Saturday, June 26, 2010

Still alive

I'm still alive, just rather busy settling into the new job and the added commuting. When I have time I'll get back to posting. In the mean time:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Japanese satellite succesfully deploys solar sail

JAXA's IKAROS satellite has successfully deployed it solar sail and is getting power from the thin film solar panels. It'll be another six month's before we'll know whether the next part of the mission, actually being propelled by radiation pressure on the sail, is successful.

The JAXA press release has a really nice graphic explaining how the sail was unfurled.

For more on solar sails, see the SolarSailWiki.

Interesting Astrophysics: June 01 to June 11

This is the final edition of Interesting Astrophysics with me working as a professional astrophysicist, as I start a new job outside astronomy next week. If I have the spare time at home I may try to continue this series, but perhaps at a reduced rate.

Nevertheless, there is some interesting stuff to look at. Molecular gas in starbursts is the subject of the Bothwell et al, Naylor et al, and Feruglio et al papers. In terms of winds, Muzic et al discuss possible/futher evidence of a wind within the central regions of our own galaxy (I still remain somewhat sceptical that the Milky Way hosts a true galactic wind), Kobulnicky & Martin present X-ray observations of the dwarf starburst Henize 2-10, Feruglio et al claim there is a hugely energetic molecular outflow in Markarian 231 that can only be power by an AGN, and Fischer discuss the geometry of the outflow in the central kiloparsec of the Seyfert 2 galaxy Mrk 573. Randall Smith and collaborators have posted two interesting X-ray line diagnostics papers, for all your X-ray spectroscopists out there.

Galaxies and Starbursts

AKARI infrared observations of edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 3079
Mitsuyoshi Yamagishi, Hidehiro Kaneda, Daisuke Ishihara, Shinya Komugi, Takashi Onaka, Toyoaki Suzuki, arXiv:1005.5251 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: 15 pages, 7 figures, accepted for publication in PASJ

High-resolution CO and radio imaging of ULIRGs: extended CO structures and implications for the universal star formation law
M. S. Bothwell, S. C. Chapman, L. Tacconi, Ian Smail, R. J. Ivison, C. M. Casey, F. Bertoldi, R. Beswick, A. Biggs, A. W. Blain, P. Cox, R. Genzel, T. R. Greve, R. Kennicutt, T. Muxlow, R. Neri, A. Omont, 2010, MNRAS, 405, 219
Full Text: HTML, PDF (Size: 1391K)

From their abstract: "We find a difference in size between the CO and radio emission regions, and as such we suggest that using the spatial extent of the CO emission region to estimate the surface density of star formation may lead to error. This size difference also causes the star formation efficiencies within systems to vary by up to a factor of 5. We also find, with our new accurate sizes, that SMGs lie significantly above the KS relation, indicating that stars are formed more efficiently in these extreme systems than in other high- z star-forming galaxies."

A Census of the High-Density Molecular Gas in M82
B. J. Naylor, C. M. Bradford, J. E. Aguirre, J. J. Bock, L. Earle, J. Glenn, H. Inami, J. Kamenetzky, P. R. Maloney, H. Matsuhara, H. T. Nguyen, J. Zmuidzinas, arXiv:1006.1964 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: 15 pages (using emulateapj.cls), 6 figures, submitted to the Astrophysical Journal

From their abstract: "We present a three-pointing study of the molecular gas in the starburst nucleus of M82 based on 190 - 307 GHz spectra obtained with Z-Spec at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory. We measure intensities or upper-limits for 20 transitions, including several new detections of CS, HNC, C2H, H2CO and CH3CCH lines. We combine our measurements with previously-published measurements at other frequencies for HCN, HNC, CS, C34S, and HCO+ in a multi-species likelihood analysis constraining gas mass, density and temperature, and the species' relative abundances. We find some 1.7 - 2.7 x 10^8 M_sun of gas with n_H2 between 1 - 6 x 10^4 cm^-3 and T > 50 K. While the mass and temperature are comparable to values inferred from mid-J CO transitions, the thermal pressure is a factor of 10 - 20 greater."

