Images of the Crab Nebula are always a treat because it has such intriguing and varied structure. Also, just knowing that this stellar explosion was witnessed and recorded by people on Earth more than 900 years ago (with the supernova visible to the naked eye for about two years) gives this nebula added fascination.
A new image just might be the biggest Crab Nebula treat ever, as five different observatories combined forces to create an incredibly detailed view, with stunning details of the nebula’s interior region.
Data from the five telescopes span nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves seen by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to the powerful X-ray glow as seen by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. And, in between that range of wavelengths, the Hubble Space Telescope’s crisp visible-light view, and the infrared perspective of the Spitzer Space Telescope.
The Crab is 6,500 light-years from Earth and spans about 10 light-years in diameter. The supernova that created it was first witnessed in 1054 A. D. At its center is a super-dense neutron star that is as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. This pulsar rotates every 33 milliseconds, shooting out spinning lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and light. The pulsar can be seen as the bright dot at the center of the image.
Scientists say the nebula’s intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion.
For this new image, the VLA, Hubble, and Chandra observations all were made at nearly the same time in November of 2012. A team of scientists led by Gloria Dubner of the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET), and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina then made a thorough analysis of the newly revealed details in a quest to gain new insights into the complex physics of the object. They are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal (see the pre-print here).
About the central region, the team writes, “The new HST NIR [near infrared] image of the central region shows the well-known elliptical torus around the pulsar, composed of a series of concentric narrow features of variable intensity and width… The comparison of the radio and the X-ray emission distributions in the central region suggests the existence of a double-jet system from the pulsar, one detected in X-rays and the other in radio. None of them starts at the pulsar itself but in its environs.”
“Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula. Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it,” Dubner said.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is easily one of the most iconic images in our Solar System, next to Saturn’s rings. The Great Red Spot and the cloud bands that surround it are easily seen with a backyard telescope. But much of what goes on behind the scenes on Jupiter has remained hidden.
When the Juno spacecraft arrives at Jupiter in about a month from now, we will be gifted some spectacular images from the cameras aboard that craft. To whet our appetites until then, astronomers using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico have created a detailed radio map of the gas giant. By using the ‘scope to peer 100 km past the cloud tops, the team has brought into view a mostly unexplored region of Jupiter’s atmosphere.
The team of researchers from UC Berkeley used the updated capabilities of the VLA to do this work. The VLA had its sensitivity improved by a factor of ten. “These Jupiter maps really show the power of the upgrades to the VLA,” said Bryan Butler, a member of the team and staff astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico.
In the video below, two overlaid maps alternate back and forth. One is optical and the other is a radio image. Together, the two show some of the atmospheric activity that takes place under the cloud tops.
The team measured Jupiter’s radio emissions in wavelengths that pass through clouds. That allowed them to see 100 km (60 miles) deep into the atmosphere. This allowed them to not only determine the quantity and depth of ammonia in the atmosphere, but also to learn something about how Jupiter‘s internal heat source drives global circulation and cloud formation.
“We in essence created a three-dimensional picture of ammonia gas in Jupiter’s atmosphere, which reveals upward and downward motions within the turbulent atmosphere,” said principal author Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy.
These results will also help shed light on how other gas giants behave. Not just for Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, but for all the gas giant exoplanets that have been discovered. de Pater said that the map bears a striking resemblance to visible-light images taken by amateur astronomers and the Hubble Space Telescope.
In the radio map, ammonia-rich gases are shown rising and forming into the upper cloud layers. The clouds are easily seen from Earth-bound telescopes. Ammonia-poor air is also shown sinking into the planet’s atmosphere. Hotspots, which appear bright in radio and thermal images of Jupiter, are regions of less ammonia that encircle the planet north of the equator. In between those hotspots, rich upwellings deliver ammonia from deeper in the atmosphere.
“With radio, we can peer through the clouds and see that those hotspots are interleaved with plumes of ammonia rising from deep in the planet, tracing the vertical undulations of an equatorial wave system,” said UC Berkeley research astronomer Michael Wong. Very nice.
“We now see high ammonia levels like those detected by Galileo from over 100 kilometers deep, where the pressure is about eight times Earth’s atmospheric pressure, all the way up to the cloud condensation levels,” de Pater said.
This is fascinating stuff, and not just because it’s visually stunning. What this team is doing with the improved VLA dovetails nicely with what Juno will be doing when it gets set up in its orbit around Jupiter. One of Juno’s aims is to use microwaves to measure the water content in the atmosphere, in the same way that the VLA was used to measure ammonia.
