Publication archive

Publication archive

We use measurements of nitrogen abundances in red giants to search for multiple stellar populations in the four most metal-poor globular clusters (GCs) in the Fornax dwarf spheroidal galaxy (Fornax 1, 2, 3, and 5). New imaging in the F343N filter, obtained with the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope, is combined with archival F555W and F814W observations to determine the strength of the NH band near 3370 AA. After accounting for observational errors, the spread in the F343N-F555W colors of red giants in the Fornax GCs is similar to that in M15 and corresponds to an abundance range of Delta([N/Fe])=2 dex, as observed also in several Galactic GCs. The spread in F555W-F814W is, instead, fully accounted for by observational errors. The stars with the reddest F343N-F555W colors (indicative of N-enhanced composition) have more centrally concentrated radial distributions in all four clusters, although the difference is not highly statistically significant within any individual cluster. From double-Gaussian fits to the color distributions we find roughly equal numbers of "N-normal" and "N-enhanced" stars (formally about 40% N-normal stars in Fornax 1, 3, and 5 and 60% in Fornax 2). We conclude that GC formation, in particular regarding the processes responsible for the origin of multiple stellar populations, appears to have operated similarly in the Milky Way and in the Fornax dSph. Combined with the high ratio of metal-poor GCs to field stars in the Fornax dSph, this places an important constraint on scenarios for the origin of multiple stellar populations in GCs.
Published: 20 November 2014
Published online 9 October 2014, in Science Express

Exoplanets that orbit close to their host stars are much more highly irradiated than their Solar System counterparts. Understanding the thermal structures and appearances of these planets requires investigating how their atmospheres respond to such extreme stellar forcing. We present spectroscopic thermal emission measurements as a function of orbital phase ("phase-curve observations") for the highly-irradiated exoplanet WASP-43b spanning three full planet rotations using the Hubble Space Telescope. With these data, we construct a map of the planet's atmospheric thermal structure, from which we find large day-night temperature variations at all measured altitudes and a monotonically decreasing temperature with pressure at all longitudes. We also derive a Bond albedo of 0.18+0.07-0.12and an altitude dependence in the hot-spot offset relative to the substellar point.

Published: 10 October 2014
Transmission spectroscopy has so far detected atomic and molecular absorption in Jupiter-sized exoplanets, but intense efforts to measure molecular absorption in the atmospheres of smaller (Neptune-sized) planets during transits have revealed only featureless spectra. From this it was concluded that the majority of small, warm planets evolve to sustain atmospheres with high mean molecular weights (little hydrogen), opaque clouds or scattering hazes, reducing our ability to observe the composition of these atmospheres. Here we report observations of the transmission spectrum of the exoplanet HAT-P-11b (which has a radius about four times that of Earth) from the optical wavelength range to the infrared. We detected water vapour absorption at a wavelength of 1.4 micrometres. The amplitude of the water absorption (approximately 250 parts per million) indicates that the planetary atmosphere is predominantly clear down to an altitude corresponding to about 1 millibar, and sufficiently rich in hydrogen to have a large scale height (over which the atmospheric pressure varies by a factor of e). The spectrum is indicative of a planetary atmosphere in which the abundance of heavy elements is no greater than about 700 times the solar value. This is in good agreement with the core-accretion theory of planet formation, in which a gas giant planet acquires its atmosphere by accreting hydrogen-rich gas directly from the protoplanetary nebula onto a large rocky or icy core.
Published: 25 September 2014
Published online: 17 September 2014

Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies are among the densest stellar systems in the Universe. These systems have masses of up to 2 × 108 solar masses, but half-light radii of just 3-50 parsecs. Dynamical mass estimates show that many such dwarfs are more massive than expected from their luminosity. It remains unclear whether these high dynamical mass estimates arise because of the presence of supermassive black holes or result from a non-standard stellar initial mass function that causes the average stellar mass to be higher than expected. Here we report adaptive optics kinematic data of the ultra-compact dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 that show a central velocity dispersion peak exceeding 100 kilometres per second and modest rotation. Dynamical modelling of these data reveals the presence of a supermassive black hole with a mass of 2.1 × 107 solar masses. This is 15 per cent of the object's total mass. The high black hole mass and mass fraction suggest that M60-UCD1 is the stripped nucleus of a galaxy. Our analysis also shows that M60-UCD1's stellar mass is consistent with its luminosity, implying a large population of previously unrecognized supermassive black holes in other ultra-compact dwarf galaxies.

