Astronomers observe distant galaxy powered by primordial cosmic fuel

Oct 02, 2013
Image of a galaxy (center) with incoming cold gas flow, produced by rendering the gas distribution in a supercomputer simulation of a forming galaxy. A stream of primordial inflowing gas is illuminated from behind by a distant background quasar (lower left; quasar added by an artist, along with the starry background). Using data collected from the W. M. Keck Observatory, the largest optical telescopes in the world, researchers led by Neil Crighton (MPIA and Swinburne University of Technology) have now made the first unambiguous detection of this accretion of pristine gas onto a star-forming galaxy, that was previously theorized to exist based on cosmological simulations of galaxy formation. This simulation shown here was run by the Making Galaxies in a Cosmological Context (MaGICC) project in the theory group at MPIA. Credit: MPIA (G. STINSON / A. V. MACCIÒ)

(Phys.org) —Astronomers have detected cold streams of primordial hydrogen, vestigial matter left over from the Big Bang, fueling a distant star-forming galaxy in the early Universe. Profuse flows of gas onto galaxies are believed to be crucial for explaining an era 10 billion years ago, when galaxies were copiously forming stars. To make this discovery, the astronomers – led by Neil Crighton of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and Swinburne University – made use of a cosmic coincidence: a bright, distant quasar acting as a "cosmic lighthouse" illuminates the gas flow from behind. The results were published October 2 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The systematic survey of absorption systems comprises observations with the Large Binocular Telescope and from data taken with the W. M. Keck Observatory's HIRES echelle spectrograph installed on the 10 meter Keck I telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The foreground galaxy was discovered by Charles Steidel, Gwen Rudie (California Institute of Technology) and collaborators using the Keck Observatory's LRIS spectrograph on the same telescope.

In the current narrative of how like our own Milky Way formed, cosmologists postulate they were once fed from a vast reservoir of pristine hydrogen in the intergalactic medium, which permeates the vast expanses between galaxies.

Approximately ten billion years agowhen the Universe was one-fifth its current age, early proto-galaxies were in a state of extreme activity, forming new nearly one hundred times their current rate. Because stars form from gas, this fecundity demands a steady source of cosmic fuel. In the past decade, supercomputer simulations of galaxy formation have become so sophisticated that they can actually predict how galaxies form and are fed: gas funnels onto galaxies along thin "cold streams" which, like streams of snow melt feeding a mountain lake, channel cool gas from the surrounding intergalactic medium onto galaxies, continuously topping up their supplies of raw material for star formation.

However, testing these predictionshas proven to be extremely challenging, because such gas at the edges of galaxies is so rarefied that it emits very little light. Instead, the team of systematically searched for examples of a very specific type of cosmic coincidence. Quasars constitute a brief phase in the galactic life-cycle,during which they shine as the most luminous objects in the Universe, powered by the infall of matter onto a supermassive black hole. From our perspective on Earth, there will be rare cases where a distant background quasar and a stream of primordial gas near a foreground galaxy are exactly aligned on the night sky. As light from the quasar travels toward Earth, it passes by the galaxy and through the , before reaching our telescopes. The cosmic gas selectively absorbs light at very specific frequencies which astronomers refer to as "absorption lines". The pattern and shape of these lines provide a cosmic barcode, which astronomers can decode to determine the chemical composition, density, and temperature of the gas.

Using this technique, a team of astronomers led by Neil Crighton (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy; now at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne) has found the best evidence to date for a flow of pristine intergalactic gas onto a galaxy. The galaxy, denoted Q1442-MD50, is so distant that it took 11 billion years for its light to reach us. The primordial infalling gas resides a mere 190,000 light-years from the galaxy – relatively nearby on galactic length-scales – and is revealed in silhouette in the absorption spectrum of the more distant background quasar QSO J1444535+291905.

Acrucial element of their discovery is the detection of the spectral signature of cosmic deuterium, a stable isotope of hydrogen (with an extra neutronin the nucleus). Cosmologists have demonstrated that hydrogen and helium and their stable isotopes like deuterium were all synthesized just minutes after the Big Bang, when the Universe was hot enough to power nuclear reactions. All heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen were created much later in the hot nuclear furnaces of stars. Because the hostile physical conditions in the centers of stars would destroy the fragile deuterium isotope, the discovery of deuterium in the gas confirms that the gas falling onto the galaxy is indeed pristine material left over from the Big Bang.

