. In essence, it’s a type of consortium that studies galaxies and works towards classifying them. In the process of studying the images, they made a rather unusual discovery… One that’s still around.

According to the Galaxy Zoo blog: “Ever since it was first identified, Hanny’s Voorwerp has grabbed the attention of the Zookeepers and everyone else who comes across it. One reason we’ve been successful in getting such a wide range of observations over just a few months (and therefore why posts on here have been delayed!) has been that colleagues seem to find it equally compelling. So what is it? Our current best guess goes something like this:

A hundred thousand years ago, a quasar blazed behind the stars which would have already looked recognizably like the constellation Leo Minor. Barely 700 million light-years away, it would have been the nearest bright quasar, shining (had anyone had a telescope to look) around 13th magnitude, several times brighter than the light of the surrounding galaxy. This galaxy, much later cataloged as IC 2497, is a massive spiral galaxy which was in the process of tidally shredding a dwarf galaxy rich in gas – gas which absorbed the intense ultraviolet and X-ray output of the quasar and in turn glowed as it cooled. But something happened to the quasar. Whether it turned off, dropped to a barely simmering level of activity as its massive black hole became starved for gas to feed its accretion, or it was quickly shrouded in gas and dust, we don’t see it anymore. But we see its echo.”

But that was months ago. Is Hanny’s Voorwerp still alive and kicking? You betcha’. Astrophotographer Joe Brimacombe took this week’s image of the Voorwerp (Dutch for “what the heck is that?”) on May 25, 2008. Like Joe’s own interest, Galaxy Zoo didn’t stop searching out the meaning of Hanny’s Voorwerp, either. They kept right on photographing and analyzing. According to Bill Keel:

“At this point, we know that the object is rich in highly ionized gas. There is continuum light, especially at the northern tip, but the emission lines are so strong that we can as yet say little about its continuum structure. The high ionization might suggest shock ionization or photoionization by an active galactic nuclei, which would have to be much brighter than any we see in the neighborhood. If the AGN is in IC 2497, it must be highly obscured from our direction but not toward the gas. (It may be significant that the cloud lies near the galaxy’s projected minor axis). The FIRST survey at 20 cm shows weak emission from the cloud and a significant radio source in IC 2497. We are now pursuing further imaging, UV, and X-ray detections to work out what we are seeing here. Whatever it is, it seems to be unique in the SDSS imaging survey. Chris Lintott has queried the database and, after winnowing out imaging artifacts, found no objects with u-g and g-r colors within 0.15 magnitude of what we see in Hanny’s Voorwerp.

Our working hypothesis is that Hanny’s Voorwerp consists of dust and gas (maybe from a tidally disrupted dwarf galaxy) which is illuminated by a quasar outburst within IC 2497, an outburst which has faded dramatically within the last 100,000 years.”

What ever it might truly be is still somewhat a mystery… But it’s a great summer-hot object!

Image credits of Hanny’s Voorwerp belong to Galaxy Zoo and Joe Brimacombe.

About 

Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

Ian O'Neill June 9, 2008 at 5:23 PM

Cool article Tammy! I’d never heard about this Voorwerp :)

Oh, and Jerry has spammed most of the UT articles by the looks of things. He/she really disproves of online advertising!

Cheers, Ian :)

Ian O'Neill June 9, 2008 at 7:47 PM

Hehe, I still can’t work out what the mirror man is talking about – I thought it was something profound… unfortunately it looks as if the theory is on the wrong side of “sane” ;) Oh well.

I need to spend some time on Galaxy Zoo, looks great!

I also need to look into Google Earth and all the virtual observing that can be done!

Take care and catch you soon! Cheers, Ian :D

Chris June 9, 2008 at 2:42 PM

That’s pretty neat

Jan June 9, 2008 at 2:49 PM

Where did you learn dutch Tammy? “Voorwerp” simply means ‘object’, nothing more than that…

regards,

Jan
(a dutchman)

dmedici June 9, 2008 at 4:52 PM

Jerry has a point – if this was an ad about denying the reality of Allah, Mohammed, or Judaism, it would not be allowed. It would be labelled as hate speech and removed before you could say ‘God is dead’.

Tammy Plotner June 9, 2008 at 5:01 PM

Hi, Jan!

You are very correct. My friend Cor taught me a handful of words and I knew it meant “object”, but I also know my Netherland, Holland, etc. friends have a wonderful sense of humor and I didn’t think you’d mind. ;)

And Jerry? What the heck does your comments have to do with Hanny’s Voorwerp? Never in any of my writings (or teachings) will you find any disrepect for ANY religion, culture or belief. If you wanna’ write hate mail – send it to the folks that are responsible for the ad – or turn the other cheek.

Wij zijn alle kinderen van de God…

Tammy Plotner June 9, 2008 at 5:10 PM

OH! I “see” what you’re talking about now!!

For what it’s worth, my friends, I have absolutely no control over what ads display themselves in the pages. I am sure Fraser is unaware the readers find it offensive and I’m equally sure it will be removed posthaste.

Don’t let a simple movie advertisement keep you from learning and enjoying…

MegaChrist June 9, 2008 at 5:21 PM

amen, jerry!

Tammy Plotner June 9, 2008 at 6:11 PM

Thanks, Ian!

I really, really try to feature images that take the reader on a cosmic adventure. It’s fun to learn about new objects, what they are, where they are, what they look like and what they might be…

And who could resist a voorwerp!

Thanks, again.

~Tam

PS – I grew up in the new school line of thinking when it comes to offensive things… If I don’t like it? I don’t look at it!

PPS – That’s why the only mirrors I own are in telescopes. :) Woo hooo! That oughta’ bring the “mirror man” out to spam!

Hanny June 10, 2008 at 12:54 AM

Hi all,

“Voorwerp” indeed means “object”, but everyone indeed also thought “What the heck is that?” Anyway…

Cheers from Hanny – from the Voorwerp.

NGC3314 June 10, 2008 at 7:20 AM

Groetjes, Hanny!

I posted some links to more information on the Voorwerp over on the BAUT forum…

Tammy Plotner June 10, 2008 at 8:06 AM

Hanny!!

I’m honoured… :)

Trippy June 10, 2008 at 12:18 PM

Mirrorman isn’t spamming over here as well is he?

There was a user by the same name on another forum that had some pet theories that were… On the wrong side of sane, that eventually got himself banned from that forum.

Peter K June 10, 2008 at 12:34 PM

Ads are ads. I get male enhancement aid ads all the time. Don’t need any but it’s pretty easy to delete. Please Tammy, Ian, et al, don’t react to silly complaints. Delete them like we do to the ads themselves, if only from memory. Most enlightened minds appreciate questions of anything. Let us all continue to encourage the supremacy of thought over any suppression.
As for the voorwerp, interesting but I don’t think I really understood what we were seeing, or thought we were seeing. Nice spectral lines, though.

Dutzie June 10, 2008 at 2:16 PM

Voorwerp could also mean ‘item’, ‘thing’.

Hanny is becoming famous.

Tammy Plotner June 10, 2008 at 5:51 PM

I fell for the Mirrorman’s lines once. After having read just a little of it, I figured those were multi-colored mirrors on his hobnail boots and he’d definitely been looking at those plasticene porter’s eyes far too long…

Peter K.? Thank you for the kind words. I’ve honestly tried to grow a thick skin over the years, but I keep shedding it. Guess I just care too much about people. (but i try very hard not to let crude comments get to me.) As for ads? Yeah. Last time I accidentally open a male enhancement ad my fingers got longer.

And I thought Hanny was famous! ;)

I read all the work you guys did on the Voorwerp and I was very impressed… And even more impressed when Joe imaged it, too. After having spent hours pouring over galaxy images in search of supernova events, I know how I feel – and catching that one little thing that looks like an artifact at first glance is damn fine work.

You should be very proud!

Alice June 14, 2008 at 3:25 AM

Hey, I think I was away because I only just found this article today . . . Great stuff! Tammy, you make it REALLY clear what the Voorwerp is – I saw its proposal for Hubble time, and I’ve been picking things up here and there, but it was lovely to have the possibilities made so clear and simple.

Do come along to projects like Galaxy Zoo, there might be a lot more to discover besides the Voorwerp. Crazy and wonderful people in the Cafe at the End of the Universe, for example. I’ll stop advertising now before I get banned for spamming . . . Hanny’s Voorwerp indeed became famous at once. Lots of people kept claiming to find one, when in fact they had (sadly) only found an irregular galaxy or clump of hot blue star formation. Chris Lintott checked the entire database to see if anything else had precisely the same colour, and it didn’t. Can you imagine how exciting this was? Roll on, citizen science . . . it really does work!

Hanny June 15, 2008 at 3:41 AM

Thanks Tammy. :D

And groetjes Bill! ;)

Hanny.

Michael Gmirkin June 19, 2008 at 7:24 PM

I think an ellipsis uses 3 dots. Title has 4? Decided to be extra generous, did we? *Wink*

Anyway, the Voorwerp is interesting. Glad to know it’s not just a figment of someone’s overactive imagination. :)

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