Subaru Telescope Captures the Fine Details of Comet Lovejoy’s Tail

Comet ISON may be no more than just a cloud of icy debris these days but there’s another comet that’s showing off in the morning sky: C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy), which was discovered in September and is steadily nearing its Christmas Day perihelion. In the early hours of Dec. 3, astronomers using the 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii captured this amazing image of Lovejoy, revealing the intricate flows of ion streamers in its tail. (Click the image above for extra awesomeness.)

According to a news story on the NAOJ website:

At the time of this observation, at around 5:30 am on December 3, 2013 (Hawaii Standard Time), Comet Lovejoy was 50 million miles (80 million km) distant from Earth and 80 million miles (130 million km) away from the Sun.

The entire image of comet Lovejoy was made with the Subaru Telescope’s Suprime-Cam, which uses a mosaic of ten 2048 x 4096 CCDs covering a 34′ x 27′ field of view and a pixel scale of 0.2”.

Where to find comet Lovejoy in the morning sky, Dec. 7 (via
Where to find comet Lovejoy in the morning sky, Dec. 7 (via

“Subaru Telescope offers a rare combination of large telescope aperture and a wide-field camera,” said a member of the observation team, which included astronomers from Stony Brook University in New York, Universidad Complutense in Madrid,  Johns Hopkins University, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. “This enabled us to capture a detailed look at the nucleus while also photogenically framing inner portions of Comet Lovejoy’s impressive ion tail.”

Comet Lovejoy is currently visible in the early morning sky as a naked-eye object in the northern hemisphere.

Read more about Lovejoy’s journey through the inner solar system in this article by Bob King here.

Image of comet Lovejoy on Dec. 5 by Flickr user "Willo2173".
Image of comet Lovejoy on Dec. 5 by Flickr user Willo2173.

Do you have photos of comet Lovejoy or any other astronomical objects to share? Upload them to the Universe Today Flickr group!

Subaru Telescope Reveals Orderly Massive Galaxy Evolution

Nobody likes a sloppy COSMOS (Cosmological Evolution Survey) and astronomers utilizing the Fiber-Multi-Object Spectrograph (FMOS) mounted on the Subaru Telescope have put order into chaos through their studies. The survey has found that some nine billion years ago galaxies were capable of producing new stars in a fashion as orderly as game of checkers. Despite their young cosmological age, the galaxies show signs containing high amounts of dust enriched by heavier elements – a mature state.

“These findings center on a major question: What was the universe like when it was maximally forming its stars?” says John Silverman, the principal investigator of the FMOS-COSMOS project at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU).

These “universal” questions are just what the COSMOS team seeks to answer. Their research goals are to enlighten the scales of cosmic time in relationship with the environment, formation and evolution of massive galactic structures. When studying individual galaxies, they may be able to tell if their rate of growth can be attributed to large-scale environments. Information of this type can clarify what factors the early Universe structure may have contributed to the current form of local galaxies. One of the data sets the team is focusing on is using the FMOS on the Subaru Telescope to chart out the distribution of more than a thousand galaxies which formed over nine billion years ago – a time when the Universe was hitting its star-formation peak.

“One key to generating fruitful results is collaboration between COSMOS researchers to maximize optimal use of FMOS.” Silverman continues, “In this project, researchers from Kavli IPMU in Japan and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii (principal investigator: David Sanders) formed an effective collaboration to implement their goal.” The observations spanned 10 clear nights starting in March 2012.

Why choose spectroscopy? This advanced fiber optics technology speaks for itself, collecting light over an area of sky equal in size to that of the Moon. The FMOS focuses on the near-infrared, filtering out unwanted emissions caused by warm temperatures and can acquire spectra from 400 galaxies simultaneously with a wide field of coverage of 30 arc minutes at prime-focus. By employing such a wide field of view, astronomers can squeeze in a wide range of objects in their local environments. This enables researchers to maximize information on star-forming regions, cluster formation, and cosmology.