Published: 19 September 2014
The water abundance in a planetary atmosphere provides a key constraint on the planet's primordial origins because water ice is expected to play an important role in the core accretion model of planet formation. However, the water content of the solar system giant planets is not well known because water is sequestered in clouds deep in their atmospheres. By contrast, short-period exoplanets have such high temperatures that their atmospheres have water in the gas phase, making it possible to measure the water abundance for these objects. We present a precise determination of the water abundance in the atmosphere of the 2 MJup short-period exoplanet WASP-43b based on thermal emission and transmission spectroscopy measurements obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope. We find the water content is consistent with the value expected in a solar composition gas at planetary temperatures (0.4-3.5 × solar at 1σ confidence). The metallicity of WASP-43b's atmosphere suggested by this result extends the trend observed in the solar system of lower metal enrichment for higher planet masses.
Published: 13 September 2014
The deflection angles of lensed sources increase with their distance behind a given lens. We utilize this geometric effect to corroborate the zphot ≃ 9.8 photometric redshift estimate of a faint near-IR dropout, triply imaged by the massive galaxy cluster A2744 in deep Hubble Frontier Fields images. The multiple images of this source follow the same symmetry as other nearby sets of multiple images that bracket the critical curves and have well-defined redshifts (up to zspec ≃ 3.6), but with larger deflection angles, indicating that this source must lie at a higher redshift. Similarly, our different parametric and non-parametric lens models all require this object be at z ≳ 4, with at least 95% confidence, thoroughly excluding the possibility of lower-redshift interlopers. To study the properties of this source, we correct the two brighter images for their magnifications, leading to a star formation rate of ~0.3 M yr-1, a stellar mass of ~4 × 107 M, and an age of ≲ 220 Myr (95% confidence). The intrinsic apparent magnitude is 29.9 AB (F160W), and the rest-frame UV (~1500 Å) absolute magnitude is MUV, AB = -17.6. This corresponds to ~ 0.1 L*z=8 (~0.2 L*z=10, adopting dM*/dz ~ 0.45), making this candidate one of the least luminous galaxies discovered at z ~ 10.
Published: 05 September 2014
In November and December 2012 the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaged Europa's ultraviolet emissions in the search for vapor plume activity. We report statistically significant coincident surpluses of hydrogen Lyman-alpha and oxygen OI130.4 nm emissions above the southern hemisphere in December 2012. These emissions are persistently found in the same area over ~7 hours, suggesting atmospheric inhomogeneity; they are consistent with two 200 km high plumes of water vapor with line-of-sight column densities of about 1020 m-2. Nondetection in November and in previous HST images from 1999 suggests varying plume activity that might depend on changing surface stresses based on Europa's orbital phases. The plume is present when Europa was near apocenter, and not detected close to its pericenter in agreement with tidal modeling predictions.
Published: 12 December 2013
Hubble Space Telescope observations of main-belt comet P/2013 P5 reveal an extraordinary system of six dust tails that distinguish this object from any other. Observations two weeks apart show dramatic morphological change in the tails while providing no evidence for secular fading of the object as a whole. Each tail is associated with a unique ejection date, revealing continued, episodic mass loss from the 0.24 +- 0.04 km radius nucleus over the last five months. As an inner-belt asteroid and probable Flora family member, the object is likely to be highly metamorphosed and unlikely to contain ice. The protracted period of dust release appears inconsistent with an impact origin, but may be compatible with a body that is losing mass through a rotational instability. We suggest that P/2013 P5 has been accelerated to breakup speed by radiation torques.
Published: 07 November 2013
We present a multi-wavelength study of the Magellanic Stream (MS), a massive gaseous structure in the Local Group that is believed to represent material stripped from the Magellanic Clouds. We use ultraviolet, optical and radio data obtained with HST/COS, VLT/UVES, FUSE, GASS, and ATCA to study metal abundances and physical conditions in the Stream toward the quasar Fairall 9. Line absorption in the MS from a large number of metal ions and from molecular hydrogen is detected in up to seven absorption components, indicating the presence of multi-phase gas. From the analysis of unsaturated S II absorption, in combination with a detailed photoionization model, we obtain a surprisingly high alpha abundance in the Stream toward Fairall 9 of [S/H] = -0.30 ± 0.04 (0.50 solar). This value is five times higher than what is found along other MS sightlines based on similar COS/UVES data sets. In contrast, the measured nitrogen abundance is found to be substantially lower ([N/H] = -1.15 ± 0.06), implying a very low [N/alpha] ratio of -0.85 dex. The substantial differences in the chemical composition of MS toward Fairall 9 compared to other sightlines point toward a complex enrichment history of the Stream. We favor a scenario, in which the gas toward Fairall 9 was locally enriched with alpha elements by massive stars and then was separated from the Magellanic Clouds before the delayed nitrogen enrichment from intermediate-mass stars could set in. Our results support (but do not require) the idea that there is a metal-enriched filament in the Stream toward Fairall 9 that originates in the LMC.
