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Publication archive

Polar vortices are common in the atmospheres of rapidly rotating planets. On Earth and Mars, vortices are generated by surface temperature gradients and their strength is modulated by the seasonal insolation cycle. Slowly rotating Venus lacks pronounced seasonal forcing, but vortices are known to occur at both poles, in an atmosphere that rotates faster than the planet itself. Here we report observations of cloud motions at altitudes of 42 and 63 km above Venus's south pole using infrared images from the VIRTIS instrument onboard the Venus Express spacecraft. We find that the south polar vortex is a long-lived but unpredictable feature. Within the two cloud layers sampled, the centres of rotation of the vortex are rarely aligned vertically and both wander erratically around the pole with velocities of up to 16 ms-1. At the two horizontal levels, the observed cloud morphologies do not correlate with the vorticity of the wind field and change continuously, and vertical and meridional wind shears are also highly variable. We conclude that Venus's south polar vortex is a continuously evolving structure that is at least 20 km high, extending through a quasi-convective turbulent region.
Published: 24 March 2013
We present a ~52-671 um spectral scan towards Sgr A* taken with the PACS and SPIRE spectrometers onboard Herschel. The achieved angular resolution allows us to separate, for the first time at far-IR wavelengths, the emission towards the central cavity (gas in the inner central parsec of the galaxy) from that of the surrounding circum-nuclear disk. The spectrum towards SgrA* is dominated by strong [OIII], [OI], [CII], [NIII], [NII], and [CI] fine structure lines (in decreasing order of luminosity) arising in gas irradiated by UV-photons from the central stellar cluster. In addition, rotationally excited lines of 12CO (from J=4-3 to 24-23), 12CO, H2O, OH, H3O+, HCO+ and HCN, as well as ground- state absorption lines of OH+, H2O+, H3O+, CH+, H2O, OH, HF, CH and NH are detected. The excitation of the 12CO ladder is consistent with a hot isothermal component at Tk=103.1 K and n(H2)<=104 cm-3. It is also consistent with a distribution of temperature components at higher density with most CO at Tk<~300 K. The detected molecular features suggest that, at present, neither very enhanced X-ray, nor cosmic-ray fluxes play a dominant role in the heating of the hot molecular gas. The hot CO component (either the bulk of the CO column or just a small fraction depending on the above scenario) results from a combination of UV- and shock-driven heating. If irradiated dense clumps/clouds do not exist, shocks likely dominate the heating of the hot molecular gas. This is consistent with the high-velocity gas detected towards SgrA*.
Published: 08 May 2013

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Published: 02 April 2013

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Published: 02 April 2013

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Published: 02 April 2013
Context. In the past 15 years, several studies suggested that water in the stratosphere of Jupiter originated from the Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) comet impacts in July 1994, but direct proof was missing. Only a very sensitive instrument observing with high spectral/spatial resolution can help to solve this problem. This is the case of the Herschel Space Observatory, which is the first telescope capable of mapping water in Jupiter's stratosphere.

Aims. We observed the spatial distribution of water emission in Jupiter's stratosphere with the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) and the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) onboard Herschel to constrain its origin. In parallel, we monitored Jupiter's stratospheric temperature with the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) to separate temperature from water variability.

Methods. We obtained a 25-point map of the 1669.9 GHz water line with HIFI in July 2010 and several maps with PACS in October 2009 and December 2010. The 2010 PACS map is a 400-point raster of the water 66.4 um emission. Additionally, we mapped the methane v4 band emission to constrain the stratospheric temperature in Jupiter in the same periods with the IRTF.

Results. Water is found to be restricted to pressures lower than 2 mbar. Its column density decreases by a factor of 2-3 between southern and northern latitudes, consistently between the HIFI and the PACS 66.4 um maps. We infer that an emission maximum seen around 15 °S is caused by a warm stratospheric belt detected in the IRTF data.