As David Sanders, the principal investigator of the FMOS-COSMOS project at IfA, puts it, “FMOS has clearly revolutionized our ability to study how galaxies form and evolve across cosmic time. It is currently the most powerful instrument we have to study the large numbers of objects needed to understand galaxies of all sizes, shapes and masses — from the largest ellipticals to the smallest dwarfs. We are extremely fortunate that the Kavli IPMU-IfA collaboration is giving us this unique opportunity to study the distant universe in such exquisite detail.”

FMOS will soon be famous by revealing its true potential. It has been collecting copious amounts of data in a high spectral resolution mode and at a very successful rate. So far it has accomplished nearly half of its goal – to examine over a thousand galaxies with redshifts to map the large-scale structure. The current survey consists of mapping an area of sky which spans a square degree in high-resolution mode and future plans for FMOS will involve enlarging the area. This expanded coverage will complement other instruments on alternative telescopes which have a wider spectral imaging system or a higher resolution which is limited to a smaller area. These combined findings may one day result in showing us some of the very first structures that eventually evolved into the massive galaxy clusters we see today!

Original Story Source: Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe News Release.

New 3-D Map Shows Large Scale Structures in the Universe 9 Billion Years Ago

I remember seeing the Hubble 3-D IMAX movie in 2010 and literally gasping when the view pulled back from zooming into distant stars and galaxies to show clusters and superclusters of galaxies interwoven like a web, creating the large scale structure of the Universe. In 3-D, the structure looks much like the DNA double helix or a backbone.

Now, a new project that aims to map the Universe’s structure has looked back in time to create a 3-D map showing a portion of the Universe as it looked nine billion years ago. It shows numerous galaxies and interestingly, already-developed large-scale structure of filaments and voids made from galaxy groups.

The map was created by the FastSound project, which is surveying galaxies in the Universe using the Subaru Telescope’s new Fiber Multi-Object Spectrograph (FMOS). The team doing the work is from Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo and the University of Oxford.

The team said that although they can see that the clustering of galaxies is not as strong back when the Universe was 4.7 billion years old as it is in the present-day Universe, gravitational interaction will eventually result in clustering that grows to the current level.

The new map spans 600 million light years along the angular direction and two billion light years in the radial direction. The team will eventually survey a region totaling about 30 square degrees in the sky and then measure precise distances to about 5,000 galaxies that are more than ten billion light years away.

This is not the first 3-D map of the Universe: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey created one in 2006 with coverage up to five billion light years away, and it was updated just last year, and a video flythough was created, which you can watch above. Also, earlier this year the University of Hawaii created a 3-D video map showing large scale cosmic structure out to 300 million light years.

But the FastSound project hopes to create a 3-D map of the very distant Universe by covering the volume of the Universe farther than ten billion light years away. FMOS is a wide-field spectroscopy system that enables near-infrared spectroscopy of over 100 objects at a time, with an exceptionally wide field of view when combined with the light collecting power of the 8.2 meter primary mirror of the telescope.

The map released today is just the first from FastSound. The final 3-D map of the distant Universe will precisely measure the motion of galaxies and then measure the rate of growth of the large-scale structure as a test of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Although scientists know that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, they do not know why – whether it is from dark energy or whether gravity on cosmological scales may differ from that of general relativity, this mystery is one of the biggest questions in contemporary physics and astronomy. A comparison of the 3D map of the young Universe with the predictions of general relativity could eventually reveal the mechanism for the mysterious acceleration of the Universe.

The team said their 3-D map shown in this release uses a measure of “comoving” distance rather than light travel distance. They explained:

Light travel distance refers to the time that has elapsed from the epoch of the observed distant galaxy to the present, multiplied by the speed of light. Since the speed of light is always constant for any observer, it describes the distance of the path that a photon has traveled. However, the expansion of the Universe increases the length of the path that the photon traveled in the past. Comoving distance, the geometrical distance in the current Universe, takes this effect into account. Therefore, comoving distance is always larger than the corresponding light travel distance.

In the lead image above from FastSound, the colors of the galaxies indicate their star formation rate, i.e., the total mass of stars produced in a galaxy every year. The gradation in background color represents the number density of galaxies; the underlying mass distribution (which is dominated by invisible dark matter that accounts for about 30% of the total energy in the Universe) and how it would look like this if we could see it. The lower part of the figure shows the relative locations of the FastSound and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) regions, indicating that the FastSound project is mapping a more distant Universe than SDSS’s 3D map of the nearby Universe.