In fact, the team will be pointing the VLA at Jupiter again, at the same time as Juno is detecting water. “Maps like ours can help put their data into the bigger picture of what’s happening in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” de Pater said.
The team was able to model the atmosphere by observing it over the entire frequency range between 4 and 18 gigahertz (1.7 – 7 centimeter wavelength), which enabled them to carefully model the atmosphere, according to David DeBoer, a research astronomer with UC Berkeley’s Radio Astronomy Laboratory.
“We now see fine structure in the 12 to 18 gigahertz band, much like we see in the visible, especially near the Great Red Spot, where we see a lot of little curly features,” Wong said. “Those trace really complex upwelling and downwelling motions there.”
The detailed observations the team obtained also help resolve a discrepancy in ammonia measurements in Jupiter’s atmosphere. In 1995, the Galileo probe measured ammonia at 4.5 times greater than the Sun, when it plunged through the atmosphere. VLA measurements prior to 2004 showed much less ammonia than that.
Study co-author Robert Sault, of the University of Melbourne in Australia, explained how this latest imaging solved that mystery. ““Jupiter’s rotation once every 10 hours usually blurs radio maps, because these maps take many hours to observe. But we have developed a technique to prevent this and so avoid confusing together the upwelling and downwelling ammonia flows, which had led to the earlier underestimate.”
Overall, it’s exciting times for studying Jupiter. The Juno mission promises to be as full of surprises as New Horizons was (we hope.)
Universe Today has covered the Juno mission, including an interview with the Principal Investigator, Scott Bolton.
The team’s paper is published in the journal Science, here.
Radio dishes always evoke wonder, as these giants search for invisible (to our eyes, anyway) radio signals from objects like distant quasars, pulsars, masers and more, including potential signals from extraterrestrials. This new timelapse from Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan of Sunchaser Pictures was shot at several different radio astronomy facilities — the Very Large Array (VLA) Observatory in New Mexico, Owens Valley Observatory in Owens Valley California, and Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. All three of these facilities have been or are still being partly used by the SETI (Search for the Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program.
Watch the dishes dance in their search across the Universe!
The huge meteorite streaking across the sky above Very Large Array (2:40) is from the Aquarids meteor shower. The large radio telescope at Green Bank is where scientists first attempted to “listen” to presence of extraterrestrials in the galaxy. The Very Large Array was featured in the movie CONTACT (1997) while Owens Observatory was featured in THE ARRIVAL (1996).
This video was created for SkyGlowProject.com, a crowdfunded educational project that explores the effects and dangers of urban light pollution in contrast with some of the most incredible Dark Sky Preserves in North America.
The music is by Tom Boddy, and titled “Thoughtful Reflections.”
Special Guest: Dr. Carolyn Porco is the leader of the Cassini Imaging Science team and the Director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Huge disks of dust and gas encircle many young stars. Some contain circular gaps — likely the result of forming planets carving out cavities along their orbital paths — that make the disks look more like ripples in a pond than flat pancakes.
But astronomers know only a few examples, including the archetypal disk surrounding Beta Pictoris, of this transitional stage between the original disk and the young planetary system. And they have never spotted a forming planet.
Two independent research teams think they’ve observed precisely this around the star HD 169142, a young star with a disk that extends up to 250 astronomical units (AU), roughly six times greater than the average distance from the Sun to Pluto.
Mayra Osorio from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain and colleagues first explored HD 169142’s disk with the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico. The 27 radio dishes configured in a Y-shape allowed the team to detect centimeter-sized dust grains. Then combining their results with infrared data, which traces the presence of microscopic dust, the group was able to see two gaps in the disk.
One gap is located between 0.7 and 20 AU, and the second larger gap is located between 30 and 70 AU. In our Solar System the first would begin at the orbit of Venus and end at the orbit of Uranus, while the second would begin at the orbit of Neptune, pass Pluto’s orbit, and extend beyond.
“This structure already suggested that the disk was being modified by two planets or sub-stellar objects, but, additionally, the radio data reveal the existence of a clump of material within the external gap, located approximately at the distance of Neptune’s orbit, which points to the existence of a forming planet,” said Mayra Osorio in a news release.
Maddalena Reggiani from the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich and colleagues then tried to search for infrared sources in the gaps using the Very Large Telescope. They found a bright signal in the inner gap, which likely corresponds to a forming planet or a young brown dwarf, an object that isn’t massive enough to kick start nuclear fusion.
The team was unable to confirm an object in the second gap, likely due to technical limitations. Any object with a mass less than 18 times Jupiter’s mass will remain hidden in the data.
Future observations will shed more light on the exotic system, hopefully allowing astronomers to better understand how planets first form around young stars.
