Publication archive

Publication archive

The bulk of stars in galaxy clusters are confined within their constituent galaxies. Those stars do not trace the extended distribution of dark matter well as they are located in the central regions of the cluster's dark matter subhaloes. A small fraction of stars is expected, however, to follow the global dark matter shape of the cluster. These are the stars whose extended spatial distribution results from the merging activity of galaxies and form the intracluster light (ICL). In this work, we compare the bi-dimensional distribution of dark matter in massive galaxy clusters (as traced by gravitational lensing models) with the distribution of the ICL. To do that, we use the superb data from the Hubble Frontier Fields Initiative. Using the Modified Hausdorff distance (MHD) as a way of quantifying the similarities between the mass and ICL distributions, we find an excellent agreement (MHD ~25 kpc) between the two components. This result shows that the ICL exquisitely follows the global dark matter distribution, providing an accurate luminous tracer of dark matter. This finding opens up the possibility of exploring the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters in detail using only deep imaging observations.
Published: 24 October 2018
Exomoons are the natural satellites of planets orbiting stars outside our solar system, of which there are currently no confirmed examples. We present new observations of a candidate exomoon associated with Kepler-1625b using the Hubble Space Telescope to validate or refute the moon's presence. We find evidence in favor of the moon hypothesis, based on timing deviations and a flux decrement from the star consistent with a large transiting exomoon. Self-consistent photodynamical modeling suggests that the planet is likely several Jupiter masses, while the exomoon has a mass and radius similar to Neptune. Since our inference is dominated by a single but highly precise Hubble epoch, we advocate for future monitoring of the system to check model predictions and confirm repetition of the moon-like signal.
Published: 04 October 2018
Galaxy-cluster gravitational lenses can magnify background galaxies by a total factor of up to ~50. Here we report an image of an individual star at redshift z = 1.49 (dubbed MACS J1149 Lensed Star 1) magnified by more than ×2,000. A separate image, detected briefly 0.26" from Lensed Star 1, is probably a counterimage of the first star demagnified for multiple years by an object of ≳3 solar masses in the cluster. For reasonable assumptions about the lensing system, microlensing fluctuations in the stars' light curves can yield evidence about the mass function of intracluster stars and compact objects, including binary fractions and specific stellar evolution and supernova models. Dark-matter subhaloes or massive compact objects may help to account for the two images' long-term brightness ratio.
Published: 03 April 2018
Studies of galaxy surveys in the context of the cold dark matter paradigm have shown that the mass of the dark matter halo and the total stellar mass are coupled through a function that varies smoothly with mass. Their average ratio Mhalo/Mstars has a minimum of about 30 for galaxies with stellar masses near that of the Milky Way (approximately 5 × 1010 solar masses) and increases both towards lower masses and towards higher masses. The scatter in this relation is not well known; it is generally thought to be less than a factor of two for massive galaxies but much larger for dwarf galaxies. Here we report the radial velocities of ten luminous globular-cluster-like objects in the ultra-diffuse galaxy NGC1052–DF2, which has a stellar mass of approximately 2 × 108 solar masses. We infer that its velocity dispersion is less than 10.5 kilometres per second with 90 per cent confidence, and we determine from this that its total mass within a radius of 7.6 kiloparsecs is less than 3.4 × 108 solar masses. This implies that the ratio Mhalo/Mstars is of order unity (and consistent with zero), a factor of at least 400 lower than expected. NGC1052–DF2 demonstrates that dark matter is not always coupled with baryonic matter on galactic scales.
Published: 30 March 2018
Asteroids are primitive Solar System bodies that evolve both collisionally and through disruptions arising from rapid rotation. These processes can lead to the formation of binary asteroids and to the release of dust, both directly and, in some cases, through uncovering frozen volatiles. In a subset of the asteroids called main-belt comets, the sublimation of excavated volatiles causes transient comet-like activity. Torques exerted by sublimation measurably influence the spin rates of active comets and might lead to the splitting of bilobate comet nuclei. The kilometre-sized main-belt asteroid 288P (300163) showed activity for several months around its perihelion 2011 (ref. 11), suspected to be sustained by the sublimation of water ice and supported by rapid rotation, while at least one component rotates slowly with a period of 16 hours (ref. 14). The object 288P is part of a young family of at least 11 asteroids that formed from a precursor about 10 kilometres in diameter during a shattering collision 7.5 million years ago. Here we report that 288P is a binary main-belt comet. It is different from the known asteroid binaries in its combination of wide separation, near-equal component size, high eccentricity and comet-like activity. The observations also provide strong support for sublimation as the driver of activity in 288P and show that sublimation torques may play an important part in binary orbit evolution.
Published: 22 September 2017
The Kuiper Belt of our solar system is a source of short-period comets that may have delivered water and other volatiles to Earth and the other terrestrial planets. However, the distribution of water and other volatiles in extrasolar planetary systems is largely unknown. We report the discovery of an accretion of a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog onto the atmosphere of the white dwarf WD 1425+540. The heavy elements C, N, O, Mg, Si, S, Ca, Fe, and Ni are detected, with nitrogen observed for the first time in extrasolar planetary debris. The nitrogen mass fraction is ~2%, comparable to that in comet Halley and higher than in any other known solar system object. The lower limit to the accreted mass is ~1022 g, which is about one hundred thousand times the typical mass of a short-period comet. In addition, WD 1425+540 has a wide binary companion, which could facilitate perturbing a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog into the white dwarf's tidal radius. This finding shows that analogs to objects in our Kuiper Belt exist around other stars and could be responsible for the delivery of volatiles to terrestrial planets beyond the solar system.
Published: 09 February 2017
White dwarfs are compact stars, similar in size to Earth but approximately 200,000 times more massive. Isolated white dwarfs emit most of their power from ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelengths, but when in close orbits with less dense stars, white dwarfs can strip material from their companions and the resulting mass transfer can generate atomic line and X-ray emission, as well as near- and mid-infrared radiation if the white dwarf is magnetic. However, even in binaries, white dwarfs are rarely detected at far-infrared or radio frequencies. Here we report the discovery of a white dwarf/cool star binary that emits from X-ray to radio wavelengths. The star, AR Scorpii (henceforth AR Sco), was classified in the early 1970s as a δ-Scuti star, a common variety of periodic variable star. Our observations reveal instead a 3.56-hour period close binary, pulsing in brightness on a period of 1.97 minutes. The pulses are so intense that AR Sco's optical flux can increase by a factor of four within 30 seconds, and they are also detectable at radio frequencies. They reflect the spin of a magnetic white dwarf, which we find to be slowing down on a 107-year timescale. The spin-down power is an order of magnitude larger than that seen in electromagnetic radiation, which, together with an absence of obvious signs of accretion, suggests that AR Sco is primarily spin-powered. Although the pulsations are driven by the white dwarf's spin, they mainly originate from the cool star. AR Sco's broadband spectrum is characteristic of synchrotron radiation, requiring relativistic electrons. These must either originate from near the white dwarf or be generated in situ at the M star through direct interaction with the white dwarf's magnetosphere.
Published: 28 July 2016
The tadpole galaxy Kiso 5639 has a slowly rotating disk with a drop in metallicity at its star-forming head, suggesting that star formation was triggered by the accretion of metal-poor gas. We present multi-wavelength Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 images of UV through I band plus Hα to search for peripheral emission and determine the properties of various regions. The head has a mass in young stars of ~106 M and an ionization rate of 6.4 × 1051 s−1, equivalent to ~2100 O9-type stars. There are four older star-forming regions in the tail, and an underlying disk with a photometric age of ~1 Gyr. The mass distribution function of 61 star clusters is a power law with a slope of −1.73 ± 0.51. Fourteen young clusters in the head are more massive than 104 M, suggesting a clustering fraction of 30%–45%. Wispy filaments of Hα emission and young stars extend away from the galaxy. Shells and holes in the head H II region could be from winds and supernovae. Gravity from the disk should limit the expansion of the H II region, although hot gas might escape through the holes. The star formation surface density determined from Hα in the head is compared to that expected from likely pre-existing and accreted gas. Unless the surface density of the accreted gas is a factor of ~3 or more larger than what was in the galaxy before, the star formation rate has to exceed the usual Kennicutt–Schmidt rate by a factor of ≥5.
Published: 14 July 2016
First published online February 5, 2016.

