Messier 60 – the NGC 4649 Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the elliptical galaxy known as Messier 60.

In the 18th century, while searching the night sky for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier kept noting the presence of fixed, diffuse objects he initially mistook for comets. In time, he would come to compile a list of approximately 100 of these objects, hoping to prevent other astronomers from making the same mistake. This list – known as the Messier Catalog – would go on to become one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Sky Objects.

One of the notable objects in this catalog is Messier 60, an elliptical galaxy located approximately 55 million light-years away in the Virgo constellation. Measuring some 60,000 light years across, this galaxy is only about half as large as the Milky Way. However, it still manages to pack in an estimated 400 billion stars which, depending on which estimates you go by, is between four times and the same amount as our own.

What You Are Looking At:

Located about 60 million light years away and spanning about 120 million light years of space, M60 is the third brightest elliptical in the Virgo group and and is the dominant member of a subcluster of four galaxies, which is the closest-known isolated compact group of galaxies. In larger telescopes, you’ll see another nearby galaxy – NGC 4647 – which might first be taken for a interactor, but may very well lay at a different distance since there is no tidal evidence so far found.

Messier 60. Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

As L.M. Young (et al.) explained in their 2006 study:

“We present matched-resolution maps of H I and CO emission in the Virgo Cluster spiral NGC 4647. The galaxy shows a mild kinematic disturbance in which one side of the rotation curve flattens but the other side continues to rise. This kinematic asymmetry is coupled with a dramatic asymmetry in the molecular gas distribution but not in the atomic gas. An analysis of the gas column densities and the interstellar pressure suggests that the H2/H I surface density ratio on the east side of the galaxy is 3 times higher than expected from the hydrostatic pressure contributed by the mass of the stellar disk. We discuss the probable effects of ram pressure, gravitational interactions, and asymmetric potentials on the interstellar medium and suggest it is likely that a m = 1 perturbation in the gravitational potential could be responsible for all of the galaxy’s features. Kinematic disturbances of the type seen here are common, but the curious thing about NGC 4647 is that the molecular distribution appears more disturbed than the H I distribution. Thus, it is the combination of the two gas phases that provides such interesting insight into the galaxy’s history and into models of the interstellar medium.”

Although a search for young optical pulsars turned up negative after a recent supernova event, astronomer’s did discover something rather exciting… a supermassive black hole! As Philip J. Humphrey (et al) indicated in their 2008 study:

“We present a Chandra study of the hot ISM in the giant elliptical galaxy NGC4649. In common with other group-centred ellipticals, its temperature profile rises with radius in the outer parts of the galaxy. Under the assumption of hydrostatic equilibrium, we demonstrate that the central temperature spike arises due to the gravitational influence of a quiescent central super-massive black hole. This is the first direct measurement of MBH based on studies of hydrostatic X-ray emitting gas, which are sensitive to the most massive black holes, and is a crucial validation of both mass-determination techniques. This agreement clearly demonstrates the gas must be close to hydrostatic, even in the very centre of the galaxy, which is consistent with the lack of morphological disturbances in the X-ray image. NGC4649 is now one of only a handful of galaxies for which MBH has been measured by more than one method.”

History of Observation:

Both M59 and neighboring M60 were discovered on April 11, 1779 by Johann Gottfried Koehler who wrote: “Two very small nebulae, hardly visible in a 3-foot telescope: The one above the other.” It was independently found one day later by Barnabus Oriani, who missed M59, and four days later, on April 15, 1779, by Charles Messier, who also found nearby M58. In his notes Messier writes:

“Nebula in Virgo, a little more distinct than the two preceding [M58 and M59], on the same parallel as Epsilon [Virginis], which has served for its [position] determination. M. Messier reported it on the Chart of the Comet of 1779. He discovered these three nebulae while observing this Comet which passed very close to them. The latter passed so near on April 13 and 14 that the one and the other were both in the same field of the refractor, and he could not see it; it was not until the 15th, while looking for the Comet, that he perceived the nebula. These three nebulae don’t appear to contain any star.”

William Herschel would later perceive it as a double nebula and so would son John, calling it “A very fine and curious object.” However, it was Admiral Smyth who must have finally had a clear viewing night a took a look at what was all around!