Their median thermal pressure estimate P/k ~ 106.4 K cm-3 for the molecular gas, is a little lower than our (Strickland & Heckman 2009) estimates for the very hot gas in the starburst (P/k ~107), but for astrophysical work that's actually pretty close - its certainly closer than some other estimates in the literature. Nor would I expect the molecular gas to be in exact thermal pressure equilibrium with the hot gas.

Cometary shaped sources at the Galactic Center - Evidence for a wind from the central 0.2 pc
K. Muzic, A. Eckart, R. Schoedel, R. Buchholz, M. Zamaninasab, arXiv:1006.0909 [pdf, other]
Comments: to appear in A&A

Abstract in full: "In 2007 we reported two cometary shaped sources in the vicinity of Sgr A* (0.8" and 3.4" projected distance), named X7 and X3. The symmetry axes of the two sources are aligned to within 5 degrees in the plane of the sky and the tips of their bow-shocks point towards Sgr A*. Our measurements show that the proper motion vectors of both features are pointing in directions more than 45 deg away from the line that connects them with Sgr A*. This misalignment of the bow-shock symmetry axes and their proper motion vectors, combined with the high proper motion velocities of several 100 km/s, suggest that the bow-shocks must be produced by an interaction with some external fast wind, possibly coming from Sgr A*, or stars in its vicinity. We have developed a bow-shock model to fit the observed morphology and constrain the source of the external wind. The result of our modeling allows us to estimate the velocity of the external wind, making sure that all likely stellar types of the bow-shock stars are considered. We show that neither of the two bow-shocks (one of which is clearly associated with a stellar source) can be produced by influence of a stellar wind of a single mass-losing star in the central parsec. Instead, an outflow carrying a momentum comparable to the one contributed by the ensemble of the massive young stars, can drive shock velocities capable of producing the observed cometary features. We argue that a collimated outflow arising perpendicular to the plane of the clockwise rotating stars (CWS), can easily account for the two features and the mini-cavity. However, the collective wind from the CWS has a scale of >10''. The presence of a strong, mass-loaded outbound wind at projected distances from Sgr A* of <1'' is in fact in agreement with models that predict a highly inefficient accretion onto the central black hole due to a strongly radius dependent accretion flow."

Exploring the Origin and Fate of the Magellanic Stream with Ultraviolet and Optical Absorption

Andrew J. Fox, Bart P. Wakker, Jonathan V. Smoker, Philipp Richter, Blair D. Savage, Kenneth R. Sembach, arXiv:1006.0974 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: Accepted for publication in ApJ. 18 pages, 7 figures, all in color

From their abstract: "Summing over the low-ion and high-ion phases, we derive conservative lower limits on the ratio N(total H II)/N(H I) of >19 toward NGC 7469 and >330 toward Mrk 335, showing that along these two directions the vast majority of the Stream has been ionized. The presence of warm-hot plasma together with the small-scale structure observed at 21 cm provides evidence for an evaporative interaction with the hot Galactic corona. This scenario, predicted by hydrodynamical simulations, suggests that the fate of the MS will be to replenish the Galactic corona with new plasma, rather than to bring neutral fuel to the disk."

The Diffuse and Compact X-ray Components of the Starburst Galaxy Henize~2-10
Henry A. Kobulnicky, Crystal L. Martin, arXiv:1006.1189 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: Accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal; a version with high-resolution figures can be found at this http URL

From their abstract: "Chandra X-ray imaging spectroscopy of the starburst galaxy Henize 2-10 reveals a strong nuclear point source and at least two fainter compact sources embedded within a more luminous diffuse thermal component. ...Two-temperature solar-composition plasmas (kT~0.2 keV and kT~0.7 keV) fit the diffuse X-ray component as well as single-temperature plasmas with enhanced alpha/Fe ratios. Since the observed radial gradient of the X-ray surface brightness closely follows that of the Halpha emission, the composition of the X-ray plasma likely reflects mixing of the ambient cool/warm ISM with an even hotter, low emission measure plasma, thereby explaining the ~solar ISM composition. Aperture synthesis 21-cm maps show an extended neutral medium to radii of 60" so that the warm and hot phases of the ISM, which extend to ~30", are enveloped within the 8x10^20 /cm^2 contour of the cool neutral medium. This extended neutral halo may serve to inhibit a starburst-driven outflow unless it is predominantly along the line of sight. The high areal density of star formation can also be reconciled with the lack of prominent outflow signatures if Henize 2-10 is in the very early stages of developing a galactic wind."