We introduce a Hubble Space Telescope (HST)/Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) stellar census of R136a, the central ionizing star cluster of 30 Doradus. We present low resolution far-ultraviolet STIS spectroscopy of R136 using 17 contiguous 52 arcsec × 0.2 arcsec slits which together provide complete coverage of the central 0.85 parsec (3.4 arcsec). We provide spectral types of 90 per cent of the 57 sources brighter than mF555W = 16.0 mag within a radius of 0.5 parsec of R136a1, plus 8 additional nearby sources including R136b (O4 If/WN8). We measure wind velocities for 52 early-type stars from C IVλλ1548–51, including 16 O2–3 stars. For the first time, we spectroscopically classify all Weigelt and Baier members of R136a, which comprise three WN5 stars (a1–a3), two O supergiants (a5–a6) and three early O dwarfs (a4, a7, a8). A complete Hertzsprung–Russell diagram for the most massive O stars in R136 is provided, from which we obtain a cluster age of 1.5+0.3-0.7 Myr. In addition, we discuss the integrated ultraviolet spectrum of R136, and highlight the central role played by the most luminous stars in producing the prominent He II λ1640 emission line. This emission is totally dominated by very massive stars with initial masses above ∼100 M. The presence of strong He II λ1640 emission in the integrated light of very young star clusters (e.g. A1 in NGC 3125) favours an initial mass function extending well beyond a conventional upper limit of 100 M. We include montages of ultraviolet spectroscopy for Large Magellanic Cloud O stars in the appendix. Future studies in this series will focus on optical STIS medium resolution observations.

