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Oldest Stars May Shed Light On Dark Matter

ScienceDaily (Sep. 14, 2007) — The universe's earliest stars may hold clues to the nature of dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up most of the universe's matter but doesn't interact with light, cosmologists report.
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The first stars in an early universe filled with moderately energetic, or "warm," dark matter would probably have developed in long strings, according to a study in the 14 September issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society. In contrast, simulations with slow-moving, cold dark matter generally show the first stars forming in clumps.

Efforts are underway to find some of these ancient stars, so it's hypothetically possible that new star discoveries could help clarify whether the universe is made up of warm or cold dark matter.

Scientists have developed a variety of experiments, many deep below ground, for detecting dark matter particles on Earth, but the new findings suggest that additional clues may come from the night sky.

"If the dark matter is warm, some of these primordial stars should be lurking around our galaxy. This raises the exciting prospect of learning about the nature of dark matter from studying the oldest stars," said coauthor Tom Theuns of Durham University in Durham, United Kingdom and the University of Antwerp in Antwerp, Belgium.

"Dark matter's gravity anchored the nascent stars but its energy affected how and where they were born. If the first constellations can be mapped by future telescopes, the energy of the underlying dark matter may be deduced simply by reading the stars, telling us what dark matter is potentially made of," said Joanne Baker, associate editor at Science.

The findings, which are based on cutting-edge numerical simulations, may also give researchers a better understanding of when the first stars began to illuminate the universe. And, they provide a possible new explanation for how some black holes form.

After the Big Bang, the universe expanded rapidly but stayed mostly smooth and dark for about 100 million years. The dark matter began to form structures, its gravity pulling in hydrogen, helium and lithium gasses that condensed and formed stars.

Cold dark matter, which has been relatively well-studied in simulations, is thought to have been spread across the universe in ripples. It would have collapsed in small, nearly spherical structures, creating "wells" that drew in these gasses, leading to the formation of stars.

Because the particles of warm dark matter are moving fast, however, they would likely have smeared out the smallest ripples, preventing the formation of the small structures that emerge in the cold dark matter scenario. According to the authors' simulations, the gas would have condensed into long filaments instead, shrinking fastest along their shortest axis due to gravity.

"The filaments would have been about 9,000 light years long, which is about a quarter the size of the Milky Way galaxy. They would have fragmented in a huge burst of star formation, a spectacular event to contemplate," said first author Liang Gao of Durham University in Durham, United Kingdom.

In addition to producing the first light in the dark universe, these stars would have formed the first heavy elements, such as carbon, oxygen and silicon. These elements are crucial for forming solid objects such as Earth and other rocky planets.

Some of the stars that formed would have had particularly low masses. The lower a star's mass, the longer its lifetime, so some of these tiny first stars may still be detectable in galaxies like the Milky Way.

Another option for detecting this big star burst would be to look for light coming in from the very farthest reaches of the universe, which would show the earliest stars as they were forming.

The warm dark matter scenario may also provide an important piece to the puzzle of how to form the supermassive black holes that lie in the center of many galaxies. These monster black holes may weigh as much as a billion times the mass of the sun, and they require a massive seed to enable them to grow so much.

The seed's possible origins have been unclear, but Gao and Theuns propose that the string of stars could collapse, causing the stars to collide with each other and creating a seed black hole.

"Lighting the Universe With Filaments," by Liang Gao of Durham University in Durham, United Kingdom and Tom Theuns of Durham University in Durham, United Kingdom and University of Antwerp in Antwerp, Belgium. This research was supported by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

"From Darkness to Light," by Volker Bromm of the University of Texas, Austin.

Adapted from materials provided by American Association for the Advancement of Science, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science (2007, September 14). Oldest Stars May Shed Light On Dark Matter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/09/070913145125.htm
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What Is Dark Energy? 'Beyond Einstein' Program Aims To Investigate

ScienceDaily (Sep. 10, 2007) — NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy should pursue the Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM) as the first mission in the "Beyond Einstein" program, according to a new report from the National Research Council.
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Beyond Einstein is NASA's research roadmap for five proposed mission areas to study the most compelling questions at the intersection of physics and astronomy.

The committee that wrote the report added that another proposed mission to detect gravitational waves using the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) should eventually become the flagship mission of Beyond Einstein, given that it is likely to provide an entirely new way to observe the universe. However, LISA needs more testing before a launch can be planned, whereas the Joint Dark Energy Mission is ready now for a competitive selection of mission concept proposals.

