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Observing the Heavens Better: Pioneering Infrared Imager Gives the Sharpest-Ever View of Stars and Planet-Forming Discs



|| January 21: 2019: University of Exeter News || ά. A pioneering new instrument, that produces the sharpest images of young stars, could give astronomers a fascinating glimpse into how the solar system, may have, looked more than 04.5 billion years ago. An international team of experts, including, Professor Stefan Kraus from the University of Exeter, are carrying out new research into how planets form, suing a ground-breaking new infrared imager.

The imager, called, MIRC-X, is designed to give new insights into how planets form from the rotating, circumstellar discs of dense dust and gas, that exist around young stars. While conventional telescopes can only see the outer disc region of these fledgling stars, due to the sheer distance they are from Earth, the new imager can produce images from the depths of the very inner regions. The research team believe that the research will not only give a far greater understanding of how these stars, found several hundred light years away, form but, also, give a glimpse into how the solar system would have looked at its very formation.

Professor Kraus, from the University of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department, who is the Principle Investigator of the MIRC-X instrument, said, “The big prize in planet formation studies is to understand what happens in the very inner regions of these discs, on the scales where Earth is located in our solar system.

In these very inner regions, the disc undergoes a dramatic transition from a dust+gas composition to a purely gaseous disc. The strong pressure gradient in the region, might, lead to a pileup of dust grains, that could trigger the formation of rocky planets in the region.”

The research team, which, also, includes experts from the University of Michigan, USA, created the MIRC-X imager to provide far sharper images of the very inner disc regions for the first time.

The team utilised the CHARA telescope array, located on Mt Wilson in California and operated by Georgia State University, to help produce the final images.  This facility incorporates six, one-metre telescopes spread over an area 330 metres in diameter. The MIRC-X instrument combines the light from all six telescopes at the same time, effectively, creating the resolving power of a giant 330-metre telescope.

The feat of combining these six CHARA telescopes has, already, been achieved by an earlier instrument, MIRC, built by the University of Michigan, which acted as the precursor to MIRC-X.

“We achieved landmark results in stellar astrophysics, for instance, by imaging spots on the surfaces of other stars or the fireball expansion phase of a nova explosion.” said Professor John Monnier from the University of Michigan and the Principal Investigator of MIRC. “However, in order to achieve the challenging goal of imaging young stars, we needed to re-design and rebuild the instrument substantially.” One of the most important aspects of the re-design concerned the camera, that is used to detect the faint signal, produced by superposing the starlight from the six telescopes.

“We needed a camera with extremely low noise but, at the same time, also, a very high frame rate in order to freeze any image distortion introduced by the atmosphere.” Said Professor Kraus. “Fortunately, there has been a real breakthrough in detector technology a few years back, that has resulted in a new generation of infrared cameras with 40 times lower noise than before.

It is the world’s fastest, low noise, infrared camera and freakily close to reaching the fundamental physical limit of single photon detection, making it nearly the ‘perfect’ camera for our purposes.”

In late 2018 the team achieved ‘first light’ with the full new MIRC-X system, the moment when the new instrument captured starlight the first time, with the innovative system. “We were off to a successful start of our observing campaign and can’t wait to analyse the data that we recorded.” said Professor Kraus. “The images will show us how the solar system, might have, looked like 04.5 billion years ago, at the time when Earth and the other planets formed.

Whenever astronomers have turned on a machine, that is an order of magnitude more capable than earlier generations and pointed it at the sky, they discovered exciting new things about the Universe.” Professor Monnier said, “I hope, the same will be true with our new instrument.

The instrument team includes scientists from the University of Exeter, University of Michigan, and the Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble. The MIRC-X project received funding by the European Research Council and the University of Exeter and builds on earlier funding from the USA’s National Science Foundation.:::ω.

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XMM-Newton Captures the Final Cries of a Star As It Gets Shredded by a Black Hole: May Be This Will Enable Us to Be Able to Conduct a Census of the Total Number of Black Holes in the Universe




|| January 10: 2019 || ά. Astronomers using ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory have studied a black hole, devouring a star and discovered an exceptionally bright and stable signal, that allowed them to determine the black hole’s spin rate. Black holes are thought to lurk at the centre of all massive galaxies throughout the Universe and are inextricably tied to the properties of their host galaxies. As such, revealing more about these behemoths, may, hold the key to understanding how galaxies evolve over time.

A black hole’s gravity is extreme and can rip apart stars, that stray too close. The debris from such torn-apart stars spirals inwards towards the hole, heats up and emits intense X-rays. Despite the number of black holes thought to exist in the cosmos, many are dormant, there is no in-falling material to emit detectable radiation and, thus, difficult to study. However, every few hundred thousand years or so, a star is predicted to pass near enough to a given black hole, which will torn it apart. This offers a brief window of opportunity to measure some fundamental properties of the hole itself, such as, its mass and the rate at which it is spinning.

“It’s very difficult to constrain the spin of a black hole, as spin effects only emerge very close to the hole itself, where gravity is intensely strong and it’s difficult to see clearly.” says Mr Dheeraj Pasham of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Massachusetts, USA. He is the Lead Author of the new Study.

“However, models show that the mass from a shredded star settles into a kind of inner disc, that throws off X-rays. We guessed that finding instances where this disc glows especially brightly would be a good way to constrain a black hole's spin but observations of such events weren’t sensitive enough to explore this region of strong gravity in detail, until now.’’ Dheeraj and his colleagues studied an event, called, ASASSN-14li.

