The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.

— Peter De Vries

Astronomy

ADHD may have evolved to help foragers know when to cut their losses

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 7:01pm
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as impulsivity, may have helped foragers in hunter-gatherer communities quickly move on to new areas when food sources were low
Categories: Astronomy

ADHD may have evolved to help foragers know when to cut their losses

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 7:01pm
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as impulsivity, may have helped foragers in hunter-gatherer communities quickly move on to new areas when food sources were low
Categories: Astronomy

Scientists Track How a Giant Wave Moved Through Our Galactic Backyard

Universe Today - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 6:55pm

Astronomers say there’s a wave rippling through our galactic neighborhood that’s playing a part in the birth and death of stars — and perhaps in Earth’s history as well.

The cosmic ripple, known as the Radcliffe Wave, was identified in astronomical data four years ago — but in a follow-up study published today by the journal Nature, a research team lays out fresh evidence that the wave is actually waving, like the wave that fans in a sports stadium create by taking turns standing up and sitting down.

“Similar to how fans in a stadium are being pulled back to their seats by the Earth’s gravity, the Radcliffe Wave oscillates due to the gravity of the Milky Way,” study lead author Ralf Konietzka, a researcher at Harvard and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or CfA, said in a news release

The wave — which is named in honor of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, where the undulation was discovered — consists of a string of star clusters spread out over a stretch of the Milky Way measuring about 9,000 light-years in length.

Astronomers reported in 2020 that they identified the wavy pattern by correlating the 3-D locations of the clusters in data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope, plus observations of dust and gas clouds in the same region.

“It’s the largest coherent structure that we know of, and it’s really, really close to us,” said study co-author Catherine Zucker, an astrophysicist with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at the CfA. “It’s been there the whole time. We just didn’t know about it, because we couldn’t build these high-resolution models of the distribution of gaseous clouds near the sun, in 3-D.”

At the time, the astronomers didn’t have enough data to determine whether the peak of the wave was rolling down the line. That’s what’s known as a traveling wave, as opposed to a stationary wave — the kind of wave that’s set off, for example, by a vibrating guitar string.

Since then, additional readings about the motion of the star clusters have led the astronomers to conclude that the Radcliffe Wave is indeed a traveling wave that rises to a maximum height of more than 700 light-years and has a mean wavelength of roughly 6,500 light-years.

“Now we can go and test all these different theories for why the wave formed in the first place,” Zucker said.

Konietzka said the potential explanations range from “explosions of massive stars, called supernovae, to out-of-galaxy disturbances like a dwarf satellite galaxy colliding with our Milky Way.”

Astronomers say the wave’s rippling effect could in turn trigger bursts of supernovae and swarms of star formation within the gas and dust clouds of the interstellar medium. In earlier research, Zucker and other astronomers suggested that sometime around 14 million years ago, just such a burst gave rise to the “Local Bubble,” a star-forming shell that surrounds our own solar system. 

Other researchers have proposed that the long-lasting fallout from all those supernovae could have affected Earth’s geology and climate — for example, by showering our planet with radioactive dust or perhaps even triggering an ice age.

The Radcliffe Wave is currently about 980 light-years away from our own solar system, and appears to be drifting outward at a speed of about 11,000 mph (5 km/sec). “The measured drift of the Radcliffe Wave radially outward from the galactic center suggests that the cluster whose supernovae ultimately created today’s expanding Local Bubble may have been born in the Radcliffe Wave,” authors of the newly published paper say.

Study co-author Alyssa Goodman, an astronomer at the CfA, said the evidence supports the case for claiming that the Radcliffe Wave had an effect on Earth and its cosmic neighborhood. 

“Passage of the sun through over-dense material like the Radcliffe Wave and the Local Bubble does affect the heliosphere,” she wrote in an email, “and the timing does work out that some of the peaks in radioactivity on Earth (e.g., iron-60) line up time-wise with when the sun would have crossed the RadWave, Local Bubble surface, and other ‘Local Fluff’ clouds as well.”

Now the study’s authors are wondering whether the Radcliffe Wave is merely a local phenomenon. Could such waves be common? “The question is, what caused the displacement giving rise to the waving we see?” Goodman said. “And does it happen all over the galaxy? In all galaxies? Does it happen occasionally? Does it happen all the time?”

In addition to Konietzka, Goodman and Zucker, authors of the Nature paper, titled “The Radcliffe Wave Is Oscillating,” include Andreas Burkert, João Alves, Michael Foley, Cameren Swiggum, Maria Koller and Núria Miret-Roig. The research is the focus of a BornCurious podcast titled “Riding the Radcliffe Wave,” as well an online 3-D interactive presented by Cosmic Data Stories and WorldWide Telescope.

