A family of globular clusters appears as glittering spots dusted around the galaxy halo. Astronomers study the globular clusters in NGC 7049 to learn more about its formation and evolution. The dust lanes, which appear as a lacy web, are dramatically backlit by the millions of stars in the halo of NGC 7049.
Credit: NASA, ESA and W. Harris (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada)
A torrent of radiation from the hot stars in the cluster NGC 346, at the centre of this Hubble image, eats into denser areas around it, creating a fantasy sculpture of dust and gas. The dark, intricately beaded edge of the ridge, seen in silhouette, is particularly dramatic. It contains several small dust globules that point back towards the central cluster, like windsocks caught in a gale.
Credit: NASA, ESA and A. Nota (ESA/STScI, STScI/AURA)
Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, astronomers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the California Institute of Technology, USA, have discovered what appears to be the first known triplet of quasars. This close trio of supermassive black holes lies about 10.5 billion light-years away towards the Virgo (The Virgin) constellation. The photo shows the image of the triple quasar QQQ 1429-008, with the three components (A, B and C) indicated on the additional image.
The Tarantula Nebula (top center) is the largest, most active and most complex stellar nursery in our galactic neighborhood. It lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy that orbits our own Milky Way about 163,000 light-years away. This image shows the Tarantula Nebula and its surroundings in a visible light image spanning one degree. The view is a mosaic captured with the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-m telescope at the European Southern Observatory, La Silla, Chile.
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.
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.
Wormholes were first theorized in 1916, though that wasn’t what they were called at the time. While reviewing another physicist’s solution to the equations in Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Austrian physicist Ludwig Flamm realized another solution was possible. He described a “white hole,” a theoretical time reversal of a black hole. Entrances to both black and white holes could be connected by a space-time conduit.
In 1935, Einstein and physicist Nathan Rosen used the theory of general relativity to elaborate on the idea, proposing the existence of “bridges” through space-time. These bridges connect two different points in space-time, theoretically creating a shortcut that could reduce travel time and distance. The shortcuts came to be called Einstein-Rosen bridges, or wormholes.
Certain solutions of general relativity allow for the existence of wormholes where the mouth of each is a black hole. However, a naturally occurring black hole, formed by the collapse of a dying star, does not by itself create a wormhole.
Wormholes are consistent with the general theory of relativity, but whether wormholes actually exist remains to be seen.
A wormhole could connect extremely long distances such as a billion light years or more, short distances such as a few meters, different universes, or different points in time
For a simplified notion of a wormhole, space can be visualized as a two-dimensional (2D) surface. In this case, a wormhole would appear as a hole in that surface, lead into a 3D tube (the inside surface of a cylinder), then re-emerge at another location on the 2D surface with a hole similar to the entrance. An actual wormhole would be analogous to this, but with the spatial dimensions raised by one. For example, instead of circular holes on a 2D plane, the entry and exit points could be visualized as spheres in 3D space.
Science fiction is filled with tales of traveling through wormholes. But the reality of such travel is more complicated, and not just because we’ve yet to spot one.
The first problem is size. Primordial wormholes are predicted to exist on microscopic levels, about 10–33 centimeters. However, as the universe expands, it is possible that some may have been stretched to larger sizes.
Another problem comes from stability. The predicted Einstein-Rosen wormholes would be useless for travel because they collapse quickly.
“You would need some very exotic type of matter in order to stabilize a wormhole,” said Hsu, “and it’s not clear whether such matter exists in the universe.”
But more recent research found that a wormhole containing “exotic” matter could stay open and unchanging for longer periods of time.
Exotic matter, which should not be confused with dark matter or antimatter, contains negative energy density and a large negative pressure. Such matter has only been seen in the behavior of certain vacuum states as part of quantum field theory.
If a wormhole contained sufficient exotic matter, whether naturally occurring or artificially added, it could theoretically be used as a method of sending information or travelers through space. Unfortunately, human journeys through the space tunnels may be challenging.
Wormholes may not only connect two separate regions within the universe, they could also connect two different universes. Similarly, some scientists have conjectured that if one mouth of a wormhole is moved in a specific manner, it could allow for time travel.
Although adding exotic matter to a wormhole might stabilize it to the point that human passengers could travel safely through it, there is still the possibility that the addition of “regular” matter would be sufficient to destabilize the portal.
Today’s technology is insufficient to enlarge or stabilize wormholes, even if they could be found. However, scientists continue to explore the concept as a method of space travel with the hope that technology will eventually be able to utilize them.