Extreme Turbulence Roiling ‘Most Luminous Galaxy’ In The Universe

The most luminous galaxy in the Universe — a so-called obscured quasar 12.4 billion light-years away — is so violently turbulent that it may eventually jettison its entire supply of star-forming gas, according to new observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

turbulance

A team of researchers used ALMA to trace, for the first time, the actual motion of the galaxy’s interstellar medium — the gas and dust between the stars. What they found, according to Tanio Díaz-Santos of the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile, is a galaxy “so chaotic that it is ripping itself apart.”

Previous studies with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft revealed that the galaxy, dubbed W2246-0526, is glowing in infrared light as intensely as approximately 350 trillion suns.

Evidence strongly suggests that this galaxy is an obscured quasar, a very distant galaxy with a voraciously feeding supermassive black hole at its center that is completely obscured behind a thick blanket of dust.

This galaxy’s startling brightness is powered by a tiny, yet incredibly energetic disk of gas that is being superheated as it spirals in on the supermassive black hole. The light from this blazingly bright accretion disk is then absorbed by the surrounding dust, which re-emits the energy as infrared light.

“These properties make this object a beast in the infrared,” said Roberto Assef, an astronomer with the Universidad Diego Portales and leader of the ALMA observing team. “The powerful infrared energy emitted by the dust then has a direct and violent impact on the entire galaxy, producing extreme turbulence throughout the interstellar medium.”

The astronomers compare this turbulent action to a pot of boiling water. If these conditions continue, they say, the galaxy’s intense infrared radiation will boil away all of its interstellar gas.

This galaxy belongs to a very unusual type of quasar known as Hot, Dust-Obscured Galaxies or Hot DOGs. These objects are very rare; only 1 out of every 3,000 quasars observed by WISE belongs to this class.

The astronomers used ALMA to precisely map the motion of ionized carbon atoms throughout the entire galaxy. These atoms, which are tracers for interstellar gas, naturally emit infrared light, which becomes shifted to millimeter wavelengths as it travels the vast cosmic distances to Earth due to the expansion of the Universe.

“Large amounts of ionized carbon were found in an extremely turbulent dynamic state throughout the galaxy,” Díaz-Santos describes. The data reveal that this interstellar material is careening anywhere from 500 to 600 kilometers per second throughout the entire galaxy.

The astronomers believe that this turbulence is primarily due to the fact that the region around the black hole is at least 100 times more luminous than the rest of the galaxy combined; in other quasars, the proportion is much more modest. This intense yet localized radiation exerts tremendous pressure on the entire galaxy, to potentially devastating effect.

“We suspected that this galaxy was in a transformative stage of its life because of the enormous amount of infrared energy discovered with WISE,” said Peter Eisenhardt with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Now ALMA has shown us that the raging furnace in this galaxy is making the pot boil over.”

Current models of galactic dynamics combined with the ALMA data indicate that this galaxy is unstable and its interstellar gas is being blown away in all directions. This suggests that the galaxy’s Hot DOG days are numbered as it matures into a more traditional unobscured quasar.

“If this pattern continues, it is possible that in the future W2246 ends up shedding a large part of the gas and dust it contains,” concludes Manuel Aravena also from the Universidad Diego Portales. “Only ALMA, with its unparalleled resolution, can allow us to see this object in high definition and fathom such an important episode in the life of this galaxy.”

Astronomers Studying What May Be The Most Powerful Supernova Ever Seen

Right now, astronomers are viewing a ball of hot gas billions of light years away that is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of suns. At its heart is an object a little larger than 10 miles across.

magnetar

And astronomers are not entirely sure what it is.

If, as they suspect, the gas ball is the result of a supernova, then it’s the most powerful supernova ever seen.

In this week’s issue of the journal Science, they report that the object at the center could be a very rare type of star called a magnetar–but one so powerful that it pushes the energy limits allowed by physics.

An international team of professional and amateur astronomers spotted the possible supernova, now called ASASSN-15lh, when it first flared to life in June 2015.

Even in a discipline that regularly uses gigantic numbers to express size or distance, the case of this small but powerful mystery object in the center of the gas ball is so extreme that the team’s co-principal investigator, Krzysztof Stanek of The Ohio State University, turned to the movie This is Spinal Tap to find a way to describe it.

“If it really is a magnetar, it’s as if nature took everything we know about magnetars and turned it up to 11,” Stanek said. (For those not familiar with the comedy, the statement basically translates to “11 on a scale of 1 to 10.”)

