New Universe map unearths 300,000 more galaxies

A new project found 300,000 previously unseen light sources using a telescope that can detect light sources optical instruments cannot see. Above, galaxy MACS1149-JD1 located 13.28 billion light-years away as seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in May 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2019

New Universe map unearths 300,000 more galaxies

  • Discovery literally sheds new light on some of the Universe’s deepest secrets
  • More than 200 astronomers from 18 countries were involved in the study

PARIS: The known Universe just got a lot bigger.
A new map of the night sky published Tuesday charts hundreds of thousands of previously unknown galaxies discovered using a telescope that can detect light sources optical instruments cannot see.
The international team behind the unprecedented space survey said their discovery literally shed new light on some of the Universe’s deepest secrets, including the physics of black holes and how clusters of galaxies evolve.
“This is a new window on the universe,” Cyril Tasse, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory who was involved in the project, said.
“When we saw the first images we were like: ‘What is this?!’ It didn’t look anything at all like what we are used to seeing.”
More than 200 astronomers from 18 countries were involved in the study, which used radio astronomy to look at a segment of sky over the northern hemisphere, and found 300,000 previously unseen light sources thought to be distant galaxies.
Radio astronomy allows scientists to detect radiation produced when massive celestial objects interact.
The team used the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope in the Netherlands to pick up traces — or “jets” — of ancient radiation produced when galaxies merge. These jets, previously undetected, can extend over millions of light years.
“With radio observations we can detect radiation from the tenuous medium that exists between galaxies,” said Amanda Wilber, of the University of Hamburg.
“LOFAR allows us to detect many more of these sources and understand what is powering them.”
The discovery of the new light sources may also help scientists better understand the behavior of one of space’s most enigmatic phenomena.
Black holes — which have a gravitational pull so strong that no matter can escape them — emit radiation when they engulf other high-mass objects such as stars and gas clouds.
Tasse said the new observation technique would allow astronomers to compare black holes over time to see how they form and develop.
“If you look at an active black hole, the jets (of radiation) disappear after millions of years, and you won’t see them at a higher frequency (of light),” he said.
“But at a lower frequency they continue to emit these jets for hundreds of millions of years, so we can see far older electrons.”
The Hubble telescope has produced images that lead scientists to believe there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the Universe, although many are too old and distant to be observed using traditional detection techniques.
The map created by the LOFAR observations, part of which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, contains data equivalent to ten million DVDs yet charts just two percent of the sky.
The LOFAR telescope is made up of a Europe-wide network of radio antenna across seven countries, forming the equivalent of a 1,300-kilometer diameter satellite dish.
The team plans to create high-resolution images of the entire northern sky, which they say will reveal as many as 15 million as-yet undetected radio sources.
“The oldest objects in the Universe are around 11-12 billion light years old,” said Tasse. “So we are going to see lots more of these objects.”


Alexei Leonov, 1st human to walk in space, dies in Moscow

In this Tuesday, July 20, 2010 file photo, former Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov speaks to the media before a reception at the U.S. Ambassador's Spaso House residence in Moscow, Russia. (AP)
Updated 12 October 2019

Alexei Leonov, 1st human to walk in space, dies in Moscow

  • NASA on Friday offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death

MOSCOW: Alexei Leonov, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space 54 years ago — and who nearly didn’t make it back into his space capsule — has died in Moscow at 85.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos made the announcement on its website Friday but gave no cause for his death. Leonov had health issues for several years, according to Russia media.
Showing just how much of a space pioneer Leonov was, NASA broke into its live televised coverage of a spacewalk by two Americans outside the International Space Station to report Leonov’s death.
“A tribute to Leonov as today is a spacewalk,” Mission Control in Houston said.
Leonov — described by the Russian Space Agency as Cosmonaut No. 11 — was an icon both in his country as well as in the US He was such a legend that the late science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke named a Soviet spaceship after him in his “2010” sequel to “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday sent his condolences to Leonov’s family, calling him a “true pioneer, a strong and heroic person.”
“Infinitely committed to his vocation, he left a truly legendary mark in the history of space exploration and in the history of our country,” Putin said on the Kremlin’s website.
Leonov was born in 1934 into a large peasant family in western Siberia. Like countless Soviet peasants, his father was arrested and shipped off to Gulag prison camps under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but he managed to survive and reunite with his family.
The future cosmonaut had a strong artistic bent and even thought about going to art school before he enrolled in a pilot training course and, later, an aviation college. Leonov did not give up sketching even when he flew into space, and took colored pencils with him on the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975 to draw.
That mission was the first one between the Soviet Union and the United States and was carried out at the height of the Cold War. Apollo-Soyuz 19 was a prelude to the international cooperation seen aboard the current International Space Station.
But Leonov staked his place in space history ten years earlier, on March 18, 1965, when he exited his Voskhod 2 space capsule secured by a tether.
“I stepped into that void and I didn’t fall in,” the cosmonaut recalled years later. “I was mesmerized by the stars. They were everywhere — up above, down below, to the left, to the right. I can still hear my breath and my heartbeat in that silence.”
Spacewalking always carries a high risk but Leonov’s pioneering venture was particularly nerve-wracking, according to details of the exploit that only became public decades later.
His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. He had to open a valve to vent oxygen from his suit to be able to fit through the hatch.
Leonov’s 12-minute spacewalk preceded the first US spacewalk, by Ed White, by less than three months.
Leonov might have become the Soviet Union’s first moonwalker, in fact, had his country’s lunar-landing effort not been canceled in the wake of Apollo 11’s triumphant moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969.
On his second trip into space ten years later, Leonov commanded the Soviet half of Apollo-Soyuz 19.
The cosmonaut was well known for his humor. Once the US Apollo and Soviet Soyuz capsules docked in orbit around Earth on July, 17, 1975, Leonov and his Russian crewmate, Valeri Kubasov, welcomed the three US astronauts — their Cold War rivals — with canned borscht disguised as Stolichnaya vodka and suggested a toast.
“When we sat at the table, they said: ‘Why, that’s not possible,’” Leonov recalled in 2005. “We insisted, saying that according to our tradition, we must drink before work. That worked, they opened it and drank (the borscht) and were caught by surprise.”
The cosmonaut turned 85 in May. Several days before that, two Russian crewmembers on the International Space Station ventured into open space on a planned spacewalk, carrying Leonov’s picture with them to pay tribute to the space legend. They said “Happy Birthday!” to Leonov before opening the hatch and venturing out.
Leonov’s modern-day successor, Oleg Kononenko, who was one of the two Russians on that spacewalk, told Rossiya-24 television on Friday that Leonov had tuned in to hear their congratulations from space.
“We were going to stop by Alexei Arkhipovich (Leonov) after our return and give him our space souvenirs, but you see it wasn’t meant to be,” Kononenko said.
When his crew returned to earth at the end of June, Leonov was already unwell.
Kononenko spoke fondly of the Soviet space pioneer, saying he was a frequent guest at send-off ceremonies for space crews in Star City and at the cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
“We had this tradition that he would give cosmonauts pep talks before they board the spacecraft,” Kononenko said. “We all looked forward to that, always thought about it and always wanted Leonov to be the one to send us off into space.”
Messages of condolences poured from around the globe.
NASA on Friday offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death.
“His venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extra-vehicular activity that makes today’s Space Station maintenance possible,” NASA said on Twitter.
“One of the finest people I have ever known,” former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted on Friday. “Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you.”
Russian space fans were bringing flowers to his monument Friday on the memorial alley in honor of Russia’s cosmonauts in Moscow.
Leonov, who will be buried on Tuesday at a military memorial cemetery outside Moscow, is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren.