ESA Science & Technology - Publication Archive
Type Ia supernovae are thought to result from a thermonuclear explosion of an accreting white dwarf in a binary system, but little is known of the precise nature of the companion star and the physical properties of the progenitor system. There are two classes of models: double-degenerate (involving two white dwarfs in a close binary system) and single-degenerate models. In the latter, the primary white dwarf accretes material from a secondary companion until conditions are such that carbon ignites, at a mass of 1.38 times the mass of the Sun. The type Ia supernova SN 2011fe was recently detected in a nearby galaxy. Here we report an analysis of archival images of the location of SN 2011fe. The luminosity of the progenitor system (especially the companion star) is 10-100 times fainter than previous limits on other type Ia supernova progenitor systems, allowing us to rule out luminous red giants and almost all helium stars as the mass-donating companion to the exploding white dwarf.
Published: 15 December 2011
Without a source of new gas, our Galaxy would exhaust its supply of gas through the formation of stars. Ionized gas clouds observed at high velocity may be a reservoir of such gas, but their distances are key for placing them in the galactic halo and unraveling their role. We have used the Hubble Space Telescope to blindly search for ionized high-velocity clouds (iHVCs) in the foreground of galactic stars. We show that iHVCs with 90 < |vLSR| <~ 170 kilometers per second (where vLSR is the velocity in the local standard of rest frame) are within one galactic radius of the Sun and have enough mass to maintain star formation, whereas iHVCs with |vLSR| >~ 170 kilometers per second are at larger distances. These may be the next wave of infalling material.
Published: 18 November 2011
Outflowing winds of multiphase plasma have been proposed to regulate the buildup of galaxies, but key aspects of these outflows have not been probed with observations. By using ultraviolet absorption spectroscopy, we show that 'warm-hot' plasma at 105.5 Kelvin contains 10 to 150 times more mass than the cold gas in a post-starburst galaxy wind. This wind extends to distances > 68 kiloparsecs, and at least some portion of it will escape. Moreover, the kinematical correlation of the cold and warm-hot phases indicates that the warm-hot plasma is related to the interaction of the cold matter with a hotter (unseen) phase at >>106 Kelvin. Such multiphase winds can remove substantial masses and alter the evolution of post-starburst galaxies.
Published: 18 November 2011
The circumgalactic medium (CGM) is fed by galaxy outflows and accretion of intergalactic gas, but its mass, heavy element enrichment, and relation to galaxy properties are poorly constrained by observations. In a survey of the outskirts of 42 galaxies with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph onboard the Hubble Space Telescope, we detected ubiquitous, large (150-kiloparsec) halos of ionized oxygen surrounding star-forming galaxies; we found much less ionized oxygen around galaxies with little or no star formation. This ionized CGM contains a substantial mass of heavy elements and gas, perhaps far exceeding the reservoirs of gas in the galaxies themselves. Our data indicate that it is a basic component of nearly all star-forming galaxies that is removed or transformed during the quenching of star formation and the transition to passive evolution.
Published: 18 November 2011
We present new, third-epoch Hubble Space Telescope H-alpha and [S II] images of three Herbig-Haro (HH) jets (HH 1&2, HH 34, and HH 47) and compare the new images with those from previous epochs. The high spatial resolution, coupled with a time series whose cadence is of order both the hydrodynamic and radiative cooling timescales of the flow, allows us to follow the hydrodynamic/magnetohydrodynamic evolution of an astrophysical plasma system in which ionization and radiative cooling play significant roles. Cooling zones behind the shocks are resolved, so it is possible to identify which way material flows through a given shock wave. The images show that heterogeneity is paramount in these jets, with clumps dominating the morphologies of both bow shocks and their Mach disks. This clumpiness exists on scales smaller than the jet widths and determines the behavior of many of the features in the jets. Evidence also exists for considerable shear as jets interact with their surrounding molecular clouds, and in several cases we observe shock waves as they form and fade where material emerges from the source and as it proceeds along the beam of the jet. Fine structure within two extended bow shocks may result from Mach stems that form at the intersection points of oblique shocks within these clumpy objects. Taken together, these observations represent the most significant foray thus far into the time domain for stellar jets, and comprise one of the richest data sets in existence for comparing the behavior of a complex astrophysical plasma flow with numerical simulations and laboratory experiments.
Published: 02 June 2011
When a massive star explodes as a supernova, substantial amounts of radioactive elements - primarily 56Ni, 57Ni and 44Ti - are produced. After the initial flash of light from shock heating, the fading light emitted by the supernova is due to the decay of these elements. However, after decades, the energy powering a supernova remnant comes from the shock interaction between the ejecta and the surrounding medium. The transition to this phase has hitherto not been observed: supernovae occur too infrequently in the Milky Way to provide a young example, and extragalactic supernovae are generally too faint and too small. Here we report observations that show this transition in the supernova SN 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. From 1994 to 2001, the ejecta faded owing to radioactive decay of 44Ti as predicted. Then the flux started to increase, more than doubling by the end of 2009. We show that this increase is the result of heat deposited by X-rays produced as the ejecta interacts with the surrounding material. In time, the X-rays will penetrate farther into the ejecta, enabling us to analyse the structure and chemistry of the vanished star.