Published: 02 April 2016
Published online 6 April 2014

Quasars are associated with and powered by the accretion of material onto massive black holes; the detection of highly luminous quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 suggests that black holes of up to ten billion solar masses already existed 13 billion years ago. Two possible present-day 'dormant' descendants of this population of 'active' black holes have been found in the galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 at the centres of the Leo and Coma galaxy clusters, which together form the central region of the Great Wall – the largest local structure of galaxies. The most luminous quasars, however, are not confined to such high-density regions of the early Universe; yet dormant black holes of this high mass have not yet been found outside of modern-day rich clusters. Here we report observations of the stellar velocity distribution in the galaxy NGC 1600 – a relatively isolated elliptical galaxy near the centre of a galaxy group at a distance of 64 megaparsecs from Earth. We use orbit superposition models to determine that the black hole at the centre of NGC 1600 has a mass of 17 billion solar masses. The spatial distribution of stars near the centre of NGC 1600 is rather diffuse. We find that the region of depleted stellar density in the cores of massive elliptical galaxies extends over the same radius as the gravitational sphere of influence of the central black holes, and interpret this as the dynamical imprint of the black holes.

Published: 07 April 2016
Thousands of transiting exoplanets have been discovered, but spectral analysis of their atmospheres has so far been dominated by a small number of exoplanets and data spanning relatively narrow wavelength ranges (such as 1.1–1.7 micrometres). Recent studies show that some hot-Jupiter exoplanets have much weaker water absorption features in their near-infrared spectra than predicted. The low amplitude of water signatures could be explained by very low water abundances, which may be a sign that water was depleted in the protoplanetary disk at the planet’s formation location, but it is unclear whether this level of depletion can actually occur. Alternatively, these weak signals could be the result of obscuration by clouds or hazes, as found in some optical spectra. Here we report results from a comparative study of ten hot Jupiters covering the wavelength range 0.3–5 micrometres, which allows us to resolve both the optical scattering and infrared molecular absorption spectroscopically. Our results reveal a diverse group of hot Jupiters that exhibit a continuum from clear to cloudy atmospheres. We find that the difference between the planetary radius measured at optical and infrared wavelengths is an effective metric for distinguishing different atmosphere types. The difference correlates with the spectral strength of water, so that strong water absorption lines are seen in clear-atmosphere planets and the weakest features are associated with clouds and hazes. This result strongly suggests that primordial water depletion during formation is unlikely and that clouds and hazes are the cause of weaker spectral signatures.
Published: 14 December 2015
In the 1980s, excess infrared emission was discovered around main-sequence stars; subsequent direct-imaging observations revealed orbiting disks of cold dust to be the source. These 'debris disks' were thought to be by-products of planet formation because they often exhibited morphological and brightness asymmetries that may result from gravitational perturbation by planets. This was proved to be true for the β Pictoris system, in which the known planet generates an observable warp in the disk. The nearby, young, unusually active late-type star AU Microscopii hosts a well-studied edge-on debris disk; earlier observations in the visible and near-infrared found asymmetric localized structures in the form of intensity variations along the midplane of the disk beyond a distance of 20 astronomical units. Here we report high-contrast imaging that reveals a series of five large-scale features in the southeast side of the disk, at projected separations of 10–60 astronomical units, persisting over intervals of 1–4 years. All these features appear to move away from the star at projected speeds of 4–10 kilometres per second, suggesting highly eccentric or unbound trajectories if they are associated with physical entities. The origin, localization, morphology and rapid evolution of these features are difficult to reconcile with current theories.
Published: 09 October 2015
The Hubble 2020: Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is generating new yearly global maps for each of the outer planets. This report focuses on Jupiter results from the first year of the campaign. The zonal wind profile was measured and is in the same family as the Voyager and Cassini era profiles, showing some variation in mid- to high-latitude wind jet magnitudes, particularly at +40° and -35° planetographic latitude. The Great Red Spot continues to maintain an intense orange coloration, but also shows new internal structures, including a reduced core and new filamentary features. Finally, a wave that was not previously seen in Hubble images was also observed and is interpreted as a baroclinic instability with associated cyclone formation near 16° N latitude. A similar feature was observed faintly in Voyager 2 images, and is consistent with the Hubble feature in location and scale.