ASASSN-14li was discovered by the ground-based All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae:ASASSN on November 22, 2014. The black hole tied to the event is at least one million times as massive as the Sun. “ASASSN-14li is nicknamed the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of these events.” says Mr Pasham. “All of its properties are characteristic of this type of event and it has been studied by all currently operational major X-ray telescopes.”

Using observations of ASASSN-14li from ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra and Swift X-ray observatories, the scientists hunted for a signal, that was both stable and showed a characteristic wave pattern, often, triggered when a black hole receives a sudden influx of mass, such as, when devouring a passing star.

They detected a surprisingly intense X-ray signal, that oscillated over a period of 131 seconds for a long time: 450 days.

By combining this with information about the black hole’s mass and size, the astronomers found that the hole must be spinning rapidly, at more than 50% of the speed of light and that the signal came from its innermost regions. “It’s an exceptional finding: such a bright signal that is stable for so long has never been seen before in the vicinity of any black hole.” says Co-author Alessia Franchini of the University of Milan, Italy.

“What’s more, the signal is coming from right near the black hole’s event horizon, beyond this point we can’t observe a thing, as gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape.”

The study demonstrates a unique way to measure the spins of massive black holes: by observing their activity when they disrupt passing stars with their gravity. Such events, may, also, help us to understand aspects of general relativity theory; while this has been explored extensively in ‘normal’ gravity, it is not yet fully understood in regions where gravity is exceptionally strong.

“XMM-Newton is incredibly sensitive to these signals, more so than any other X-ray telescope.” says ESA’s XMM-Newton Project Scientist Mr Norbert Schartel. “The satellite provides the long, uninterrupted, detailed exposures, that are crucial to detecting signals, such as, these.

We’re only just beginning to understand the complex physics at play here. By finding instances where the mass from a shredded star glows especially brightly we can build a census of the black holes in the Universe and probe how matter behaves in some of the most extreme areas and conditions in the cosmos.”

Caption: Artist’s impression of black hole: Image: NASA:CXC:M. Weiss:::ω.

|| Readmore || 110119 || Up || 








How Far Away is 02.5 Billion Light Years: There Researchers Have Had a Close-Up Look at a Whirlpool Around a Supermassive Black Hole



|| December 04: 2018: University of Southampton News || ά. An international team of scientists have been able to measure gas spinning about a supermassive black hole in a distance galaxy for the first time. The researchers, some of whom are from the University of Southampton, were, also, able to gauge its mass with unprecedented precision, a crucial step to understanding galaxy evolution. The group of astronomers, including, Dr Sebastian Hoenig of the University, used a new instrument, called, GRAVITY, which combines the light of four of the largest infrared telescopes on earth.

These telescopes are hosted by the European Southern Observatory:ESO in Chile, to look deep into the heart of the quasar 3C273 to observe the structure of rapidly moving gas around the central black hole, known as, the ‘broad line region’. Quasars play a fundamental role in the history of the Universe, as their evolution is intricately tied to galaxy growth and they are known to contain supermassive black holes. More than 50 years ago, the astronomer Maarten Schmidt identified the first ‘quasi-stellar object’ or quasar, named 3C 273, as an extremely bright but distant object.

The energy emitted by such a quasar is much greater than in a normal galaxy, such as, our Milky Way and can not be produced by regular fusion processes in stars. Instead, astronomers assume that gravitational energy is converted into heat as material is being swallowed by an extremely massive black hole.

While scientists assume that basically all large galaxies harbour a massive black hole at their centre, so far they have only been able to study in detail one in our Milky Way. “This result marks a milestone in our endeavour to understand supermassive black holes. We achieved resolving the gas circling around a black hole on a scale comparable to our solar system in a galaxy 02.5 billion light years away.” said Dr Hoenig, whose work helped to interpret the new findings unearthed by GRAVITY.

Mr Reinhard Genzel, the Head of the infrared research group at MPE, said, “This is the first time that we can study the immediate environs of a massive black hole outside our home galaxy, the Milky Way.”

GRAVITY’s innovative interferometry technique boosts the magnification of the individual 08.2-m telescopes to a resolution power equivalent to a 130m-sized telescope. Thus, the astronomers can distinguish structures at the level of 10 micro-arcseconds, which corresponds to an object the size of a £01-coin on the Moon.  The astronomy group at the University of Southampton is one of the UK’s centres for infrared interferometry and specialises in modelling and interpreting interferometry data from supermassive black holes.

Dr Hoenig said, “We were able to use these observations to determine the mass of the supermassive black hole in this quasar. It is clear that GRAVITY has the potential to bring a sea change to our understanding of these unique objects, how they grow and how they influence their host galaxies. 

GRAVITY allowed us to resolve the so-called ‘broad line region’ for the first time ever, and to observe the motion of individual gas clouds around the central black hole.” Said Mr Eckhard Sturm, Lead Author from the Max Planck Institute for Extra-terrestrial Physics:MPE. “Our observations reveal that the gas clouds do whirl around the central black hole.” ω.

|| Readmore  || 051218 || Up || 


Life's Laurel Is You In One-Line-Poetry A Heaven-Bound Propagated Ray Of Light Off The Eye Of The Book Of Life: Love For You Are Only Once



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