“The hypothesis of Sir John Herschel, upon double nebulae, is new and attracting. They may be stellar systems each revolving round the other: each a universe, according to ancient notions. But as these revolutionary principles of those vast and distant firmamental clusters connot for ages yet be established, the mind lingers in admiration, rather than comprehension of such mysterious collocations. Meantime our clear duty is, so industriously to collect facts, that much of what is now unintelligible, may become plain to our successors, and a portion of the grand mechanism now beyond our conception, revealed. ‘How much,’ exclaims Sir John Herschel, ‘how much is escaping us! How unworthy is it in them who call themselves philosophers, to let these great phenomena of nature, these slow but majestic manifestations of power and the glory of God, glide unnoticed, and drop out of memory beyond the reach of recovery, because we will not take the pains to note them in their unobstrusive and furtive passage, because we see them in their every-day dress, and mark no sudden change, and conclude that all is dead, because we will not look for signs of life; and that all is uninteresting, because we are not impressed and dazzled.’ ….. ‘To say, indeed, that every individual star in the Milky Way, to the amount of eight or ten millions, is to have its place determined, and its motion watched, would be extravagant; but at least let samples be taken, at least let monographs of parts be made with powerful telescopes and refined instruments, that we may know what is going on in that abyss of stars, where at present imagination wanders without a guide!” Such is the enthusiastic call of one, whose father cleared the road by which we are introduced to the grandest phenomena of the stellar universe.'”

Locating Messier 58:

M59 is a telescopic only object and requires patience to find. Because the Virgo Galaxy field contains so many galaxies which can easily be mis-identified, it is sometimes easier to “hop” from one galaxy to the next! In this case, we need to start by locating bright Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis) almost due east of Denebola.

Let’s starhop four and a half degrees west and a shade north of Epsilon to locate one of the largest elliptical galaxies presently known – M60. At a little brighter than magnitude 9, this galaxy could be spotted with binoculars, but stick with your telescope. In the same low power field (depending on aperture size) you may also note faint NGC 4647 which only appears to be interacting with M60.

In a smaller telescope, do not expect to see much. What will appear at low power is a tiny egg-shaped patch of contrast change with a brighter center. As aperture increases, a sharper nucleus will begin to appear as you move into the 4-6″ size range at dark sky locations, but elliptical galaxies do not show details. As with all galaxies, dark skies are a must!

Enjoy your own observations of the Virgo galaxy fields….

The location of Messier 60 in the Virgo constellation. Credit: IAU

And here are the quick facts on this Messier Object to help you get started:

Object Name: Messier 60
Alternative Designations: M60, NGC 4649
Object Type: E2 Galaxy
Constellation: Virgo
Right Ascension: 12 : 43.7 (h:m)
Declination: +11 : 33 (deg:m)
Distance: 60000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 8.8 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 7×6 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier ObjectsM1 – The Crab Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.

Sources:

Messier 59 – the NGC 4621 Elliptical Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the spiral galaxy known as Messier 59.

In the 18th century, while searching the night sky for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier kept noting the presence of fixed, diffuse objects he initially mistook for comets. In time, he would come to compile a list of approximately 100 of these objects, hoping to prevent other astronomers from making the same mistake. This list – known as the Messier Catalog – would go on to become one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Sky Objects.

One of these objects is the elliptical galaxy known as Messier 59 (aka. NGC 4621). This galaxy is located approximately 60 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the southern Virgo constellation. Sitting just a few degrees away Messier 60, and bordered at a distance by Messier 58, this galaxy is visible using smaller instruments, but is best observed using a larger telescope.

Atlas image of Messier 59 obtained by the Two micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Credit: 2MASS/NASA/UMass

Description:

Located about 60 million light years away and spanning about 90 million light years of space, but what exactly is its type? Says Takao Mizuno (et al) in their 1996 study:

“We decomposed two-dimensionally an elliptical galaxy, NGC 4621, which shows deviations from the brightness distribution law. We have found that its brightness distribution can be reproduced by three components possessing constant ellipticities of the residuals in the circular region of radius. The component obeying the aw has 62% of the total light, and, hence, is the main body of this elliptical galaxy.” So it might not be the biggest or the brightest of the group, but it is home to nearly 2000 globular clusters. This isn’t news when it comes to this galaxy type, but what is news is how they rotate… the wrong way!

“We present adaptive optics assisted OASIS integral field spectrography of the S0 galaxy NGC 4621. Two-dimensional stellar kinematical maps (mean velocity and dispersion) reveal the presence of a 60 pc diameter counter-rotating core (CRC), the smallest observed to date.” says Fabien Wernli (et al), “The OASIS data also suggests that the kinematic center of the CRC is slightly offset from the center of the outer isophotes. This seems to be confirmed by archival HST/STIS data. We also present the HST/WFPC2 V-I colour map, which exhibits a central elongated red structure, also slightly off-centered in the same direction as the kinematic centre. Although the stellar velocities are reasonably fitted, including the region of the counter-rotating core, significant discrepancies between the model and the observations demonstrate the need for a more general model.”

