NASA Telescopes Spy Ultra-Distant Galaxy

In the big image at left, the many galaxies of a massive cluster called MACS J1149+2223 dominate the scene. Gravitational lensing by the giant cluster brightened the light from the newfound galaxy, known as MACS 1149-JD, some 15 times. At upper right, a partial zoom-in shows MACS 1149-JD in more detail, and a deeper zoom appears to the lower right.. Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/JHU

With the combined power of NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, as well as a cosmic magnification effect, astronomers have spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever seen. Light from the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories first shone when our 13.7-billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old.

The far-off galaxy existed within an important era when the universe began to transit from the so-called cosmic dark ages. During this period, the universe went from a dark, starless expanse to a recognizable cosmos full of galaxies. The discovery of the faint, small galaxy opens a window onto the deepest, most remote epochs of cosmic history.

“This galaxy is the most distant object we have ever observed with high confidence,” said Wei Zheng, a principal research scientist in the department of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who is lead author of a new paper appearing in Nature. “Future work involving this galaxy, as well as others like it that we hope to find, will allow us to study the universe’s earliest objects and how the dark ages ended.”

Light from the primordial galaxy traveled approximately 13.2 billion light-years before reaching NASA’s telescopes. In other words, the starlight snagged by Hubble and Spitzer left the galaxy when the universe was just 3.6 percent of its present age. Technically speaking, the galaxy has a redshift, or “z,” of 9.6. The term redshift refers to how much an object’s light has shifted into longer wavelengths as a result of the expansion of the universe. Astronomers use redshift to describe cosmic distances.

Unlike previous detections of galaxy candidates in this age range, which were only glimpsed in a single color, or waveband, this newfound galaxy has been seen in five different wavebands. As part of the Cluster Lensing And Supernova Survey with Hubble Program, the Hubble Space Telescope registered the newly described, far-flung galaxy in four visible and infrared wavelength bands. Spitzer measured it in a fifth, longer-wavelength infrared band, placing the discovery on firmer ground.

Objects at these extreme distances are mostly beyond the detection sensitivity of today’s largest telescopes. To catch sight of these early, distant galaxies, astronomers rely on gravitational lensing. In this phenomenon, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, the gravity of foreground objects warps and magnifies the light from background objects. A massive galaxy cluster situated between our galaxy and the newfound galaxy magnified the newfound galaxy’s light, brightening the remote object some 15 times and bringing it into view.

Based on the Hubble and Spitzer observations, astronomers think the distant galaxy was less than 200 million years old when it was viewed. It also is small and compact, containing only about 1 percent of the Milky Way’s mass. According to leading cosmological theories, the first galaxies indeed should have started out tiny. They then progressively merged, eventually accumulating into the sizable galaxies of the more modern universe.

These first galaxies likely played the dominant role in the epoch of reionization, the event that signaled the demise of the universe’s dark ages. This epoch began about 400,000 years after the Big Bang when neutral hydrogen gas formed from cooling particles. The first luminous stars and their host galaxies emerged a few hundred million years later. The energy released by these earliest galaxies is thought to have caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the universe to ionize, or lose an electron, a state that the gas has remained in since that time.

“In essence, during the epoch of reionization, the lights came on in the universe,” said paper co-author Leonidas Moustakas, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers plan to study the rise of the first stars and galaxies and the epoch of reionization with the successor to both Hubble and Spitzer, NASA’s James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled for launch in 2018. The newly described distant galaxy will likely be a prime target.
Read more: www.jpl.nasa.gov

The Sombrero Galaxy’s Split Personality


The infrared vision of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed that the Sombrero galaxy — named after its appearance in visible light to a wide-brimmed hat — is in fact two galaxies in one. It is a large elliptical galaxy (blue-green) with a thin disk galaxy (partly seen in red) embedded within. Previous visible-light images led astronomers to believe the Sombrero was simply a regular flat disk galaxy.

Spitzer’s infrared view highlights the stars and dust. The starlight detected at 3.5 and 4.6 microns is represented in blue-green while the dust detected at 8.0 microns appears red. This image allowed astronomers to sample the full population of stars in the galaxy, in addition to its structure.

The flat disk within the galaxy is made up of two portions. The inner disk is composed almost entirely of stars, with no dust. Beyond this is a slight gap, then an outer ring of intermingled dust and stars, seen here in red.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Read more: www.nasa.gov

NASA Telescope Finds Elusive Buckyballs in Space

Extragalactic Space Balls

For the first time, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected little spheres of carbon, called buckyballs, in a galaxy beyond our Milky Way galaxy. The space balls were detected in a dying star, called a planetary nebula, within the nearby galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud. What’s more, huge quantities were found — the equivalent in mass to 15 of our moons.

An infrared photo of the Small Magellanic Cloud taken by Spitzer is shown here in this artist’s illustration, with two callouts. The middle callout shows a magnified view of an example of a planetary nebula, and the right callout shows an even further magnified depiction of buckyballs, which consist of 60 carbon atoms arranged like soccer balls.

In July 2010, astronomers reported using Spitzer to find the first confirmed proof of buckyballs. Since then, Spitzer has detected the molecules again in our own galaxy — as well as in the Small Magellanic Cloud….
Read more: nasa.gov

Jiggling Soccer-Ball Molecules in Space

These data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show the signatures of buckyballs in space. Buckyballs, also called C60 or buckministerfullerenes, after architect Buckminister Fuller’s geodesic domes, are made of 60 carbon atoms structured like a black-and-white soccer ball. They were first discovered in a lab in 1985, but could not be definitively identified in space until now. Spitzer was able to find their spectral signatures — along with the signatures of their rugby-ball-like relatives, called C70 — by analyzing the infrared light from Tc 1, a planetary nebula consisting of material shed by a dying star.

Buckyballs jiggle, or vibrate, in a variety of ways — 174 ways to be exact. Four of these vibrational modes cause the molecules to either absorb or emit infrared light. All four modes were detected by Spitzer.

The space telescope first gathered light from the area around the dying star — specifically a region rich in carbon — then, with the help of its spectrograph instrument, spread the light into its various components, or wavelengths. Astronomers studied the data, a spectrum like the one shown here, to identify signatures, or fingerprints, of molecules. The four vibrational modes of buckyballs are indicated by the red arrows. Likewise, Spitzer identified four vibrational modes of C70, shown by the blue arrows….
Read more: nasa.gov2

Graphene in Space

Honeycomb Carbon Crystals Possibly Detected in Space

Graphene in Space: An artist's concept of graphene, buckyballs and C70 superimposed on an image of the Helix planetary nebula, a puffed-out cloud of material expelled by a dying star.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted the signature of flat carbon flakes, called graphene, in space. If confirmed, this would be the first-ever cosmic detection of the material — which is arranged like chicken wire in flat sheets that are one atom thick.

Graphene was first synthesized in a lab in 2004, and subsequent research on its unique properties garnered the Nobel Prize in 2010. It’s as strong as it is thin, and conducts electricity as well as copper. Some think it’s the “material of the future,” with applications in computers, screens on electrical devices, solar panels and more.

Graphene in space isn’t going to result in any super-fast computers, but researchers are interested in learning more about how it is created. Understanding chemical reactions involving carbon in space may hold clues to how our own carbon-based selves and other life on Earth developed….. Continue reading Graphene in Space