The post Scientists Track How a Giant Wave Moved Through Our Galactic Backyard appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Scientists say 2 solar system dwarf planets may harbor underground oceans

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 6:00pm
Methane detected near dwarf planets Eris and Makemake could have come from within their interiors, produced by geochemical reactions amid hot rock.
Categories: Astronomy

JWST Sees a Milky Way-Like Galaxy Coming Together in the Early Universe

Universe Today - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 5:22pm

The gigantic galaxies we see in the Universe today, including our own Milky Way galaxy, started out far smaller. Mergers throughout the Universe’s 13.7 billion years gradually assembled today’s massive galaxies. But they may have begun as mere star clusters.

In an effort to understand the earliest galaxies, the JWST has examined their ancient light for clues as to how they became so massive.

The JWST can effectively see back in time to when the Universe was only about 5% as old as it is now. In that distant past, structures that would eventually become as massive as the Milky Way, and even larger, were only about 1/10,000th as massive as they are now. What clues can the powerful infrared space telescope uncover that show us how galaxies grew so large?

A new paper presents JWST observations of a galaxy at redshift z~8.3. At that redshift, the light has been travelling for over 13 billion years and began its journey only 600 million years after the Big Bang. The galaxy, called the Firefly Sparkle, contains a network of massive star clusters that are evidence of how galaxies grow.

The paper is “The Firefly Sparkle: The Earliest Stages of the Assembly of A Milky Way-type Galaxy in a 600 Myr Old Universe.” The lead author is Lamiya Mowla, an observational astronomer and assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy at Wellesley College. The paper is in pre-print and hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.

“The Firefly Sparkle provides an unprecedented case study of a Milky Way-like galaxy in the earliest stages of its assembly in only a 600 million-year-old Universe,”

From Mowla et al. 2024

Despite the JWST’s power, this distant, ancient galaxy is only visible through the gravitational lensing of a massive cluster of foreground galaxies. The lensing makes the Firefly Sparkle appear as an arc. Two other galaxies are also in the vicinity, called Firefly BF (Best Friend) and Firefly NBF (New Best Friend.)

This image shows the Firefly Sparkle galaxy and its two neighbours, BF and NBF. The Firefly Sparkle’s mass is concentrated in 10 clusters that contain up to 57% of its entire mass. Image Credit: Mowla et al. 2024.

“The Firefly Sparkle exhibits the hallmarks expected of a future Milky Way-type galaxy captured during its
earliest and most gas-rich stage of formation,” the authors write. The young galaxy’s mass is concentrated in 10 clusters, which range from about 200,000 solar masses to 630,000 solar masses. According to the authors, these clusters “straddle the boundary between low-mass galaxies and high-mass globular clusters.”

These clusters are significant because they’re clues to how the galaxy is growing. The researchers were able to gauge the ages of the clusters and their star formation histories. They found that they experienced a burst of star formation at around the same time. “The cluster ages suggest that they are gravitationally bound with star formation histories showing a recent starburst possibly triggered by the interaction with a companion galaxy at the same redshift at a projected distance of ~2 kpc away from the Firefly Sparkle.”

There are two candidates for the interacting galaxy: Firefly Best Friend (BF) and Firefly New Best Friend (NBF). But NBF is about 13 kpcs away, while BF is about two kpcs away, making BF the likely interactor. “Faint low-surface brightness features are visible at the corners of the arc close to the neighbour, hinting at a possible interaction between the two galaxies <FS and BF> which may have triggered a burst of star formation in both of them,” explain the researchers.

This figure from the study illustrates the star formation histories of each cluster, as well as each galaxy. In the top right, “The Firefly Sparkle and FF-BF both show a recent burst of star formation in the last ~ 50 Myr indicative of recent interactions,” the authors explain. Image Credit: Mowla et al. 2024.

The researchers paid special attention to the central cluster. They found that the temperature is extremely high at about 40,000 Kelvin (40,000 C; 72,000 F.) It also has a top-heavy initial mass function, a signal that it formed in a very metal-poor environment. These observations and other evidence show that Firefly Sparkle is very likely a progenitor of galaxies like ours. For these reasons, “… the Firefly Sparkle provides an unprecedented case study of a Milky Way-like galaxy in the earliest stages of its assembly in
only a 600 million-year-old Universe,” the authors write.