Published: 02 July 2013
The Magellanic Stream (MS) is a massive and extended tail of multi-phase gas stripped out of the Magellanic Clouds and interacting with the Galactic halo. In this first paper of an ongoing program to study the Stream in absorption, we present a chemical abundance analysis based on HST/COS and VLT/UVES spectra of four active galactic nuclei (RBS 144, NGC 7714, PHL 2525, and HE 0056-3622) lying behind the MS. Two of these sightlines yield good MS metallicity measurements: toward RBS 144 we measure a low MS metallicity of [S/H] = [SII/HI] = -1.13 ± 0.16 while toward NGC 7714 we measure [O/H] = [OI/HI] = -1.24 ± 0.20. Taken together with the published MS metallicity toward NGC 7469, these measurements indicate a uniform abundance of ~0.1 solar along the main body of the Stream. This provides strong support to a scenario in which most of the Stream was tidally stripped from the SMC ~ 1.5-2.5 Gyr ago (a time at which the SMC had a metallicity of ~0.1 solar), as predicted by several N-body simulations. However, in Paper II of this series, we report a much higher metallicity (S/H = 0.5 solar) in the inner Stream toward Fairall 9, a direction sampling a filament of the MS that Nidever et al. claim can be traced kinematically to the Large Magellanic Cloud, not the Small Magellanic Cloud. This shows that the bifurcation of the Stream is evident in its metal enrichment, as well as its spatial extent and kinematics. Finally we measure a similar low metallicity [O/H] = [OI/HI] = -1.03 ± 0.18 in the vLSR = 150 km/s cloud toward HE 0056-3622, which belongs to a population of anomalous velocity clouds near the south Galactic pole. This suggests these clouds are associated with the Stream or more distant structures (possibly the Sculptor Group, which lies in this direction at the same velocity), rather than tracing foreground Galactic material.
Published: 02 July 2013
We discuss the state of the assembly of the Hubble Sequence in the mix of bright galaxies at redshift 1.4 < z <= 2.5 with a large sample of 1,671 galaxies down to HAB~26, selected from the HST/ACS and WFC3 images of the GOODS-South field obtained as part of the GOODS and CANDELS observations. We investigate the relationship between the star formation properties and morphology using various parametric diagnostics, such as the Sersic light profile, Gini (G), M20, Concentration (C), Asymmetry (A) and multiplicity parameters. Our sample clearly separates into massive, red and passive galaxies versus less massive, blue and star forming ones, and this dichotomy correlates very well with the galaxies' morphological properties. Star-forming galaxies show a broad variety of morphological features, including clumpy structures and bulges mixed with faint low surface brightness features, generally characterized by disky-type light profiles. Passively evolving galaxies, on the other hand, very often have compact light distribution and morphology typical of today's spheroidal systems. We also find that artificially redshifted local galaxies have a similar distribution with z~2 galaxies in a G-M20 plane. Visual inspection between the rest-frame optical and UV images show that there is a generally weak morphological k-correction for galaxies at z~2, but the comparison with non-parametric measures show that galaxies in the rest-frame UV are somewhat clumpier than rest-frame optical. Similar general trends are observed in the local universe among massive galaxies, suggesting that the backbone of the Hubble sequence was already in place at z~2.