What could account for such unusual behavior? Try a quiet black hole! As J. M. Wrobel (et al) indicated in their 2008 study:

“The nearby elliptical galaxies NGC 4621 and NGC 4697 each host a supermassive black hole. Analysis of archival Chandra data and new NRAO Very Large Array data shows that each galaxy contains a low-luminosity active galactic nucleus (LLAGN), identified as a faint, hard X-ray source that is astrometrically coincident with a faint 8.5-GHz source. The black holes energizing these LLAGNs have Eddington ratios placing them in the so-called quiescent regime. The emission from these quiescent black holes is radio-loud, suggesting the presence of a radio outflow. Also, application of the radio-X-ray-mass relation from Yuan & Cui for quiescent black holes predicts the observed radio luminosities to within a factor of a few. Significantly, that relation invokes X-ray emission from the outflow rather than from an accretion flow. The faint, but detectable, emission from these two massive black holes is therefore consistent with being outflow-dominated.”

The M59 spiral galaxy. Credit: NOAO

History of Observation:

Both M59 and neighboring M60 were discovered on April 11, 1779 by Johann Gottfried Koehler who wrote: “Two very small nebulae, hardly visible in a 3-foot telescope: The one above the other.” Charles Messier would independently recover it four days later and state in his notes:

“Nebula in Virgo and in the neighborhood of the preceding [M58], on the parallel of epsilon [Virginis], which has served for its [position] determination: it is of the same light as the above, equally faint. M. Messier reported it on the Chart of the Comet of 1779.”

While both William and John Herschel would also observe it, it sometimes confounds me that they didn’t seem to notice all the other galaxies around it! Fortunately for historic record, Admiral Smyth did:

“A fine field is exhibited under the eye-piece, which magnifies 93 times, just as this object [M60 with NGC 4647] enters, because the bright little nebula 59 M. is quitting the np [north preceding, NW] verge, and another small one is seen in the upper part, H. 1402 [NGC 4638]: in fact, four nebulae at once.”

Locating Messier 58:

M59 is a telescope-only object and requires patience to find. Because the Virgo Galaxy field contains so many galaxies which can easily be misidentified, it is sometimes easier to “hop” from one galaxy to the next. In this case, we need to start by locating bright Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis) almost due east of Denebola. Then starhop four and a half degrees west and a shade north of Epsilon to locate one of the largest elliptical galaxies presently known – M60.

The location of M59, which sits between M58 and M60 in the direction of the Virgo constellation. Credit: IAU

At a little brighter than magnitude 9, this galaxy could be spotted with binoculars, but stick with your telescope. In the same low power field (depending on aperture size) you may also note faint NGC 4647 which only appears to be interacting with M60. Also in the field to the west (the direction of drift) is the Messier we’re looking for, bright cored elliptical galaxy M59.

In a smaller telescope, do not expect to see much. What will appear at low power is a tiny egg-shaped patch of contrast change with a brighter center. As aperture increases, a sharper nucleus will begin to appear as you move into the 4-6″ size range at dark sky locations, but elliptical galaxies do not show details. As with all galaxies, dark skies are a must!

Enjoy your journey around the Virgo Galaxy Field!

Object Name: Messier 59
Alternative Designations: M59, NGC 4621
Object Type: E5 Galaxy
Constellation: Virgo
Right Ascension: 12 : 42.0 (h:m)
Declination: +11 : 39 (deg:m)
Distance: 60000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 9.6 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 5×3.5 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier ObjectsM1 – The Crab Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.

Sources:

Cutting-Edge Astronomy Confirms Most Ancient Galaxy to Date

Since the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have been able to look deeper into the cosmic web than ever before. The farther they’ve looked, the deeper back in time they are able to see, and thus learn what the Universe looked like billions of years ago. With the deployment of other cutting-edge telescopes and observatories, scientists have been able to learn a great deal more about the history and evolution of the cosmos.

Most recently, an international team of astronomers using the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii were able to spot a spiral galaxy located 11 billion light years away. Thanks to a new technique that combined gravitational lensing and spectrography, they were able to see an object that existed just 2.6 billion years after the Big Bang. This makes this spiral galaxy, known as A1689B11, the oldest and most distant spiral galaxy spotted to date.

The study which details the team’s findings, titled “The most ancient spiral galaxy: a 2.6-Gyr-old disk with a tranquil velocity field“, recently appeared in The Astrophysical Journal. The team consisted of members from the Swinburne University of Technology, the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3D (ASTRO 3D), the University of Lyon, Princeton University, and the Racah Institute of Physics at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Spiral galaxy A1689B11 sits behind a massive cluster of galaxies that acts as a lens, producing two magnified images of the spiral galaxy in different positions in the sky. Credit: James Josephides

Together, the team relied on the gravitational lensing technique to spot A1689B11. This technique has become a mainstay for astronomers, and involves using a large object (like a galaxy cluster) to bend and magnify the light of a galaxy located behind it. As Dr. Tiantian Yuan, a Swinburne astronomer and the lead author on the research study, explained in a Swinburne press statement:

“This technique allows us to study ancient galaxies in high resolution with unprecedented detail. We are able to look 11 billion years back in time and directly witness the formation of the first, primitive spiral arms of a galaxy.”

They then used the Near-infrared Integral Field Spectrograph (NIFS) on the Gemini North telescope to verify the structure and nature of this spiral galaxy. This instrument was built Peter McGregor of The Australian National University (ANU), which now is responsible for maintaining it. Thanks to this latest discovery, astronomers now have some additional clues as to how galaxies took on the forms that we are familiar with today.

Based on the classification scheme developed by famed astronomer Edwin Hubble (the “Hubble Sequence“), galaxies are divides into 3 broad classes based on their shapes – ellipticals, lenticulars and spirals – with a fourth category reserved for “irregularly-shaped” galaxies. In accordance with this scheme, galaxies start out as elliptical structures before branching off to become spiraled, lenticular, or irregular.

A figure illustrating the Hubble sequence, showing elliptical galaxies (left) and evolving to fit the three broad categories (right) of ellipticals, lenticulars and spirals. Credit: Ville Koistinen

As such, the discovery of such an ancient spiral galaxy is crucial to determining when and how the earliest galaxies began changing from being elliptical to taking on their modern forms. As Dr Renyue Cen, an astronomer from Princeton University and a co-author on the study, says:

“Studying ancient spirals like A1689B11 is a key to unlocking the mystery of how and when the Hubble sequence emerges. Spiral galaxies are exceptionally rare in the early Universe, and this discovery opens the door to investigating how galaxies transition from highly chaotic, turbulent discs to tranquil, thin discs like those of our own Milky Way galaxy.”

On top of that, this study showed that the A1689B11 spiral galaxy has some surprising features which could also help inform (and challenge) our understanding of this period in cosmic history. As Dr. Yuan explained, these features are in stark contrast to galaxies as they exist today. But equally interesting is the fact that it also differentiates this spiral galaxy from other galaxies that are similar in age.

“This galaxy is forming stars 20 times faster than galaxies today – as fast as other young galaxies of similar masses in the early Universe,” said Dr. Yuan. “However, unlike other galaxies of the same epoch, A1689B11 has a very cool and thin disc, rotating calmly with surprisingly little turbulence. This type of spiral galaxy has never been seen before at this early epoch of the Universe!”

Illustration of the depth by which Hubble imaged galaxies in prior Deep Field initiatives, in units of the Age of the Universe. Credit: NASA and A. Feild (STScI)

In the future, the team hopes to conduct further studies of this galaxy to further resolve its structure and nature, and to compare it to other spiral galaxies from this epoch. Of particular interest to them is when the onset of spiral arms takes place, which should serve as a sort of boundary marker between ancient elliptical galaxies and modern spiral, lenticular and irregular shapes.

They will continue to rely on the NIFS to conduct these studies, but the team also hopes to rely on data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope (which will be launched in 2019). These and other surveys in the coming years are expected to reveal vital information about the earliest galaxies in the Universe, and reveal further clues as to how it changed over time.

Further Reading: Swinburne, APJ

Messier 49 – the NGC 4472 Elliptical Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! In our ongoing tribute to the great Tammy Plotner, we take a look at Orion’s Nebula’s “little brother”, the De Marian’s Nebula!

During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noted the presence of several “nebulous objects” in the night sky. Having originally mistaken them for comets, he began compiling a list of them so that others would not make the same mistake he did. In time, this list (known as the Messier Catalog) would come to include 100 of the most fabulous objects in the night sky.

One of these objects is the elliptical galaxy known as Messier 49 (aka. NGC 4472). Located in the southern skies in the constellation of Virgo, this galaxy is one several members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and is located 55.9 million light years from Earth. On a clear night, and allowing for good light conditions, it can be seen with binoculars or a small telescope, and will appear as a hazy patch in the sky.

Description:

Messier 49 is the brightest of the Virgo Cluster member galaxies, which is pretty accurate considering it’s only about 60 million light years away and may span an area as large as 160,000 light years. It is a huge system of globular clusters, much less concentrated than Virgo cluster member M87 – but a giant none the less. As Stephen E. Zep (et al) wrote in a 2000 study:

“We present new radial velocities for 87 globular clusters around the elliptical galaxy NGC 4472 and combine these with our previously published data to create a data set of velocities for 144 globular clusters around NGC 4472. We utilize this data set to analyze the kinematics of the NGC 4472 globular cluster system. The new data confirm our previous discovery that the metal-poor clusters have significantly higher velocity dispersion than the metal-rich clusters in NGC 4472. The very small angular momentum in the metal-rich population requires efficient angular momentum transport during the formation of this population, which is spatially concentrated and chemically enriched. Such angular momentum transfer can be provided by galaxy mergers, but it has not been achieved in other extant models of elliptical galaxy formation that include dark matter halos. We also calculate the velocity dispersion as a function of radius and show that it is consistent with roughly isotropic orbits for the clusters and the mass distribution of NGC 4472 inferred from X-ray observations of the hot gas around the galaxy.”