Fortunately, the researchers behind these results have a powerful supercomputer simulation to compare observations with. It’s called Illustris TNG. It’s a massive cosmological magnetohydrodynamical simulation based on a comprehensive physical model of the Universe. Illustris TNG has made three runs, called TNG50, TNG 100, and TNG 300. The researchers compared their results with TNG 50.

This figure compares Firefly Sparkle’s current mass with the TNG 50 simulations of galaxy growth and with the growth rate of the Milky Way, according to an upcoming paper. Image Credit: Mowla et al. 2024.

Finding these ancient star clusters is intriguing, but we can’t assume they’ll survive intact. There are tidal and evaporative forces at work. The authors examined the stability of the individual star clusters and how they’ll fare over time.

“Most of these star clusters are expected to survive to the present-day universe and will expand and then get ripped apart to form the stellar disk and the halo of the galaxy,” the authors explain. “The only way they survive is to get kicked out to large distances, away from the dense tidal field of the galaxy.” The ones that get kicked out may persist as globular clusters.

One of the JWST’s primary science goals is to study how galaxies formed and evolved in the early Universe. By finding one in which clusters are still forming, the space telescope is reaching its goal.

“The Firefly Sparkle represents one of JWST’s first spectrophotometric observations of an extremely lensed galaxy assembling at high redshifts, with clusters that are in the process of formation instead of seen at later epochs,” the authors conclude.

The post JWST Sees a Milky Way-Like Galaxy Coming Together in the Early Universe appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket put a satellite in the wrong orbit in December. Now we know why.

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 5:00pm
A software issue caused Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket to deploy a satellite into the wrong orbit on its four-ever launch this past December, company representatives said.
Categories: Astronomy

Sian Proctor on her legacy of being the 1st Black woman to pilot a spacecraft

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 4:31pm
Sian Proctor spoke to Space.com about her captivating story of a woman who soared past barriers to pave the way for more diversity and inclusivity in space.
Categories: Astronomy

The Brightest Object Ever Seen in the Universe

Universe Today - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 3:19pm

It’s an exciting time in astronomy today, where records are being broken and reset regularly. We are barely two months into 2023, and already new records have been set for the farthest black hole yet observed, the brightest supernova, and the highest-energy gamma rays from our Sun. Most recently, an international team of astronomers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile reportedly saw the brightest object ever observed in the Universe: a quasar (J0529-4351) located about 12 billion light years away that has the fastest-growing supermassive black hole (SMBH) at its center.

The international team responsible for the discovery consisted of astrophysicists from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA) and the Center for Gravitational Astrophysics (CGA) at the Australian National University (ANU). They were joined by researchers from the University of Melbourne, the Paris Institute of Astrophysics (IAP), and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The paper that describes their findings, titled “The accretion of a solar mass per day by a 17-billion solar mass black hole,” recently appeared online and will published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

First observed in 1963 by Dutch-American astronomer Maarten Schmidt, quasars (short for “quasi-stellar objects”) are the bright cores of galaxies powered by SMBHs. These black holes collect matter from their surroundings and accelerate it to near the speed of light, which releases tremendous amounts of energy across the electromagnetic spectrum. Quasars become so bright that their cores will outshine all the stars in their disk, making them the brightest objects in the sky and visible from billions of light-years away.

As a general rule, astronomers gauge the growth rate of SMBHs based on the luminosity of their galaxy’s core region – the brighter the quasar, the faster the black hole is accreting matter. In this case, the SMBH at the core of J0529-4351 is growing by the equivalent of one Solar mass a day, making it the fastest-growing black hole yet observed. In the process, the accretion disk alone releases a radiative energy of 2 × 1041 Watts, more than 500 trillion times the luminous energy emitted by the Sun. Christian Wolf, an ANU astronomer and lead author of the study, characterized the discovery in a recent ESO press release:

“We have discovered the fastest-growing black hole known to date. It has a mass of 17 billion Suns, and eats just over a Sun per day. This makes it the most luminous object in the known Universe. Personally, I simply like the chase. For a few minutes a day, I get to feel like a child again, playing treasure hunt, and now I bring everything to the table that I have learned since.”

But what was most surprising was that this quasar was hiding in plain sight. “All this light comes from a hot accretion disc that measures seven light-years in diameter — this must be the largest accretion disc in the Universe,” said ANU Ph.D. student and co-author Samuel Lai. “It is a surprise that it has remained unknown until today, when we already know about a million less impressive quasars. It has literally been staring us in the face until now,” added co-author Christopher Onken, who is also an astronomer at ANU.