Conclusions. Latitudinal temperature variability cannot explain the global north-south asymmetry in the water maps. From the latitudinal and vertical distributions of water in Jupiter's stratosphere, we rule out interplanetary dust particles as its main source. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Jupiter's stratospheric water was delivered by SL9 and that more than 95% of the observed water comes from the comet according to our models.
Published: 24 April 2013
Reference: FPM-SA-Dc-00001

This document presents the scientific objectives of the ESA mission STE-QUEST and provides the top level science requirements. STE-QUEST is a mission in the Fundamental Physics domain conceived to test to high accuracy the different aspects of the Einstein Equivalence Principle (EEP). The scientific case described in this document was initially recommended by the ESA-appointed "Fundamental Physics Roadmap Advisory Team" (FPR-AT) as a result of a large consultation process conducted in the fundamental physics community [FPR-AT, A Roadmap for Fundamental Physics in Space, (2010)]. Submitted in reply to the 2010 Call for Medium-size Missions for the Cosmic Vision plan, STE-QUEST was recommended by the ESA advisory structure and finally selected for an assessment study.

This Science Requirements Document (SciRD) will be the basis for the STE-QUEST mission design during the assessment study phase, which started in April 2011 and will be concluded with the presentation of the study results to the ESA advisory structure in beginning 2014. During the assessment phase, it is expected that the requirements may be adjusted driven by technical feasibility within the programmatic boundaries. The STE-QUEST Study Science Team will act as the review and control board for changes in this document. The possible changes will be logged in this document to provide a record of the evolution.

This document also aims at showing the links between science requirements and mission performance requirements, in order to help to understand, trace, and support the analysis of the relation between mission specifications and scientific objectives.

Published: 23 April 2013
Massive present-day early-type (elliptical and lenticular) galaxies probably gained the bulk of their stellar mass and heavy elements through intense, dust-enshrouded starbursts - that is, increased rates of star formation - in the most massive dark-matter haloes at early epochs. However, it remains unknown how soon after the Big Bang massive starburst progenitors exist. The measured redshift (z) distribution of dusty, massive starbursts has long been suspected to be biased low in z owing to selection effects, as confirmed by recent findings of systems with redshifts as high as ~5 (refs 2-4). Here we report the identification of a massive starburst galaxy at z = 6.34 through a submillimetre colour-selection technique. We unambiguously determined the redshift from a suite of molecular and atomic fine-structure cooling lines. These measurements reveal a hundred billion solar masses of highly excited, chemically evolved interstellar medium in this galaxy, which constitutes at least 40 per cent of the baryonic mass. A 'maximum starburst' converts the gas into stars at a rate more than 2,000 times that of the Milky Way, a rate among the highest observed at any epoch. Despite the overall downturn in cosmic star formation towards the highest redshifts, it seems that environments mature enough to form the most massive, intense starbursts existed at least as early as 880 million years after the Big Bang.
Published: 19 April 2013
The energy transport of bursty bulk flows (BBFs) is very important to the understanding of substorm energy transport. Previous studies all use the MHD bulk parameters to calculate the energy flux density of BBFs. In this paper, we use the kinetic approach, i.e., ion velocity distribution function, to study the energy transport of an earthward bursty bulk flow observed by Cluster C1 on 30 July 2002. The earthward energy flux density calculated using kinetic approach Q_Kx is obviously larger than that calculated using MHD bulk parameters Q_MHDx. The mean ratio Q_Kx/Q_MHDx in the flow velocity range 200-800 km/s is 2.7, implying that the previous energy transport of BBF estimated using MHD approach is much underestimated. The underestimation results from the deviation of ion velocity distribution from ideal Maxwellian distribution. The energy transport of BBF is mainly provided by ions above 10 keV although their number density N_f is much smaller than the total ion number density N. The ratio Q_Kx/Q_MHDx is basically proportional to the ratio N/N_f. The flow velocity v(E) increases with increasing energy. The ratio N_f/N is perfectly proportional to flow velocity V_x. A double ion component model is proposed to explain the above results. The increase of energy transport capability of BBF is important to understanding substorm energy transport. It is inferred that for a typical substorm, the ratio of the energy transport of BBF to the substorm energy consumption may increase from the previously estimated 5% to 34% or more.
Published: 20 January 2013

Aims. A strong, hard X-ray flare was discovered (IGR J12580+0134) by INTEGRAL in 2011, and is associated to NGC 4845, a Seyfert 2 galaxy never detected at high-energy previously. To understand what happened we observed this event in the X-ray band on several occasions.


Follow-up observations with XMM-Newton, Swift, and MAXI are presented together with the INTEGRAL data. Long and short term variability are analysed and the event wide band spectral shape modelled.