Published: 24 June 2011
Supermassive black holes are now thought to lie at the heart of every giant galaxy with a spheroidal component, including our own Milky Way. The birth and growth of the first 'seed' black holes in the earlier Universe, however, is observationally unconstrained and we are only beginning to piece together a scenario for their subsequent evolution. Here we report that the nearby dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10 contains a compact radio source at the dynamical centre of the galaxy that is spatially coincident with a hard X-ray source. From these observations, we conclude that Henize 2-10 harbours an actively accreting central black hole with a mass of approximately one million solar masses. This nearby dwarf galaxy, simultaneously hosting a massive black hole and an extreme burst of star formation, is analogous in many ways to galaxies in the infant Universe during the early stages of black-hole growth and galaxy mass assembly. Our results confirm that nearby star-forming dwarf galaxies can indeed form massive black holes, and that by implication so can their primordial counterparts. Moreover, the lack of a substantial spheroidal component in Henize 2-10 indicates that supermassive black-hole growth may precede the build-up of galaxy spheroids.
Published: 03 February 2011
Searches for very-high-redshift galaxies over the past decade have yielded a large sample of more than 6000 galaxies existing just 900-2000 million years (Myr) after the Big Bang (redshifts 6>z>3). The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF09) data have yielded the first reliable detections of z~8 galaxies that, together with reports of a gamma-ray burst at z~8.2, constitute the earliest objects reliably reported to date. Observations of z~7-8 galaxies suggest substantial star formation at z>9-10. Here we use the full two-year HUDF09 data to conduct an ultra-deep search for z~10 galaxies in the heart of the reionization epoch, only 500 Myr after the Big Bang. Not only do we find one possible z ~10 galaxy candidate, but we show that, regardless of source detections, the star formation rate density is much smaller (~10%) at this time than it is just ~200 Myr later at z~8. This demonstrates how rapid galaxy build-up was at z~10, as galaxies increased in both luminosity density and volume density from z~10 to z~8. The 100-200 Myr before z~10 is clearly a crucial phase in the assembly of the earliest galaxies.
Published: 26 January 2011
Star-forming galaxies trace cosmic history. Recent observational progress with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope has led to the discovery and study of the earliest known galaxies, which correspond to a period when the Universe was only ~800 million years old. Intense ultraviolet radiation from these early galaxies probably induced a major event in cosmic history: the reionization of intergalactic hydrogen.
Published: 04 November 2010
Most inner main-belt asteroids are primitive rock and metal bodies in orbit about the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Disruption, through high-velocity collisions or rotational spin-up, is believed to be the primary mechanism for the production and destruction of small asteroids and a contributor to dust in the Sun's zodiacal cloud, while analogous collisions around other stars feed dust to their debris disks. Unfortunately, direct evidence about the mechanism or rate of disruption is lacking, owing to the rarity of the events. Here we report observations of P/2010 A2, a previously unknown inner-belt asteroid with a peculiar, comet-like morphology. The data reveal a nucleus of diameter approximately 120 metres with an associated tail of millimetre-sized dust particles. We conclude that it is most probably the remnant of a recent asteroidal disruption in February/March 2009, evolving slowly under the action of solar radiation pressure, in agreement with independent work.
Published: 14 October 2010
Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), conducted since 1990, now offer an unprecedented glimpse into fast astrophysical shocks in the young remnant of supernova 1987A. Comparing observations taken in 2010 with the use of the refurbished instruments on HST with data taken in 2004, just before the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph failed, we find that the Ly-a and H-a lines from shock emission continue to brighten, whereas their maximum velocities continue to decrease. We observe broad, blueshifted Ly-a, which we attribute to resonant scattering of photons emitted from hot spots on the equatorial ring. We also detect N v ll1239, 1243 angstrom line emission, but only to the red of Ly-a. The profiles of the N v lines differ markedly from that of H-a, suggesting that the N4+ ions are scattered and accelerated by turbulent electromagnetic fields that isotropize the ions in the collisionless shock.
Published: 25 September 2010
Current efforts in observational cosmology are focused on characterizing the mass-energy content of the universe. We present results from a geometric test based on strong lensing in galaxy clusters. Based on Hubble Space Telescope images and extensive ground-based spectroscopic follow-up of the massive galaxy cluster Abell 1689, we used a parametric model to simultaneously constrain the cluster mass distribution and dark energy equation of state. Combining our cosmological constraints with those from X-ray clusters and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe 5-year data gives Omegam = 0.25 ±0.05 and wx = -0.97 ±0.07, which are consistent with results from other methods. Inclusion of our method with all other available techniques brings down the current 2-sigma contours on the dark energy equation-of-state parameter wx by ~30%.
