Publication archive

Publication archive

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
Accreting stellar-mass black holes often show a 'Type-C' quasi-periodic oscillation (QPO) in their X-ray flux and an iron emission line in their X-ray spectrum. The iron line is generated through continuum photons reflecting off the accretion disc, and its shape is distorted by relativistic motion of the orbiting plasma and the gravitational pull of the black hole. The physical origin of the QPO has long been debated, but is often attributed to Lense–Thirring precession, a General Relativistic effect causing the inner flow to precess as the spinning black hole twists up the surrounding space–time. This predicts a characteristic rocking of the iron line between red- and blueshift as the receding and approaching sides of the disc are respectively illuminated. Here we report on XMM–Newton and NuSTAR observations of the black hole binary H1743−322 in which the line energy varies systematically over the ~4 s QPO cycle (3.70σ significance), as predicted. This provides strong evidence that the QPO is produced by Lense–Thirring precession, constituting the first detection of this effect in the strong gravitation regime. There are however elements of our results harder to explain, with one section of data behaving differently than all the others. Our result enables the future application of tomographic techniques to map the inner regions of black hole accretion discs.
Published: 13 July 2016
Proc. SPIE 9905, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016: Ultraviolet to Gamma Ray, 990502 (11 July 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2231984
Published: 12 July 2017
Clusters of galaxies are the most massive gravitationally bound objects in the Universe and are still forming. They are thus important probes of cosmological parameters and many astrophysical processes. However, knowledge of the dynamics of the pervasive hot gas, the mass of which is much larger than the combined mass of all the stars in the cluster, is lacking. Such knowledge would enable insights into the injection of mechanical energy by the central supermassive black hole and the use of hydrostatic equilibrium for determining cluster masses. X-rays from the core of the Perseus cluster are emitted by the 50-million-kelvin diffuse hot plasma filling its gravitational potential well. The active galactic nucleus of the central galaxy NGC 1275 is pumping jetted energy into the surrounding intracluster medium, creating buoyant bubbles filled with relativistic plasma. These bubbles probably induce motions in the intracluster medium and heat the inner gas, preventing runaway radiative cooling – a process known as active galactic nucleus feedback. Here we report X-ray observations of the core of the Perseus cluster, which reveal a remarkably quiescent atmosphere in which the gas has a line-of-sight velocity dispersion of 164 ± 10 kilometres per second in the region 30–60 kiloparsecs from the central nucleus. A gradient in the line-of-sight velocity of 150 ± 70 kilometres per second is found across the 60-kiloparsec image of the cluster core. Turbulent pressure support in the gas is four per cent of the thermodynamic pressure, with large-scale shear at most doubling this estimate. We infer that a total cluster mass determined from hydrostatic equilibrium in a central region would require little correction for turbulent pressure.
Published: 08 July 2016
Based on analysis of UV images (at 365 nm) of Venus cloud top (altitude 67±2 km) collected with Venus Monitoring Camera on board Venus Express (VEX), it is found that the zonal wind speed south of the equator (from 5°S to 15°S) shows a conspicuous variation (from −101 to −83 m/s) with geographic longitude of Venus, correlated with the underlying relief of Aphrodite Terra. We interpret this pattern as the result of stationary gravity waves produced at ground level by the uplift of air when the horizontal wind encounters a mountain slope. These waves can propagate up to the cloud top level, break there, and transfer their momentum to the zonal flow. Such upward propagation of gravity waves and influence on the wind speed vertical profile was shown to play an important role in the middle atmosphere of the Earth by Lindzen (1981) but is not reproduced in the current GCM of Venus atmosphere from LMD. (Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique) In the equatorial regions, the UV albedo at 365 nm varies also with longitude. We argue that this variation may be simply explained by the divergence of the horizontal wind field. In the longitude region (from 60° to −10°) where the horizontal wind speed is increasing in magnitude (stretch), it triggers air upwelling which brings the UV absorber at cloud top level and decreases the albedo and vice versa when the wind is decreasing in magnitude (compression). This picture is fully consistent with the classical view of Venus meridional circulation, with upwelling at equator revealed by horizontal air motions away from equator: the longitude effect is only an additional but important modulation of this effect. This interpretation is comforted by a recent map of cloud top H2O, showing that near the equator the lower UV albedo longitude region is correlated with increased H2O. We argue that H2O enhancement is the sign of upwelling, suggesting that the UV absorber is also brought to cloud top by upwelling.
Published: 01 July 2016
First published: 20 June 2016

