Everyone loves a good mystery, and astronomers have just uncovered a new one in a nearby supermassive galaxy called M87. Like most galaxies, M87 regularly plays host to a smattering of stellar explosions called novae, each the result of a star stealing material from a neighbour. M87 also features a massive jet of plasma blasting out into deep space from the galactic core. These phenomena: the jet and the novae, are unrelated astronomical occurrences, or so scientists believed. But astronomers recently discovered that the novae in M87 seem to be uncharacteristically aligned along the jet, instead of scattered randomly throughout the galaxy. Is the jet somehow triggering nova explosions?
It might be, but the mystery is: how?
Using data from two separate surveys by the Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers confirmed the presence of 135 novae within M87, and they appear to occur with unexpected frequency in the path of the jet. “The likelihood that this distribution occurred by chance is of order 0.3%,” the team wrote in a preprint release of their paper last week.
For the moment, it is unclear if this situation is unique to M87, or if this is a common effect of galactic jets.
“No other galaxy with jets has been observed with sufficient sensitivity or frequency to yield samples of novae large enough to check if M87’s putative nova-jet connection is ubiquitous, rare or spurious,” the scientists said.
Artist’s conception of a white dwarf, right, accreting hydrogen from its companion star. NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.
Here’s what we know so far. Novae are caused by explosions from the surface of white-dwarf stars. For a nova to occur, the white dwarf must be in a binary pair, and be close enough to its partner star to accrete material from it. Unlike a supernova, a nova doesn’t completely destroy the white dwarf, and the same star can have multiple novae occur over time as more and more material is stolen from its partner.
Meanwhile, M87’s galactic jet is driven by the black hole at the centre of the galaxy – which, incidentally, was the first black hole ever imaged by astronomers in 2019. As material spirals in towards the back hole, an accretion disk forms around it, and powerful magnetic fields funnel intense radiation outward, causing it to be expelled at relativistic speeds, travelling almost 5000 lightyears out into deep space.
The black hole at the centre of M87. Event Horizon Telescope.
There are a couple of theories as to how the jet might set off novae.
One simple explanation is that radiation from the jet is heating donor stars in its path, increasing mass transfer to their white dwarf partners and triggering a thermonuclear runaway. Such heating would make novae more frequent.
Unfortunately, the math on this theory doesn’t check out. As powerful as the radiation from the jet is, the stars are too small and the distances too great for it to have much influence. We can probably rule this answer out: the effect is “orders of magnitude” too weak.
Another suggestion is that the jet is triggering star formation: more stars means more binaries, which means more novae. But there’s a problem with this explanation too. In this scenario, you would also expect to see a similar increase in star formation along the galaxy’s ‘counterjet’, and that isn’t borne out by the evidence.
So astronomers are going back to the drawing board.
There are a couple of other ideas they are considering but have not yet properly tested. Perhaps, for example, the jet’s shock waves are shepherding gas and dust together as it moves through the galaxy, forming clouds of interstellar medium. As one of these clouds arrives at a binary star system, it would increase the rate of material accretion, setting off a nova. Similarly, a shock wave might also heat a star up (more effectively than radiation
Did you miss our previous article…
Fly Slowly Through Enceladus’ Plumes to Detect Life
Enceladus is blasting water into space from the jets at its southern pole. This makes it the ideal place to send a dedicated mission, flying the spacecraft through the plumes with life-detection instruments s. A new study suggests that a spacecraft must proceed carefully through the plumes, keeping its speed below 4.2 km/second (2,236 miles per hour). Using a specialized, custom-built aerosol impact spectrometer at these speeds will allow fragile amino acids to be captured by the spacecraft’s sample collector. Any faster, they’ll shatter, providing inclusive results.
One of the biggest surprises of the 20-year Cassini mission to the Saturn system was the discovery of the active geysers at Enceladus. At only about 500 km (310 miles) in diameter, the ice-covered Enceladus should be too small and too far from the Sun to be active. Instead, this little moon is one of the most geologically dynamic objects in the Solar System.
Geysers spew from Enceladus in this image from the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Cassini mission.
Cassini’s stunning backlit images of this moon show plumes erupting in Yellowstone-like geysers, emanating from tiger-stripe-shaped fractures in the moon’s surface. The discovery of the geysers took on more importance when Cassini later determined the plumes contained water ice and organics. Since life as we know it relies on water and a source of energy, this small but energetic moon has been added to the short list of possible places for life in our Solar System.
During three of Cassini’s passes of Enceladus in 2008 and 2009, the spacecraft’s Cosmic Dust Analyser measured the composition of freshly ejected plume grains. The icy particles hit the detector target at speeds of 6.5–17.5 km/s, and vaporized instantly. While electrical fields inside the instrument were able to separate the various constituents of the resulting impact cloud for analysis, for a future mission, scientists would like to measure the particles in the plumes without completely vaporizing them.
Back in 2012, researchers from the University of California San Diego started working on a custom-built unique aerosol impact spectrometer, designed to study collision dynamics of single aerosols and particles at high velocities. Although it wasn’t built specifically to study ice grain impacts, it turns out this instrument might be exactly what planetary scientists are looking for to use at Enceladus, or even at Jupiter’s moon Europa, where there is growing evidence of active plumes of water vapor erupting from its surface.