Find out more about FastSound here.

Source: Subaru Telescope

Where Is Dark Matter Most Dense? Subaru Telescope Gets Some Hints

Put another checkmark beside the “cold dark matter” theory. New observations by Japan’s Subaru Telescope are helping astronomers get a grip on the density of dark matter, this mysterious substance that pervades the universe.

We can’t see dark matter, which makes up an estimated 85 percent of the universe, but scientists can certainly measure its gravitational effects on galaxies, stars and other celestial residents. Particle physicists also are on the hunt for a “dark matter” particle — with some interesting results released a few weeks ago.

The latest experiment with Subaru measured 50 clusters of galaxies and found that the density of dark matter is largest in the center of these clusters, and smallest on the outskirts. These measurements are a close match to what is predicted by cold dark matter theory, scientists said.

Cold dark matter assumes that this material can’t be observed in any part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the band of light waves that ranges from high-energy X-rays to low-energy infrared heat. Also, the theory dictates that dark matter is made up of slow-moving particles that, because they collide with each other infrequently, are cold. So, the only way dark matter interacts with other particles is by gravity, scientists have said.

To check this out, Subaru peered at “gravitational lensing” in the sky — areas where the light of background objects are bent around dense, massive objects in front. Galaxy clusters are a prime example of these super-dense areas.

Several dark matter maps: one based on a sample of 50 individual galaxy clusters (left), another looking at an average galaxy cluster (center), and another based on dark matter theory (right). Red is the highest concentration of dark matter, followed by yellow, green and blue. At right, in the middle, is a map based on cold dark matter theory that comes close to the average galaxy cluster observed with the Suburu Telescope. Credit: NAOJ/ASIAA/School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham/Kavli IPMU/Astronomical Institute, Tohoku University)
Several dark matter maps: one based on a sample of 50 individual galaxy clusters (left), another looking at an average galaxy cluster (center), and another based on dark matter theory (right). Red is the highest concentration of dark matter, followed by yellow, green and blue. At right, in the middle, is a map based on cold dark matter theory that comes close to the average galaxy cluster observed with the Suburu Telescope. Credit: NAOJ/ASIAA/School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham/Kavli IPMU/Astronomical Institute, Tohoku University)

“The Subaru Telescope is a fantastic instrument for gravitational lensing measurements. It allows us to measure very precisely how the dark matter in galaxy clusters distorts light from distant galaxies and gauge tiny changes in the appearance of a huge number of faint galaxies,” stated Nobuhiro Okabe, an astronomer at Academia Sinica in Taiwan who led the study.

Next, the team members could compare where the matter was most dense with that predicted by cold dark matter theory. To do that, they measured 50 of the most massive, known clusters of galaxies. Then, they measured the “concentration parameter”, or the cluster’s average density.


“They found that the density of dark matter increases from the edges to the center of the cluster, and that the concentration parameter of galaxy clusters in the near universe aligns with CDM theory,” stated the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

The next step, researchers stated, is to measure dark matter density in the center of the galaxy clusters. This could reveal more about how this substance behaves. Check out more about this study in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Sourcs: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Astronomers Directly Image Distant Exoplanet

False color, near infrared image of the Kappa Andromedae system, by the Subaru Telescope. Almost all of the light of the host star has been removed by the dark, software-generated disk in the center. Credit: NAOJ/Subaru/J. Carson (College of Charleston)/T. Currie (University Toronto)

Astronomers using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii have found a super-Jupiter-sized exoplanet orbiting a massive star about 170 light years away from Earth. Not only have they detected the planet, but they’ve also taken a direct image of it. This is exciting because only a handful of exo-planets have been imaged directly. But the other interesting aspect of this newly-found planet is that it orbits its star at a distance comparable to Neptune in our own solar system. Astronomers say this is a strong indication that the planet formed in a manner similar to how it is believed smaller, rocky planets form: from a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust which surrounded the star during its earliest stages.

