Hundreds of Massive Stars Have Simply Disappeared

This artist’s impression shows a possible seed for the formation of a supermassive black hole. Two of these possible seeds were discovered by an Italian team, using three space telescopes: the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.

The lifecycle of a star is regularly articulated as formation taking place inside vast clouds of gas and dust and then ending either as a planetary nebula or supernova explosion. In the last 70 years however, there seems to be a number of massive stars that are just disappearing! According to stellar evolution models, they should be exploding as supernova but instead, they just seem to vanish. A team of researchers have studied the behaviour of star VFTS 243 – a main sequence star with a black hole companion – and now believe it, like the others, have just collapsed, imploding into a black hole!

Continue reading “Hundreds of Massive Stars Have Simply Disappeared”

Does the Milky Way Have Too Many Satellite Galaxies?

Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: ESA

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are well known satellite galaxies of the Milky Way but there are more. It is surrounded by at least 61 within 1.4 million light years (for context the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away) but there are likely to be more. A team of astronomers have been hunting for more companions using the Subaru telescope and so far, have searched just 3% of the sky. To everyone’s surprise they have found nine previously undiscovered satellite galaxies, far more than expected. 

Continue reading “Does the Milky Way Have Too Many Satellite Galaxies?”

The Large Magellanic Cloud isn’t Very Metal

This image shows the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds in the sky over the ESO's Paranal Observatory and the four telescopes of the VLT. Image Credit: By ESO/J. Colosimo - http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1511a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38973313

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is the Milky Way’s most massive satellite galaxy. Because it’s so easily observed, astronomers have studied it intently. They’re interested in how star formation in the LMC might have been different than in the Milky Way.

A team of researchers zeroed in on the LMC’s most metal-deficient stars to find out how different.

Continue reading “The Large Magellanic Cloud isn’t Very Metal”

A Protoplanetary Disc Has Been Found… in Another Galaxy!

With the combined capabilities of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a disc around a young massive star in another galaxy has been observed. The image at the centre shows the jets that accompany it. The top part of the jet is aimed slightly towards us and thus blueshifted; the bottom one is receding from us and thus redshifted. Observations from ALMA, right, then revealed the rotating disc around the star, similarly with sides moving towards and away from us. Credit: ESO/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/A. McLeod et al.

Astronomers have imaged dozens of protoplanetary discs around Milky Way stars, seeing them at all stages of formation. Now, one of these discs has been found for the first time — excitingly — in another galaxy. The discovery was made using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile along with the , which detected the telltale signature of a spinning disc around a massive star in the Large Magellanic Cloud, located 160,000 light-years away.

Continue reading “A Protoplanetary Disc Has Been Found… in Another Galaxy!”

The Milky Way has Trapped the Large Magellanic Cloud With its Gravity. What Comes Next?

Our galaxy’s largest nearby companion is the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy visible to the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere. In recent years, new theoretical research and better observational capabilities have taught astronomers a great deal about our (not-so-little) neighbour. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the LMC is helping shape the Milky Way’s evolution.

Continue reading “The Milky Way has Trapped the Large Magellanic Cloud With its Gravity. What Comes Next?”

Hypervelocity Stars Teach us About Black Holes and Supernovae

An artist's conception of a hypervelocity star that has escaped the Milky Way. Credit: NASA

Hypervelocity stars (HVS) certainly live up to their name, traveling thousands of kilometers per second or a fraction of the speed of light (relativistic speeds). These speed demons are thought to be the result of galactic or black hole mergers, globular clusters kicking out members, or binary pairs where one star is kicked out when the other goes supernova. Occasionally, these stars are fast enough to escape our galaxy and (in some cases) take their planetary systems along for the ride. This could have drastic implications for our theories of how life could be distributed throughout the cosmos (aka. panspermia theory).

There are thousands of these stars in our galaxy, and tracking them has become the task of cutting-edge astrometry missions (like the ESA’s Gaia Observatory). In previous research, astronomers suggested that these stars could be used to determine the mass of the Milky Way. In a recent study from Leiden University in the Netherlands, Ph.D. candidate Fraser Evans showed how data on HVS could be used to probe the mysteries of the most extreme objects in our Universe – supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and the violent supernovae of massive stars.

Continue reading “Hypervelocity Stars Teach us About Black Holes and Supernovae”

Hubble’s New View of the Tarantula Nebula

A snapshot of the Tarantula Nebula (also known as 30 Doradus) is the most recent Picture of the Week from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, C. Murray, E. Sabbi; Acknowledgment: Y. -H. Chu

The Tarantula Nebula, also called 30 Doradus, is the brightest star-forming region in our part of the galaxy. It’s in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and contains the most massive and hottest stars we know of. The Tarantula Nebula has been a repeat target for the Hubble since the telescope’s early years.

Continue reading “Hubble’s New View of the Tarantula Nebula”

Hubble Spots Two Open Clusters. One is Also an Emission Nebula

The open cluster NGC 1858, seen in this Hubble image, contains stars of different ages. Image Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Gilmore (University of Cambridge); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

Open star clusters are groups of stars in loosely-bound gravitational associations. The stars are further apart than the stars in their cousins, the globular clusters. The weak gravity from the loose clusters means open clusters take on irregular shapes. They usually contain only a few thousand stars.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured images of two clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Continue reading “Hubble Spots Two Open Clusters. One is Also an Emission Nebula”

A Totally new View of the Large Magellanic Cloud (and more!) From Retired Telescopes

The Large Magellanic Cloud, as seen by the Herschel Space Telescope, Planck, COBE and IRAS. Credit: ESA and NASA.

ESA and NASA dusted off some old data from four retired space telescopes and combined forces to reveal new images of the four galaxies that our closest to our own Milky Way galaxy. One thing is common among the four new images: they are full of dust!

Continue reading “A Totally new View of the Large Magellanic Cloud (and more!) From Retired Telescopes”

Webb is Almost Ready. There’s One Last Thing To Do

Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: ESA.

The James Webb Space Telescope is now in the final phase of commissioning as it readies for science observations. Of the more than 1,000 milestones the observatory has needed to reach since launch to become fully operational, the team said today they are down to about two hundred activities to go. But those 200 are all part of the final phase of commissioning the instruments.

“I call it the home stretch,” said Michael McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist in a media briefing on May 9. “There are 17 scientific modes we need to bring online in the next two months, and we need to demonstrate the telescope’s operational capabilities before we are ready to turn the science instruments loose on the Universe.”

Continue reading “Webb is Almost Ready. There’s One Last Thing To Do”