Understanding what processes govern atmospheric escape and the loss of planetary water is of paramount importance for understanding how life in the universe can exist. One mechanism thought to be important at all planets is an "ambipolar" electric field that helps ions overcome gravity. We report the discovery and first quantitative extraterrestrial measurements of such a field at the planet Venus. Unexpectedly, despite comparable gravity, we show the field to be five times stronger than in Earth's similar ionosphere. Contrary to our understanding, Venus would still lose heavy ions (including oxygen and all water-group species) to space, even if there were no stripping by the solar wind. We therefore find that it is possible for planets to lose heavy ions to space entirely through electric forces in their ionospheres and such an "electric wind" must be considered when studying the evolution and potential habitability of any planet in any star system.

Published: 21 June 2016

Published online 7 June 2016

We report the first results of the LISA Pathfinder in-flight experiment. The results demonstrate that two free-falling reference test masses, such as those needed for a space-based gravitational wave observatory like LISA, can be put in free fall with a relative acceleration noise with a square root of the power spectral density of 5.2±0.1  fm s-2/√Hz, or (0.54±0.01)×10-15  g/√Hz, with g the standard gravity, for frequencies between 0.7 and 20 mHz. This value is lower than the LISA Pathfinder requirement by more than a factor 5 and within a factor 1.25 of the requirement for the LISA mission, and is compatible with Brownian noise from viscous damping due to the residual gas surrounding the test masses. Above 60 mHz the acceleration noise is dominated by interferometer displacement readout noise at a level of (34.8±0.3)  fm/√Hz, about 2 orders of magnitude better than requirements. At f≤0.5  mHz we observe a low-frequency tail that stays below 12  fm s-2/√Hz down to 0.1 mHz. This performance would allow for a space-based gravitational wave observatory with a sensitivity close to what was originally foreseen for LISA.

 This article is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article's title, journal citation, and DOI (10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.231101)

Published: 11 June 2016
The importance of comets for the origin of life on Earth has been advocated for many decades. Amino acids are key ingredients in chemistry, leading to life as we know it. Many primitive meteorites contain amino acids, and it is generally believed that these are formed by aqueous alterations. In the collector aerogel and foil samples of the Stardust mission after the flyby at comet Wild 2, the simplest form of amino acids, glycine, has been found together with precursor molecules methylamine and ethylamine. Because of contamination issues of the samples, a cometary origin was deduced from the 13C isotopic signature. We report the presence of volatile glycine accompanied by methylamine and ethylamine in the coma of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko measured by the ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) mass spectrometer, confirming the Stardust results. Together with the detection of phosphorus and a multitude of organic molecules, this result demonstrates that comets could have played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth.
Published: 28 May 2016
Revision 1, 4 May 2016

In November 2013, ESA's Science Programme Committee decided that the L3 mission will address the theme 'The Gravitational Universe', responding to the science goals set out in the 2013 report of the Senior Science Committee. Accordingly, a Gravitational Wave Observatory is definitively in ESA's long-term planning, with a (programmatic) launch date of 2034.

Such a space mission presents a set of demanding challenges for the measurement accuracies and associated technologies. Accordingly, in late 2014, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration appointed an external committee, the Gravitational Observatory Advisory Team, to advise on the scientific and technical implementation of L3.

The Terms of Reference of the committee (given in Chapter 1) can be paraphrased as follows: (a) is the mission technically feasible? (b) is laser interferometry still the best approach to the measurement of gravitational waves from space? (c) how can the technical development of L3 be organised to minimize cost and schedule overruns?

The Committee was asked to report in mid-2016, and this document is the outcome of its work.

Published: 05 May 2016

ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) has completed a short study of a Cosmic Microwave Background Polarisation mission (CMB Polarisation) to support the European and Japanese science community in defining a collaborative mission studying the Polarisation of the Cosmic Microwave Background for calls for Cosmic Vision Medium-sized mission.

Further details can be found in the CDF presentation linked below and from the image to the right.

A summary presentation can be found here.

Published: 05 May 2016

ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) has completed a short study of a Cosmic Microwave Background Polarisation mission (CMB Polarisation) to support the European and Japanese science community in defining a collaborative mission studying the Polarisation of the Cosmic Microwave Background for calls for Cosmic Vision Medium-sized mission.