Prompted by Congress and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NASA and DOE asked the committee to assess the five proposed mission areas and recommend one for first development and launch. NASA's Beyond Einstein program, set to begin in 2009, is comprised of two astronomical observatories, Constellation-X and LISA, as well as a series of probes: the Inflation Probe (IP), the Black Hole Finder Probe (BHFP), and JDEM.

"All of the mission areas in the Beyond Einstein program have the potential to fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe," said committee co-chair Charles F. Kennel, distinguished professor and director of the Environment and Sustainability Initiative at the University of California, San Diego. "But JDEM will provide direct insight into a key Beyond Einstein science question, and is the most technically feasible option for immediate development."

Of particular interest to researchers is whether the acceleration of the expansion of the universe varies over time. So far, three specific mission plans have been studied in this area: the Supernova Acceleration Probe (SNAP), the Dark Energy Space Telescope (DESTINY), and the Advanced Dark Energy Physics Telescope (ADEPT), but the eventual JDEM could be any one of the three or be based on a different option altogether.

The committee found that the underlying technology for a dark energy mission is, for the most part, in the prototype phase, and will require less development than most of the other missions. The potential gains for JDEM also outweigh its scientific risks, such as the possibility that the mission may not provide substantial insight beyond that provided by telescopes on the ground. The report recommends that NASA and DOE proceed immediately with a competition for mission proposals that will investigate the nature of dark energy with high precision.

The committee also recommended that NASA invest additional Beyond Einstein funds in technology development of the LISA program. LISA, which is funded through a partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), is designed to detect gravitational waves arising from, among other phenomena, the merging of black holes.

The committee found that LISA will open up new ways of observing the universe, but must await results from ESA's "LISA Pathfinder" mission first. Scheduled for launch in 2009, LISA Pathfinder will test many of the new technologies required for the LISA program. Yet, some critical technologies, such as extended use of micro-Newton thruster technology, will not be tested. The report recommends that the development of these technologies should be a high priority for the Beyond Einstein program.

The report indicates that the three elements of Beyond Einstein that are not being recommended for immediate implementation are still important endeavors that should receive continued support. The committee found that because the Constellation-X mission is a general-purpose x-ray observatory capable of broad contributions to astrophysics, it should be funded and assessed in a broader context than the Beyond Einstein program.

The Black Hole Finder Probe and Inflation Probe missions will also make important scientific contributions; however, because of scope and technical readiness issues, they fell behind JDEM and LISA. The committee recommended that Constellation-X, Black Hole Finder Probe, and Inflation Probe receive continued support to prepare them for the next decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.
Adapted from materials provided by The National Academies.
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The National Academies (2007, September 10). What Is Dark Energy? 'Beyond Einstein' Program Aims To Investigate. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/09/070906140741.htm

SNAP, the SuperNova/Acceleration Probe, is one of three concepts competing for NASA and DOE's Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM). (Credit: Image courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
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Stellar Firework In A Whirlwind

ScienceDaily (Sep. 5, 2007) — Stars do not like to be alone. Indeed, most stars are members of a binary system, in which two stars circle around each other in an apparently never-ending cosmic ballet. But sometimes, things can go wrong.
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When the dancing stars are too close to each other, one of them can start devouring its partner. If the vampire star is a white dwarf – a burned-out star that was once like our Sun – this greed can lead to a cosmic catastrophe: the white dwarf explodes as a Type Ia supernova.

In July 2006, ESO’s Very Large Telescope took images of such a stellar firework in the galaxy NGC 1288. The supernova - designated SN 2006dr - was at its peak brightness, shining as bright as the entire galaxy itself, bearing witness to the amount of energy released.

NGC 1288 is a rather spectacular spiral galaxy, seen almost face-on and showing multiple spiral arms pirouetting around the centre. Bearing a strong resemblance to the beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1232, it is located 200 million light-years away from our home Galaxy, the Milky Way. Two main arms emerge from the central regions and then progressively split into other arms when moving further away. A small bar of stars and gas runs across the centre of the galaxy.

The first images of NGC 1288, obtained during the commissioning period of the FORS instrument on ESO's VLT in 1998, were of such high quality that they have allowed astronomers1 to carry out a quantitative analysis of the morphology of the galaxy. They found that NGC 1288 is most probably surrounded by a large dark matter halo. The appearance and number of spiral arms are indeed directly related to the amount of dark matter in the galaxy's halo.

The supernova was first spotted by amateur astronomer Berto Monard. On the night of 17 July 2006, Monard used his 30-cm telescope in the suburbs of Pretoria in South Africa and discovered the supernova as an apparent 'new star' close to the centre of NGC 1288, which was then designated SN 2006dr. The supernova reached magnitude 16, that is, it was about 10 000 times fainter than what the unaided eye can see.