Both papers have been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Shock waves! Fast-moving particles! Magnetic fields! This image has it all. Behold the merging galaxy clusters MACS J0717+3745 about five billion light-years from our planet.
That funny red thing you see in the center is new data from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array showing a spot where “shocks caused by the collisions are accelerating particles that then interact with magnetic fields and emit the radio waves,” officials at the National Radio Astronomical Observatory stated.
“The complex shape of this region is unique; we’ve never spotted anything like this before,” stated Reinout van Weeren, an Einstein Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “The shape probably is the result of the multiple ongoing collisions.”
This is a composite image of new exposures from VLA and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, with an older image from the Hubble Space Telescope. And if you take a second look, there’s also a black hole: “The straight, elongated radio-emitting object is a foreground galaxy whose central black hole is accelerating jets of particles in two directions,” NRAO added. “The red object at bottom-left is a radio galaxy that probably is falling into the cluster.”
Astronomers presented their findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting this week in Boston.
Shining 24,000 light-years from Earth is an expanding leftover of a supernova that is doing a great cleanup job in its neighborhood. As this new composite image from NASA reveals, G352.7-0.1 (G352 for short) is more efficient than expected, picking up debris equivalent to about 45 times the mass of the Sun.
“A recent study suggests that, surprisingly, the X-ray emission in G352 is dominated by the hotter (about 30 million degrees Celsius) debris from the explosion, rather than cooler (about 2 million degrees) emission from surrounding material that has been swept up by the expanding shock wave,” the Chandra X-Ray Observatory’s website stated.
“This is curious because astronomers estimate that G352 exploded about 2,200 years ago, and supernova remnants of this age usually produce X-rays that are dominated by swept-up material. Scientists are still trying to come up with an explanation for this behavior.”
Got gas? The black hole in galaxy cluster RX J1532.9+3021 is keeping it all for itself and stopping trillions of stars from coming to be, according to new research. You can see data above from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple) and the Hubble Space Telescope (yellow).
The drama is taking place about 3.9 billion light-years from Earth, showing an extreme phenomenon that has been noted in other galaxies on smaller scales, Chandra officials stated.
“The large amount of hot gas near the center of the cluster presents a puzzle,” a statement read. “Hot gas glowing with X-rays should cool, and the dense gas in the center of the cluster should cool the fastest. The pressure in this cool central gas is then expected to drop, causing gas further out to sink in towards the galaxy, forming trillions of stars along the way. However, astronomers have found no such evidence for this burst of stars forming at the center of this cluster.”
What’s blocking the stars (according to data from Chandra and the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array) could be supersonic jets blasting from the black hole and shoving the gas in the area away, forming cavities on either side of the galaxy. These cavities, by the way, are immense — at 100,000 light-years across each, this makes them about as wide as our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
The big question is where that power came from. Perhaps the black hole is “ultramassive” (10 billion times of the sun) and has ample mass to shoot out those jets without eating itself up and producing radiation. Or, the black hole could be smaller (a billion times that of the sun) but spinning quickly, which would allow it to send out those jets.
While some of you will no doubt be heading to the theaters to see the new release of “Gravity,” for those that want to stay in for the weekend, here’s the perfect short film. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has released a new 24-minute film about the recently renovated Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope. The film is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster, star of the 1997 Warner Brothers film, “Contact,” which was filmed in part at the VLA.
“In ‘Contact,’ I played the role of an astronomer using the VLA,” Foster said. “In narrating this new film for the VLA Visitor Center, I have the privilege of introducing tomorrow’s scientists, technicians, and engineers to the amazing complexities of this great telescope, and to the wonders of the universe that it reveals.”
Titled “Beyond the Visible,” the film tells the behind-the-scenes story of the operation and scientific achievements of the VLA, which has been at the forefront of astrophysical research since its dedication in 1980. Spectacular ground and aerial footage of the iconic radio telescope is augmented by first-person interviews with staffers who keep the telescope working and scientists who use it to discover exciting new facts about the universe. The film also depicts many of the technical tasks needed to keep the array functioning at the forefront of science.
“Since the last film for the Visitor Center was produced in 2002, we’ve completed a massive technological upgrade that turned the VLA into a completely new and vastly more powerful tool for cutting-edge science,” said Dale Frail, NRAO’s Director for New Mexico Operations. “It was time to update the story we tell our visitors,” he added.
The film replaces an earlier video that ran at the VLA Visitor Center auditorium, which is visited by some 20,000 people annually. You can’t currently go to the Visitor Center to see the new film at the moment, however, because of the US federal government shutdown. So, watch it here. Hopefully the shutdown will be resolved soon so that people can resume their visits to the VLA.