This ground-based image shows the Small Magellanic Cloud. The area of the SMIDGE survey is highlighted, as well as the position of NGC 248. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble/Digitized Sky Survey 2

However, there was something going on in the mass structure of M49 that astronomers were curious about… Something they couldn’t quite explain. Was it dark matter? As M. Lowenstein wrote in a 1992 study:

“An attempt to constrain the total mass distribution of the well-observed giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4472 is realized by constructing simultaneous equilibrium models for the gas and stars using all available relevant optical and X-ray data. The value of <?>, the emission-weighted average value of kT, derived from the Ginga spectrum, <?> = 1.9 ± 0.2 keV, can be reproduced only in hydrostatic models where nonluminous matter comprises at least 90% of the total mass. However, in general, these mass models are not consistent with observed projected stellar and globular cluster velocity dispersions at moderate radii.”

The next thing you know, nuclear outburst were discovered – the product of interaction with a neighboring galaxy. As B. Biller (et al) indicated in a 2004 study:

“We present the analysis of the Chandra ACIS observations of the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4472. The Chandra Observatory’s arcsec resolution reveals a number of new features. Specifically: 1) an ~8 arc min streamer or arm (this corresponds to a linear size of 36 kpc) extending southwest of the galaxy and an assymetrical, somewhat truncated streamer to the northeast. Smaller, morphologically similar structures are observed in NGC 4636 and are explained as shocks from a nuclear outburst in the recent past. The larger size of the NGC 4472 streamers requires a correspondingly higher energy input compared to the NGC 4636 case. The asymmetry of the streamers may be due to the interaction of NGC 4472 with the ambient Virgo cluster gas. 2) A string of small, extended sources south of the nucleus. These sources may stem from an interaction of NGC 4472 with the galaxy UGC 7637. 3) X-ray cavities corresponding to radio lobes, where expanding radio plasma has evacuated the X-ray emitting gas. We also present a luminosity function for the X-ray point sources detected within NGC 4472 which we compare to that for other early type galaxies.”

Chandra images showing 4 of the 9 galaxies discovered (left), and an artist’s impression on showing how gas falls towards a black hole and becomes a rapidly spinning disk of matter near the center (right). Credit: NASA/Chandra

But the very best was yet to come… the discovery of a black hole! According to NASA, the results from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, combined with new theoretical calculations, provide one of the best pieces of evidence yet that many supermassive black holes are spinning extremely rapidly. The images on the left show 4 out of the 9 large galaxies included in the Chandra study, each containing a supermassive black hole in its center.

The Chandra images show pairs of huge bubbles, or cavities, in the hot gaseous atmospheres of the galaxies, created in each case by jets produced by a central supermassive black hole. Studying these cavities allows the power output of the jets to be calculated. This sets constraints on the spin of the black holes when combined with theoretical models. The Chandra images were also used to estimate how much fuel is available for each supermassive black hole, using a simple model for the way matter falls towards such an object.

The artist’s impression on the right side of the main graphic shows gas within a “sphere of influence” falling straight inwards towards a black hole before joining a rapidly spinning disk of matter near the center. Most of the material in this disk is swallowed by the black hole, but some of it is swept outwards in jets (colored blue) by quickly spinning magnetic fields close to the black hole.

Previous work with these Chandra data showed that the higher the rate at which matter falls towards these supermassive black holes, the higher their power output is in jets. However, without detailed theory the implications of this result for black hole behavior were unclear. The new study uses these Chandra results combined with leading theoretical models for the production of jets, plus general relativity, to show that the supermassive black holes in these galaxies must be spinning at close to the maximum rate. If black holes are spinning at this limit, material can be dragged around them at close to the speed of light, the speed limit from Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Atlas Image obtained of Messier 49, taken by the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Credit: NASA/UofMass/IPAC/Caltech/NASA/NSF/2MASS

History of Observation:

According to SEDS, M49 was the first member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies to be discovered, by Charles Messier, who cataloged it on February 19th, 1771. As he recorded in his notes at the time:

“Nebula discovered near the star Rho Virginis. One cannot see it without difficulty with an ordinary telescope of 3.5-feet [FL]. The Comet of 1779 was compared by M. Messier with this nebula on April 22 and 23: The comet and the nebula had the same light. M. Messier has reported this nebula on the chart of the route of the comet, which appeared in the volume of the Academy of the same year 1779. Seen again on April 10, 1781.” Eight years later, on April 22, 1779, on the occasion of following the comet of that year, and on the hunt for finding more nebulous objects in competition to other observers, Barnabas Oriani independently rediscovered this ‘nebula’: “Very pale and looking exactly like the comet [1779 Bode, C/1779 A1].”