Using spectra obtained with the Keck telescope on 26 July 2006, astronomers from the University of California found SN 2006dr to be a Type Ia supernova2 that expelled material with speeds up to 10 000 km/s.

Notes

1. "Morphological structure and colors of NGC 1232 and NGC 1288" by C. Moellenhoff et al., A&A 352, L5 (1999) and "Quantitative interpretation of the morphology of NGC 1288" by B. Fuchs and C, Moellenhoff, A&A 352, L36 (1999)
2. Type Ia supernovae are a sub-class of supernovae that were historically classified as not showing the signature of hydrogen in their spectra. They are currently interpreted as the disruption of small, compact stars, called white dwarfs, which acquire matter from a companion star. A white dwarf represents the penultimate stage of a solar-type star. The nuclear reactor in its core has run out of fuel a long time ago and is now inactive. However, at some point the mounting weight of the accumulating material will have increased the pressure inside the white dwarf so much that the nuclear ashes in there will ignite and start burning into even heavier elements. This process very quickly becomes uncontrolled and the entire star is blown to pieces in a dramatic event. Type Ia supernovae play a very useful role as cosmological distance indicators, allowing astronomers to study the expansion history of our Universe, leading to the conclusion that the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

Adapted from materials provided by ESO.
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Colour-composite image of the Type Ia supernova SN 2006dr in the spiral galaxy NGC 1288, as observed with ESO's Very Large Telescope. It is based on images acquired through several filters (B, V, R, I and H-alpha) for a total exposure time of 5 minutes. The supernova is the bright object visible to the left of the centre of the galaxy. Many distant galaxies are also seen in the vicinity of NGC 1288, of which some are behind. (Credit: Copyright ESO, Henri Boffin)
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Hinode Helps Unravel Long-standing Solar Mysteries

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2007) — A year after launch, scientists working with Hinode, a Japanese mission with ESA participation, are meeting at Trinity College, Dublin, to discuss latest findings on solar mysteries - including new insights on solar flares and coronal heating.
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Highlights include new insights on the workings of solar flares and on the mechanism behind coronal heating.

Hinode (Sunrise in Japanese) was launched to study magnetic fields on the Sun and their role in powering the solar atmosphere and driving solar eruptions. With its Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS), effectively a solar speed camera, it is now possible to pinpoint the source of eruptions during solar flares and to find new clues about the heating processes of the corona.

The speed camera is a spectrometer, an instrument that splits the light coming from solar plasma, a tenuous and highly variable gas, into its distinct colours (or spectral lines), providing detailed information about the plasma. The velocity of the gases in a solar feature is measured by the Doppler effect - the same effect that is used by police radars to detect speeding motorists.

“Hinode is an impressive example of international cooperation and is now helping us solve the mysteries of the Sun with spectacular new data,” says Bernhard Fleck, ESA’s Hinode and SOHO project scientist.

Keith Mason, of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) said, “Our Sun is a dynamic and violent entity and European astronomers have played a crucial role in understanding it; right from the first observation of a solar flare to present-day work to predict and protect against the Sun’s outbursts.”

Solar flares, massive energetic explosions that rise up from the Sun, can damage manmade satellites and pose a radiation hazard to astronauts. Despite decades of study, many aspects of this phenomenon are not well-understood. Hinode’s observations are now shedding light on possible mechanisms that accelerate solar particles in flares.

Louise Harra at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, leading the EIS team says, “We knew that solar flares can impact a vast area on the Sun, sometimes leaving behind mysterious ‘dark patches’. Using Hinode, for the first time we have been able to train a speed camera on the material in these dark areas – which can be twenty times the diameter of the Earth."

"We have witnessed material flowing from the dark patch in the wake of the flare, feeding the particle flow that can be hazardous for anything in its path as it hurtles through space at 2000 times the speed of a fighter plane.”

These dark areas fade away after the flare, over several days. “In the long term, understanding solar storms in this new level of detail will allow us to make better predictions of ‘space weather’ storms. This is critical for satellite telecommunications, which we now take for granted”, she adds.

