Astronomers Shed Light on Formation of Black Holes and Galaxies

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Stars forming in galaxies appear to be influenced by the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, but the mechanism of how that happens has not been clear to astronomers until now.

“Supermassive black holes are captivating,” says lead author Shelley Wright, a University of California San Diego Professor of Physics. “Understanding why and how galaxies are affected by their supermassive black holes is an outstanding puzzle in their formation.”

Image of the quasar host galaxy from the UC San Diego research team’s data. The distance to this quasar galaxy is ~9.3 billion light years. Credit: A. Vayner and team
In a study published today in The Astrophysical Journal, Wright, graduate student Andrey Vayner, and their colleagues examined the energetics surrounding the powerful winds generated by the bright, vigorous supermassive black hole (known as a “quasar”) at the center of the 3C 298 host galaxy, located approximately 9.3 billion light years away.

“We study supermassive black holes in the very early universe when they are actively growing by accreting massive amounts of gaseous material,” says Wright. “While black holes themselves do not emit light, the gaseous material they chew on is heated to extreme temperatures, making them the most luminous objects in the universe.”

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Laser Gallery

Astronomers Discover A Star That Would Not Die

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

An international team of astronomers led by Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) has made a bizarre discovery; a star that refuses to stop shining.

Supernovae, the explosions of stars, have been observed in the thousands and in all cases they marked the death of a star.

Supernova
Artists impression of a supernova. Credit NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STSCI)
But in a study published today in the journal Nature, the team discovered a remarkable exception; a star that exploded multiple times over a period of more than fifty years. Their observations, which include data from W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, are challenging existing theories on these cosmic catastrophes.

“The spectra we obtained at Keck Observatory showed that this supernova looked like nothing we had ever seen before. This, after discovering nearly 5,000 supernovae in the last two decades,” said Peter Nugent, Senior Scientist and Division Deputy for Science Engagement in the Computational Research Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who co-authored the study. “While the spectra bear a resemblance to normal hydrogen-rich core-collapse supernova explosions, they grew brighter and dimmer at least five times more slowly, stretching an event which normally lasts 100 days to over two years.”

Researchers used the Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS) on the Keck I telescope to obtain spectrum of the star’s host galaxy, and the Deep Imaging and Multi-Object Spectrograph (DEIMOS) on Keck II to obtain high-resolution spectra of the unusual star itself.

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It was one of those weeks…

It was one of those weeks.

Keck 2
The Keck 2 telescope, iPhone photo processed in Prisma
It did not look like it was going to be a bad week. The schedule was for a light week with nothing serious envisioned. Better yet, Tuesday was scheduled to be our departmental retreat, a day at the beach with the operations crew, all good.

One. Deb is having a bad spell. With little warning I took off Monday afternoon to drive her down to Kona to spend a couple hours in the infusion lab for medication.

Two. Monday would just not die easily… The phone calls began just after sunset. The Keck 1 hydraulic bearing system would not come on properly, shutting down just after the main pump came online. It became quickly apparent that I would be joining John and Justin for a trip to the summit in the middle of the night.

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Consequences of a Bad LED

A bad indicator LED, a simple ten cent part brought the Keck 1 telescope to a stop this last week.

Logic Card
A section of the AAA logic card.
How can that be? Usually an indicator is just that, an indicator. While an LED may indicate a problem it is rarely the cause of the problem.

I was getting ready to leave the summit when the radio started to speak words of concern, it sounded like something was not working, an instrument rotator?

Worse, the Keck 1 computer room hosted a veritable crowd, from the summit supervisor to all of the techs. Yeah, this was not good, why are they all looking at me? Oh, h%#*!

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