Published: 20 August 2010
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is one of the greatest scientific projects of all time. For 20 years, Hubble has opened our eyes to the wonders of our 'planetary' backyard and beyond, and has made a number of fundamental discoveries in astronomy and physics.
Published: 17 July 2010
Stars in globular clusters are generally believed to have all formed at the same time, early in the Galaxy's history. 'Blue stragglers' are stars massive enough that they should have evolved into white dwarfs long ago. Two possible mechanisms have been proposed for their formation: mass transfer between binary companions and stellar mergers resulting from direct collisions between two stars. Recently the binary explanation was claimed to be dominant. Here we report that there are two distinct parallel sequences of blue stragglers in M 30. This globular cluster is thought to have undergone 'core collapse', during which both the collision rate and the mass transfer activity in binary systems would have been enhanced. We suggest that the two observed sequences are a consequence of cluster core collapse, with the bluer population arising from direct stellar collisions and the redder one arising from the evolution of close binaries that are probably still experiencing an active phase of mass transfer.
Published: 24 December 2009
The Kuiper belt is a remnant of the primordial Solar System. Measurements of its size distribution constrain its accretion and collisional history, and the importance of material strength of Kuiper belt objects. Small, sub-kilometre-sized, Kuiper belt objects elude direct detection, but the signature of their occultations of background stars should be detectable. Observations at both optical and X-ray wavelengths claim to have detected such occultations, but their implied abundances are inconsistent with each other and far exceed theoretical expectations. Here we report an analysis of archival data that reveals an occultation by a body with an approximately 500-metre radius at a distance of 45 astronomical units. The probability of this event arising from random statistical fluctuations within our data set is about two per cent. Our survey yields a surface density of Kuiper belt objects with radii exceeding 250 metres of 2.1+4.8-1.7 x 107 deg-2, ruling out inferred surface densities from previous claimed detections by more than 5 sigma. The detection of only one event reveals a deficit of sub-kilometre-sized Kuiper belt objects compared to a population extrapolated from objects with radii exceeding 50 kilometres. This implies that sub-kilometre-sized objects are undergoing collisional erosion, just like debris disks observed around other stars.
Published: 17 December 2009
Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope, we confirmed the disappearance of the progenitors of two type II supernovae (SNe) and evaluated the presence of other stars associated with them. We found that the progenitor of SN 2003gd, an M-supergiant star, is no longer observed at the SN location and determined its intrinsic brightness using image subtraction techniques. The progenitor of SN 1993J, a K-supergiant star, is also no longer present, but its B-supergiant binary companion is still observed. The disappearance of the progenitors confirms that these two supernovae were produced by red supergiants.
Published: 25 April 2009
Our understanding of the evolution of massive stars before their final explosions as supernovae is incomplete, from both an observational and a theoretical standpoint. A key missing piece in the supernova puzzle is the difficulty of identifying and studying progenitor stars. In only a single case - that of supernova SN 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud - has a star been detected at the supernova location before the explosion, and been subsequently shown to have vanished after the supernova event. The progenitor of SN 1987A was a blue supergiant, which required a rethink of stellar evolution models. The progenitor of supernova SN 2005gl was proposed to be an extremely luminous object, but the association was not robustly established (it was not even clear that the putative progenitor was a single luminous star). Here we report that the previously proposed object was indeed the progenitor star of SN 2005gl. This very massive star was likely a luminous blue variable that standard stellar evolution predicts should not have exploded in that state.
Published: 17 April 2009
Blue stragglers in globular clusters are abnormally massive stars that should have evolved off the stellar main sequence long ago. There are two known processes that can create these objects: direct stellar collisions and binary evolution. However, the relative importance of these processes has remained unclear. In particular, the total number of blue stragglers found in a given cluster does not seem to correlate with the predicted collision rate, providing indirect support for the binary-evolution model. Yet the radial distributions of blue stragglers in many clusters are bimodal, with a dominant central peak: this has been interpreted as an indication that collisions do dominate blue straggler production, at least in the high-density cluster cores. Here we report that there is a clear, but sublinear, correlation between the number of blue stragglers found in a cluster core and the total stellar mass contained within it. From this we conclude that most blue stragglers, even those found in cluster cores, come from binary systems. The parent binaries, however, may themselves have been affected by dynamical encounters. This may be the key to reconciling all of the seemingly conflicting results found to date.
Published: 15 January 2009
After several decades of planning, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched in 1990 as the first of NASA's Great Observatories. After a rocky start arising from an error in the fabrication of its main mirror, it went on to change forever many fields of astronomy, and to capture the public's imagination with its images. An ongoing programme of servicing missions has kept the telescope on the cutting edge of astronomical research. Here I review the advances made possible by the HST over the past 18 years.
Published: 01 January 2009
- Hubble Status
- The Hubble Cache
- Footprint Finder
- HLA ACS Grism Data
- Scisoft 7.2
Published: 15 December 2008
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