In his Bedford Catalogue of 1844, Admiral William H. Smyth confused this finding with Messier’s discovery:

“A bright, round, and well-defined nebula, on the Virgin’s left shoulder; exactly on the line between Delta Virginis and Beta Leonis, 8deg, or less than half-way, from the former star. With an eyepiece magnifying 93 times, there are only two telescopic stars in the field, one of which is in the sp and the other in the sf quadrant; and the nebula has a very pearly aspect. This object was discovered by Oriani in 1771 [this is wrong: it was Messier who discovered it that year; Oriani found it only in 1779], and registered by Messier as a “faint nebula, not seen without difficulty,” with a telescope of 3 1/2 feet in length. It is a pity that this active and very assiduous astronomer could not have been furnished with one of the giant telescopes of the present days. Had he possessed efficient means, there can be no doubt of the augmentation of his useful and, in its day, unique Catalogue: a collection of objects for which sidereal astronomy must ever remain indebted to him.” This error was repeated by John Herschel in his General Catalogue of 1864 (GC), who also erroneously assigned this object to “1771 Oriani,” and also found its way into J.L.E. Dreyer’s NGC.

Let’s hope you don’t mistake it with the many other galaxies nearby!

The location of Messier 49 within the Virgo constellation. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

Locating Messier 49:

Galaxy hopping isn’t an easy chore and it takes some practice. Starting looking for M49 about halfway between Epsilon and Beta Virginis. Use Gamma to help triangulate your position. At near magnitude 8, Messier 49 is quite binocular possible and would show under dark sky conditions as a faint, very small egg shaped fog. However, it will not show in a finderscope of a telescope – but the nearby stars will.

Use their patterns to help guide you there. Because galaxies require dark skies, M49 cannot be found under urban conditions or during moonlit nights. In telescopes as small as 70mm, it will appear as a nebulous egg shape and become brighter – but no more resolved to larger instruments. To assist in location, begin with lowest magnification and increase magnification once found to darken background field.

And here are the quick facts to help you get started!

Object Name: Messier 49
Alternative Designations: M49, NGC 4472
Object Type: Elliptical Galaxy
Constellation: Virgo
Right Ascension: 12 : 29.8 (h:m)
Declination: +08 : 00 (deg:m)
Distance: 60000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 8.4 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 9×7.5 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier Objects, , M1 – The Crab Nebula, M8 – The Lagoon Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.

Sources:

How Massive Can Black Holes Get?

We talk about stellar mass and supermassive black holes. What are the limits? How massive can these things get?

Without the light pressure from nuclear fusion to hold back the mass of the star, the outer layers compress inward in an instant. The star dies, exploding violently as a supernova.

All that’s left behind is a black hole. They start around three times the mass of the Sun, and go up from there. The more a black hole feeds, the bigger it gets.

Terrifyingly, there’s no limit to much material a black hole can consume, if it’s given enough time. The most massive are ones found at the hearts of galaxies. These are the supermassive black holes, such as the 4.1 million mass nugget at the center of the Milky Way. Astronomers figured its mass by watching the movements of stars zipping around the center of the Milky Way, like comets going around the Sun.

There seems to be supermassive black holes at the heart of every galaxy we can find, and our Milky Way’s black hole is actually puny in comparison. Interstellar depicted a black hole with 100 million times the mass of the Sun. And we’re just getting started.

The giant elliptical galaxy M87 has a black hole with 6.2 billion times the mass of the Sun. How can astronomers possibly know that? They’ve spotted a jet of material 4,300 light-years long, blasting out of the center of M87 at relativistic speeds, and only black holes that massive generate jets like that.

Most recently, astronomers announced in the Journal Nature that they have found a black hole with about 12 billion times the mass of the Sun. The accretion disk here generates 429 trillion times more light than the Sun, and it shines clear across the Universe. We see the light from this region from when the Universe was only 6% into its current age.

Somehow this black hole went from zero to 12 billion times the mass of the Sun in about 875 million years. Which poses a tiny concern. Such as how in the dickens is it possible that a black hole could build up so much mass so quickly? Also, we’re seeing it 13 billion years ago. How big is it now? Currently, astronomers have no idea. I’m sure it’s fine. It’s fine right?

We’ve talked about how massive black holes can get, but what about the opposite question? How teeny tiny can a black hole be?

