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June 2018: The Golden Future

June 2018

In the show this time, we talk to Daniele Michilli about the repeating fast radio burst and its environment, Shruti Badole rounds up the latest news, and we find out what we can see in the June night sky from Ian Morison, and Gaby Perez.

The News

In this months news: In a recent study published in the journal Icarus, astronomers at the Southwest Research Institute have developed a new theory about Pluto's formation. The scientists came up with the model, known as "the giant comet's cosmochemical model of Pluto formation", based on data from NASA's New Horizons and ESA's Rosetta mission.

In a press release by the institute, Dr. Christopher Glein of the institute's Space Science and Engineering Division, said: "We found an intriguing consistency between the estimated amount of nitrogen inside the glacier and the amount that would be expected if Pluto was formed by the agglomeration of roughly a billion comets or other Kuiper Belt objects similar in chemical composition to 67P, the comet explored by Rosetta. Our research suggests that Pluto's initial chemical makeup, inherited from cometary building blocks, was chemically modified by liquid water, perhaps even in a subsurface ocean.

This research builds upon the fantastic successes of the New Horizons and Rosetta missions to expand our understanding of the origin and evolution of Pluto. Using chemistry as a detective's tool, we are able to trace certain features we see on Pluto today to formation processes from long ago. This leads to a new appreciation of the richness of Pluto's 'life story', which we are only starting to grasp".

In the news, Astronomers from ETH Zurich have recently detected six dark galaxies. Dark galaxies are those galaxies that are devoid of stars, thus making them difficult to detect as they do not emit light. In spite of substantial efforts, the theory of galaxy formation and evolution is not entirely clear to astronomers. Some theoretical models suggest the existence of an epoch in the early phase of galaxy formation when galaxies contained substantial amount of gas but were still inefficient at star formation. Detecting these dark galaxies has been a challenge, but there are still methods to do so.

One way to observe dark galaxies is to illuminate them in presence of an external source of light, such as a background quasar. This is a way that ETH Zurich astronomers Dr Raffaella Anna Marino and Prof. Sebastiano Cantalupo have employed. Quasars are bright, compact objects that are believed to be powered by supermassive black holes. The intense UV light emitted by quasars induces fluorescent emission in hydrogen atoms known as the Lyman-alpha line. This causes the hydrogen in any dark galaxies in the vicinity of the quasar to give off visible, fluorescent light, thus making the otherwise hidden galaxies visible.

In a news release, the university reported that although "such 'fluorescent illumination' has been used before in searches for dark galaxies', Marino and the team of astronomers now looked at the neighbourhood of quasars at greater distances than has been possible in earlier observations". This was done with the help of the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument, attached to the European Space Observatory (ESO)'s Very Large Telescope (VLT). As per the news release, "the team acquired the full spectral information for each of the dark galaxy candidates. Deep observations up to 10 hours for each of the six quasar fields they studied enabled Marino and her colleagues to efficiently tell dark-galaxy candidates apart from other sources. From initially 200 Lyman alpha emitters, half a dozen regions remained that are unlikely to be normal star-forming stellar populations, making them robust candidates for dark galaxies". The study was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal. Click on these links and dark-galaxies for more information.

And finally, The 65cm MeerLICHT telescope was recently inaugurated at the Sutherland Observatory in South Africa. MeerLICHT, which is Dutch for "more light", is equipped with a 100 megapixel camera and will hunt for optical counterparts of transient stellar explosions observed by the MeerKAT radio telescope array. The MeerKAT is a precursor to the Square Kilometer Array. Both the MeerLICHT and the MeerKAT will be scanning the southern skies. The project is a collaboration between six institutions from South Africa, the Netherlands and the UK. Prof Ben Stappers, who is a collaborator from our very own Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, says: "For us it was the reason to join this consortium. Flashes of radio emission known as Fast Radio Bursts may now be "caught in the act" by both MeerKAT and MeerLICHT and hopefully we can finally determine the origin of these enigmatic flashes". A co-principal investigator of the telescope, Professor Rob Fender from the University of Oxford said, "This is the beginning of a new phase of coordinated multi-wavelength research into the most extreme astrophysical events".

Interview with Daniele Michilli

Daniele Michilli (Anton Pannekoek Institute and ASTRON) discusses the repeating Fast Radio Burst FRB 121102 and its environment. From their first discovery to this new work FRBs have puzzled astronomers. Dainele gives us some background on FRBs, talks about his work on FRB 121102, and considers what it means for future studies.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during June 2018.

The Planets

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