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EXTREME UNIVERSE: Early Quasar Is Brightest Object Ever Found in the Universe June 30, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Black Holes, Extreme Universe, Quasars.
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Artist concept of a nearby quasar, Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA by Lynette Cook

It’s not the most distant object ever seen, but a redshift of 7.1, putting it at an age of 12.9 billion years old. It is the furthest quasar ever seen.  Seen in the picture below, the center red dot, it is also quite bright, it is estimated that it’s luminosity is 60 trillion times that of the sun!

What could power such a beast? In a paper published today in the journal Nature, it is estimated that a supermassive black hole of 2 billion solar masses would be necessary to power such a monster. I’ll also add, it must be well fed with gas and dust falling into it, as an isolated black hole would not be seen.

Image of the new most distant quasar ULAS J1120+0641. The quasar is the red dot near the center of the image. The picture is a color composite made from images taken with the Liverpool Telescope and the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope. The quasar lies in the constellation Leo, a few degrees from the bright galaxy Messier 66. Image Credit: UKIRT/Liverpool Telescope

Quasars like this were common in the universe one to ten billion years ago. Much earlier than ten billion years, it’s thought the universe would not have enough time to easily form black holes big enough to be seen as quasars.   ULAS J1120+0641 was formed only 770 million years after the big bang. It is estimated that only about 100 of these bright quasars are at this distance. It’s existence is an important clue into the formation of these supermassive black holes.

Although more distant objects have been confirmed (such as a gamma-ray burst at redshift 8.2, and a galaxy at redshift 8.6), the newly discovered quasar is hundreds of times brighter than these. Among objects bright enough to be studied in detail, this is the most distant by a large margin.

Its brightness, at 60 trillion times the luminosity of the sun, mean that even at this large distance you can get a quality spectrum.

The hunt for this object was a 5 year endeavor.The European UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) which uses the UK’s dedicated infrared telescope in Hawaii was designed to solve this problem. The team of astronomers hunted through millions of objects in the UKIDSS database to find those that could be the long-sought distant quasars, and eventually struck gold.

“It took us five years to find this object,” explains Bram Venemans, one of the authors of the study. “We were looking for a quasar with redshift higher than 6.5. Finding one that is this far away, at a redshift higher than 7, was an exciting surprise. By peering deep into the reionisation era, this quasar provides a unique opportunity to explore a 100-million-year window in the history of the cosmos that was previously out of reach.”

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Observatory Open House Tonight! June 24, 2011

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EIU Observatory

It’s the last Friday of the month. Time foe the open house. Rain or Shine. If it’s clear, observing will start at 8:30PM, June 24, TONIGHT. We hope to see Saturn through the 16 inch telescope.

Asteroid will be a “near miss” on June 27th of 2011 June 23, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroid, Astronomy.
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(From NANCY ATKINSON at Universe Today):A newly discovered house-sized asteroid will miss the Earth by less than 17,700 km (11,000 miles) on Monday June 27, 2011. That’s about 23 times closer than the Moon. The size and location of the asteroid, named 2011 MD, should allow observers in certain locations to take a look at the space rock, even with small telescopes. It’s closest approach will be at 13:26 UTC on June 27.

According to Skymania, 2011 MD was found just yesterday, June 22, by LINEAR, a pair of robotic telescopes in New Mexico that scan the skies for Near Earth Asteroids.

As of now, asteroid 2011 MD is estimated to be between 9 to 45 meters (10 to 50 yards) wide. Dr. Emily Baldwin, of Astronomy Now magazine, said there is no danger of the asteroid hitting Earth, and even if it did enter the atmosphere, an asteroid this size would “mostly burn up in a brilliant fireball, possibly scattering a few meteorites.”

To find out updated information on 2011 MD’s ephemeris, physical parameters and more, including an orbit diagram and close-approach data, see this page on JPL’s Solar System Dynamics website.

According to Skymania, 2011 MD was found just yesterday, June 22, by LINEAR, a pair of robotic telescopes in New Mexico that scan the skies for Near Earth Asteroids.

As of now, asteroid 2011 MD is estimated to be between 9 to 45 meters (10 to 50 yards) wide. Dr. Emily Baldwin, of Astronomy Now magazine, said there is no danger of the asteroid hitting Earth, and even if it did enter the atmosphere, an asteroid this size would “mostly burn up in a brilliant fireball, possibly scattering a few meteorites.”

To find out updated information on 2011 MD’s ephemeris, physical parameters and more, including an orbit diagram and close-approach data, see this page on JPL’s Solar System Dynamics website.

2011 SUMMER SOLSTICE June 21, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Solar and Space weather.
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Today, June 21, 2001, at 17:16 UTC (12:16 p.m. Central US time), the Earth’s axis will point toward the center of the Sun. Or from an Earth-boundpoint of view old Sol will reach its peak in its northward travels this year. This moment is the summer solstice. Known as “Midsummer” the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter in the Southern hemisphere. The origin from  the Latin for sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). The Sun reaches its most Northerly point, or it is the highest in the sky from the northern hemisphere, creating around this date the longest day and shortest night.  Momentarily standing still before starting its journey South until it reaches its most Southerly point “Winter Solstice”, before repeating the cycle. This is basically how we get our seasons.

Stonehenge

NEW PODCAST: Probing the Kuiper Belt and Beyond June 17, 2011

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http://365daysofastronomy.org/2011/06/14/june-14th-probing-the-kuiper-belt-and-beyond/

Description: Meg and Brooke discuss what we have learned by studying the small planetesimals orbiting beyond Neptune in the Kuiper belt and beyond. In particular they discuss Sedna, a roughly Pluto-sized body on a highly eccentric orbit beyond Neptune that challenges our understanding of the solar system and suggests the presence of a distant icy population of bodies residing beyond the Kuiper belt. They discuss the possible origin of Sedna’s orbit and the search for more Sedna-like bodies.

Bio: Meg Schwamb is National Science Foundation (NSF) Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University’s Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (YCAA). As part of the La Silla-QUEST KBO Survey (http://hepwww.physics.yale.edu/lsqkbo), she is searching the southern skies for the largest and brightest members of the Kuiper belt and beyond, and studying the orbital and physical characteristics of these new discoveries. Meg is also studying the processes of planet formation and evolution as project scientist for Planet Hunters (www.planethunters.org), a citizen science project searching for the signatures of transiting exoplanets in the data collected by NASA’s Kepler mission.

Brooke Simmons is a researcher at the Yale Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics, studying the mechanisms by which black holes and galaxies co-evolve over cosmic time. Currently, her research focuses on extending our understanding of galaxies hosting actively growing supermassive black holes to a time when the universe was less than a quarter of its present age. Brooke is also actively involved in Galaxy Zoo (www.galaxyzoo.org), a citizen science project that invites the public to participate in forefront scientific research.

Summer is Here! June 14, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Observatory.
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The end of the semester is over, and I now have  time to tell you about the wonderful astronomy we’ve been doing these last few months at the Physics Department Observatory  and in the region. Today let me show you a recent television segment that appeared last month on the TV show, Heartland Highways.

More videos from the EIU Physics department are on our YouTube channel.

Special thanks to Heartland Highways and the video office at Eastern.