An illustration that shows the powerful winds driven by a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy. The schematic figure in the inset depicts the innermost regions of the galaxy where a black hole accretes, that is, consumes, at a very high rate the surrounding matter (light grey) in the form of a disc (darker grey). At the same time, part of that matter is cast away through powerful winds. (Credits: XMM-Newton and NuSTAR Missions; NASA/JPL-Caltech;Insert:ESA)
An illustration that shows the powerful winds driven by a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy. The schematic figure in the inset depicts the innermost regions of the galaxy where a black hole accretes, that is, consumes, at a very high rate the surrounding matter (light grey) in the form of a disc (darker grey). At the same time, part of that matter is cast away through powerful winds. (Credits: XMM-Newton and NuSTAR Missions; NASA/JPL-Caltech;Insert:ESA)

Astronomers figure there could be primordial black holes, black holes with the mass of a planet, or maybe an asteroid, or maybe a car… or maybe even less. There’s no method that could form them today, but it’s possible that uneven levels of density in the early Universe might have compressed matter into black holes.

Those black holes might still be out there, zipping around the Universe, occasionally running into stars, planets, and spacecraft and interstellar picnics. I’m sure it’s the stellar equivalent of smashing your shin on the edge of the coffee table.

Astronomers have never seen any evidence that they actually exist, so we’ll shrug this off and choose to pretend we shouldn’t be worrying too much. And so it turns out, black holes can get really, really, really massive. 12 billion times the mass of the Sun massive.

What part about black holes still make you confused? Suggest some topics for future episodes of the Guide to Space in the comments below.

How Do Galaxies Die?

Everything eventually dies, even galaxies. So how does that happen? Time to come to grips with our galactic mortality. Not as puny flesh beings, or as a speck of rock, or even the relatively unassuming ball of plasma we orbit.

Today we’re going to ponder the lifespan of the galaxy we inhabit, the Milky Way. If we look at a galaxy as a collection of stars, some are like our Sun, and others aren’t.

The Sun consumes fuel, converting hydrogen into helium through fusion. It’s been around for 5 billion years, and will probably last for another 5 before it bloats up as a red giant, sheds its outer layers and compresses down into a white dwarf, cooling down until it’s the background temperature of the Universe.

So if a galaxy like the Milky Way is just a collection of stars, isn’t that it? Doesn’t a galaxy die when its last star dies?

But you already know a galaxy is more than just stars. There’s also vast clouds of gas and dust. Some of it is primordial hydrogen left from the formation of the Universe 13.8 billion years ago.

All stars in the Milky Way formed from this primordial hydrogen. It and other similar sized galaxies produce 7 bouncing baby stars every year. Sadly, ours has used up 90% of its hydrogen, and star formation will slow down until it both figuratively, and literally, runs out of gas.

The Milky Way will die after it’s used all its star-forming gas, when all of the stars we have, and all those stars yet to be born have died. Stars like our Sun can only last for 10 billion years or so, but the smallest, coolest red dwarfs can last for a few trillion years.

The Andromeda Galaxy will collide with the Milky Way in the future. Credit: Adam Evans
The Andromeda Galaxy. Credit: Adam Evans

That should be the end, all the gas burned up and every star burned out. And that’s how it would be if our Milky Way existed all alone in the cosmos.

Fortunately, we’re surrounded by dozens of dwarf galaxies, which get merged into our Milky Way. Each merger brings in a fresh crop of stars and more hydrogen to stoke the furnaces of star formation.

There are bigger galaxies out there too. Andromeda is bearing down on the Milky Way right now, and will collide with us in the next few billion years.

When that happens, the two will merge. Then there’ll be a whole new era of star formation as the unspent gas in both galaxies mix together and are used up.

Eventually, all galaxies gravitationally bound to each other in this vicinity will merge together into a giant elliptical galaxy.

We see examples of these fossil galaxies when we look out into the Universe. Here’s M49, a supermassive elliptical galaxy. Who knows how many grand spiral galaxies stoked the fires of that gigantic cosmic engine?

Eta Carinae shines brightly in X-rays in this image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Eta Carinae shines brightly in X-rays in this image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Elliptical galaxies are dead galaxies walking. They’ve used up all their reserves of star forming gas, and all that’s left are the longer lasting stars. Eventually, over vast lengths of time, those stars will wink out one after the other, until the whole thing is the background temperature of the Universe.

As long as galaxies have gas for star formation, they’ll keep thriving. Once it’s gonzo, or a dramatic merger uses all the gas in one big party, they’re on their way out.

What could we do to prolong the life of our galaxy? Let’s hear some wild speculation in the comments below.