The star, Kappa Andromedae, is a naked-eye object that can be seen in the constellation Andromeda, and it has a mass 2.5 times that of the Sun, making it the highest mass star to ever host a directly observed planet. The observations were made by a team of astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the University of Toronto and the College of Charleston, part of the SEEDS project (Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru.)

“Our team identified a faint object located very close to Kappa Andromedae in January that looks much like other young, massive directly imaged planets but does not look like a star,” said Thayne Currie. co-author of the paper from the University of Toronto. “It’s likely a directly imaged planet.”

A “signal-to-noise ratio map” generated from the left image. The whiteness of each speckle indicates the probability that we are dealing not with an artefact (“noise”), but with the trace of a real object (“signal”). The white feature toward the upper left, representing a high signal-to-noise value, indicates the high-confidence, super-Jupiter detection. Credit: NAOJ/Subaru/J. Carson (College of Charleston)/T. Currie (University Toronto)

Kappa Andromedae (k And) is a very young star, with an estimated age of 30 million years (in comparison our Sun is around 5 billion years old). The planet, called k And b (“Kappa Andromedae b), is about 10% larger than Jupiter, but it is a heavy world — it has a mass of about 13 times that of Jupiter.

This means that it could very well be either a planet or a very lightweight brown dwarf, an object that is intermediate between planets and stars. However, the astronomers are leaning towards the circumstantial evidence which indicates that it is likely to be a planet.

Since stars are much brighter than their planets –typically by a factor of a billion or more – exoplanets are usually lost in the star’s glare when using traditional observational techniques. The Subaru team used a different technique called angular differential imaging, which combines a time-series of individual images in a manner that allows for the otherwise overwhelming glare of the host star to be removed.

In the infrared image, above, the tiny point of light that is the planet Kappa And b. Since the planet orbits the star at some distance, the SEEDS observing team was able to distinguish the object’s faint light by effectively covering up the light of the star.

The large mass of both the host star and gas giant provide a sharp contrast with our own solar system. Observers and theorists have argued recently that large stars like Kappa Andromedae are likely to have large planets, perhaps following a simple scaled-up model of our own solar system. But experts predict that there is a limit to such extrapolations; if a star is too massive, its powerful radiation may disrupt the normal planet formation process that would otherwise occur. The discovery of the super-Jupiter around Kappa Andromedae demonstrates that stars as large as 2.5 solar masses are still fully capable of producing planets within their primordial circumstellar disks. This is key information for researchers working on models of planet formation.

The astronomers will continue observations of the light emitted by k And b across a broad range of wavelengths in hopes of gaining a better understanding the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, as well as determining if other planets are in this system.

Read the team’s paper: Direct imaging of a `super-Jupiter’ around a massive star

Source: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Dark Matter Filaments Bind Galaxies Together

A slim bridge of dark matter – just a hint of a larger cosmic skeleton – has been found binding a pair of distant galaxies together.

According to a press release from the journal Nature, scientists have traced a thread-like structure resembling a cosmic web for decades but this is the first time observations confirming that structure has been seen. Current theory suggests that stars and galaxies trace a cosmic web across the Universe which was originally laid out by dark matter – a mysterious, invisible substance thought to account for more than 80 percent of the matter in the Universe. Dark matter can only be sensed through its gravitational tug and only glimpsed when it warps the light of distant galaxies.

Astronomers led by Jörg Dietrich, a physics research fellow in the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts, took advantage of this effect by studying the gravitational lensing of galactic clusters Abell 222 and 223. By studying the light of tens of thousands of galaxies beyond the supercluster; located about 2.2 billion light-years from Earth, the scientists were able to plot the distortion caused by the Abell cluster. The scientists admit it is extremely difficult to observe gravitational lensing by dark matter in the filaments because they contain little mass. Their workaround was to study a particularly massive filament that stretched across 18 megaparsecs (nearly 59 million light-years) of space. The alignment of the string enhanced the lensing effect.

The team’s results were published in the July 4, 2012 issue of Nature.