As Onken explained, J0529-4351 showed up in images taken by the ESO Schmidt Southern Sky Survey dating back to 1980. It was only in recent years that it was recognized as a quasar, thanks to improved instruments and measurements. Finding quasars requires precise observations from large areas of the sky, resulting in massive datasets that often require machine learning algorithms to analyze them. However, these models are somewhat limited because they are trained on existing data, meaning candidates are selected based on previously observed objects.

This image shows the region of the sky in which the record-breaking quasar J0529-4351 is situated. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Dark Energy Survey

Since J0529-4351 is so luminous, it was dismissed by the ESA’s Gaia Observatory as being too bright to be a quasar and was ruled to be a bright star. Last year, the ANU-led team identified it as a distant quasar based on observations using the 2.3-meter telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. They then conducted follow-up observations using the X-shooter spectrograph on the ESO’s VLT telescope to confirm their results. The quasar is also an ideal target for the GRAVITY+ upgrade on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), designed to accurately measure the mass of black holes.

In addition, astronomers look forward to making observations with next-generation telescopes like the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). This 39-meter telescope, currently under construction in the Atacama Desert in Chile, will make identifying and characterizing distant quasars easier. Studying these objects and their central black holes could reveal vital details about how SMBHs and galaxies co-evolved during the early Universe.

Further Reading: ESO, ESO Science Papers

The post The Brightest Object Ever Seen in the Universe appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Everything we know about '3 Body Problem'

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 2:00pm
Here's everything we know about Netflix's upcoming sci-fi event series, "3 Body Problem"
Categories: Astronomy

Former Disney TV star Bridgit Mendler co-founds satellite 'data highway' startup

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 1:45pm
Once known for her beloved roles on Disney Channel, Bridgit Mendler has re-introduced herself as a CEO in the space business game.
Categories: Astronomy

Deputy Program Manager Dr. Camille Alleyne

NASA Image of the Day - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 1:11pm
"You must have grit, resilience, courage, and strength. I'm able to really share all the wisdom and the lessons I've learned throughout my career with [the students I mentor], and that makes a difference." — Dr. Camille Alleyne, Deputy Program Manager, Commercial LEO Development Program, NASA’s Johnson Space Center
Categories: Astronomy, NASA

Intuitive Machines' private Odysseus moon lander on track for Feb. 22 lunar landing

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 1:07pm
The Intuitive Machines moon landing machine is on course to the moon after 2 crucial engine burns in deep space. Lunar orbit insertion will happen on Feb. 21.
Categories: Astronomy

Why forgetting things is a key part of the way your brain works

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 1:00pm
Forgetfulness can be frustrating, but cognitive scientists reckon it underpins the brain’s capacity to efficiently process sensory information – and its unique ability to generalise our knowledge
Categories: Astronomy

Why forgetting things is a key part of the way your brain works

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 1:00pm
Forgetfulness can be frustrating, but cognitive scientists reckon it underpins the brain’s capacity to efficiently process sensory information – and its unique ability to generalise our knowledge
Categories: Astronomy

Astronomers Find "Big Ring" 1.3 Billion Light-Years Across

Sky & Telescope Magazine - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 12:37pm

Standard cosmological scenarios might not explain the breadth of a newly discovered cosmic structure.

The post Astronomers Find "Big Ring" 1.3 Billion Light-Years Across appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Categories: Astronomy

Studying lake deposits in Idaho could give scientists insight into ancient traces of life on Mars

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 12:00pm
Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? If so, how do scientists search for and identify it? Finding life beyond Earth is extremely difficult, partly because other planets are so far away and partly because we are not sure what to look for.
Categories: Astronomy

These supernovas are whipping up a storm, contributing to cosmic life and death

Space.com - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 11:00am
Astronomers have observed a so-called standard candle supernova generating clouds of cosmic dust, bringing us a step closer to understanding the life and death cycle of stars.
Categories: Astronomy

The hidden evolutionary advantages of the teenage brain

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 11:00am
Recent research suggests teenagers’ brains are particularly suited to coping with volatility and new experiences, including socialising and venturing to unknown places
Categories: Astronomy

The hidden evolutionary advantages of the teenage brain

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 11:00am
Recent research suggests teenagers’ brains are particularly suited to coping with volatility and new experiences, including socialising and venturing to unknown places
Categories: Astronomy

Deadly plant kills its pollinators but nurses their young

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Tue, 02/20/2024 - 10:00am
A deadly flower kills the gnats that pollinate it but may help the insects’ offspring in return, which indicates that plant-pollinator relationships may be more complex than previously thought
Categories: Astronomy