A summary can be found in the CDF presentation linked below and from the image to the right.

A more detailed presentation can be found here.

Published: 16 April 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 27 April 2016

Ultraluminous X-ray sources are extragalactic, off-nucleus, point sources in galaxies, and have X-ray luminosities in excess of 3 × 1039 ergs per second. They are thought to be powered by accretion onto a compact object. Possible explanations include accretion onto neutron stars with strong magnetic fields, onto stellar-mass black holes (of up to 20 solar masses) at or in excess of the classical Eddington limit, or onto intermediate-mass black holes (103–105 solar masses). The lack of sufficient energy resolution in previous analyses has prevented an unambiguous identification of any emission or absorption lines in the X-ray band, thereby precluding a detailed analysis of the accretion flow. Here we report the presence of X-ray emission lines arising from highly ionized iron, oxygen and neon with a cumulative significance in excess of five standard deviations, together with blueshifted (about 0.2 times light velocity) absorption lines of similar significance, in the high-resolution X-ray spectra of the ultraluminous X-ray sources NGC 1313 X-1 and NGC 5408 X-1. The blueshifted absorption lines must occur in a fast-outflowing gas, whereas the emission lines originate in slow-moving gas around the source. We conclude that the compact object in each source is surrounded by powerful winds with an outflow velocity of about 0.2 times that of light, as predicted by models of accreting supermassive black holes and hyper-accreting stellar-mass black holes.

Published: 28 April 2016
Published online 22 April 2016.

Aims. We present the first public release of high-quality data products (DR1) from Hi-GAL, the Herschel infrared Galactic Plane Survey. Hi-GAL is the keystone of a suite of continuum Galactic plane surveys from the near-IR to the radio and covers five wavebands at 70, 160, 250, 350 and 500μm, encompassing the peak of the spectral energy distribution of cold dust for 8 ≤ T ≤50K. This first Hi-GAL data release covers the inner Milky Way in the longitude range 68°≥ l ≥ -70° in a |b| ≤ 1° latitude strip.
Methods. Photometric maps have been produced with the ROMAGAL pipeline, which optimally capitalizes on the excellent sensitivity and stability of the bolometer arrays of the Herschel PACS and SPIRE photometric cameras. It delivers images of exquisite quality and dynamical range, absolutely calibrated with Planck and IRAS, and recovers extended emission at all wavelengths and all spatial scales, from the point-spread function to the size of an entire 2°×2° "tile" that is the unit observing block of the survey. The compact source catalogues were generated with the CuTEx algorithm, which was specifically developed to optimise source detection and extraction in the extreme conditions of intense and spatially varying background that are found in the Galactic plane in the thermal infrared.
Results. Hi-GAL DR1 images are cirrus noise limited and reach the 1σ-rms predicted by the Herschel Time Estimators for parallel mode observations at 60" s-1 scanning speed in relatively low cirrus emission regions. Hi-GAL DR1 images will be accessible through a dedicated web-based image cutout service.
[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 23 April 2016
Interstellar dust (ISD) is the condensed phase of the interstellar medium. In situ data from the Cosmic Dust Analyzer on board the Cassini spacecraft reveal that the Saturnian system is passed by ISD grains from our immediate interstellar neighborhood, the local interstellar cloud. We determine the mass distribution of 36 interstellar grains, their elemental composition, and a lower limit for the ISD flux at Saturn. Mass spectra and grain dynamics suggest the presence of magnesium-rich grains of silicate and oxide composition, partly with iron inclusions. Major rock-forming elements (magnesium, silicon, iron, and calcium) are present in cosmic abundances, with only small grain-to-grain variations, but sulfur and carbon are depleted. The ISD grains in the solar neighborhood appear to be homogenized, likely by repeated processing in the interstellar medium.
Published: 16 April 2016
Published online 11 April 2016

Waves are ubiquitous phenomena found in oceans and atmospheres alike. From the earliest formal studies of waves in the Earth's atmosphere to more recent studies on other planets, waves have been shown to play a key role in shaping atmospheric bulk structure, dynamics and variability. Yet, waves are difficult to characterize as they ideally require in situ measurements of atmospheric properties that are difficult to obtain away from Earth. Thus, we have incomplete knowledge of atmospheric waves on planets other than our own, and we are thereby limited in our ability to understand and predict planetary atmospheres. Here we report the first ever in situ observations of atmospheric waves in Venus's thermosphere (130–140 km) at high latitudes (71.5°–79.0°). These measurements were made by the Venus Express Atmospheric Drag Experiment (VExADE) during aerobraking from 24 June to 11 July 2014. As the spacecraft flew through Venus's atmosphere, deceleration by atmospheric drag was sufficient to obtain from accelerometer readings a total of 18 vertical density profiles. We infer an average temperature of T = 114 ± 23 K and find horizontal wave-like density perturbations and mean temperatures being modulated at a quasi-5-day period.