“It looks like there’s a bridge that shows that there is additional mass beyond what the clusters contain,” Dietrich said in a press release. “The clusters alone cannot explain this additional mass.”

By examining X-rays emanating from plasma in the filament, observed from the XMM-Newton satellite, the team calculated that no more than nine percent of the filament’s mass could be made up of the hot gas. Computer simulations further suggested that just 10 percent of the mass was due to visible stars and galaxies. Only dark matter, says Dietrich, could make up the remaining mass.

“What’s exciting,” says Mark Bautz, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “is that in this unusual system we can map both dark matter and visible matter together and try to figure out how they connect and evolve along the filament.”

Refining the technique could help physicists understand the structure of the Universe and pin down the identity of dark matter (whether it’s a cold slow-moving mass or a warm, fast-moving one. Different types would clump differently along the filament, say scientists.

Image caption: Dark-matter filaments, such as the one bridging the galaxy clusters Abell 222 and Abell 223, are predicted to contain more than half of all matter in the Universe. (credit: Jörg Dietrich, University of Michigan/University Observatory Munich)

‘Stealth Merger’ of Dwarf Galaxies Seen in New Images


Space may be vast, but accidents can still happen, like when galaxies “collide,” usually resulting in the smaller one having its stars scattered by the larger one. New high-resolution images of two dwarf galaxies merging together have now been obtained by astronomers, providing a more detailed look at something which could only barely be seen before. While the larger galaxy of the two, NGC 4449, is easily visible, its smaller companion was little more than just a faint smudge until now.

The new study comes from an international team of astronomers led by David Martínez-Delgado of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. Their paper will be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

When the galaxies collide, the smaller one essentially gets torn apart by the larger one. As explained by Aaron Romanowsky, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), “This is how galaxies grow. You can see the smaller galaxy coming in and getting shredded, eventually leaving its stars scattered through the halo of the host galaxy.”

The remains of the smaller galaxy appear as a dense stream of stars in the outer regions of the larger one. It was initially seen as just a faint smudge in digitized photographic plates from the Digitized Sky Survey project. Because this smaller galaxy, or what’s left of it, is so difficult to see, the merging process has been referred to as a “stealth merger.”

The new images, taken by the Black Bird Observatory and Subaru Telescope, show the merger in such detail that individual stars can be seen. “I don’t think I’d ever seen a picture of a galaxy merger where you can see the individual stars. It’s really an impressive image,” said Romanowsky.

NGC 4449 is about 12.5 million light-years from Earth and is part of a group of galaxies found in the constellation Canes Venatici. It is similar to one of our own Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

While larger galaxies merging with other large galaxies are commonly seen, it has been more difficult to find examples of smaller galaxies doing the same thing. Romanowsky continues: “We should see the same things at smaller scales, with small galaxies eating smaller ones and so on. Now we have this beautiful image of a dwarf galaxy consuming a smaller dwarf.”

In addition, the companion galaxy was also independently discovered by astronomers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Their own paper will be published in the February 9, 2012  issue of Nature.

The paper is available here. See also the Subaru Telescope press release here.

A Star-Making Blob from the Cosmic Dawn


Looking back in time with some of our best telescopes, astronomers have found one of the most distant and oldest galaxies. The big surprise about this blob-shaped galaxy, named GN-108036, is how exceptionally bright it is, even though its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us. This means that back in its heyday – which astronomers estimate at about 750 million years after the Big Bang — it was generating an exceptionally large amount of stars in the “cosmic dawn,” the early days of the Universe.

“The high rate of star formation found for GN-108036 implies that it was rapidly building up its mass some 750 million years after the Big Bang, when the Universe was only about five percent of its present age,” said Bahram Mobasher, from the University of California, Riverside. “This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today.”

An international team of astronomers, led by Masami Ouchi of the University of Tokyo, Japan, first identified the remote galaxy after scanning a large patch of sky with the Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Its great distance was then confirmed with the W.M. Keck Observatory, also on Mauna Kea. Then, infrared observations from the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes were crucial for measuring the galaxy’s star-formation activity.

“We checked our results on three different occasions over two years, and each time confirmed the previous measurement,” said Yoshiaki Ono, also from the of the University of Tokyo.

