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First pictures from the £1bn time machine telescope reveal faraway galaxy forming stars at ‘breathtaking rate’

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, billions of stars were born.

This picture  – one of the first to be taken by  ALMA – the world’s newest and most powerful telescope – shows an ancient galaxy forming stars at a breathtaking rate.

During such ‘starbursts’, hundreds or thousands of stars are born a year. In contrast, our galaxy, the Milky Way only sees around just one new star a year.

 ALMA images of gravitationally-lensed distant star-forming galaxies

The first image from the ALMA telescope

The first image from the ALMA telescope: This montage combines data from ALMA with images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, for five distant galaxies. The ALMA images, represented in red, show the distant, background galaxies, being distorted by the gravitational lens effect produced by the galaxies in the foreground, depicted in the Hubble data in blue.

THE BEST IS YET TO COME…

The astronomers were using only a partial array of 16 of ALMA’s full complement of 66 giant antennas, as the observatory was still under construction at an altitude of 5000 metres on the remote Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes.

When complete, ALMA will be even more sensitive, and will be able to detect even fainter galaxies.

For now, astronomers targeted the brighter ones.

They took advantage of a helping hand from nature, too: using gravitational lensing, an effect predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, where light from a distant galaxy is distorted by the gravitational influence of a nearer foreground galaxy, which acts like a lens and makes the distant source appear brighter.

The red arcs in the image represent a distant galaxy rapidly creating stars around 12billion years ago – the light generated has only just reached us on earth.

The central white dot depicts another calmer and closer galaxy.

It was already known that starbursts – bright and brief periods of rapid star formation – were much more common in the early universe than today but scientists had struggled to date them.

The latest images, taken by a stunning series of radio antennae on plateau 16,400ft above the Chile’s Atacama desert, reveal that such intense periods of stellar birth occurred earlier in the universe than thought.

Data from more than two dozen galaxies shows that on average, the starbursts took place 12 billion years ago, when the universe was just under two billion years old.

This is a full billion years earlier than previous studies had indicated.

Two of the galaxies are the most distant of their kind ever seen – so far away that the light in the form of radio waves captured by ALMA started their journey just a billion years after the Big Bang.

In one of these, water was detected- the most distant observation of water in the cosmos to date.

Some of the distant star-forming galaxies are as bright as 40 million million suns, the journal Nature reports.

The picture was taken by capturing light emitted in the form of radio waves by gases in the galaxy and measuring  and warping  the light’s waves.

By taking into account stretching caused by the expansion of the universe, astronomers can work out how long the light’s journey has taken and so place a galaxy at the right point in cosmic history.

How it works:

How it works: This schematic image represents how light from a distant galaxy is distorted by the gravitational effects of a nearer foreground galaxy, which acts like a lens and makes the distant source appear distorted, but brighter, forming characteristic rings of light, known as Einstein rings. An analysis of the distortion has revealed that some of the distant star-forming galaxies are as bright as 40 trillion Suns, and have been magnified by the gravitational lens by up to 22 times.

Lead researcher, Joaquin Vieria, of the California Institute of Technology in the US, said: ‘The more distant the galaxy, the further back in time one is looking, so by measuring their distances we can piece together a timeline of how vigorously the universe was making new stars at different stages in its 13.7billion year history.’

The ALMA observatory, which is part-funded by Britain through the Science and Technology Facilities Council, was officially launched today.#

This picture was taken while it was still under construction and so drew on just 16 of the telescope’s 66 giant radio antennae.

But when operating at full power, the resulting images should be ten times sharper than those of the Hubble space telescope.

To get such pictures from a single land-based radio telescope, it would have to be ten miles wide.

Researcher Carlos De Breuck, of the European Southern Observatory, said the results show that ‘ALMA is a powerful new player in the field’.

Leicester University astronomer Professor Andrew Blain, who wrote an accompanying article for Nature, said: ‘With sharper imaging than the Hubble Space Telescope, and the ability to measure the different parts of a faraway galaxy independently, ALMA is starting to give us a much more complete picture of the growth and formation of our universe.’

The array of 66 telescopes is being built in Chile because it is one of the few places in the world where it is still possible to find a high, dry location unaffected by pollution from artificial light.

Under construction: Four of the first ALMA antennas at the Array Operations Site (AOS), located at 5000 metres altitude on the Chajnantor plateau, in the II Region of Chile

Under construction: Four of the first ALMA antennas at the Array Operations Site (AOS), located at 5000 metres altitude on the Chajnantor plateau, in the II Region of Chile

Radio telescope antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) project, in the Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, on March 12,2013.

Radio telescope antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) project, in the Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, on March 12,2013.

How the ALMA telescope works

How the ALMA telescope works

Dryness is particularly important as moisture in the air absorbs the radio waves the dishes are trying to capture.

Speaking at the observatory’s official opening ceremony, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, said: ‘One of our many natural resources is Chile’s spectacular night sky.