Published: 08 October 2015
Exoplanets orbiting close to their parent stars may lose some fraction of their atmospheres because of the extreme irradiation. Atmospheric mass loss primarily affects low-mass exoplanets, leading to the suggestion that hot rocky planets might have begun as Neptune-like, but subsequently lost all of their atmospheres; however, no confident measurements have hitherto been available. The signature of this loss could be observed in the ultraviolet spectrum, when the planet and its escaping atmosphere transit the star, giving rise to deeper and longer transit signatures than in the optical spectrum. Here we report that in the ultraviolet the Neptune-mass exoplanet GJ 436b (also known as Gliese 436b) has transit depths of 56.3 ± 3.5% (1σ), far beyond the 0.69% optical transit depth. The ultraviolet transits repeatedly start about two hours before, and end more than three hours after the approximately one hour optical transit, which is substantially different from one previous claim (based on an inaccurate ephemeris). We infer from this that the planet is surrounded and trailed by a large exospheric cloud composed mainly of hydrogen atoms. We estimate a mass-loss rate in the range of about 108-109 grams per second, which is far too small to deplete the atmosphere of a Neptune-like planet in the lifetime of the parent star, but would have been much greater in the past.
Published: 26 June 2015
Four small moons—Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra—follow near-circular, near-equatorial orbits around the central 'binary planet' comprising Pluto and its large moon, Charon. New observational details of the system have emerged following the discoveries of Kerberos and Styx. Here we report that Styx, Nix and Hydra are tied together by a three-body resonance, which is reminiscent of the Laplace resonance linking Jupiter's moons Io, Europa and Ganymede. Perturbations by the other bodies, however, inject chaos into this otherwise stable configuration. Nix and Hydra have bright surfaces similar to that of Charon. Kerberos may be much darker, raising questions about how a heterogeneous satellite system might have formed. Nix and Hydra rotate chaotically, driven by the large torques of the Pluto–Charon binary.
Published: 05 June 2015
Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope Wide-Field Camera 3, we measure the rate of diffusion of stars through the core of the globular cluster 47 Tucanae (47 Tuc) using a sample of young white dwarfs that were identified in these observations. This is the first direct measurement of diffusion due to gravitational relaxation. We find that the diffusion rate κ ~ 10-13 arcsec2 Myr-1 is consistent with theoretical estimates of the relaxation time in the core of 47 Tuc of about 70 Myr.
Published: 01 May 2015
Most present-day galaxies with stellar masses ≥1011 solar masses show no ongoing star formation and are dense spheroids. Ten billion years ago, similarly massive galaxies were typically forming stars at rates of hundreds solar masses per year. It is debated how star formation ceased, on which timescales, and how this "quenching" relates to the emergence of dense spheroids. We measured stellar mass and star-formation rate surface density distributions in star-forming galaxies at redshift 2.2 with ~1-kiloparsec resolution. We find that, in the most massive galaxies, star formation is quenched from the inside out, on time scales less than 1 billion years in the inner regions, up to a few billion years in the outer disks. These galaxies sustain high star-formation activity at large radii, while hosting fully grown and already quenched bulges in their cores.
Published: 18 April 2015
Collisions between galaxy clusters provide a test of the nongravitational forces acting on dark matter. Dark matter's lack of deceleration in the "bullet cluster" collision constrained its self-interaction cross section σDM/m < 1.25 square centimeters per gram (cm2/g) [68% confidence limit (CL)] (σDM, self-interaction cross section; m, unit mass of dark matter) for long-ranged forces. Using the Chandra and Hubble Space Telescopes, we have now observed 72 collisions, including both major and minor mergers. Combining these measurements statistically, we detect the existence of dark mass at 7.6σ significance. The position of the dark mass has remained closely aligned within 5.8 ± 8.2 kiloparsecs of associated stars, implying a self-interaction cross section σDM/m < 0.47 cm2/g (95% CL) and disfavoring some proposed extensions to the standard model.
Published: 27 March 2015
In 1964, Refsdal hypothesized that a supernova whose light traversed multiple paths around a strong gravitational lens could be used to measure the rate of cosmic expansion. We report the discovery of such a system. In Hubble Space Telescope imaging, we have found four images of a single supernova forming an Einstein cross configuration around a redshift z = 0.54 elliptical galaxy in the MACS J1149.6+2223 cluster. The cluster's gravitational potential also creates multiple images of the z = 1.49 spiral supernova host galaxy, and a future appearance of the supernova elsewhere in the cluster field is expected. The magnifications and staggered arrivals of the supernova images probe the cosmic expansion rate, as well as the distribution of matter in the galaxy and cluster lenses.
Published: 06 March 2015
13-Dec-2019 07:13 UT

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