In radio astronomy, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a high-energy astrophysical phenomenon of unknown origin manifested as a transient radio pulse lasting a few milliseconds on average.
The first FRB was discovered by Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic in 2007 when they were looking through archival pulsar survey data, and it is therefore commonly referred to as Lorimer Burst. Many FRBs have since been found, including a repeating FRB. Although the exact origin and cause is uncertain, they are almost definitely extragalactic, with the nearest roughly 1.6 billion light years away, and the furthest 17 billion light years away (comoving).
When the FRBs are polarized, it indicates that they are emitted from a source contained within an extremely powerful magnetic field. The origin of the FRBs has yet to be determined; proposals for its origin range from a rapidly rotating neutron star and a black hole to extraterrestrial intelligence.
Sign of extraterrestrial intelligence?
The localization and characterization of the one known repeating source, FRB 121102, has revolutizoned the understanding of the source class. FRB 121102 is identified with a galaxy at a distance of approximately 3 billion light years, well outside the Milky Way Galaxy, and embedded in an extreme environment.
Fast radio bursts are named by the date the signal was recorded, as “FRB YYMMDD”. The first fast radio burst to be described, the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was identified in 2007 in archived data recorded by the Parkes Observatory on 24 July 2001. Since then, most known FRBs have been found in previously recorded data. On 19 January 2015, astronomers at Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO) reported that a fast radio burst had been observed for the first time live, by the Parkes Observatory.
Parkes radio telescope
Fast radio bursts are bright, unresolved (pointsource-like), broadband (spanning a large range of radio frequencies), millisecond flashes found in parts of the sky outside the Milky Way. Unlike many radio sources the signal from a burst is detected in a short period of time with enough strength to stand out from the noise floor.
The burst usually appears as a single spike of energy without any change in its strength over time. The bursts last for a period of several milliseconds (thousandths of a second). The bursts come from all over the sky, and are not concentrated on the plane of the Milky Way. Known FRB locations are biased by the parts of the sky that the observatories can image.
Images captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. (Some images include data from other telescopes)
The Spitzer Space Telescope is the final mission in NASA’s Great Observatories Program – a family of four space-based observatories, each observing the Universe in a different kind of light. The other missions in the program include the visible-light Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CXO).
The Cryogenic Telescope Assembly, which contains the a 85 centimeter telescope and Spitzer’s three scientific instruments
The Spacecraft, which controls the telescope, provides power to the instruments, handles the scientific data and communicates with Earth
It may seem like a contradiction, but NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope must be simultaneously warm and cold to function properly. Everything in the Cryogenic Telescope Assembly must be cooled to only a few degrees above absolute zero (-459 degrees Fahrenheit, or -273 degrees Celsius). This is achieved with an onboard tank of liquid helium, or cryogen. Meanwhile, electronic equipment in The Spacecraft portion needs to operate near room temperature.
Spitzer’s highly sensitive instruments allow scientists to peer into cosmic regions that are hidden from optical telescopes, including dusty stellar nurseries, the centers of galaxies, and newly forming planetary systems. Spitzer’s infrared eyes also allows astronomers see cooler objects in space, like failed stars (brown dwarfs), extrasolar planets, giant molecular clouds, and organic molecules that may hold the secret to life on other planets.
Spitzer was originally built to last for a minimum of 2.5 years, but it lasted in the cold phase for over 5.5 years. On May 15, 2009 the coolant was finally depleted and the Spitzer “warm mission” began. Operating with 2 channels from one of its instruments called IRAC, Spitzer can continue to operate until late in this decade. Check out: Fast Facts and Current Status.
A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. Galaxies range in size from dwarfs with just a few hundred million (108) stars to giants with one hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting its galaxy’s center of mass.
Galaxies come in three main types: ellipticals, spirals, and irregulars. A slightly more extensive description of galaxy types based on their appearance is given by the Hubble sequence.
Since the Hubble sequence is entirely based upon visual morphological type (shape), it may miss certain important characteristics of galaxies such as star formation rate in starburst galaxies and activity in the cores of active galaxies.
The Hubble classification system rates elliptical galaxies on the basis of their ellipticity, ranging from E0, being nearly spherical, up to E7, which is highly elongated. These galaxies have an ellipsoidal profile, giving them an elliptical appearance regardless of the viewing angle. Their appearance shows little structure and they typically have relatively little interstellar matter. Consequently, these galaxies also have a low portion of open clusters and a reduced rate of new star formation. Instead they are dominated by generally older, more evolved stars that are orbiting the common center of gravity in random directions.
Spiral galaxies resemble spiraling pinwheels. Though the stars and other visible material contained in such a galaxy lie mostly on a plane, the majority of mass in spiral galaxies exists in a roughly spherical halo of dark matter that extends beyond the visible component, as demonstrated by the universal rotation curve concept.
Spiral galaxies consist of a rotating disk of stars and interstellar medium, along with a central bulge of generally older stars. Extending outward from the bulge are relatively bright arms. In the Hubble classification scheme, spiral galaxies are listed as type S, followed by a letter (a, b, or c) that indicates the degree of tightness of the spiral arms and the size of the central bulge.
Barred spiral galaxy
A majority of spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way galaxy, have a linear, bar-shaped band of stars that extends outward to either side of the core, then merges into the spiral arm structure. In the Hubble classification scheme, these are designated by an SB, followed by a lower-case letter (a, b or c) that indicates the form of the spiral arms (in the same manner as the categorization of normal spiral galaxies).
A ring galaxy is a galaxy with a circle-like appearance. Hoag’s Object, discovered by Art Hoag in 1950, is an example of a ring galaxy. The ring contains many massive, relatively young blue stars, which are extremely bright. The central region contains relatively little luminous matter. Some astronomers believe that ring galaxies are formed when a smaller galaxy passes through the center of a larger galaxy. Because most of a galaxy consists of empty space, this “collision” rarely results in any actual collisions between stars.
A lenticular galaxy (denoted S0) is a type of galaxy intermediate between an elliptical (denoted E) and a spiral galaxy in galaxy morphological classification schemes. They contain large-scale discs but they do not have large-scale spiral arms. Lenticular galaxies are disc galaxies that have used up or lost most of their interstellar matter and therefore have very little ongoing star formation. They may, however, retain significant dust in their disks.
An irregular galaxy is a galaxy that does not have a distinct regular shape, unlike a spiral or an elliptical galaxy. Irregular galaxies do not fall into any of the regular classes of the Hubble sequence, and they are often chaotic in appearance, with neither a nuclear bulge nor any trace of spiral arm structure.
Despite the prominence of large elliptical and spiral galaxies, most galaxies in the Universe are dwarf galaxies. These galaxies are relatively small when compared with other galactic formations, being about one hundredth the size of the Milky Way, containing only a few billion stars. Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies have recently been discovered that are only 100 parsecs across.
Interactions between galaxies are relatively frequent, and they can play an important role in galactic evolution. Near misses between galaxies result in warping distortions due to tidal interactions, and may cause some exchange of gas and dust. Collisions occur when two galaxies pass directly through each other and have sufficient relative momentum not to merge.
Stars are created within galaxies from a reserve of cold gas that forms into giant molecular clouds. Some galaxies have been observed to form stars at an exceptional rate, which is known as a starburst. If they continue to do so, then they would consume their reserve of gas in a time span less than the lifespan of the galaxy. Hence starburst activity usually lasts for only about ten million years, a relatively brief period in the history of a galaxy.
A portion of the observable galaxies are classified as active galaxies if the galaxy contains an active galactic nucleus (AGN). A significant portion of the total energy output from the galaxy is emitted by the active galactic nucleus, instead of the stars, dust and interstellar medium of the galaxy.
The standard model for an active galactic nucleus is based upon an accretion disc that forms around a supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the core region of the galaxy. The radiation from an active galactic nucleus results from the gravitational energy of matter as it falls toward the black hole from the disc. In about 10% of these galaxies, a diametrically opposed pair of energetic jets ejects particles from the galaxy core at velocities close to the speed of light. The mechanism for producing these jets is not well understood.
Twinkling stars are far more desirable to poets and romantics than to astronomers. Even in the near-pristine seeing conditions over Chile, home to ESO’s fleet of world-class telescopes, turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere causes stars to twinkle, blurring our view of the night sky.
These four laser beams are specially designed to combat this turbulence. The intense orange beams dominating this image originate from the 4 Laser Guide Star Facility, a state-of-the-art component of the Adaptive Optics Facility of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Each beam is some 4000 times more powerful than a standard laser pointer! Each creates an artificial guide star by exciting sodium atoms high in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and causing them to glow.
Creating artificial guide stars allows astronomers to measure and correct for atmospheric distortion, by adjusting and calibrating the settings of their observing equipment to be as accurate as possible for that particular area of sky. This gives the VLT a crystal-clear view of the cosmos, so it can capture the wonders of the Universe in stunning detail.
The first image was made using a drone flying over the VLT by the ESO Photographic Ambassador, Gerhard Hüdepohl.
This artist’s impression shows the pair of brown dwarfs named CFBDSIR 1458+10. Observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope and two other telescopes have shown that this pair is the coolest pair of brown dwarfs found so far. The colder of the two components (shown in the background) is a candidate for the brown dwarf with the lowest temperature ever found — the surface temperature is similar to that of a cup of freshly made tea. The two components are both about the same size as the planet Jupiter.
This image taken on Oct. 19, 2013, shows a filament on the sun – a giant ribbon of relatively cool solar material threading through the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. The individual threads that make up the filament are clearly discernible in this photo. This image was captured by the Solar Optical Telescope onboard JAXA/NASA’s Hinode solar observatory. Researchers studied this filament to learn more about material gets heated in the corona.