Astronomers were surprised to see such a large burst of star formation because the galaxy is so small and from such an early cosmic era. Back when galaxies were first forming, in the first few hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang, they were much smaller than they are today, having yet to bulk up in mass.

The team says the galaxy’s star production rate is equivalent to about 100 suns per year. For reference, our Milky Way galaxy is about five times larger and 100 times more massive than GN-108036, but makes roughly 30 times fewer stars per year.

Astronomers refer to the object’s distance by a number called its “redshift,” which relates to how much its light has stretched to longer, redder wavelengths due to the expansion of the universe. Objects with larger redshifts are farther away and are seen further back in time. GN-108036 has a redshift of 7.2. Only a handful of galaxies have confirmed redshifts greater than 7, and only two of these have been reported to be more distant than GN-108036.

About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, a decrease in the temperature of the Universe caused hydrogen atoms to permeate the cosmos and form a thick fog that was opaque to ultraviolet light, creating what astronomers call the cosmic dark ages.

“It ended when gas clouds of neutral hydrogen collapsed to generate stars, forming the first galaxies, which probably radiated high-energy photons and reionized the Universe,” Mobasher said. “Vigorous galaxies like GN-108036 may well have contributed to the reionization process, which is responsible for the transparency of the Universe today.”

“The discovery is surprising because previous surveys had not found galaxies this bright so early in the history of the universe,” said Mark Dickinson of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. “Perhaps those surveys were just too small to find galaxies like GN-108036. It may be a special, rare object that we just happened to catch during an extreme burst of star formation.”

Sources: Science Paper by: Y. Ono et al., Subaru , Spitzer Hubble

3-D View From Subaru – Stephan’s Quintet


While this isn’t a true “cross eye” image, you can darn sure open the larger version, set it to screen size, cross your eyes and get a pretty astonishing result. If you don’t “get it”, then don’t worry. Just look at the pictures separately, because the Subaru Telescope has added a whole new dimension to a seasonal favorite – Stephen’s Quintet. Located in the constellation of Pegasus (RA 22 35 57.5 – Dec +33 57 36), this awesome little galaxy group also known as HIckson Compact Group 92 and Arp 319. In visual observation terms, there’s five – but only four are actually a compact group. The fifth is much closer…

While literally volumes could be written about this famous group, the focus of this article is on the latest observations done by the Subaru Telescope. Each time the “Quints” are observed, it would seem we get more and more information on them! By employing a variety of specialized filters with Subaru’s Prime Focus Camera (Suprime-Cam), the two above images reveal different types of star-formation activity between the closer galaxy – NGC7320 – and the more distant members. It captures Stephen’s Quintet in three dimensions.

So how is it done? Suprime-Cam has the capability of wide field imaging. By utilizing specialized filters, researchers can narrow the photographic process to specific goals. In this instance, they use narrowband filters to reveal star-forming regions within the grouping and their structures. These H-alpha filters are very specific – only allowing a particular wavelength of light to pass through – revealing the hydrogen emissions of starbirth. But here’s the tricky part. The images were taken with two different types of H-alpha filters – each one with a different recession velocity. With a setting of zero, we have an object which is moving away from the observer and close. The other has a greater recession velocity of 4200 miles (6,700 km) per second. This is an indicator of distant objects. For a color palette, red indicates the H-alpha emission lines while blue and green colors assigned to the images from the blue and red filters captured light so that the composite tricolor images aligned with human color perception in red, green, and blue.

When processed, we get the two different views of Stephen’s Quintet as seen above. Says the imaging team; “The image on the left shows the galaxies when the observers used the Ha filter with a recession velocity of 0 while the one on the right shows them when they used the Ha filter with a recession velocity of 4,200 miles per second. The left image shows Ha emissions that indicate an active star-forming region in the spiral arms of NGC7320 in the lower left quadrant but not in the other galaxies. The right image contrasts with the left and shows a region of H-alpha emissions in the upper three galaxies but none from NGC7320. Two (NGC7318A and NGC7318B) of the four galaxies are shedding gas because of a collision while a third (NGC7319) is crashing in, creating shock waves that trigger vigorous star formation.”