Published: 12 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
Using observations of the INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL), we place upper limits on the gamma-ray and hard X-ray prompt emission associated with the gravitational wave event GW150914, which was discovered by the LIGO/Virgo Collaboration. The omnidirectional view of the INTEGRAL/SPI-ACS has allowed us to constrain the fraction of energy emitted in the hard X-ray electromagnetic component for the full high-probability sky region of LIGO triggers. Our upper limits on the hard X-ray fluence at the time of the event range from Fγ = 2 ×10-8 erg cm-2 to Fγ = 10-6 erg cm-2 in the 75 keV–2 MeV energy range for typical spectral models. Our results constrain the ratio of the energy promptly released in gamma-rays in the direction of the observer to the gravitational wave energy Eγ/EGW < 10-6. We discuss the implication of gamma-ray limits for the characteristics of the gravitational wave source, based on the available predictions for prompt electromagnetic emission.
Published: 31 March 2016
First published online 31 December 2015

During a search for coherent signals in the X-ray archival data of XMM-Newton, we discovered a modulation at 1.2 s in 3XMM J004301.4+413017 (3X J0043), a source lying in the direction of an external arm of M 31. This short period indicates a neutron star (NS). Between 2000 and 2013, the position of 3X J0043 was imaged by public XMM–Newton observations 35 times. The analysis of these data allowed us to detect an orbital modulation at 1.27 d and study the long-term properties of the source. The emission of the pulsar was rather hard (most spectra are described by a power law with Γ < 1) and, assuming the distance to M 31, the 0.3–10 keV luminosity was variable, from ~3 × 1037 to 2 × 1038 erg s-1. The analysis of optical data shows that, while 3X J0043 is likely associated to a globular cluster in M 31, a counterpart with V ≳ 22 outside the cluster cannot be excluded. Considering our findings, there are two main viable scenarios for 3X J0043: a peculiar low-mass X-ray binary, similar to 4U 1822−37 or 4U 1626−67, or an intermediate-mass X-ray binary resembling Her X−1. Regardless of the exact nature of the system, 3X J0043 is the first accreting NS in M 31 in which the spin period has been detected.

Published: 21 March 2016
Available online 16 March 2016

From August to November 2014 the Rosetta orbiter has performed an extensive observation campaign aimed at the characterization of 67P/CG nucleus properties and to the selection of the Philae landing site. The campaign led to the production of a global map of the illuminated portion of 67P/CG nucleus. During this prelanding phase the comet's heliocentric distance decreased from 3.62 to 2.93 AU while Rosetta was orbiting around the nucleus at distances between 100 to 10 km. VIRTIS-M, the Visible and InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer – Mapping channel (Coradini et al., [2007] Space Sci. Rev., 128, 529–559) onboard the orbiter, has acquired 0.25–5.1 µm hyperspectral data of the entire illuminated surface, e.g. the north hemisphere and the equatorial regions, with spatial resolution between 2.5 and 25 m/pixel. I/F spectra have been corrected for thermal emission removal in the 3.5–5.1 µm range and for surface's photometric response. The resulting reflectance spectra have been used to compute several Cometary Spectral Indicators (CSI): single scattering albedo at 0.55 µm, 0.5–0.8 µm and 1.0–2.5 µm spectral slopes, 3.2 µm organic material and 2.0 µm water ice band parameters (center, depth) with the aim to map their spatial distribution on the surface and to study their temporal variability as the nucleus moved towards the Sun. Indeed, throughout the investigated period, the nucleus surface shows a significant increase of the single scattering albedo along with a decrease of the 0.5–0.8 and 1.0–2.5 µm spectral slopes, indicating a flattening of the reflectance. We attribute the origin of this effect to the partial removal of the dust layer caused by the increased contribution of water sublimation to the gaseous activity as comet crossed the frost-line.
--- Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations ---

Published: 16 March 2016
22-Jan-2021 03:30 UT

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