Published: 03 July 2013
In this paper we present a detailed study of the structures and morphologies of a sample of 1188 massive galaxies with Mstar>10^10Msun between redshifts z=1-3 within the Ultra Deep Survey (UDS) region of the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) field. Using this sample we determine how galaxy structure and morphology evolve with time. We visually classify our sample into disks, ellipticals and peculiar systems and correct for redshift effects on our classifications through simulations. We find evolution in the fractions of galaxies at a given visual classification as a function of redshift. The peculiar population is dominant at z>2 with a substantial spheroid population, and a negligible disk population. We compute the transition redshift, ztrans, where the combined fraction of spheroids and disks is equal to that of peculiar galaxies, as ztrans=1.86+/-0.62 for galaxies in our stellar mass range. We find that this changes as a function of stellar mass, with Hubble-type systems becoming dominant at higher redshifts for higher mass galaxies (ztrans=2.22+/-0.82), than for the lower mass galaxies (ztrans=1.73+/-0.57). Higher mass galaxies become morphologically settled before their lower mass counterparts, a form of morphological downsizing. We furthermore compare our visual classifications with Sersic index, the concentration, asymmetry and clumpiness (CAS) parameters, star formation rate and rest frame U-B colour. We find links between the colour of a galaxy, its star formation rate and how extended or peculiar it appears. Finally, we discuss the negligible z>2 disk fraction based on visual morphologies and speculate that this is an effect of forming disks appearing peculiar through processes such as violent disk instabilities or mergers. We conclude that to properly define high redshift morphology a new and more exact classification scheme is needed.
Published: 25 May 2013
We have been able to compare with astrometric precision AstroDrizzle processed images of NGC 6720 (the Ring Nebula) made using two cameras on the Hubble Space Telescope. The time difference of the observations was 12.925 yrs. This large time-base allowed determination of tangential velocities of features within this classic planetary nebula. Individual features were measured in [N II] images as were the dark knots seen in silhouette against background nebular [O III] emission. An image magnification and matching technique was also used to test the accuracy of the usual assumption of homologous expansion. We found that homologous expansion does apply, but the rate of expansion is greater along the major axis of the nebula, which is intrinsically larger than the minor axis.
We find that the dark knots expand more slowly that the nebular gas, that the distance to the nebula is 720 pc +/- 30 per cent, and the dynamic age of the Ring Nebula is about 4000 yrs. The dynamic age is in agreement with the position of the central star on theoretical curves for stars collapsing from the peak of the Asymptotic Giant Branch to being white dwarfs.
Published: 19 April 2013
We have performed a detailed analysis of the electron temperature and density in the Ring Nebula using the calibrated Hubble Space Telescope WFC3 images described in the preceding paper. The electron temperature (Te) determined from [N II] and [O III] rises slightly and monotonically toward the central star. The observed equivalent width (EW) in the central region indicates that Te rises as high as 13,000 K. In contrast, the low EWs in the outer regions are largely due to scattered diffuse Galactic radiation by dust. The images allowed determination of unprecedented small-scale variations in Te. These variations indicate that the mean square area temperature fluctuations are significantly higher than expected from simple photoionization. The power producing these fluctuations occurs at scales of less than 3.5×1015 cm. This scale length provides a strong restriction on the mechanism causing the large t2 values observed.
Published: 28 February 2013
We have performed a detailed analysis of the Ring Nebula (NGC 6720) using Hubble Space Telescope WFC3 images and derived a new three-dimensional model. Existing high spectral resolution spectra played an important supplementary role in our modeling. It is shown that the Main Ring of the nebula is an ionization-bounded irregular non-symmetric disk with a central cavity and perpendicular extended lobes pointed almost toward the observer. The faint outer halos are determined to be fossil radiation, i.e., radiation from gas ionized in an earlier stage of the nebula when it was not ionization bounded. The narrowband WFC3 filters that isolate some of the emission lines are affected by broadening on their short wavelength side and all the filters were calibrated using ground-based spectra. The filter calibration results are presented in an appendix.
Published: 28 February 2013
Globular star clusters that formed at the same cosmic time may have evolved rather differently from the dynamical point of view (because that evolution depends on the internal environment) through a variety of processes that tend progressively to segregate stars more massive than the average towards the cluster centre. Therefore clusters with the same chronological age may have reached quite different stages of their dynamical history (that is, they may have different 'dynamical ages'). Blue straggler stars have masses greater than those at the turn-off point on the main sequence and therefore must be the result of either a collision or a mass-transfer event. Because they are among the most massive and luminous objects in old clusters, they can be used as test particles with which to probe dynamical evolution. Here we report that globular clusters can be grouped into a few distinct families on the basis of the radial distribution of blue stragglers. This grouping corresponds well to an effective ranking of the dynamical stage reached by stellar systems, thereby permitting a direct measure of the cluster dynamical age purely from observed properties.
