You might recall a post from back in May describing a night spent on the summit with Jason Chu. He has been accumulating time lapse material for a significant project, capturing the telescopes of Mauna Kea under the beauty of the night sky.
Jason has published a preview of the work. Nice to see it come to life with a decent soundtrack and good editing…
A team of astrophysicists using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii has successfully measured the farthest galaxy ever recorded and more interestingly, captured its hydrogen emission as seen when the Universe was less than 600 million years old. Additionally, the method in which the galaxy called EGSY8p7 was detected gives important insight into how the very first stars in the Universe lit-up after the Big Bang. The paper will be published shortly in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
EGSY8p7 is the most distant confirmed galaxy whose spectrum obtained with the W. M. Keck Observatory places it at a redshift of 8.68 at a time when the Universe was less than 600 million years old. Credit: Adi Zitrin, California Institute of Technology
Using Keck Observatory’s powerful infrared spectrograph called MOSFIRE, the team dated the galaxy by detecting its Lyman-alpha emission line – a signature of hot hydrogen gas heated by strong ultraviolet emission from newly born stars. Although this is a frequently detected signature in galaxies close to Earth, the detection of Lyman-alpha emission at such a great distance is unexpected as it is easily absorbed by the numerous hydrogen atoms thought to pervade the space between galaxies at the dawn of the Universe. The result gives new insight into `cosmic reionization’, the process by which dark clouds of hydrogen were split into their constituent protons and electrons by the first generation of galaxies.
“We frequently see the Lyman-alpha emission line of hydrogen in nearby objects as it is one of most reliable tracers of star-formation,” said California Institute of Technology (Caltech) astronomer, Adi Zitrin, lead author of the discovery paper. “However, as we penetrate deeper into the Universe, and hence back to earlier times, the space between galaxies contains an increasing number of dark clouds of hydrogen which absorb this signal.”
Recent work has found the fraction of galaxies showing this prominent line declines markedly after when the Universe was about a billion years old, which is equivalent to a redshift of about 6. Redshift is a measure of how much the Universe has expanded since the light left a distant source and can only be determined for faint objects with a spectrograph on a powerful large telescope such as the Keck Observatory’s twin 10-meter telescopes, the largest on Earth.
As I scan slides I find little treasures like this one. A foggy morning on the Little Ouse river near Thetford, England, a place I called home for nearly three years. Yes, there is really a river named the Little Ouse!
Sunrise over the Little Ouse, near Santon Downham, England
The planet Mercury is starting an evening apparition. The planet should become visible this week just above the fading glow of the setting Sun as a magnitude -1 object. The planet is moving about 1° further from the Sun and higher in the sunset each day, reaching a maximum elongation of 27° on September 4th. This will be the best evening apparition for Mercury in 2015.
UCLA professor and longtime W. M. Keck Observatory astronomer, Andrea Ghez will be awarded the 2015 Bakerian Medal, the Royal Society’s premiere prize lecture in the physical sciences, the organization announced this week.
Andrea Ghez, Keck Observatory astronomer and UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics. Credit: Christopher Dibble
“I’m thrilled to receive the Bakerian Medal from the Royal Society,” said Ghez, who is UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics. “The research that is being recognized is the product of a wonderful collaboration among the scientists in the UCLA Galactic Center Group and the University of California’s tremendous investment in the W. M. Keck Observatory. Having cutting-edge tools and a great team makes discovery easy.”
The medal is accompanied by a cash prize of 10,000 pounds (approximately $15,500), and Ghez will deliver the Bakerian Lecture in London in November. The organization, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, cited Ghez’s “acclaimed discoveries using the techniques of optical astronomy, especially her sustained work on the motions and nature of the stars orbiting the black hole in the centre of our Galaxy.”
“All the data for this project came from Keck Observatory,” Ghez said. “We were able to launch this project 20 years ago because of the unique way that Keck Observatory works. We were able to modify instrumentation and try new approaches to data collection in a way that simply isn’t possible at other observatories. Working at Keck Observatory and with the staff there has been an amazing experience.”
The W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have made independent confirmations of an exoplanet orbiting far from its central star. The planet was discovered through a technique called gravitational microlensing. This finding opens a new piece of discovery space in the extrasolar planet hunt: to uncover planets as far from their central stars as Jupiter and Saturn are from our sun. The Hubble and Keck Observatory results will appear in two papers in the July 30 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.
A graphic explanation of the microlensing study of OGLE-2005-BLG-169. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STSCI)
The large majority of exoplanets cataloged so far are very close to their host stars because several current planet-hunting techniques favor finding planets in short-period orbits. But this is not the case with the microlensing technique, which can find more distant and colder planets in long-period orbits that other methods cannot detect.
Microlensing occurs when a foreground star amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. If the foreground star has planets, then the planets may also amplify the light of the background star, but for a much shorter period of time than their host star. The exact timing and amount of light amplification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and its accompanying planets.
“Microlensing is currently the only method to detect the planets close to their birth place,” said team member, Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris. “Indeed, planets are being mostly formed at a certain distance from the central star where it is cold enough for volatile compounds to condense into solid ice grains. These grains will then aggregate and will ultimately evolve into planets.”
The system, cataloged as OGLE-2005-BLG-169, was discovered in 2005 by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), the Microlensing Follow-Up Network (MicroFUN), and members of the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) collaborations—groups that search for extrasolar planets through gravitational microlensing.
I have been writing quite a bit about the TMT controversy lately. This has had several effects… I have had many kind comments from people across the island and even the globe. I am grateful that some have found my writings useful. My website traffic has multiplied, with daily traffic up about five times normal. This and the large number of Facebook shares I have seen on some posts lets me know that I am not writing for the void, somebody is actually reading what I write. That is a little gratifying.
The winter Milky Way over the summit of Mauna Kea
Why am I writing? People have asked me this and as I have realized, there is a good reason. Writing has become my way of thinking things through. In the process of composing a post I have to organize my thoughts, find references to back up my often faulty memory, find the words to express my feelings on the matter at hand. In the process of doing this I often find myself changing my own views on the subject. The skills of good writing, or in captivating oration, are the most challenging use of our language, and this language is the key to rational thought.
There is an art to composing a subject into a readable post, an art I am still a novice at. Maybe someday I will get better at it. Let me know if you have any suggestions on this.