NGC 3627: Revealing Hidden Black Holes
The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red), and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope (yellow). The inset shows the central region, which contains a bright X-ray source that is likely powered by material falling onto a supermassive black hole.
A search using archival data from previous Chandra observations of a sample of 62 nearby galaxies has shown that 37 of the galaxies, including NGC 3627, contain X-ray sources in their centers. Most of these sources are likely powered by central supermassive black holes. The survey, which also used data from the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey, found that seven of the 37 sources are new supermassive black hole candidates.
Confirming previous Chandra results, this study finds the fraction of galaxies found to be hosting supermassive black holes is much higher than found with optical searches. This shows the ability of X-ray observations to find black holes in galaxies where relatively low-level black hole activity has either been hidden by obscuring material or washed out by the bright optical light of the galaxy.
The combined X-ray and infrared data suggest that the nuclear activity in a galaxy is not necessarily related to the amount of star-formation in the galaxy, contrary to some early claims. In contrast, these new results suggest that the mass of the supermassive black hole and the rate at which the black hole accretes matter are both greater for galaxies with greater total masses.
A paper describing these results was published in the April 10, 2011 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The authors are Catherine Grier and Smita Mathur of The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH; Himel GHosh of CNRS/CEA-Saclay in Guf-sur-Yvette, France and Laura Ferrarese from Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, Canada.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.
Despina, Moon of Neptune
Despina is a tiny moon of Neptune. A mere 148 kilometers across, diminutive Despina was discovered in 1989, in images from the Voyager 2 spacecraft taken during its encounter with the solar system’s most distant gas giant planet. But looking through the Voyager 2 data 20 years later, amateur image processor (and philosophy professor) Ted Stryk discovered something no one had recognized before — images that show the shadow of Despina in transit across Neptune’s blue cloud tops. His composite view of Despina and its shadow is composed of four archival frames taken on August 24, 1989, separated by nine minutes. Despina itself has been artificially brightened to make it easier to see. In ancient Greek mythology, Despina is a daughter of Poseidon (the Roman god Neptune).
Large Binocular Telescope image shows the supernova in M51
An otherwise nondescript binary star system in the Whirlpool Galaxy has brought astronomers tantalizingly close to their goal of observing a star just before it goes supernova.
In the first survey of its kind, the researchers have been scanning 25 nearby galaxies for stars that brighten and dim in unusual ways, in order to catch a few that are about to meet their end. In the three years since the study began, this particular unnamed binary system in the Whirlpool Galaxy was the first among the stars they’ve cataloged to produce a supernova.
The astronomers were trying to find out if there are patterns of brightening or dimming that herald the end of a star’s life. Instead, they saw one star in this binary system dim noticeably before the other one exploded in a supernova during the summer of 2011. [ … ]
The system is believed to have contained one very bright blue star and one even brighter red star. From what the astronomers can tell, it’s likely that the red star is the one that dimmed over the three years, before the blue star initiated the supernova.
Credit: Ohio State University
This is an image of one-half of the Hubble Space Telescope field of view in the Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search (SWEEPS). The field contains approximately 150,000 stars, down to 30th magnitude. The stars in the Galactic disk and bulge have a mixture of colors and masses. The field is so crowded with stars because Hubble was looking across 26,000 light-years of space in the direction of the center of our galaxy.
Half of these stars are bright enough for Hubble to monitor for any small, brief and periodic dips in brightness caused by the passage of an exoplanet passing in front of the star, an event called a transit. Hubble took approximately 520 pictures of this field, at red and blue wavelengths, from Feb. 22-29, 2004. The green circles identify 9 stars that are orbited by planets with periods of a few days. Planets so close to their stars with such short orbital periods are called “hot Jupiters.”
These are considered “candidate” exoplanets because most of them are too faint to allow for spectroscopic observations that would allow for a precise measure of the planet’s mass. The Hubble observations allow for a robust statistical estimate of the possible “false positives,” which suggests that at least 45 percent of the candidates must be genuine planets.
The bottom frame identifies one of two stars in the field where astronomers were able to spectroscopically measure the star’s back-and-forth wobble due to the pull of the planet. The planet turns out to be less than 3.8 Jupiter masses.