‘I believe that science has been a vital contributor to the development of Chile in recent years. I am very proud of our international collaborations in astronomy, of which ALMA is the latest, and biggest outcome.’

ALMA’s UK project manager, Professor Brian Ellison,  of the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, said: ‘The difficulty of constructing an instrument of the scale of ALMA, and that is located in a challenging environment, should not be underestimated.

‘It is a testament to the vision, skill and perseverance of all those involved that not only is construction complete, but early operation is producing outstanding science.

‘I am delighted and proud that the UK, through a variety of institutes and organisations participating at various stages of the project’s development and construction, has made a large and very successful contribution to ALMA, both scientifically and technically.

‘The Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs once said that “….every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…..and one is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career’.

‘The advent of ALMA will undoubtedly revolutionise our view of the Universe and for me, it represents working on a revolutionary product 66 times over.’

Dr Thomas Greve, from University College London, and one of two British scientists who contributed to the Nature paper, said: ‘Our study has shown that little more than one billion years after the Big Bang, extreme starburst galaxies in the Universe, forming stars at a rate of more than a thousand per year, were a much more commonplace occurrence than previously thought.

‘This runs counter to the traditional understanding of massive galaxies forming gradually over much longer periods of time.

‘This is a discovery that only ALMA, with its incredible observing capabilities, could have made.’

British science and engineering has benefited from £40million of contracts from ALMA.

Experts at the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire made the half-ton cooling systems at the heart of each dish, other contributions include vital software for processing the information gathered by the telescope and material for the actual dishes.

ALMA is located 5,000 meters above Andes El Llano de Chajnantors plateau, some 50 km of San Pedro de Atacama in Chiles Second Region, in Antofagasta
ALMA is located 5,000 meters above Andes El Llano de Chajnantors plateau, some 50 km of San Pedro de Atacama in Chiles Second Region, in Antofagasta
Babak Tafreshi, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, has captured the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) under the southern sky in another breathtaking image
Babak Tafreshi, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, has captured the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) under the southern sky in another breathtaking image

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Space

The Most Dangerous Magnet In The Universe: 20 Km Diameter

Illustration of an artist showing a magnetar in a very rich and young star cluster. Credit & Copyright: ESO / L. Calçada

The most powerful magnet in the universe, with a truly colossal level of radiation, Magnetar!

Perhaps you think the universe is ideal for life. However, it is not. Almost the entire Universe is a terrible and hostile place, and we were just lucky to be born on an almost harmless planet in a remote region of the Milky Way.

Here on Earth you can live a long and happy life, but in the Universe there are places where you will not last even a couple of seconds. Nothing is more deadly than objects that supernovae leave behind: neutron stars.

However, approximately one in ten neutron stars becomes something really very strange. It becomes a magnetar – the most mysterious and terrible object in the universe. You’ve probably heard the word, but what is it?

Over the past 50 years, mankind has come across several times with phenomenal radiation coming from outer space. As often happens, astrophysicists could not immediately identify the source.

1979 year. Three American Vella satellites monitoring nuclear tests on Earth record an unusual gamma-ray burst.

1992 year. Astrophysicists suggest the existence of a celestial body unknown to science with a huge coefficient of electromagnetic radiation.

1998 year. The outbreak in the constellation ” Eagle “. Many measuring instruments record an inexplicable anomaly, the source of which is located tens of thousands of light years from us.

2004 year. All world telescopes are temporarily blinded. In less than a second, a wave of gamma radiation passes through every square centimeter in the solar system . The largest outbreak in the history of observations.

Today we are as close as possible to finally explain the nature of this discovery.

Magnetar or Magnitar  is a poorly studied neutrona star with an exceptionally strong magnetic field of about 10 to the 13th degree of Tesla . Almost a trillion times more electromagnetic radiation from the Earth .

When the lifetime of a supermassive star comes to an end, a supernova explosion occurs and among the many options for events there is only one in which the star can become a Magnitar. The disputes of scientists that this option represents do not stop to this day.

The diameter of Magnetars reaches only 20-30 km. For comparison, the diameter of the moon is 3474 km, that is, about 173 times more than the average Magnitar . However, with the mass, everything is arranged a little differently. Magnitar with a radius of 15 km, despite its size, will be heavier than our Sun, a radius of 696,340 km.

Theoretically, if Magnitar would be within the limits of the Solar system , we would not have time to notice the threat. The ozone layer of the Earth, along with all forms of organic life, would be wiped out within seconds.

Fortunately, the closest to us Magnitar is at a fairly safe distance from us, 12,000 light-years.

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Space

A colossal flash has occurred on a tiny star

A celestial body, which barely has enough mass to be called a star, suddenly erupted in a flash of incredible power. Astronomers wonder how this is possible.

The discovery is described in a scientific article published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Star J0331-27 is located 783 light years from Earth. It belongs to the spectral class L – the class of very small and very cold luminaries, which barely had enough mass to start thermonuclear reactions in their depths. The mass of J0331-27 is only 8% of the sun, and the surface temperature is only 1800 degrees Celsius (compared to 5500 degrees on the Sun).