Robert Continetti’s one-of-a-kind aerosol impact spectrometer was used in this experiment. Ice grains impact the microchannel plate detector (far right) at hypervelocity speeds, which can then be characterized in-situ.
Continetti and several colleague have now tested the device in a laboratory, showing that amino acids transported in ice plumes — like at Enceladus — can survive impact speeds of up to 4.2 km/s. Their research is published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“This apparatus is the only one of its kind in the world that can select single particles and accelerate or decelerate them to chosen final velocities,” said Robert Continetti, a professor from UC San Diego, in a press release. “From several micron diameters down to hundreds of nanometers, in a variety of materials, we’re able to examine particle behavior, such as how they scatter or how their structures change upon impact.”
From Cassini’s measurements, scientists estimate the ice plumes at Enceladus blast out at approximately .4 km/s (800 miles per hour). A spacecraft would have to fly at the right speeds to make sure the particles could be captured intact.
This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapour erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by Hubble’s Imaging
Did you miss our previous article…
The International Space Station Celebrates 25 Years in Space
NASA recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the International Space Station (ISS) with a space-to-Earth call between the 7-person Expedition 70 crew and outgoing NASA Associate Administrator, Bob Cabana, and ISS Program Manager, Joel Montalbano. On December 6, 1998, the U.S.-built Unity module and the Russian-built Zarya module were mated in the Space Shuttle Endeavour cargo bay, as Endeavour was responsible for launching Unity into orbit that same day, with Zarya having waited in orbit after being launched on November 20 from Kazakhstan.
“I cannot believe it was 25 years ago today that we grappled Zarya and joined it with the Unity node,” said Cabana during the call from NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Absolutely amazing.”
While this milestone marks 25 years since the first two ISS modules were attached, it would be another two years until the ISS had a crew, Expedition 1, which arrived at the ISS in November 2000 and stayed until March 2001, beginning an uninterrupted human presence on the ISS that continues today. During the two-year period between the first mating and Expedition 1, the Russian-built Zvedza module was attached to the Unity and Zarya modules on July 26, 2000, after launching from Kazakhstan two weeks earlier. Assembly of the large modules of the ISS would continue until 2021 when the Roscosmos-funded Nauka module was attached in July 2021.
Now in its final configuration, the ISS is approximately the size of an American gridiron football field consisting of 8 solar arrays that provide the station’s power while maintaining an average altitude of 400 kilometers (250 miles). Its massive size consists of a pressurized module length along the major axis of 67 meters (218 feet), a truss (primary body) length of 94 meters (310 feet), a solar array length (measured along the truss) of 73 meters (239 feet), and a total mass of 419,725 kilograms (925,335 pounds).
Artist rendition of the ISS compared to an American gridiron football field. (Credit: NASA)
Image of the ISS taken by SpaceX Crew-2 mission on November 8, 2021 after it successfully undocked from the ISS Harmony module. (Credit: NASA)
Ever since the 3-person Expedition 1 crew first took command of the ISS, a total of 273 individuals from 21 countries have visited the orbiting laboratory and have been comprised of trained astronauts and private visitors. From most visitors to least, the following visitor countries include the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Great Britain, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Sweden.
“One of my favorite aspects of the International Space Station is the international part of it,” said NASA Astronaut and Expedition 70 Flight Engineer, Jasmin Moghbeli, during the call. “We each bring our unique perspectives, not just from our different nationalities, but also our different backgrounds. I think we’re definitely strengthened by the international partnership. It’s just like gaining redundancy when you have multiple partners working together. It’s stronger and more resilient to any sort of problems or obstacles that come our way and so it definitely makes us stronger. And I think that’s why we have had the International Space Station up here for 25 years now.”
Starship | Second Flight Test
On November 18, 2023, Starship successfully lifted off at 7:02 a.m. CT from Starbase on its second integrated flight test.
While it didn’t happen in a lab or on a test stand, it was absolutely a test. What we did with this second flight will provide invaluable data to continue rapidly developing Starship.
The test achieved a number of major milestones, helping us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary. The team at Starbase is already working final preparations on the vehicles slated for use in Starship’s third flight test.
Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting second flight test of Starship!
Follow us on X.com/SpaceX for continued updates on Starship’s progress
Did you miss our previous article…
M Brand2 days ago
Discover Natural Remedies For Enlarged Prostate vs Pharmaceuticals
M Brand5 days ago
Discover The Benefits Of Improving Problem Solving Skills In Everyday Life
Grooming5 days ago
ONE Cologne Men Should Buy? Jeremy Fragrance Recommendations
Frontier Adventure4 days ago
Red Sprites are Best Seen from Space
Baller Awards5 days ago
Geoff Keighley invites you to The Game Awards 2023. Watch the impressive trailer for the event
Baller Awards5 days ago
FIFA Men’s World Rankings December 2023: Top 20 Nations
Travel5 days ago
Tips for Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka
Frontier Adventure5 days ago
Europa Clipper Could Help Discover if Jupiter’s Moon is Habitable