An eccentric debris disk circling a nearby star

Eccentric debris disk around star.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, astronomers have discovered that the debris disk surrounding a star about 60 light years away, discovered in 2006 by the Hubble Space Telescope, is not circular, but instead forms an eccentric ring about the star.

The photo to the right combines the Hubble data (the blue background) and the ALMA data (the orange-yellow ring). The star is the bright spot in the ring, not in its center but at one of the ellipse’s two foci.

This level of eccentricity, MacGregor said, makes HD 53143 the most eccentric debris disk observed to date, being twice as eccentric as the Fomalhaut debris disk, which MacGregor fully imaged at millimeter wavelengths using ALMA in 2017. “So far, we have not found many disks with a significant eccentricity. In general, we don’t expect disks to be very eccentric unless something, like a planet, is sculpting them and forcing them to be eccentric. Without that force, orbits tend to circularize, like what we see in our own Solar System.”

In other words, there must be at least one hidden planet, maybe more, orbiting the star, its gravity forcing the disk into this shape.

Astronomers detect water in the very very early universe

The uncertainty of science: Using the ALMA telescope in Chile, astronomers have detected the molecules of water and carbon monoxide in a galaxy thought to have formed only 780 million years after the Big Bang.

SPT0311-58 is actually made up of two galaxies and was first seen by ALMA scientists in 2017 at its location, or time, in the Epoch of Reionization. This epoch occurred at a time when the Universe was just 780 million years old—roughly 5-percent of its current age—and the first stars and galaxies were being born. Scientists believe that the two galaxies may be merging, and that their rapid star formation is not only using up their gas, or star-forming fuel but that it may eventually evolve the pair into massive elliptical galaxies like those seen in the Local Universe.

“Using high-resolution ALMA observations of molecular gas in the pair of galaxies known collectively as SPT0311-58 we detected both water and carbon monoxide molecules in the larger of the two galaxies. Oxygen and carbon, in particular, are first-generation elements, and in the molecular forms of carbon monoxide and water, they are critical to life as we know it,” said Sreevani Jarugula, an astronomer at the University of Illinois and the principal investigator on the new research. “This galaxy is the most massive galaxy currently known at high redshift, or the time when the Universe was still very young. It has more gas and dust compared to other galaxies in the early Universe, which gives us plenty of potential opportunities to observe abundant molecules and to better understand how these life-creating elements impacted the development of the early Universe.”

Need I say that there are many uncertainties with this result, including the assumption that the universe is only 780 million years old at location of this galaxy. That age is extrapolated from the galaxy’s red shift, a link that depends on some uncertain assumptions. Moreover, the discovery of these molecules so soon after the theorized Big Bang is unexpected. Cosmologists had assumed that at this early age the universe wasn’t old enough yet to form galaxies with such complex molecules.

Galaxies in the early universe don’t fit the theories

The uncertainty of science: New data from both the ALMA telescope in Chile and the Hubble Space Telescope about six massive galaxies in the early universe suggest that there are problems and gaps in the presently accepted theories about the universe’s formation.

Early massive galaxies—those that formed in the three billion years following the Big Bang should have contained large amounts of cold hydrogen gas, the fuel required to make stars. But scientists observing the early Universe with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Hubble Space Telescope have spotted something strange: half a dozen early massive galaxies that ran out of fuel. The results of the research are published today in Nature.

Known as “quenched” galaxies—or galaxies that have shut down star formation—the six galaxies selected for observation from the REsolving QUIEscent Magnified galaxies at high redshift. or the REQUIEM survey, are inconsistent with what astronomers expect of the early Universe.

It was expected that the early universe would have lots of that cold hydrogen for making stars. For some galaxies to lack that gas is inexplicable, and raises questions about the assumptions inherent in the theory of the Big Bang. It doesn’t disprove it, it simply makes it harder to fit the facts to the theory, suggesting — as is always the case — that the reality is far more complicated than the theories of scientists.

Astronomers detect for the first time an accretion disk around an exoplanet

The exoplanet and its accretion disk
Click for full image.

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, astronomers have made the first confirmed images of a moon-forming accretion disk around another a very young exoplanet.

The photo to the right shows this, with the top image the wide view showing the exoplanet in its orbit around the star, in an area inside the star’s own accretion disk (the larger ring) that the planet has apparently cleared of debris as it gathered itself. The bottom image zooms into the planet to show its own disk of material.

