Galaxy May Host ‘Death Spiral’ Of Two Black Holes Becoming One

Two black holes in the middle of a galaxy are gravitationally bound to each other and may be starting to merge, according to a new study.

Astronomers came to that conclusion after studying puzzling behavior in what is known as WISE J233237.05-505643.5, a discovery that came from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Follow-up studies came from the Australian Telescope Compact Array and the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

“We think the jet of one black hole is being wiggled by the other, like a dance with ribbons,” stated research leader Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “If so, it is likely the two black holes are fairly close and gravitationally entwined.”

“The dance of these black hole duos starts out slowly, with the objects circling each other at a distance of about a few thousand light-years,’ NASA added in a press release. “So far, only a few handfuls of supermassive black holes have been conclusively identified in this early phase of merging. As the black holes continue to spiral in toward each other, they get closer, separated by just a few light-years. ”

You can read more details of the find at a press release here, or at this Arxiv paper.

‘The New Cool’: How These Sharp Space Pictures Were Snapped From A Ground Telescope

Rise above Earth with a telescope, and one huge obstacle to astronomy is removed: the atmosphere. We love breathing that oxygen-nitrogen mix, but it’s sure not fun to peer through it. Ground-based telescopes have to deal with air turbulence and other side effects of the air we need to breathe.

Enter adaptive optics — laser-based systems that can track the distortions in the air and tell computers in powerful telescopes how to flex their mirrors. That sparkling picture above came due to a new system at the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

It’s one of only a handful pictures released, but astronomers are already rolling out the superlatives.

“GeMS sets the new cool in adaptive optics,” stated Tim Davidge, an astronomer at Canada’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

The planetary nebula NGC 2346. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA (Image data from Letizia Stanghellini, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizona. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.)
The planetary nebula NGC 2346. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA (Image data from Letizia Stanghellini, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizona. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.)

“It opens up all sorts of exciting science possibilities for Gemini, while also demonstrating technology that is essential for the next generation of ground-based mega-telescopes. With GeMS we are entering a radically new, and awesome, era for ground-based optical astronomy.”

Other telescopes have adaptive optics, but the Gemini Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics System (GEMS) has some changes to what’s already used.

It uses a technique called “multi-conjugate adaptive optics”. This increases the possible size of sky swaths the telescope can image, while also giving a sharp view across the entire field. According to the observatory, the new system makes Gemini’s eight-meter mirror 10 to 20 times more efficient.

The Gemini South telescope during laser operations with GeMS/GSAOI. Credit: Manuel Paredes
The Gemini South telescope during laser operations with GeMS/GSAOI. Credit: Manuel Paredes

The system uses a constellation of five laser guide stars, and has several mirrors that can deform according to measurements obtained by the sodium laser. We have more technical details in this past Universe Today story by Tammy Plotner.

The next step will be seeing what kind of science Gemini can produce from the ground with this laser system. Some possible directions include supernova research, star populations in galaxies outside of the Milky Way, and studying more detail in planetary nebulae — the remnants of low- and medium-mass star.

Check out more photos from Gemini at this link.

Source: Gemini Observatory

Stunning, Colorful New Look at the Lagoon Nebula

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Wow, is this gorgeous or what?! Argentinean astronomers Julia Arias and Rodolfo Barbá used the Gemini South telescope in Chile to obtain this stunning new image, allowing us to dive right into part of the Lagoon Nebula (M8). This region of the Lagoon is sometimes called the “Southern Cliff” because it resembles a sharp drop-off. Beyond the cliff, light from a spattering of young background stars in the upper left of the image shines through the cloudscape.

The Lagoon nebula is located near the constellation Sagittarius in the southern Milky Way. Viewed through large amateur telescopes, it appears as a pale ghostly glow with a touch of pink. In this image, the astronomers used special filters to reveal characteristics of the gas clouds. The reds, blues and greens represent each of three data sets results in a very strong color differentiation. And so, this isn’t what the Lagoon Nebula would actually look like were we to travel there and take a look with our own eyes. Two narrow-band optical filters sensitive to hydrogen (red) and ionized sulfur (green) emission, and another that transmits far red light (blue). And so, for example, light from the far-red end of the spectrum, beyond what the eye can see, appears blue in this image.

Arias and Barbá obtained the imaging data to explore the evolutionary relationship between the newborn stars and what are known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects. HH objects form when young stars eject large amounts of fast-moving gas as they grow. This gas plows into the surrounding nebula, producing bright shock fronts that glow as the gas is heated by friction and surrounding gas is excited by the high-energy radiation of nearby hot stars. The researchers found a dozen of these HH objects in the image, spanning sizes that range from a few thousand astronomical units (about a trillion kilometers) to 1.4 parsecs (4.6 light-years), i.e. a little greater than the distance from the Sun to its nearest neighbor Proxima Centauri.

For more info and a bigger version of this image, see the Gemini Telescope website.