Black Holes and AGN

Quasar feedback revealed by giant molecular outflows
Chiara Feruglio, Roberto Maiolino, Enrico Piconcelli, Nicola Menci, Herve' Aussel, Alessandra Lamastra, Fabrizio Fiore, arXiv:1006.1655 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: Submitted for publication in A&A Letters. 4 pages, 3 figures

From their abstract: "We used the IRAM PdBI to observe the CO(1-0) transition in Mrk 231, the closest quasar known. We detect broad wings of the CO line, with velocities up to 750 km/s and spatially resolved on the kpc scale. Such broad CO wings trace a giant molecular outflow of about 2000 MSun/year, far larger than the ongoing star-formation rate (~200 MSun/year) observed in the host galaxy. This wind will totally expel the cold gas reservoir in Markarian 231 in less than 1e7 yrs, therefore halting the star-formation activity on the same timescale. The inferred kinetic energy in the molecular outflow is ~4e44 erg/s, corresponding to 7% of the AGN bolometric luminosity, which is very close to the fraction expected by models ascribing quasar feedback to highly supersonic shocks generated by radiatively accelerated nuclear winds. Instead, the contribution by the SNe fall short by orders of magnitude to account for the outflow kinetic energy."

There is going to be some skepticism about this paper in the superwind community, given the uncertainties in CO to hydrogen conversion factors. In terms of the larger scale (10+ kpc) superwind Mrk 231 is not that different from other ULIRGs with winds.

Modeling the Outflow in the Narrow-Line Region of Markarian 573: Biconical Illumination of a Gaseous Disk
T. C. Fischer, D. M. Crenshaw, S. B. Kraemer, H. R. Schmitt, M. L. Trippe, arXiv:1006.1875 [pdf]
Comments: 20 pages, 5 figures (1 color), to be published in The Astronomical Journal
Subjects: Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics (astro-ph.CO)

Abstract in full: "We present a study of the outflowing ionized gas in the resolved narrow-line region (NLR) of the Seyfert 2 galaxy Mrk 573, and its interaction with an in- ner dust/gas disk, based on Hubble Space Telescope (HST) WFPC2 and STIS observations. From the spectroscopic and imaging information, we determined the fundamental geometry of the outflow and inner disk, via two modeling pro- grams used to recreate the morphology of these regions imaged with HST. We also determined that the bicone of ionizing radiation from the Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN) intersects with the inner disk, illuminating a section of the disk including inner segments of spiral arms, fully seen through structure mapping, which appear to be outflowing and expanding. In addition, we see high velocities at projected distances of \geq 2'' (- 700 pc) from the nucleus, which could be due to rotation or to in situ acceleration of gas off the spiral arms. We find that the true half opening angle of the ionizing bicone (53 degrees) is much larger than the apparent half-opening angle (34 degrees) due to the above geometry, which may apply to a number of other Seyferts as well."

X-ray Astronomy

Ionization Equilibrium Timescales in Collisional Plasmas
Randall K. Smith, John P. Hughes, arXiv:1006.0254 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: 4 pages, 2 figures. Accepted for publication by the Astrophysical Journal