The gas ball surrounding the object can’t be seen with the naked eye, because it’s 3.8 billion light years away. But it was spotted by the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, pronounced “assassin”) collaboration. Led by Ohio State, the project uses a cadre of small telescopes around the world to detect bright objects in our local universe.

Though ASAS-SN has discovered some 250 supernovae since the collaboration began in 2014, the explosion that powered ASASSN-15lh stands out for its sheer magnitude. It is 200 times more powerful than the average supernova, 570 billion times brighter than our sun, and 20 times brighter than all the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined.

“We have to ask, how is that even possible?” said Stanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. “It takes a lot of energy to shine that bright, and that energy has to come from somewhere.”

“The honest answer is at this point that we do not know what could be the power source for ASASSN-15lh,” said Subo Dong, lead author of the Science paper and a Youth Qianren Research Professor of astronomy at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University.

He added that the discovery “may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of superluminous supernova.”

Todd Thompson, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, offered one possible explanation. The supernova could have spawned an extremely rare type of star called a millisecond magnetar, a rapidly spinning and very dense star with a very strong magnetic field.

To shine so bright, this particular magnetar would also have to spin at least 1,000 times a second, and convert all that rotational energy to light with nearly 100 percent efficiency, Thompson explained. It would be the most extreme example of a magnetar that scientists believe to be physically possible.

“Given those constraints,” he said, “will we ever see anything more luminous than this? If it truly is a magnetar, then the answer is basically no.”

The Hubble Space Telescope will help settle the question later this year, in part because it will allow astronomers to see the host galaxy surrounding the object. If the team finds that the object lies in the very center of a large galaxy, then perhaps it’s not a magnetar at all, and the gas around it is not evidence of a supernova, but instead some unusual nuclear activity around a supermassive black hole.

If so, then its bright light could herald a completely new kind of event, said study co-author Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State and the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology. It would be something never before seen in the center of a galaxy.

Ohio State co-authors on the study include John Beacom, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the university’s Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics (CCAPP); graduate students Thomas Holoien, Jonathan Brown, A. Bianca Danilet and Gregory Simonian; and Ohio State alumni Ben Shappee, now at the Carnegie Observatories, and Jose Prieto, now at the Universidad Diego Portales and Millennium Institute of Astrophysics.

Other co-authors, including both professional and amateur astronomers, hail from Rutgers University, Las Campanas Observatory, Liverpool John Moores University, Coral Towers Observatory, Osservatorio Astrofisico di Catania, Observatoire de Strasbourg, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Morehead State University, Variable Star Observers League in Japan, The Virtual Telescope Project, Mt. Vernon Observatory, Universidad Andres Bello, Warsaw University and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This work is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation and CCAPP. Additional support came from the Mt. Cuba Astronomical Foundation and private donations from retired Homewood Corp. CEO George Skestos and the Robert Martin Ayers Sciences Fund. ASAS-SN telescopes are hosted by the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.

New theory of secondary inflation expands options for avoiding an excess of dark matter

Standard cosmology — that is, the Big Bang Theory with its early period of exponential growth known as inflation — is the prevailing scientific model for our universe, in which the entirety of space and time ballooned out from a very hot, very dense point into a homogeneous and ever-expanding vastness. This theory accounts for many of the physical phenomena we observe. But what if that’s not all there was to it?

dark matter

A new theory from physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Stony Brook University, which will publish online on January 18 in Physical Review Letters, suggests a shorter secondary inflationary period that could account for the amount of dark matter estimated to exist throughout the cosmos.

“In general, a fundamental theory of nature can explain certain phenomena, but it may not always end up giving you the right amount of dark matter,” said Hooman Davoudiasl, group leader in the High-Energy Theory Group at Brookhaven National Laboratory and an author on the paper. “If you come up with too little dark matter, you can suggest another source, but having too much is a problem.”

Measuring the amount of dark matter in the universe is no easy task. It is dark after all, so it doesn’t interact in any significant way with ordinary matter. Nonetheless, gravitational effects of dark matter give scientists a good idea of how much of it is out there. The best estimates indicate that it makes up about a quarter of the mass-energy budget of the universe, while ordinary matter — which makes up the stars, our planet, and us — comprises just 5 percent. Dark matter is the dominant form of substance in the universe, which leads physicists to devise theories and experiments to explore its properties and understand how it originated.

Some theories that elegantly explain perplexing oddities in physics — for example, the inordinate weakness of gravity compared to other fundamental interactions such as the electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear forces — cannot be fully accepted because they predict more dark matter than empirical observations can support.