Published: 20 December 2012
We present new constraints on the star formation histories of the ultra-faint dwarf (UFD) galaxies, using deep photometry obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). A galaxy class recently discovered in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the UFDs appear to be an extension of the classical dwarf spheroidals to low luminosities, offering a new front in efforts to understand the missing satellite problem. They are the least luminous, most dark-matter-dominated, and least chemically evolved galaxies known. Our HST survey of six UFDs seeks to determine if these galaxies are true fossils from the early universe. We present here the preliminary analysis of three UFD galaxies: Hercules, Leo IV, and Ursa Major I. Classical dwarf spheroidals of the Local Group exhibit extended star formation histories, but these three Milky Way satellites are at least as old as the ancient globular cluster M92, with no evidence for intermediate-age populations. Their ages also appear to be synchronized to within ~1 Gyr of each other, as might be expected if their star formation was truncated by a global event, such as reionization.
Published: 02 June 2012
The Milky Way galaxy has several components, such as the bulge, disk and halo. Unravelling the assembly history of these stellar populations is often restricted because of difficulties in measuring accurate ages for low-mass, hydrogen-burning stars. Unlike these progenitors, white dwarf stars, the 'cinders' of stellar evolution, are remarkably simple objects and their fundamental properties can be measured with little ambiguity. Here I report observations of newly formed white dwarf stars in the halo of the Milky Way, and a separate analysis of archival data in the well studied 12.5-billion-year-old globular cluster Messier 4. I measure the mass distribution of the remnant stars and invert the stellar evolution process to develop a mathematical relation that links this final stellar mass to the mass of their immediate progenitors, and therefore to the age of the parent population. By applying this technique to a small sample of four nearby and kinematically confirmed halo white dwarf stars, I calculate the age of local field halo stars to be 11.4 ± 0.7 billion years. The oldest globular clusters formed 13.5 billion years ago. Future observations of newly formed white dwarf stars in the halo could be used to reduce the uncertainty, and to probe relative differences between the formation times of the youngest globular clusters and the inner halo.
Published: 08 June 2012
Theoretical and numerical modeling of the assembly of dark-matter halos predicts that the most massive and luminous galaxies at high redshift are surrounded by overdensities of fainter companions. We test this prediction with HST observations acquired by our Brightest-of-Reionizing Galaxies (BoRG) survey, which identified four very bright z ~ 8 candidates as Y098-dropout sources in four of the 23 non-contiguous Wide Field Camera 3 fields observed. We extend here the search for Y098-dropouts to fainter luminosities (M* galaxies with MAB ~ -20), with detections at e5 sigma confidence (compared to the 8 sigma confidence threshold adopted earlier) identifying 17 new candidates. We demonstrate that there is a correlation between number counts of faint and bright Y098-dropouts at > 99.84% confidence. Field BoRG58, which contains the best bright z ~ 8 candidate (MAB = -21.3), has the most significant overdensity of faint Y098-dropouts. Four new sources are located within 70'' (corresponding to 3.1 comoving Mpc at z = 8) from the previously known brighter z ~ 8 candidate. The overdensity of Y098-dropouts in this field has a physical origin to very high confidence (p > 99.975%), independent of completeness and contamination rate of the Y098-dropout selection. We modeled the overdensity by means of cosmological simulations and estimate that the principal dark-matter halo has mass Mh ~ (4-7)×1011 Msun (~5 sigma density peak) and is surrounded by several Mh ~ 1011 Msun halos which could host the fainter dropouts. In this scenario, we predict that all halos will eventually merge into a Mh > 2×1014 Msun galaxy cluster by z = 0.
Published: 24 January 2012
A type Ia supernova is thought to begin with the explosion of a white dwarf star. The explosion could be triggered by the merger of two white dwarfs (a 'double-degenerate' origin), or by mass transfer from a companion star (the 'single-degenerate' path). The identity of the progenitor is still controversial; for example, a recent argument against the single-degenerate origin has been widely rejected. One way to distinguish between the double- and single-degenerate progenitors is to look at the centre of a known type Ia supernova remnant to see whether any former companion star is present. A likely ex-companion star for the progenitor of the supernova observed by Tycho Brahe has been identified, but that claim is still controversial. Here we report that the central region of the supernova remnant SNR 0509-67.5 (the site of a type Ia supernova 400 ± 50 years ago, based on its light echo) in the Large Magellanic Cloud contains no ex-companion star to a visual magnitude limit of 26.9 (an absolute magnitude of MV = +8.4) within a region of radius 1.43 arcseconds. (This corresponds to the 3Ã maximum distance to which a companion could have been 'kicked' by the explosion.) This lack of any ex-companion star to deep limits rules out all published single-degenerate models for this supernova. The only remaining possibility is that the progenitor of this particular type Ia supernova was a double-degenerate system.
Published: 12 January 2012
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