Space

April 4, 2014

NASA Hubble team finds monster ‘El Gordo’ galaxy cluster bigger than thought

This is a Hubble image of the most massive cluster of galaxies ever seen to exist when the universe was just half its current age of 13.8 billion years. The cluster contains several hundred galaxies.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has weighed the largest known galaxy cluster in the distant universe, catalogued as ACT-CL J0102-4915, and found it definitely lives up to its nickname – El Gordo (Spanish for “the fat one”).

By measuring how much the cluster’s gravity warps images of galaxies in the distant background, a team of astronomers has calculated the cluster’s mass to be as much as 3 million billion times the mass of our sun. Hubble data show the galaxy cluster, which is 9.7 billion light-years away from Earth, is roughly 43 percent more massive than earlier estimates.

The team used Hubble to measure how strongly the mass of the cluster warped space. Hubble’s high resolution allowed measurements of so-called “weak lensing,” where the cluster’s immense gravity subtly distorts space like a funhouse mirror and warps images of background galaxies. The greater the warping, the more mass is locked up in the cluster.

“What I did is basically look at the shapes of the background galaxies that are farther away than the cluster itself,” explained lead author James Jee of the University of California at Davis. “It’s given us an even stronger probability that this is really an amazing system very early in the universe.” said

A fraction of this mass is locked up in several hundred galaxies that inhabit the cluster and a larger fraction is in hot gas that fills the entire volume of the cluster. The rest is tied up in dark matter, an invisible form of matter that makes up the bulk of the mass of the universe.

Though equally massive galaxy clusters are found in the nearby part of the universe, such as the Bullet cluster, nothing like this has ever been discovered to exist so far back in time, when the universe was roughly half its current estimated age of 13.8 billion years. The team suspects such monster galaxy clusters are rare in the early universe, based on current cosmological models.

The immense size of El Gordo was first reported in January 2012. Astronomers estimated its mass based on observations made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and galaxy velocities measured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope array in Paranal, Chile. They were able to put together estimates of the cluster’s mass based on the motions of the galaxies moving inside the cluster and the temperatures of the hot gas between those galaxies.

The challenge was that El Gordo looked as if it might have been the result of a titanic collision between a pair of galaxy clusters — an event researchers describe as two cosmic cannonballs hitting each other.

“We wondered what happens when you catch a cluster in the midst of a major merger and how the merger process influences both the X-ray gas and the motion of the galaxies,” explained John Hughes of Rutgers University. “So, the bottom line is because of the complicated merger state, it left some questions about the reliability of the mass estimates we were making.”

That is where the Hubble data came in, according to Felipe Menanteau of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“We were in dire need for an independent and more robust mass estimate given how extreme this cluster is and how rare its existence is in the current cosmological model. There was all this kinematic energy that was unaccounted for and could potentially suggest that we were actually underestimating the mass,” Menanteau said.

The expectation of “unaccounted energy” comes from the fact the merger of galaxy clusters is occurring tangentially to the observers’ line-of-sight. This means they are potentially missing a good fraction of the kinetic energy of the merger because their spectroscopic measurements only track the radial speeds of the galaxies.

The team’s next step with Hubble will be to compile an image of the cluster. Because El Gordo does not fit into Hubble’s field of view, the team will capture images of sections of the galaxy cluster and piece them together into a mosaic.

Researchers say it is like observing a giant from the side.

“We can tell it’s a pretty big El Gordo, but we don’t know what kind of legs he has, so we need to have a larger field of view to get the complete picture of the giant,” said Menanteau.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines November 24, 2014

News: Hagel said to be stepping down as defense chief under pressure - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises. Afghan mission for U.S....
 
 

News Briefs November 24, 2014

Fog forces five U.S. choppers to land in Polish field Officials say that that fog forced five U.S. Army helicopters to make an emergency landing in a Polish field and spend the night there, the second such incident since September. The U.S. Army said 15 soldiers were moving equipment to their base in Germany Nov....
 
 
Air Force photograph by Samuel King Jr.

Navy’s first F-35C squadron surpasses 1,000 flight hours

Air Force photograph by Samuel King Jr. An F-35C Lightning II aircraft piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Chris Tabert, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, flies the squadron’s first local sortie. The F-35C is the carrier va...
 

 
boeing-SC-787

Boeing South Carolina begins final assembly of its first 787-9 Dreamliner

Boeing has started final assembly of the 787-9 Dreamliner at its South Carolina facility. The team began joining large fuselage sections of the newest 787 Nov. 22 on schedule, a proud milestone for the South Carolina team and a...
 
 
Lockheed Martin image

Ball Aerospace equips Orion mission with key avionics, antenna hardware

Lockheed Martin image Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. is providing the phased array antennas and flight test cameras to prime contractor Lockheed Martin for Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which is an u...
 
 

Salina, Kansas, recalls anniversary of shuttered base

It has been 50 years this month since the announcement that Schilling Air Force Base was closing rattled Salina residents. The Salina Journal, which carried news of the closure in its Nov. 19, 1964, editions, reported that the economic disaster then spared no part of the community – real estate, retail, civic involvement, church attendance,...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>