From the press release:

The disc in question, called a circumplanetary disc, surrounds the exoplanet PDS 70c, one of two giant, Jupiter-like planets orbiting a star nearly 400 light-years away. Astronomers had found hints of a “moon-forming” disc around this exoplanet before but, since they could not clearly tell the disc apart from its surrounding environment, they could not confirm its detection — until now.

In addition, with the help of ALMA, Benisty and her team found that the disc has about the same diameter as the distance from our Sun to the Earth and enough mass to form up to three satellites the size of the Moon.

The exoplanet’s disk is thus very large compared to our solar system, but that isn’t surprising considering the difficulty of observing it at such distances. Disks comparable in size to our solar system and the Earth-Moon system are simply too small for any telescope to yet image in this way.

The new data also found this interesting fact: The other known Jupiter-like exoplanet in this system does not have its own accretion disk or any visible debris orbiting it. Why one planet still has such debris and the other does not is a mystery related to the formation of solar systems that is at present not understood.

A star with giant misaligned rings

Star with misaligned rings

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected a nearby star, dubbed GW Ori, with multiple rings of dust with several tilted in relation to the others.

The rings, with dust equaling 75, 170, and 245 Earth masses each, are 46, 188, and 336 astronomical units (au) each from their star. (An au is the distance of the Earth to the Sun.) If you look closely at the image to the right, you can see that the inner rings are circular, while the outer rings appear oval, suggesting that we are looking directly down at the inner rings, but the outer rings are tilted to our line of sight. Moreover, another team of astronomers

…observed GW Ori with ALMA and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Near infrared observation with VLT showed for the first time that the innermost ring casts a shadow on the outer rings, which is clear evidence of disk misalignment. Kraus and his colleagues also performed a computer simulation and suggest that the triple star system can create misaligned rings, without gravitational assistance from planets. The two teams have different theories for the origin of the misaligned rings, but no conclusions have been reached so far. Nevertheless, GW Ori is a precious example to understand planet formation in the complex gravitational environment around multiple stars. [emphasis mine]

As noted, there is no agreement on the cause of the misalignment, only that it does exist.

“Spots” orbiting Milky Ways central black hole

Using the ALMA ground-based telescope array in Chile, astronomers have detected two energetic “spots” that appear to be orbiting Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), the super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The spots appear to be regions in the accretion disk surrounding the black hole that are emitting energy.

Their scenario is as follows. Hot spots are sporadically formed in the disk and circle around the black hole, emitting strong millimeter waves. According to Einstein’s special relativity theory, the emission is largely amplified when the source is moving toward the observer with a speed comparable to that of light. The rotation speed of the inner edge of the accretion disk is quite large, so this extraordinary effect arises. The astronomers believe that this is the origin of the short-term variation of the millimeter emission from Sgr A*.

The team supposes that the variation might affect the effort to make an image of the supermassive black hole with the Event Horizon Telescope. “In general, the faster the movement is, the more difficult it is to take a photo of the object,” says Oka. “Instead, the variation of the emission itself provides compelling insight for the gas motion. We may witness the very moment of gas absorption by the black hole with a long-term monitoring campaign with ALMA.” The researchers aim to draw out independent information to understand the mystifying environment around the supermassive black hole.

Everyone please repeat after me: Though this scenario makes sense, based on the facts and our knowledge, there is a lot of uncertainty about these conclusions.

Birth of a planetary nebula

Beginnings of a planetary nebula

Astronomers, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile have created a multi-spectral radio image of a dying star in its very initial stages of becoming a beautiful planetary nebula.

[Using ALMA,] the team obtained a very detailed view of the space around W43A. “The most notable structures are its small bipolar jets,” says Tafoya, the lead author of the research paper published by the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The team found that the velocity of the jets is as high as 175 km per second, which is much higher than previous estimations. Based on this speed and the size of the jets, the team calculated the age of the jets to be less than a human life-span.

“Considering the youth of the jets compared to the overall lifetime of a star, it is safe to say we are witnessing the ‘exact moment’ that the jets have just started to push through the surrounding gas,” explains Tafoya. “The jets carve through the surrounding material in as little as 60 years. A person could watch their progress throughout their lifetime.”

Over time those jets, thought to be caused by the interaction of the central star with a smaller secondary star that orbits it, will interact increasingly with the surrounding gas. The result will be a quite spectacular planetary nebula.