This new theory solves that problem. Davoudiasl and his colleagues add a step to the commonly accepted events at the inception of space and time.

In standard cosmology, the exponential expansion of the universe called cosmic inflation began perhaps as early as 10-35 seconds after the beginning of time — that’s a decimal point followed by 34 zeros before a 1. This explosive expansion of the entirety of space lasted mere fractions of a fraction of a second, eventually leading to a hot universe, followed by a cooling period that has continued until the present day. Then, when the universe was just seconds to minutes old — that is, cool enough — the formation of the lighter elements began. Between those milestones, there may have been other inflationary interludes, said Davoudiasl.

“They wouldn’t have been as grand or as violent as the initial one, but they could account for a dilution of dark matter,” he said.

In the beginning, when temperatures soared past billions of degrees in a relatively small volume of space, dark matter particles could run into each other and annihilate upon contact, transferring their energy into standard constituents of matter-particles like electrons and quarks. But as the universe continued to expand and cool, dark matter particles encountered one another far less often, and the annihilation rate couldn’t keep up with the expansion rate.

“At this point, the abundance of dark matter is now baked in the cake,” said Davoudiasl. “Remember, dark matter interacts very weakly. So, a significant annihilation rate cannot persist at lower temperatures. Self-annihilation of dark matter becomes inefficient quite early, and the amount of dark matter particles is frozen.”

However, the weaker the dark matter interactions, that is, the less efficient the annihilation, the higher the final abundance of dark matter particles would be. As experiments place ever more stringent constraints on the strength of dark matter interactions, there are some current theories that end up overestimating the quantity of dark matter in the universe. To bring theory into alignment with observations, Davoudiasl and his colleagues suggest that another inflationary period took place, powered by interactions in a “hidden sector” of physics. This second, milder, period of inflation, characterized by a rapid increase in volume, would dilute primordial particle abundances, potentially leaving the universe with the density of dark matter we observe today.

“It’s definitely not the standard cosmology, but you have to accept that the universe may not be governed by things in the standard way that we thought,” he said. “But we didn’t need to construct something complicated. We show how a simple model can achieve this short amount of inflation in the early universe and account for the amount of dark matter we believe is out there.”

Proving the theory is another thing entirely. Davoudiasl said there may be a way to look for at least the very feeblest of interactions between the hidden sector and ordinary matter.

“If this secondary inflationary period happened, it could be characterized by energies within the reach of experiments at accelerators such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) and the Large Hadron Collider,” he said. Only time will tell if signs of a hidden sector show up in collisions within these colliders, or in other experimental facilities.

HAPPY NEW YEAR – 2016

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Auroral Mystery Solved: Auroras Caused by Charged Particles

I’m not sure what discovery warrants the title of ‘mystery’, but it was accepted and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. I guess we have all become aware that ECMs research is ahead of its time, but to frame it beyond mysteries is a bit exorbitant.

I am pretty sure all or most of you have been aware of my research on charged particles going as far back as 1998 when I published my first Equation. To think of this finding as new or mysterious, is well, mysterious.

equation_1998

Equation:
Sunspots → Solar Flares (charged particles) → Magnetic Field Shift → Shifting Ocean and Jet Stream Currents → Extreme Weather and Human Disruption (mitch battros 1998).

For years, scientists have contemplated what triggers the formation of auroral substorms and the sudden bursts of brightness. Appearing in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the current study overthrows existing theories about the mechanism behind this phenomenon.

aurora03

Auroras are dimly present throughout the night in polar regions, but sometimes these lights explode in brightness. Now Japanese scientists have unlocked the mystery behind this spectacle, known as auroral breakup.

Now Japanese scientists from the Kyoto-Kyushu research team has revealed that hot charged particles, or plasma, gather in near-Earth space just above the upper atmosphere of the polar region. This makes the plasma rotate creating a sudden electrical current above the polar regions.

magnetic_field

“This isn’t like anything that us space physicists had in mind,” said study author Yusuke Ebihara of Kyoto University….. ‘Okay, if you say so’. (writers satirical comment) Ebihara based the study on a supercomputer simulation program developed by Takashi Tanaka, professor emeritus at Kyushu University.

Auroras originate from plasma from the Sun, known as the solar wind. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that when this plasma approaches the Earth together with magnetic fields, it triggers a change in the Earth’s magnetic field lines on the dayside, and then on the night side. This information alone couldn’t explain how the fluttering lights emerge in the sky, however.