The spectrum of the source can be described with an absorbed (NH ~ 7 × 1022 cm-2) power law (Gamma = 2.2), characteristic of an accreting source, plus a soft X-ray excess, likely to be of diffuse nature. The hard X-ray flux increased to maximum in a few weeks and decreased over a year, with the evolution expected for a tidal disruption event. The fast variations observed near the flare maximum allowed us to estimate the mass of the central black hole in NGC 4845 as ~3 × 105 solar masses. The observed flare corresponds to the disruption of about 10% of an object with a mass of 14-30 Jupiter. The hard X-ray emission should come from a corona forming around the accretion flow close to the black hole. This is the first tidal event where such a corona has been observed.

Published: 03 April 2013
Published online: 27 March 2013

We study in detail high-frequency (HF) plasma waves between the electron cyclotron and plasma frequencies within a reconnection diffusion region (DR) encountered by Cluster in the magnetotail using continuous electric field waveforms. We identify three wave types, all observed within the separatrix regions: Langmuir waves (LW), electrostatic solitary waves (ESWs), and electron cyclotron waves (ECWs). This is the first time the ECWs have been observed inside this region. Direct comparison between waveforms and electron distributions are made at the timescale of one energy sweep of the electron detector (125 ms). Based on the wave and electron distribution characteristics, we find that the separatrix region has a stratified spatial structure. The outer part of the region is dominated by LW emissions related to suprathermal electron beams propagating away from the X-line. Furthest in, nearest to the current sheet, we observe ESWs associated with counterstreaming electron populations. Studying HF waveforms allows for a precise mapping of kinetic boundaries in the reconnection region and helps to improve our understanding of the electron dynamics in the DR.