Astronomers photograph baby binary system

Baby binary stars dance in joint accretion disk
Click for full image.

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), astronomers have obtained the first high resolution image of a baby binary system, its two young stars dancing within a joint accretion disk.

Most stars in the universe come in the form of pairs – binaries – or even multiple star systems. Now, the formation of such a binary star system has been observed for the first time with high-resolution ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) images. An international team of astronomers led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics targeted the system [BHB2007] 11, the youngest member of a small cluster of young stellar objects in the Barnard 59 core in the Pipe nebula molecular cloud. While previous observations showed an accretion envelope surrounding a circum-binary disk, the new observations now also reveal its inner structure.

“We see two compact sources, that we interpret as circum-stellar disks around the two young stars,” explains Felipe Alves from MPE, who led the study. “The size of each of these disks is similar to the asteroid belt in our Solar System and their separation is 28 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth.” Both proto-stars are surrounded by a circum-binary disk with a total mass of about 80 Jupiter masses, which contains a complex network of dust structures distributed in spiral shapes. The shape of the filaments suggests streamers of in-falling material, which is confirmed by the observation of molecular emission lines.

Why most stars form as binary systems is as yet not understood. This data is a major first step towards figuring this out.

The make-up and temperature of Uranus’s rings

The rings of Uranus

New radio images taken by the ground-based telescopes by the ALMA and VLT telescopes in Chile have allowed scientists to better determine the make-up and temperature of the rings of Uranus.

The image above is from their paper. From the caption:

Images of the Uranian ring system at 3.1 mm (ALMA Band 3; 97.5 GHz), 2.1 mm (ALMA Band 4; 144 GHz), 1.3 mm (ALMA Band 6; 233 GHz), and 18.7 μm (VLT VISIR; 100 THz)…The planet itself is masked since it is very bright compared to the rings.

From the article above:

The new images taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) allowed the team for the first time to measure the temperature of the rings: a cool 77 Kelvin, or 77 degrees above absolute zero — the boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen and equivalent to 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The observations also confirm that Uranus’s brightest and densest ring, called the epsilon ring, differs from the other known ring systems within our solar system, in particular the spectacularly beautiful rings of Saturn.

“Saturn’s mainly icy rings are broad, bright and have a range of particle sizes, from micron-sized dust in the innermost D ring, to tens of meters in size in the main rings,” said Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy. “The small end is missing in the main rings of Uranus; the brightest ring, epsilon, is composed of golf ball-sized and larger rocks.” [emphasis mine]

The mystery is why this ring has no dust, something not seen with any other ring system in the solar system, including the inner rings of Uranus itself..

ALMA detects a solar flare on Mira 420 light years away

Mira A and Mira B

The just completed ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), a collection of 66 antennas located in Chile, has snapped a picture of the variable star Mira with its companion star, detecting details on the primary’s surface, including evidence of a solar flare.

Mira is a star with a mass like our Sun’s, but near the end of its life having evolved into a red giant that is shedding its outer layers. Being able to track its behavior with this kind of detail will allow astronomers to better hone their theories about the life and death of stars, including our own.

ALMA captures the rotation of the large asteroid Juno

The large ground-based telescope ALMA has captured a series of images of the large asteroid Juno, allowing scientists to estimate its rotation and overall shape.

Linked together into a brief animation, these high-resolution images show the asteroid rotating through space as it shines in millimeter-wavelength light. “In contrast to optical telescopes, which capture the reflected light from the Sun, the new ALMA images show the actual millimeter-wavelength light emitted by the asteroid,” said Todd Hunter, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Va.

…The complete ALMA observation, which includes 10 separate images, documents about 60 percent of one rotation of the asteroid. It was conducted over the course of four hours on 19 October 2014 when Juno was approximately 295 million kilometers from Earth. In these images, the asteroid’s axis of rotation is tilted away from the Earth, revealing its southern hemisphere most prominently.

The best image yet of the birth of a solar system

HL Tau

The new ground-based telescope ALMA has taken an amazing image of a baby star and the planet-forming accretion disk that surrounds it.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star. “These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk. This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image,” said ALMA Deputy Director Stuartt Corder.

ALMA has just been completed and is only in its initial shake-out period. It is also not an optical telescope, but observes in longer wavelengths above infrared. Thus, it can peer through dust clouds to see details like this. And these details confirm that the most accepted theory of planetary formation appears to be right.