There is a rule: the smaller the star, the more powerful the outbreaks occurring on it. So, the red dwarfs of class M can boast of real cosmic cataclysms that call into question the suitability of their planets for life. But astronomers did not expect that this pattern applies even to extremely cold L-stars.

According to experts, the flare is due to a sharp restructuring of the magnetic field structure in a small area of ​​the star’s surface. In this case, the energy stored in the magnetic lines is released and heats the surrounding substance. The magnetic field itself is created by plasma – a hot gas consisting of charged particles. Previously, experts believed that the surface plasma of L-dwarfs is too cold to generate a field capable of powerful “fireworks”.

Processing the data of the XMM-Newton space x-ray telescope, the authors found a flash recorded on July 5, 2008. It lasted a few minutes. During this time, 2 ”” 1033 erg of energy was released in the X-ray range alone. This is ten times the energy of the largest flares on the Sun and only half the total energy released by our star in a second (!).

Scientists call events of this magnitude superflares. They are common with the hotter M class red dwarfs, but not with the cooler L stars.

“This is the most interesting scientific part of the discovery, because we did not expect the stars [from the class] of L-dwarfs to store enough energy in their magnetic fields to cause such flashes,” admits Beate Stelzer of the University of Tübingen .

The discovery was made thanks to the XMM-Newton X-ray telescope.
Illustration from esa.int

Prior to this, superflares in L-dwarfs were detected several times in visible light. However, for the first time such an event was recorded in x-rays. Moreover, J0331-27 in general became just the second L-dwarf, from which terrestrial telescopes generally caught x-ray radiation.

After analyzing the data of other observatories, the authors found the optical radiation of this outbreak. But observing it in the x-ray range is extremely important. The fact is that visible light comes from the surface of the body, and x-rays from its atmosphere. This will help astronomers figure out how such a phenomenon nevertheless became possible.

“This is a good question,” says Stelzer. “We just don’t know [the answer]. Nobody knows.”

Riddles don’t end there. The fact is that in all known stars faint flashes occur much more often than strong ones. However, XMM-Newton observed J0331-27 for a total of about 40 days and during this time did not detect any other flashes, although the sensitivity of the instrument made it possible to notice them.

It seems that the magnetic field of the L-dwarf gradually accumulates energy and at once releases it in one powerful cataclysm. This behavior is completely unusual for stars, and now astrophysicists have to deal with new facts.

New X-ray flares on L stars can help with this if they are detected. Stelzer and colleagues made their discovery by processing the XMM-Newton observation archive. It includes information on 400 thousand variable sources discovered by the telescope in 13 years. Not all data has been processed yet, so new surprises may well await scientists.

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Space

Unusual signals come from the GJ 1151 system

Most likely, radio emission is created by the interaction of a planet the size of the Earth with the strong magnetic fields of its star.

Using the LOFAR low-frequency radio telescope, astronomers recorded unusual radio emission coming from the red dwarf GJ 1151, which is located at a distance of about 28 light-years from Earth, these signals, according to scientists, contain evidence of the auroras created by the interaction of the planet with the strongest magnetic fields of the star. The results of the study are presented in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“Radio emission from the interaction of a star and a planet was predicted more than thirty years ago, but only now we were able to identify its signature in the data. Success achieved paves the way for a new way to detect exoplanets in the habitable zone and study their surroundings, ”the authors of the study say.

Red dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Milky Way. They are much smaller and colder than the Sun and have extremely strong magnetic fields. This means that any potentially inhabited planet in the system of such a star, due to its proximity to it, is subjected to intense magnetic activity, which can heat it and even destroy the atmosphere. The radio emission associated with this process is one of the few tools available to evaluate this effect.

“The movement of the planet through the strong magnetic field of the red dwarf acts like an electric motor. This process generates a huge current that provokes radiance and creates radio emission, ”explained Harish Vedantam, lead author of the study from the Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy.

In the solar system, similar currents are not generated due to the weak magnetic field of the sun and the large distance to the planets. However, the interaction of the Io satellite with the magnetic field of Jupiter also creates a fairly bright radio emission, at low frequencies superior to the sun.

“We adapted our knowledge from decades of radio observations of Jupiter to the data on the star GJ 1151. For many years it was predicted that the Jupiter-Io system should exist in a larger version of the star-planet, and the radiation recorded by us from GJ 1151 is very well consistent with theory. Today we know that almost every red dwarf contains terrestrial planets, so there must be other stars showing such radiation,” Joe Cullingham added, the co-author of a study from the Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy.

Astronomers note that the sensitivity of modern instruments should allow them to find about a hundred more of such systems in the solar vicinity, and, more importantly, assess the conditions in which exoplanets reside in them.

“The main goal is to determine what effect the magnetic activity of a star has on the habitability of an exoplanet, and radio emission is the most important link in this puzzle,” Harish Vedantam concluded.

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