Full abstract: "Astrophysical shocks or bursts from a photoionizing source can disturb the typical collisional plasma found in galactic interstellar media or the intergalactic medium. The spectrum emitted by this plasma contains diagnostics that have been used to determine the time since the disturbing event, although this determination becomes uncertain as the elements in the plasma return to ionization equilibrium. A general solution for the equilibrium timescale for each element arises from the elegant eigenvector method of solution to the problem of a non-equilibrium plasma described by Masai (1984) and Hughes & Helfand (1985). In general the ionization evolution of an element Z in a constant electron temperature plasma is given by a coupled set of Z+1 first order differential equations. However, they can be recast as Z uncoupled first order differential equations using an eigenvector basis for the system. The solution is then Z separate exponential functions, with the time constants given by the eigenvalues of the rate matrix. The smallest of these eigenvalues gives the scale of slowest return to equilibrium independent of the initial conditions, while conversely the largest eigenvalue is the scale of the fastest change in the ion population. These results hold for an ionizing plasma, a recombining plasma, or even a plasma with random initial conditions, and will allow users of these diagnostics to determine directly if their best-fit result significantly limits the timescale since a disturbance or is so close to equilibrium as to include an arbitrarily-long time"

Hooray, it has finally appeared!

A New Calculation of Ne IX Line Diagnostics

Randall K. Smith, Guo-Xin Chen, Kate Kirby, Nancy S. Brickhouse, arXiv:1006.0667 [pdf, ps, other]
Journal-ref: 2009, ApJ, 700, 679

Their abstract: "We describe the effect that new atomic calculations, including fully-relativistic R-matrix calculations of collisional excitation rates and level-specific dielectronic and radiative recombination rates, have on line ratios from the astrophysically significant ion Ne IX. The new excitation rates systematically change some predicted Ne IX line ratios by 25% at temperatures at or below the temperature of maximum emissivity (4x10^6 K), while the new recombination rates lead to systematic changes at higher temperatures. The new line ratios are shown to agree with observations of Capella and sigma^2 CrB significantly better than older line ratios, showing that 25-30% accuracy in atomic rates is inadequate for high-resolution X-ray observations from existing spectrometers."

This paper is from last year, but worth keeping in mind.

Numerical Astrophysics and Hydrodynamics

Inviscid SPH
Lee Cullen, Walter Dehnen, arXiv:1006.1524 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: 14 pages (15 in arXiv), 15 figures, accepted for publication in MNRAS

Abstract in full: "In smooth-particle hydrodynamics (SPH), artificial viscosity is necessary for the correct treatment of shocks, but often generates unwanted dissipation away from shocks. We present a novel method of controlling the amount of artificial viscosity, which uses the total time derivative of the velocity divergence as shock indicator and aims at completely eliminating viscosity away from shocks. We subject the new scheme to numerous tests and find that the method works at least as well as any previous technique in the strong-shock regime, but becomes virtually inviscid away from shocks, while still maintaining particle order. In particular sound waves or oscillations of gas spheres are hardly damped over many periods."

Stars, Supernovae and Planets

Atmospheric mass loss by stellar wind from planets around main sequence M stars
Jesus Zendejas, Antigona Segura, Alejandro Raga, arXiv:1006.0021 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: Icarus, submitted. 18 pages, 6 figures

They conclude that for late type M dwarfs (later than M5),most planets within the habitable zone may have lost their atmospheres in 1 Gyr or less.

The Evolution of Cloud Cores and the Formation of Stars
Avery E. Broderick, Eric Keto, arXiv:1006.0733 [pdf, ps, other]
Comments: 12 pages, 7 figures, submitted to ApJ

Friday, June 04, 2010

Jupiter gets hit again!

Just last year an asteroid hit Jupiter. At that time no one saw the impact directly, but the aftermath was spotted by amateur astronomers.

Now Jupiter has been hit again, and some amateurs astronomers were lucky enough to capture the impact directly. Amazingly awesome.

For more info see this Bad Astronomy post.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What I want for my birthday: a table-top X-ray laser

Chad Orzel has a nice post at Uncertain Principles about work at JILA on creating table-top devices that can produce pulses of coherent X-ray emission, i.e. X-ray lasers, with energies of of several hundred eV to ~1 keV.

Given the current difficulties in producing effectively parallel beams of X-ray for use in calibrating X-ray mirrors and detectors this new technology may be very useful.