Kepler-16bis an extrasolar planet. It is a Saturn-mass planet consisting of half gas and half rock and ice, and it orbits a binary star, Kepler-16, with a period of 229 days. “It Is the first confirmed, unambiguous example of a circumbinary planet – a planet orbiting not one, but two stars,“ said Josh Carter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, one of the discovery team.
Kepler-16b was discovered using the space observatory aboard NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Scientists were able to detect Kepler-16b using the transit method, when they noticed the dimming of one of the system’s stars even when the other was not eclipsing it.
The SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile allows astronomers to suppress the brilliant light of nearby stars in order to obtain a better view of the regions surrounding them. This collection of new SPHERE images is just a sample of the wide variety of dusty discs being found around young stars.
These discs are wildly different in size and shape — some contain bright rings, some dark rings, and some even resemble hamburgers. They also differ dramatically in appearance depending on their orientation in the sky — from circular face-on discs to narrow discs seen almost edge-on.
SPHERE’s primary task is to discover and study giant exoplanets orbiting nearby stars using direct imaging. But the instrument is also one of the best tools in existence to obtain images of the discs around young stars — regions where planets may be forming. Studying such discs is critical to investigating the link between disc properties and the formation and presence of planets.
Many of the young stars shown here come from a new study of T Tauri stars, a class of stars that are very young (less than 10 million years old) and vary in brightness. The discs around these stars contain gas, dust, and planetesimals — the building blocks of planets and the progenitors of planetary systems.
These images also show what our own Solar System may have looked like in the early stages of its formation, more than four billion years ago.
Most of the images presented were obtained as part of the DARTTS-S (Discs ARound T Tauri Stars with SPHERE) survey. The distances of the targets ranged from 230 to 550 light-years away from Earth. For comparison, the Milky Way is roughly 100 000 light-years across, so these stars are, relatively speaking, very close to Earth. But even at this distance, it is very challenging to obtain good images of the faint reflected light from discs, since they are outshone by the dazzling light of their parent stars.
Another new SPHERE observation is the discovery of an edge-on disc around the star GSC 07396-00759, found by the SHINE (SpHere INfrared survey for Exoplanets) survey. This red star is a member of a multiple star system also included in the DARTTS-S sample but, oddly, this new disc appears to be more evolved than the gas-rich disc around the T Tauri star in the same system, although they are the same age. This puzzling difference in the evolutionary timescales of discs around two stars of the same age is another reason why astronomers are keen to find out more about discs and their characteristics.
Astronomers have used SPHERE to obtain many other impressive images, as well as for other studies including the interaction of a planet with a disc, the orbital motions within a system, and the time evolution of a disc.
The new results from SPHERE, along with data from other telescopes such as ALMA, are revolutionising astronomers’ understanding of the environments around young stars and the complex mechanisms of planetary formation.
MUSE data points to isolated neutron star beyond our galaxy
Spectacular new pictures, created from images from both ground- and space-based telescopes, tell the story of the hunt for an elusive missing object hidden amid a complex tangle of gaseous filaments in the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200 000 light-years from Earth.
New data from the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile has revealed a remarkable ring of gas in a system called 1E 0102.2-7219, expanding slowly within the depths of numerous other fast-moving filaments of gas and dust left behind after a supernova explosion. This discovery allowed a team led by Frédéric Vogt, an ESO Fellow in Chile, to track down the first ever isolated neutron star with low magnetic field located beyond our own Milky Way galaxy.
The team noticed that the ring was centred on an X-ray source that had been noted years before and designated p1. The nature of this source had remained a mystery. In particular, it was not clear whether p1 actually lies inside the remnant or behind it. It was only when the ring of gas — which includes both neon and oxygen — was observed with MUSE that the science team noticed it perfectly circled p1. The coincidence was too great, and they realised that p1 must lie within the supernova remnant itself. Once p1’s location was known, the team used existing X-ray observations of this target from the Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine that it must be an isolated neutron star, with a low magnetic field.
In the words of Frédéric Vogt: “If you look for a point source, it doesn’t get much better than when the Universe quite literally draws a circle around it to show you where to look.”
When massive stars explode as supernovae, they leave behind a curdled web of hot gas and dust, known as a supernova remnant. These turbulent structures are key to the redistribution of the heavier elements — which are cooked up by massive stars as they live and die — into the interstellar medium, where they eventually form new stars and planets.
Typically barely ten kilometres across, yet weighing more than our Sun, isolated neutron stars with low magnetic fields are thought to be abundant across the Universe, but they are very hard to find because they only shine at X-ray wavelengths. The fact that the confirmation of p1 as an isolated neutron star was enabled by optical observations is thus particularly exciting.
Co-author Liz Bartlett, another ESO Fellow in Chile, sums up this discovery: “This is the first object of its kind to be confirmed beyond the Milky Way, made possible using MUSE as a guidance tool. We think that this could open up new channels of discovery and study for these elusive stellar remains.”