Astronomers make first clear detection of a moon-forming disc around an exoplanet

This image, taken with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, shows wide (left) and close-up (right) views of the moon-forming disc surrounding PDS 70c, a young Jupiter-like planet nearly 400 light-years away. The close-up view shows PDS 70c and its circumplanetary disc center-front, with the larger circumstellar ring-like disc taking up most of the right-hand side of the image. The star PDS 70 is at the center of the wide-view image on the left. Two planets have been found in the system, PDS 70c and PDS 70b, the latter not being visible in this image. They have carved a cavity in the circumstellar disc as they gobbled up material from the disc itself, growing in size. In this process, PDS 70c acquired its own circumplanetary disc, which contributes to the growth of the planet and where moons can form. This circumplanetary disc is as large as the Sun-Earth distance and has enough mass to form up to three satellites the size of the Moon. Credit:ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

Planet Mercury emerges from the light

Mercury is the dot of light at the center of this image. The dimmer dot to Mercury’s left is the star Fomalhaul. Photo by Charles Reinhart.

CAA member Chuck Reinhart ventured out to spot planet Mercury as it reached its widest separation from the Sun, as seen from Earth.

“Thought I’d share some pics from the rare clear night on Saturday, Jan. 23 when Mercury was at its greatest E. Elongation from the Sun. Both images were taken from my backyard … which offers great views of virtually every horizon — depending upon where I journey on the five acres. I would have taken the C11 (telescope) out but it looked like clouds were creeping in pretty soon.”

This photo was “taken with a 70-210 mm lens mounted on a Nikon D600. The first image was taken @ 4/5 sec. f/9 , ISO 1000 set at 210mm at 6:25 p.m.”

As the days pass Mercury sinks nearer the Sun’s position in our skies, disappearing once again into our star’s brilliant light.

2020 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for research on Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

The central parts of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, as observed in the near-infrared with the NACO instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. By following the motions of the most central stars over more than 16 years, astronomers were able to determine the mass of the supermassive black hole that lurks there.
Credit:ESO/S. Gillessen et al.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez have jointly been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, at the center of our galaxy. Genzel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, and his team have conducted observations of Sagittarius A* for nearly 30 years using a fleet of instruments on European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes.

Genzel shares half of the prize with Ghez, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in the US, “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy”, with the other half awarded to Roger Penrose, professor at the University of Oxford in the UK, “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.” 

“Congratulations to all three Nobel laureates! We are delighted that the research on the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy has been recognized with the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics. We are proud that the telescopes ESO builds and operates at its observatories in Chile played a key role in this discovery,” says ESO’s Director General Xavier Barcons. “The work done by Reinhard Genzel with ESO telescopes and by Andrea Ghez with the Keck telescopes in Hawaii has enabled unprecedented insight into Sagittarius A*, which confirmed predictions of Einstein’s general relativity.”

ESO has worked in very close collaboration with Genzel and his group for around 30 years. Since the early 1990s, Genzel and his team, in cooperation with ESO, have developed instruments designed to track the orbits of stars in the Sagittarius A* region at the center of the Milky Way. 

They started their campaign in 1992 using the SHARP instrument on ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The team later used extremely sensitive instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Very Large Telescope Interferometer at the Paranal Observatory, namely NACO, SINFONI and later GRAVITY, to continue their study of Sagittarius A. 

In 2008, after 16 years of tracking stars orbiting Sagittarius A*, the team delivered the best empirical evidence that a supermassive black hole exists at the center of our galaxy. Both Genzel’s and Ghez’s groups accurately traced the orbit of one star in particular, S2, which reached the closest distance to Sagittarius A* in May 2018. ESO undertook a number of developments and infrastructure upgrades in Paranal to enable accurate measurements of the position and velocity of S2.

The team led by Genzel found the light emitted by the star close to the supermassive black hole was stretched to longer wavelengths, an effect known as gravitational redshift, confirming for the first time Einstein’s general relativity near a supermassive black hole. Earlier this year, the team announced they had seen S2 ‘dance’ around the supermassive black hole, showing its orbit is shaped like a rosette, an effect called Schwarzschild precession that was predicted by Einstein.

Genzel and his team are also involved in the development of instruments that will be installed on ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which will enable them to probe the environment even closer to the supermassive black hole.

April meeting canceled

coronavirus covid-19 credit:CDCThe Cleveland Metroparks System’s Nature Centers are closed in an effort to control the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 disease. The monthly meetings of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association take place at the Rocky River Nature Center which is affected by the park facility closure, therefore canceling the club’s April meeting.

Our meetings have become very popular, filling the nature center’s main meeting room with closely-spaced audience members — a potentially risky situation for contagious disease spread.

The CAA is willingly cooperating in efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the period of this spring’s Public Health Emergency. COVID-19 is a serious disease and it is only prudent, if disappointing, for some events to be called off. For more information on this public health issue, visit the Ohio Department of Health’s website.

In the mean time, stay healthy and work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others; the sooner it stops, the sooner we can get back to normal.