Published: 27 March 2013
The W3 GMC is a prime target for the study of the early stages of high-mass star formation. We have used Herschel data from the HOBYS key program to produce and analyze column density and temperature maps. Two preliminary catalogs were produced by extracting sources from the column density map and from Herschel maps convolved to 500 Œm resolution. Herschel reveals that among the compact sources (FWHM < 0.45 pc), W3 East, W3 West, and W3 (OH) are the most massive and luminous and have the highest column density. Considering the unique properties of W3 East and W3 West, the only clumps with ongoing high-mass star formation, we suggest a "convergent constructive feedback" scenario to account for the formation of a cluster with decreasing age and increasing system/source mass toward the innermost regions. This process, which relies on feedback by high-mass stars to ensure the availability of material during cluster formation, could also lead to the creation of an environment suitable for the formation of Trapezium-like systems. In common with other scenarios proposed in other HOBYS studies, our results indicate that an active/dynamic process aiding in the accumulation, compression, and confinement of material is a critical feature of the high-mass star/cluster formation, distinguishing it from classical low-mass star formation. The environmental conditions and availability of triggers determine the form in which this process occurs, implying that high-mass star/cluster formation could arise from a range of scenarios: from large-scale convergence of turbulent flows to convergent constructive feedback or mergers of filaments.
Published: 02 March 2013
We present cosmological parameter constraints based on the final nine-year WMAP data, in conjunction with additional cosmological data sets. The WMAP data alone, and in combination, continue to be remarkably well fit by a six-parameter LCDM model. When WMAP data are combined with measurements of the high-l CMB anisotropy, the BAO scale, and the Hubble constant, the densities, Omegabh2, Omegach2, and Omega_L, are each determined to a precision of ~1.5%. The amplitude of the primordial spectrum is measured to within 3%, and there is now evidence for a tilt in the primordial spectrum at the 5sigma level, confirming the first detection of tilt based on the five-year WMAP data. At the end of the WMAP mission, the nine-year data decrease the allowable volume of the six-dimensional LCDM parameter space by a factor of 68,000 relative to pre-WMAP measurements. We investigate a number of data combinations and show that their LCDM parameter fits are consistent. New limits on deviations from the six-parameter model are presented, for example: the fractional contribution of tensor modes is limited to r<0.13 (95% CL); the spatial curvature parameter is limited to -0.0027 (+0.0039/-0.0038); the summed mass of neutrinos is <0.44 eV (95% CL); and the number of relativistic species is found to be 3.84+/-0.40 when the full data are analyzed. The joint constraint on Neff and the primordial helium abundance agrees with the prediction of standard Big Bang nucleosynthesis. We compare recent PLANCK measurements of the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect with our seven-year measurements, and show their mutual agreement. Our analysis of the polarization pattern around temperature extrema is updated. This confirms a fundamental prediction of the standard cosmological model and provides a striking illustration of acoustic oscillations and adiabatic initial conditions in the early universe.
Published: 21 March 2013
MAXI J1659-152 is a bright X-ray transient black-hole candidate binary system discovered in September 2010. We report here on MAXI, RXTE, Swift, and XMM-Newton observations during its 2010/2011 outburst. We find that during the first one and a half week of the outburst the X-ray light curves display drops in intensity at regular intervals, which we interpret as absorption dips. About three weeks into the outbursts, again drops in intensity are seen. These dips have, however, a spectral behaviour opposite to that of the absorption dips, and are related to fast spectral state changes (hence referred to as transition dips). The absorption dips recur with a period of 2.414 ± 0.005 h, which we interpret as the orbital period of the system. This implies that MAXI J1659-152 is the shortest period black-hole candidate binary known to date. The inclination of the accretion disk with respect to the line of sight is estimated to be 65-80°. We propose the companion to the black-hole candidate to be close to an M5 dwarf star, with a mass and radius of about 0.15-0.25 solar masses and 0.2-0.25 solar radii, respectively. We derive that the companion had an initial mass of about 1.5 solar masses, which evolved to its current mass in about 5-6 billion years. The system is rather compact (orbital separation of >=1.33 solar radii), and is located at a distance of 8.6 ± 3.7 kpc, with a height above the Galactic plane of 2.4 ± 1.0 kpc. The characteristics of short orbital period and high Galactic scale height are shared with two other transient black-hole candidate X-ray binaries, i.e., XTE J1118+480 and Swift J1735.5-0127. We suggest that all three are kicked out of the Galactic plane into the halo, rather than being formed in a globular cluster.
Published: 19 March 2013
A key parameter to the description of all star formation processes is the density structure of the gas. In this Letter, we make use of probability distribution functions (PDFs) of Herschel column density maps of Orion B, Aquila, and Polaris, obtained with the Herschel Gould Belt survey (HGBS). We aim to understand which physical processes influence the PDF shape, and with which signatures. The PDFs of Orion B (Aquila) show a lognormal distribution for low column densities until AV ~ 3 (6), and a power-law tail for high column densities, consistent with a rho ~ r-2 profile for the equivalent spherical density distribution. The PDF of Orion B is broadened by external compression due to the nearby OB stellar aggregates. The PDF of a quiescent subregion of the non-star-forming Polaris cloud is nearly lognormal, indicating that supersonic turbulence governs the density distribution. But we also observe a deviation from the lognormal shape at AV > 1 for a subregion in Polaris that includes a prominent filament. We conclude that (1) the point where the PDF deviates from the lognormal form does not trace a universal AV -threshold for star formation, (2) statistical density fluctuations, intermittency, and magnetic fields can cause excess from the lognormal PDF at an early cloud formation stage, (3) core formation and/or global collapse of filaments and a non-isothermal gas distribution lead to a power-law tail, and (4) external compression broadens the column density PDF, consistent with numerical simulations.
Published: 13 March 2013
Galactic black hole binaries produce powerful outflows which emit over almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Here, we report the first detection with the Herschel observatory of a variable far-infrared source associated with the compact jets of the black hole transient GX 339-4 during the decay of its recent 2010-2011 outburst, after the transition to the hard state. We also outline the results of very sensitive radio observations conducted with the Australia Telescope Compact Array, along with a series of near-infrared, optical (OIR) and X-ray observations, allowing for the first time the re-ignition of the compact jets to be observed over a wide range of wavelengths. The compact jets first turn on at radio frequencies with an optically thin spectrum that later evolves to an optically thick synchrotron emission. An OIR reflare is observed about 10 d after the onset of radio and hard X-ray emission, likely reflecting the necessary time to build up enough density, as well as to have acceleration (e.g. through shocks) along an extended region in the jets. The Herschel measurements are consistent with an extrapolation of the radio inverted power-law spectrum, but they highlight a more complex radio to OIR spectral energy distribution for the jets.
Published: 11 March 2013
Broad X-ray emission lines from neutral and partially ionized iron observed in active galaxies have been interpreted as fluorescence produced by the reflection of hard X-rays off the inner edge of an accretion disk. In this model, line broadening and distortion result from rapid rotation and relativistic effects near the black hole, the line shape being sensitive to its spin. Alternative models in which the distortions result from absorption by intervening structures provide an equally good description of the data, and there has been no general agreement on which is correct. Recent claims that the black hole (2×106 solar masses) at the centre of the galaxy NGC 1365 is rotating at close to its maximum possible speed rest on the assumption of relativistic reflection. Here we report X-ray observations of NGC 1365 that reveal the relativistic disk features through broadened Fe-line emission and an associated Compton scattering excess of 10-30 kiloelectronvolts. Using temporal and spectral analyses, we disentangle continuum changes due to time-variable absorption from reflection, which we find arises from a region within 2.5 gravitational radii of the rapidly spinning black hole. Absorption-dominated models that do not include relativistic disk reflection can be ruled out both statistically and on physical grounds.
Published: 28 February 2013
Context. Zeta Pup is the X-ray brightest O-type star of the sky. This object was regularly observed with the RGS instrument onboard XMM-Newton for calibration purposes, which led to an unprecedented set of high-quality spectra.