Scientists had come up with theories for separate parts of the process. Some suggested that acceleration of plasma from the reconnection of magnetic field lines caused auroral breakup. Others argued that the electrical current running near the Earth diverts a part of the electrical current into the ionosphere for some unknown reason, triggering the bright bursts of light. This theory was widely accepted because it offered an explanation for why upward-flowing currents emerged out of our planet. But the pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit well together.

Tanaka’s supercomputer simulation program, on the other hand, offers a logical explanation from start to finish.

“Previous theories tried to explain individual mechanisms like the reconnection of the magnetic field lines and the diversion of electrical currents, but there were contradictions when trying to explain the phenomena in its entirety,” said Ebihara. “What we needed all along was to look at the bigger picture.”

The current paper builds on earlier work by Ebihara and Tanaka about how the bursts emerge. This explores the succeeding processes, namely how the process expands into a large scale breakup.

The research also has the potential to alleviate hazardous problems associated with auroral breakups that can seriously disrupt satellites and power grids.

James Hansen (Inventor of Global Warming) Embarrasses NASA

WASHINGTON (AP) – Exactly 20 years after warning America about global warming, a top NASA scientist said the situation has gotten so bad that the world’s only hope is drastic action.

James Hansen told Congress on Monday that the world has long passed the “dangerous level” for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and needs to get back to 1988 levels. He said Earth’s atmosphere can only stay this loaded with man-made carbon dioxide for a couple more decades without changes such as mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and dramatic sea level rises.

“We’re toast if we don’t get on a very different path,” Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences who is sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, told The Associated Press. “This is the last chance.”

Hansen brought global warming home to the public in June 1988 during a Washington heat wave, telling a Senate hearing that global warming was already here. To mark the anniversary, he testified before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming where he was called a prophet, and addressed a luncheon at the National Press Club where he was called a hero by former Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., who headed the 1988 hearing.

To cut emissions, Hansen said coal-fired power plants that don’t capture carbon dioxide emissions shouldn’t be used in the United States after 2025, and should be eliminated in the rest of the world by 2030. That carbon capture technology is still being developed and not yet cost efficient for power plants.

Burning fossil fuels like coal is the chief cause of man-made greenhouse gases. Hansen said the Earth’s atmosphere has got to get back to a level of 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million. Last month, it was 10% higher: 386.7 parts per million.

Hansen said he’ll testify on behalf of British protesters against new coal-fired power plants. Protesters have chained themselves to gates and equipment at sites of several proposed coal plants in England.

“The thing that I think is most important is to block coal-fired power plants,” Hansen told the luncheon. “I’m not yet at the point of chaining myself but we somehow have to draw attention to this.”

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for many U.S. utilities, including those trying to build new coal plants, said while Hansen has shown foresight as a scientist, his “stop them all approach is very simplistic” and shows that he is beyond his level of expertise.

The year of Hansen’s original testimony was the world’s hottest year on record. Since then, 14 years have been hotter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Two decades later, Hansen spent his time on the question of whether it’s too late to do anything about it. His answer: There’s still time to stop the worst, but not much time.
“We see a tipping point occurring right before our eyes,” Hansen told the AP before the luncheon. “The Arctic is the first tipping point and it’s occurring exactly the way we said it would.”

Hansen, echoing work by other scientists, said that in five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.

Longtime global warming skeptic Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., citing a recent poll, said in a statement, “Hansen, (former Vice President) Gore and the media have been trumpeting man-made climate doom since the 1980s. But Americans are not buying it.”

But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., committee chairman, said, “Dr. Hansen was right. Twenty years later, we recognize him as a climate prophet.”

Tom C. Van Flandern (1940 – 2009) “Exploded Planet Hypothesis” 

Dr. Thomas Charles Van Flandern, an expert in celestial mechanics and cosmology, died January 9, 2009 in Seattle, Washington, of colon cancer. He was 68. Van Flandern was an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory from 1963 to 1983. He developed software to predict and analyze lunar occultations to improve lunar orbital and fundamental star catalog data. In later years he championed increasingly controversial theories. But his 1978 prediction that some asteroids have natural satellites, which was almost universally rejected, was verified when the Galileo spacecraft photographed Dactyl, a satellite of (243) Ida, during its flyby in 1993. Besides astronomy and computers, he had strong interests in biochemistry and nutrition, and he ran a business selling personal computers in the 1980s.

Tom Van Flandern was born June 26, 1940 in Cleveland, Ohio, the first child of Robert F. Van Flandern and Anna Mary Haley. His father, a police officer, left the family when Tom Van Flandern was 5. His mother died when he was 16; he and his siblings then lived with their grandmother, Margery Jobe, until he went to college.