But that’s not all. In the figure below we can see the relationship of the galaxies. “Gas stripped from these three galaxies during galactic collisions is ionized by two mechanisms: shock waves and strong ultraviolet light emanating from the newborn stars.” reports the Subaru team. “This ionized gas emits bright light, which the H-alpha filter reveals. Thus the researchers believe that NGC7319 as well as NGC7318A/B are driving the star-forming regions in the Ha emitting region around NGC7318A/B.”

A diagram of the member galaxies of Stephan's Quintet. NGC7320 is a closer galaxy and has a recession velocity of 0. The remaining four are a group of more distant galaxies 300 million light years away. The researchers believe that the merging of NGC7318A/B and NGC7319's crashing into them are responsible for the active star formation regions in the Ha emitting region around NGC7318A/B.

But star-forming activity isn’t all you can derive from these images – they are also an indicator of distance. By exposing opposing recession velocities in the same image, observers are able to deduce where objects are located at different distances, yet close to each other. “The contrasting images show that NGC7320 is closer than the other galaxies, which show active star formation at a significantly higher recession velocity (4,200 miles per second) than NGC7320 (0).” explains the team. “NGC7320 is about 50 million light years away while the other four galaxies are about 300 million light years away. This explains the intriguing arrangement of the galaxies in Stephan’s Quintet.”

Now is a great time to observe this cool cluster of galaxies for yourself… Before the Moon interferes again!

Original Story Source: Subaru Telescope Press Release.

Free Range Brown Dwarfs


Using two of the world’s largest optical-infrared telescopes, the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, an international team of astronomers has discovered more than two dozen brown dwarf stars floating around in two galactic clusters. During the Substellar Objects in Nearby Young Clusters (SONYC) survey, these “failed stars” came to their attention by showing up in extremely deep images of the NGC 1333 and rho Ophiuchi star clusters at both optical and infrared wavelengths. To make the findings even more exciting, these stellar curiosities outnumbered the “normal” stars in one cluster!

“Our findings suggest once again that objects not much bigger than Jupiter could form the same way as stars do. In other words, nature appears to have more than one trick up its sleeve for producing planetary mass objects,” says Professor Ray Jayawardhana, Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto and leader of the international team. Their discovery will be published in two upcoming papers in the Astrophysical Journal and will be presented this week at a scientific conference in Garching, Germany.

Spectra of several brown dwarfs in the young star cluster NGC1333, taken with the FMOS instrument on the Subaru Telescope. The spectra show a characteristic peak around 1670nm. Water steam in a brown dwarf's atmosphere absorbs radiation on both sides of the peak. The plot shows that the strength of the water absorption increases in cooler objects (from 3000 to 2200K). FMOS allows astronomers to take spectra for many objects simultaneously, a crucial advantage for the SONYC Survey. Credit: SONYC Team/Subaru Telescope

Using spectroscopy, the researchers were able to separate candidate brown dwarfs by their red color. But there’s more to the story than just hues. In this case, it’s the identification of one that’s only about six times more massive than Jupiter. Located in NGC 1333, it is the smallest known free-floating object to date. What does that mean? “Its mass is comparable to those of giant planets, yet it doesn’t circle a star. How it formed is a mystery,” said Aleks Scholz of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Ireland, lead author of the first paper.

Brown dwarfs are indeed unusual. They walk a fine line between planet and star – and may have once been in stellar orbit, only to be ejected at some point in time. But in this circumstance, all of the brown dwarfs found in this particular cluster have very low mass – only about twenty times that of Jupiter. “Brown dwarfs seem to be more common in NGC 1333 than in other young star clusters. That difference may be hinting at how different environmental conditions affect their formation,” said Koraljka Muzic of the University of Toronto in Canada, lead author of the second paper.

“We could not have made these exciting discoveries if not for the remarkable capabilities of Subaru and the VLT. Instruments that can image large patches of the sky and take hundreds of spectra at once are key to our success,” said Motohide Tamura of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

Free-range brown dwarfs? I’ll take mine over easy…

Original Story Source: Subaru Telescope News.