Fat doughnut-shaped dust shrouds that obscure about half of supermassive black holes could be the result of high speed crashes between planets and asteroids, according to a new theory from an international team of astronomers. The scientists, led by Dr. Sergei Nayakshin of the University of Leicester, publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Supermassive black holes reside in the central parts of most galaxies. Observations indicate that about 50% of them are hidden from view by mysterious clouds of dust, the origin of which is not completely understood. The new theory is inspired by our own Solar System, where the so-called zodiacal dust is known to originate from collisions between solid bodies such as asteroids and comets. The scientists propose that the central regions of galaxies contain not only black holes and stars but also planets and asteroids.
The most recent spacecraft telemetry was acquired on October 25 from the Deep Space Network tracking complex at Madrid, Spain. The Cassini spacecraft is in an excellent state of health and with the exception of the CAPS instrument being powered off, all subsystems are operating normally. Information on the present position and speed of the Cassini spacecraft may be found on the “Present Position” page at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/presentposition/.
Subaru Telescope has added another dimension of information about one of the most studied of all compact galaxy groups—Stephan’s Quintet. Located within the borders of the constellation Pegasus, Stephan’s Quintet consists of a visual grouping of five galaxies, four of which form an actual compact group of galaxies; one additional galaxy appears in images of the group but is much closer than the others. Refinements in observations of the quintet are revealing more about its members. A comparison of images (the left and right images in Figure 1) compiled by using a suite of specialized filters with Subaru’s Prime Focus Camera (Suprime-Cam) have shown different types of star-formation activity between the closer galaxy NGC7320 and the more distant galaxies in Stephan’s Quintet. They show the quintet in 3-D.
These new images are the product of Suprime-Cam’s ability to capture images of objects in a wide field of view and to use specialized filters to focus observations according to particular research objectives. To learn about the star-forming regions in Stephan’s Quintet and their structures, observers used special narrowband filters for Hα emissions, which let in a very specific wavelength of light to indicate distinctive hydrogen emissions during active star formation. They used two Hα filters, each with a different recession velocity, i.e. the speed at which the object is moving away from the observer. They used one Hα filter with a recession velocity of 0, which means that the speed at which the object is moving away from the observer is 0 and that it is not far distant. They used another Hα filter with a greater recession velocity of 4200 miles (6,700 km) per second, an indicator of distant objects. In addition to the red color attributed to the Hα emission, blue and green colors assigned to the images from the blue and red filters captured light so that the composite tricolor images aligned with human color perception in red, green, and blue.
ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has revealed asteroid Lutetia to be a primitive body, left over as the planets were forming in our Solar System. Results from Rosetta’s fleeting flyby also suggest that this mini-world tried to grow a metal heart.
Rosetta flew past Lutetia on 10 July 2010 at a speed of 54 000 km/hr and a closest distance of 3170 km. At the time, the 130 km-long asteroid was the largest encountered by a spacecraft. Since then, scientists have been analysing the data taken during the brief encounter.
All previous flybys went past objects, which were fragments of once-larger bodies. However, during the encounter, scientists speculated that Lutetia might be an older, primitive ‘mini-world’.
In today’s issue of the journal Nature, astronomers report that organic compounds of unexpected complexity exist throughout the Universe. The results suggest that complex organic compounds are not the sole domain of life but can be made naturally by stars.
Prof. Sun Kwok and Dr. Yong Zhang of The University of Hong Kong show that an organic substance commonly found throughout the Universe contains a mixture of aromatic (ring-like) and aliphatic (chain-like) components. The compounds are so complex that their chemical structures resemble those of coal and petroleum. Since coal and oil are remnants of ancient life, this type of organic matter was thought to arise only from living organisms. The team’s discovery suggests that complex organic compounds can be synthesized in space even when no life forms are present.
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A new analysis of Hubble surveys, combined with simulations of galaxy interactions, reveals that the merger rate of galaxies over the last 8 billion to 9 billion years falls between the previous estimates.
The galaxy merger rate is one of the fundamental measures of galaxy evolution, yielding clues to how galaxies bulked up over time through encounters with other galaxies. And yet, a huge discrepancy exists over how often galaxies coalesced in the past. Earlier measurements of galaxies in deep-field surveys made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope generated a broad range of results: anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent of the galaxies were merging.
The new study, led by Jennifer Lotz of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., analyzed galaxy interactions at different distances, allowing the astronomers to compare mergers over time. Lotz’s team found that galaxies gained quite a bit of mass through collisions with other galaxies. Large galaxies merged with each other on average once over the past 9 billion years. Small galaxies were coalescing with large galaxies more frequently. In one of the first measurements of smashups between dwarf and massive galaxies in the distant universe, Lotz’s team found these mergers happened three times more often than encounters between two hefty galaxies.
To visible-light telescopes, this star-forming cloud appears to be chomping through the cosmos, earning it the nickname the “Pacman” nebula, like the famous Pac-Man video game that debuted in 1980. When viewed in infrared light by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, the Pacman takes on a new appearance. In place of its typical, triangle-shaped mouth is a new set of lower, sharp-looking teeth. The Pacman is located at the top of the picture, taking a bite in the direction of the upper left corner.
The teeth are actually pillars where new stars may be forming. These structures were formed when radiation and winds from massive stars in a central cluster blew gas and dust away, leaving only the densest of material. The red dots sprinkled throughout the picture are thought to be the youngest stars, still forming in cocoons of dust.
The Pacman nebula, also called NGC 281, is located 9,200 light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia.