For the first time, 3D images have been captured of a cosmological entity called the intergalactic medium (IGM). Until now, the structure of IGM had been theoretical.
The discovery could provide astronomers with a new understanding of galactic and intergalactic dynamics.
The images were captured with an instrument built at the California Institute of Technology called the Cosmic Web Imager. The device was installed on the Hale 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California.
IGM is a network or web of thread-like formations of diffuse gases left over from the Big Bang that links all the galaxies in the universe together.
Christopher Martin, professor of physics at Caltech, created and developed the device.
“I’ve been thinking about the intergalactic medium since I was a graduate student,” he said. “Not only does it comprise most of the normal matter in the universe, it is also the medium in which galaxies form and grow.”
The first intergalactic filaments of IGM imaged by Martin’s team were within an area of space occupied by a quasar and something known as a Lyman alpha blob – considered to be one of the largest objects in the universe – which was found within a developing galaxy cluster.
Martin and his colleagues observed one narrow filament that flowed into the quasar. The astronomers determined that it was about one million light-years long and might be powering the growth of the galaxy that contains the quasar. The team also found three filaments surrounding the Lyman alpha blob. Measurements indicated the diffuse gas from the filaments was pouring into the blob and affecting its dynamics.
The scientists associated with the Cosmic Web Imager say the device has already spotted one possible spiral-galaxy, three times the size of our Milky Way galaxy, that is still developing.
Planet Outside Solar System Spins Itself Into 8-hour Days
For the first time, astronomers have been able to measure the rotational speed of an exoplanet.
They found that a day on Beta Pictoris b, a young planet discovered about six years ago, is just eight hours long.
A team of astronomers from Leiden University in the Netherlands used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to make the measurement.
The team found that the planet, which is more than 16 times larger and has 3,000 times the mass of Earth, orbits its sun at a speed of about 100,000 km per hour at its equator.
Compare that to Earth, which rotates at an equatorial velocity of 1,700 km per hour, resulting in 24-hour days.
“It is not known why some planets spin fast and others more slowly,” says Remco de Kok, co-author of a paper outlining the discovery. “But this first measurement of an exoplanet’s rotation shows that the trend seen in the Solar System, where the more massive planets spin faster, also holds true for exoplanets. This must be some universal consequence of the way planets form.”
Beta Pictoris b orbits Beta Pictoris, a star visible to the naked eye, which is about 63 light-years from Earth. The star and its planet are within the southern constellation of Pictor, which means “the painter’s easel” in Latin.
Beta Pictoris b was also one of the first exoplanets to be directly imaged. Orbiting its star at a distance of about 1,196,782,968 km or 8 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun, it’s also the closest extrasolar planet to its star to be directly imaged.