Teamwork! Two Telescopes Combine Forces To Spot Distant Galaxy Clusters

Artist's impression of the Herschel Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab/NASA/ESA/STScI

Doing something extraordinary often requires teamwork for humans, and the same can be said for telescopes. Witness the success of the Herschel and Planck observatories, whose data was combined in such a way to spot four galaxy clusters 10 billion years away — an era when the universe was just getting started.

Now that they have the technique down, astronomers believe they’ll be able to find about 2,000 other distant clusters that could show us more about how these collections of galaxies first came together.

Although very far away, the huge clumps of gas and dust coming together into stars is still visible, allowing telescopes to see the process in action.

“What we believe we are seeing in these distant clusters are giant elliptical galaxies in the process of being formed,” stated David Clements, a physicist at Imperial College London who led the research, referring to one of the two kinds of galaxies the universe has today. Elliptical galaxies are dominated by stars that are already formed, while spiral galaxies (like the Milky Way) include much more gas and dust.

Three false-color images of Herschel images identified by Planck. Infrared light is represented in three colors -- blue, green, and red -- that respectively show longer wavelengths. The green circle shows where Planck aimed. The co-ordinates show the location in right ascension and declination. Credit: D. Clements/ESA/NASA
Three false-color images of Herschel images identified by Planck. Infrared light is represented in three colors — blue, green, and red — that respectively show longer wavelengths. The green circle shows where Planck aimed. The co-ordinates show the location in right ascension and declination. Credit: D. Clements/ESA/NASA

This finding is yet another example of how the data from telescopes lives on, and can be used, long after the telescope missions have finished. Both Planck and Herschel finished their operations last year.

“The researchers used Planck data to find sources of far-infrared emission in areas covered by the Herschel satellite, then cross-referenced with Herschel data to look at these sources more closely,” the Royal Astronomical Society stated.

The two telescopes had complementary views, with Planck looking at the entire sky while Herschel surveyed smaller sections in higher resolution. By combining the data, researchers found 16 sources in total. A dozen of them were already discovered single galaxies, but four were the newly discovered galaxy clusters. Fresh observations were then used to figure out the distance.

You can read more details in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society or in preprint version on Arxiv.

Source: Royal Astronomical Society

Stirred, Not Shaken. Black Hole Antics Puff Up Whopper of a Galaxy

Its massive gravitational field warping space, the huge elliptical galaxy A2261-BCG, seems to have a diffuse halo of stars instead of a bright central galactic core. Image credit: NASA/ESA Hubble

Bloated far beyond the size of normal galaxies, one or more black holes may have puffed up an elliptical galaxy to a whopping size, according to astronomers. To their surprise, however, the black holes are missing.

Normally, scientists measure a concentrated peak of light surrounding the central black hole surrounded by a fuzzy halo of stars. Instead, astronomers, using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, find that the galaxy, known as A2261-BCG, is just a diffuse, bloated foggy patch of light. The intensity of starlight remains even across the entire galaxy. Past Hubble observations show supermassive black holes, each weighing billions of times more than our Sun, reside at the cores of nearly all galaxies.

“Expecting to find a black hole in every galaxy is sort of like expecting to find a pit inside a peach,” explained astronomer and co-author Tod Lauer in a press release. Lauer is with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. “With this Hubble observation, we cut into the biggest peach and we can’t find the pit. We don’t know for sure that the black hole is not there, but Hubble shows that there’s no concentration of stars in the core.”

So where are the black holes?

Astronomers, in a paper that appeared in the September 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, have two ideas, both involving galactic billiards, for the galaxy’s puffy appearance. In one scenario, a pair of merging black holes gravitationally stir up then scatter the galaxy’s stars. In another, the merging black holes are ejected leaving the swarm of stars with no gravitational anchor allowing them to wander outward.

Galaxy cores tend to be sized proportionally to the wheeling expanse of the host galaxy. In the case of A2261-BCG, which spans about a million light-years (10 times that of our Milky Way Galaxy), the central region is three times larger than other very luminous galaxies, according to the paper. The monster galaxy is the most massive and brightest galaxy in the Abell 2261 galaxy cluster.

Team leader Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., said in the press release that the galaxy stood out in the Hubble image. “When I first saw the image of this galaxy, I knew right away it was unusual,” Postman explained. “The core was very diffuse and very large. The challenge was then to make sense of all the data, given what we knew from previous Hubble observations, and come up with a plausible explanation for the intriguing nature of this particular galaxy.”

The team admits the ejected black-hole ideas sound far-fetched, “but that’s what makes observing the universe so intriguing — sometimes you find the unexpected,” said Postman.

As a follow-up, the team is searching for the sound of material falling into the black hole using the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico. Comparing the VLA data with Hubble images will allow the researchers to confirm the existence of a black hole and map its location.

Source: Hubblesite