Aims. We have previously reduced and extracted this data set and integrated it into the most detailed high-resolution X-ray spectrum of any early-type star so far. Here we present the analysis of this spectrum, taking into account for the presence of structures in the stellar wind.

Methods. For this purpose, we used our new modeling tool that allows fitting the entire spectrum with a multi-temperature plasma. We illustrate the impact of a proper treatment of the radial dependence of the X-ray opacity of the cool wind on the best-fit radial distribution of the temperature of the X-ray plasma.

Results. The best-fit of the RGS spectrum of zeta Pup is obtained assuming no porosity. Four plasma components at temperatures between 0.10 and 0.69 keV are needed to adequately represent the observed spectrum. Whilst the hardest emission is concentrated between ~3 and 4 R*, the softer emission starts already at 1.5 R* and extends to the outer regions of the wind.

Conclusions. The inferred radial distribution of the plasma temperatures agrees rather well with theoretical expectations. The mass-loss rate and CNO abundances corresponding to our best-fit model also agree quite well with the results of recent studies of zeta Pup in the UV and optical domain.

Published: 26 February 2013
Photochemically produced aerosols are common among the atmospheres of our solar system and beyond. Observations and models have shown that photochemical aerosols have direct consequences on atmospheric properties as well as important astrobiological ramifications, but the mechanisms involved in their formation remain unclear. Here we show that the formation of aerosols in Titan's upper atmosphere is directly related to ion processes, and we provide a complete interpretation of observed mass spectra by the Cassini instruments from small to large masses. Because all planetary atmospheres possess ionospheres, we anticipate that the mechanisms identified here will be efficient in other environments as well, modulated by the chemical complexity of each atmosphere.
Published: 19 February 2013
Electrons can be accelerated to ultrarelativistic energies at strong (high Mach number) collisionless shock waves that form when stellar debris rapidly expands after a supernova. Collisionless shock waves also form in the flow of particles from the Sun (the solar wind), and extensive spacecraft observations have established that electron acceleration at these shocks is effectively absent whenever the upstream magnetic field is roughly parallel to the shock-surface normal (quasi-parallel conditions). However, it is unclear whether this magnetic dependence of electron acceleration also applies to the far stronger shocks around young supernova remnants, where local magnetic conditions are poorly understood. Here we present Cassini spacecraft observations of an unusually strong solar system shock wave (Saturn's bow shock) where significant local electron acceleration has been confirmed under quasi-parallel magnetic conditions for the first time, contradicting the established magnetic dependence of electron acceleration at solar system shocks. Furthermore, the acceleration led to electrons at relativistic energies (about megaelectronvolt), comparable to the highest energies ever attributed to shock acceleration in the solar wind. These observations suggest that at high Mach numbers, such as those of young supernova remnant shocks, quasi-parallel shocks become considerably more effective electron accelerators.
Published: 17 February 2013
29-Sep-2020 18:17 UT

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