Tom Van Flandern became interested in astronomy as a child. He used his first telescope, purchased with newspaper delivery earnings, to observe lunar occultations, and then learned how to predict them, sparking a life-long passion for dynamical astronomy. While attending St. Ignatius High School, Van Flandern and fellow student Thomas Petrie organized the Cleveland Moonwatch team to observe the first artificial satellites, the only team without an adult organizer.

In 1958, Tom Van Flandern entered Xavier University where he led the Cincinnati Moonwatch team. He learned computer programming at a summer job with General Electric and wrote software to calculate “look angles” from orbital elements. The Cincinnati team became a top producer of observations using these predictions. Tom obtained a B.S. in mathematics from Xavier in 1962. He spent the next year at Georgetown University studying astronomy.

On July 6, 1963, Tom Van Flandern married Barbara Ann Weber in Kentucky. They remained together until his passing 46 years later. They had four children, Michael, Constance, Brian, and Kevin. Also in 1963, Tom began work in the Nautical Almanac Office of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. He became an expert on refining the lunar orbit from timings of lunar occultations, then the best observations for that purpose. He encouraged observations by providing observers with predictions of occultations for their locations. He designed a cable system connecting all observers timing a grazing occultation, to record their observations at a central station. After a 1964 success, four amateur astronomical societies built similar cable systems.

Tom Van Flandern relished efforts to simplify computer calculations. He and Henry Fliegel developed an algorithm to calculate a Julian date from a Gregorian date that would fit on a single IBM card. They published this in a paper, “A machine algorithm for processing calendar dates” in 1968 in the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery. This was used in countless business applications worldwide. With Kenneth Pulkkinen, he published “Low precision formulae for planetary positions”, in Ap. J. Supp. in 1979. The paper set a record for the number of reprints requested from that journal.

Tom Van Flandern earned a PhD in astronomy from Yale University in 1969. His thesis was “A discussion of 1950-1968 occultations of stars by the Moon”, advised by Prof. G. M. Clemence. In 1976 Van Flandern asserted that the orbits of 60 long-period comets traced to a common origin, supporting Michael Ovenden’s exploded planet hypothesis.

He founded the non-profit Meta Research, Inc. in 1990 to provide support for alternative theories in astronomy. The Meta Research Bulletin reported the newest discoveries and how they presented difficulties to accepted astronomical theories, such as the Big Bang and planetary formation. The Bulletin claimed mainstream scientists preferred making ad hoc corrections to the theories rather than acknowledge fundamental difficulties that might jeopardize their funding.

Tom Van Flandern’s advocacy of an artificial origin for the “face on Mars”, especially after higher-resolution images were taken in 2001, antagonized many. His questioning of the speed of gravity, first published in a 1998 paper in Physics Letters A, provoked additional attacks from relativists. He showed the same persistence with these controversies that had enabled him to solve complex programming and celestial mechanics problems.

Tom Van Flandern did not reject General Relativity as some have asserted, but rather rejected its geometrical interpretation. He said: “General relativity has a geometric and a field interpretation. If angular momentum conservation is invoked in the geometric interpretation to explain experiments, the causality principle is violated. The field interpretation avoids this problem by allowing faster-than-light propagation in forward time.” Tom Van Flandern strongly attacked some alternative theories, such as Velikovsky’s ideas of recent planetary close approaches, turning one of Velikovsky’s supporters, C. L. Ellenberger, into a strong critic.

If not for these antagonisms, the “mainstream” part of Tom Van Flandern’s work in later years might be better acknowledged, including his “Eclipse Edge” company that organized expeditions to several solar eclipses, and his work with E. Lyytinen on the passage of Earth through cometary debris trails. Their prediction was closest to the observed time of the Leonid storm maximum of November 2001.

Tom Van Flandern held memberships in the International Astronomical Union, the American Astronomical Society (and in its Divisions on Dynamical Astronomy and Planetary Sciences), and several other scientific organizations. He received second prize from the Gravity Research Foundation in 1974 and the Astronomy Award from the Washington Academy of Sciences in 2000. An asteroid, (52266) 1986 AD, was named “Van Flandern” in his memory on February 9, 2009.

Tom Van Flandern’s survivors include his wife, Barbara; his brother William; and his four children. He was buried in Sequim, Washington, near his last home. His inquisitive mind, unshakable integrity, and boundless enthusiasm are remembered fondly by his friends and colleagues. He left behind a valuable legacy of astronomical work.