Ichiro Nakatani, JAXA Project Manager for Hinode commented, “We are delighted that nearly a year after launch, we are discovering new things about our nearest star, with many more discoveries to come. The years of hard work that went into developing the satellite were definitely worth it.”
Adapted from materials provided by European Space Agency.
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An artist's impression of Hinode in orbit. Hinode (Sunrise in Japanese) was launched to study magnetic fields on the Sun and their role in powering the solar atmosphere and driving solar eruptions. (Credit: JAXA)
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Astronomers Find Gaping Hole In The Universe

ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2007) — University of Minnesota astronomers have found an enormous hole in the Universe, nearly a billion light-years across, empty of both normal matter such as stars, galaxies and gas, as well as the mysterious, unseen "dark matter." While earlier studies have shown holes, or voids, in the large-scale structure of the Universe, this new discovery dwarfs them all.
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* Astrophysics
* Dark Matter
* Big Bang
* Cosmology
* Astronomy
* Space Telescopes

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* Large-scale structure of the cosmos
* Radio telescope
* Galaxy formation and evolution
* Hubble Deep Field

"Not only has no one ever found a void this big, but we never even expected to find one this size," said Lawrence Rudnick of the University of Minnesota astronomy professor. Rudnick, along with grad student Shea Brown and associate professor Liliya Williams, also of the University of Minnesota, reported their findings in a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

Astronomers have known for years that, on large scales, the Universe has voids largely empty of matter. However, most of these voids are much smaller than the one found by Rudnick and his colleagues. In addition, the number of discovered voids decreases as the size increases.

"What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the Universe," Williams said.

The astronomers drew their conclusion by studying data from the NRAO VLA Sky Survey (NVSS), a project that imaged the entire sky visible to the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, part of the National Science Foundation's National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Their study of the NVSS data showed a remarkable drop in the number of galaxies in a region of sky in the constellation Eridanus, southwest of Orion.

"We already knew there was something different about this spot in the sky," Rudnick said. The region had been dubbed the "WMAP Cold Spot," because it stood out in a map of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation made by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotopy Probe (WMAP) satellite, launched by NASA in 2001. The CMB, faint radio waves that are the remnant radiation from the Big Bang, is the earliest "baby picture" available of the Universe. Irregularities in the CMB show structures that existed only a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang.

The WMAP satellite measured temperature differences in the CMB that are only millionths of a degree. The cold region in Eridanus was discovered in 2004.

Astronomers wondered if the cold spot was intrinsic to the CMB, and thus indicated some structure in the very early Universe, or whether it could be caused by something more nearby through which the CMB had to pass on its way to Earth. Finding the dearth of galaxies in that region by studying NVSS data resolved that question.

"Although our surprising results need independent confirmation, the slightly lower temperature of the CMB in this region appears to be caused by a huge hole devoid of nearly all matter roughly 6-10 billion light-years from Earth," Rudnick said.

How does a lack of matter cause a lower temperature in the Big Bang's remnant radiation as seen from Earth"

The answer lies in dark energy, which became a dominant force in the Universe very recently, when the Universe was already three-quarters of the size it is today. Dark energy works opposite gravity and is speeding up the expansion of the Universe. Thanks to dark energy, CMB photons that pass through a large void just before arriving at Earth have less energy than those that pass through an area with a normal distribution of matter in the last leg of their journey.

In a simple expansion of the universe, without dark energy, photons approaching a large mass -- such as a supercluster of galaxies -- pick up energy from its gravity. As they pull away, the gravity saps their energy, and they wind up with the same energy as when they started.

But photons passing through matter-rich space when dark energy became dominant don't fall back to their original energy level. Dark energy counteracts the influence of gravity and so the large masses don't sap as much energy from the photons as they pull away. Thus, these photons arrive at Earth with a slightly higher energy, or temperature, than they would in a dark energy-free Universe.

Conversely, photons passing through a large void experience a loss of energy. The acceleration of the Universe's expansion, and thus dark energy, were discovered less than a decade ago. The physical properties of dark energy are unknown, though it is by far the most abundant form of energy in the Universe today. Learning its nature is one of the most fundamental current problems in astrophysics.

This research at the University of Minnesota is supported by individual investigator grants from the NSF and NASA.
Adapted from materials provided by University of Minnesota, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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University of Minnesota (2007, August 23). Astronomers Find Gaping Hole In The Universe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/08/070823164846.htm
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Illustration of the effect of intervening matter in the cosmos on the cosmic microwave background (CMB). On the right, the CMB is released shortly after the Big Bang, with tiny ripples in temperature due to fluctuations in the early Universe. As this radiation traverses the Universe, filled with a web of galaxies, clusters, superclusters and voids, it experiences slight perturbations. In the direction of the giant newly-discovered void, the WMAP satellite (top left) sees a cold spot, while the VLA (bottom left) sees fewer radio galaxies. (Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF, NASA)
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