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Friday
Nov302012

Fast Stats (from Space)

by Sarah Scoles

Here are some recent astronomy discoveries, turned into the kind of numbers you love to balk at:

A newly discovered quasar puts out the most energy we've ever seen anything put out, ever. And we've seen things put out plenty.

This quasar will surely qualify for state heating-bill assistance. CREDIT: L. Calçada, ESO.SDSS J1106+1939

  • has jets of material traveling away from its central black hole at 12,000 times as fast as an F22. Jet versus jet.
  • outputs 2 million-million times as much power as the Sun, an amount that would earn the this quasar a monthly power bill of $616 decillion dollars (it's a real word; I looked it up by Googling "million billion trillion quintillion"), at least at the kilowatt-hour rate on my own most recent bill.
  • It's five times as powerful as the next-most-powerful quasar.

 

 

 

In case you haven't heard, there's water water everywhere, including on Mercury. It's ice, but that still counts.

    Not a drop to drink unless you want to spend a really long time in transit. This picture shows areas of Mercury that are always in shadow (red) and the places where scientists found water-ice deposits (yellow). CREDIT: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory.

     

  • According to David Lawrence, a MESSENGER participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, “The new data indicate the water ice in Mercury’s polar regions, if spread over an area the size of Washington, D.C., would be more than 2 miles thick." 
  • The ice likely came from a comet impact that that occurred within the last 50 million years, or sometime between when Antartica was a rain forest and when the macarena became popular.

 

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory and NASA co-released a multi-wavelength image of Hercules A, an elliptical galaxy with

The visible galaxy is the glowing yellow patch in the middle, and all the stuff being accelerated out from the black hole in the center is in purple, which represents the radio data. CREDIT: NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O'Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

  • 1,000 times the mass of the Milky Way and
  • a central supermassive black hole 1,000 times the mass of the Milky Way's black hole, Sagittarius A*.

This image emphasizes the idea that anyone who truly wants to understand the universe has to think about all the different kinds of light waves that are out there, not just the ones our rods and cones can detect, because if we relied only on those, we would think "the galaxy" was "that yellow thing" and have no idea that those crazy huge pom-poms were coming out of it.

And isn't it interesting that the galaxy is 1000 times as massive as ours and its black hole is also 1000 times as massive as ours? 

Actually, no, that's not interesting. Astronomers have known that galaxies of a mass X tend to host black holes of mass 0.01*X.

But, guess what, that relationship doesn't always hold true, or so says another paper that came out recently. 

It doesn't look cray, but it is cray. CREDIT: NASA/ESA/Andrew C. Fabian.The newly discovered NGC 1277 is

  • 1/4 as wide as the Milky Way but has
  • a black hole 4,250 times as massive as ours at its center.
  • This object contains 14% of the galaxy's total mass. In your body, an arm accounts for about 5% of your body weight, and a leg accounts for about 9%. So if you wanted to take the black hole away from NGC 1277, that would cost it an an arm and a leg. 
  • Joke?
  • The black hole has 17 billion times as much mass as the Sun, which means 
  • its diameter is four light-days across. Not that light can travel across it.

If other such core-heavy galaxies are discovered, as the paper's authors suggested will happen in their data, astronomers will have to reconsider the "galaxy and black hole grow and then stop growing together" model.

The last statistic is based on the amount of "background" starlight there is. Astronomers looked at gamma-ray signals from extremely distant galaxies and determined, from the way the signals had dimmed, how much visible and UV light they must have interacted with. From this background they can figure out when stars were forming, how much light there is the universe, and how dense the universe is with these weirdo nuclear spheroids that keep us alive. Turns out, there is

  • one star in every 100,000,000 cubic light-years of space, which means there would be
  • 4,150 light-years between stars, if you were to spread all the stars homogeneously across the universe instead of keeping them confined to these stifling galaxies.

 

ResearchBlogging.org

Benoit C. J. Borguet, Nahum Arav, Doug Edmonds, Carter Chamberlain, & Chris Benn (2012). Major contributor to AGN feedback: VLT X-shooter observations of SIV BAL QSO outflows The Astrophysical Journal arXiv: 1211.6250v1

Lawrence, D., Feldman, W., Goldsten, J., Maurice, S., Peplowski, P., Anderson, B., Bazell, D., McNutt, R., Nittler, L., Prettyman, T., Rodgers, D., Solomon, S., & Weider, S. (2012). Evidence for Water Ice Near Mercury's North Pole from MESSENGER Neutron Spectrometer Measurements Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1229953

van den Bosch RC, Gebhardt K, Gültekin K, van de Ven G, van der Wel A, & Walsh JL (2012). An over-massive black hole in the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277. Nature, 491 (7426), 729-31 PMID: 23192149

Ackermann M, Ajello M, et al.  (2012). The Imprint of the Extragalactic Background Light in the Gamma-Ray Spectra of Blazars. Science (New York, N.Y.) PMID: 23118013

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