"This is not the first time astronomers have found a galaxy with nearby gas, revealed by a quasar. But it is the first time that everything fits together," Crighton said. "The galaxy is vigorously forming stars, and the gas properties clearly show that this is pristine material, left over from the early universe shortly after the ."

This discovery of this system is part of a large survey for quasar sightlines which pass near galaxies, which is coordinated by Joseph Hennawi, the leader of theENIGMA research group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

"Since this discovery is the result of a systematic search, we can now deduce that such cold flows are quite common," Hennawi said. "We only had to search 12 quasar-galaxy pairs to discover this example. This rate is in rough agreement with the predictions of supercomputer simulations, which provides a vote of confidence for our current theories of how galaxies formed."

The astronomers' long-term goal is to find about ten similar examples of these cold flows, which would allow for a much more detailed comparison of their observations with the predictions of numerical models.

"Previous studies of these galaxies had shown evidence for gas flowing out of them, something we also see evidence for," said J. Xavier Prochaska (University of California at Santa Cruz), a collaborator on the survey. "However with Neil's much more precise analysis, wecan also detect the raw material fueling galaxies, and thereby trace how much gas they take in, and when. That is a key piece in the puzzle of ."

Avishai Dekel (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) was instrumental in theoretically and numerically establishing the current model of cold-flow accretion onto galaxies. While not involved in this research, he commented on the results. "This is a very interesting finding," Dekel said. "It is consistent with the theoretical prediction, based both on physical analysis and on cosmological simulations, for the feeding of high-redshift galaxies by cold streams from the cosmic web. The low metallicity makes this case for inflow more convincing than earlier detections."

Explore further: Feeding galaxy caught in distant searchlight

More information: dx.doi.org/10.1088/2041-8205/776/2/L18

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HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (16) Oct 02, 2013
"[P]lasma astrophysicists generally apply a bottom-up methodology which, as in Dr. Goedbloed's works, goes from the laboratory, to nearby space plasma tests, to local astrophysical systems, and then progressively to more distant astrophysical systems. This approach contrasts with the top-down methodology most often applied in "standard" cosmology, which begins with a speculative deductive framework from which various consequences are checked against observations (usually with a focus on "confirmation"). In other words, inductive approaches to plasma cosmology systematically adapt well-established lab-tested facts, and nearby space-based tests, to larger and larger astrophysical systems."

From "Is Gravity the Whole Story?", an interview with NASA's Timothy Eastman at http://www.indepe...physics/

Note that the inferences made depend entirely upon which direction (top-down or bottom-up) that one reasons in ...
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (15) Oct 02, 2013
"Scientific modelling requires little or no understanding of the underlying nature of reality in exactly the same way that a gamer needs little or no understanding of the computer's underlying architecture in order to win the game. It only requires an understanding of how the elements of the "game," accessed empirically from within the "game" itself, unfold relative to one another.

On the other hand, to infer things about what underlies the "game" – in other words, to construct a metaphysics about the fundamental nature of reality – demands more than the empirical methods of science. Indeed, it demands a kind of disciplined introspection that critically assesses not only the elements observed, but also the observer, the process 
of observation, and the interplay between the three in a holistic manner; an introspection that, as such, seeks to see through the "game.""

From "The Fairytale of Materialism: How 'Fundamentalists' Hijacked Science", New Dawn Magazine, Dr Bernardo Kastrup
illicited
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2013
fecundity...
Q-Star
3.4 / 5 (10) Oct 02, 2013
In other words, inductive approaches to plasma cosmology systematically adapt well-established lab-tested facts, and nearby space-based tests, to larger and larger astrophysical systems."


Uh huh,,,, isn't that the guy who so "inductively" and "systematically" figured out that the 9/11 hijackers couldn't have flown a plane well enough to hit a building as large as the WTC or even as large as the Pentagon?

From "Is Gravity the Whole Story?", an interview with NASA's Timothy Eastman


Hey, how about that, it is the same guy.

Note that the inferences made depend entirely upon which direction (top-down or bottom-up) that one reasons in ...


Do ya know that he doctors up press releases, blogs, and web sites to bolster his credentials and references? A person who does that might not be in a group ya would label as objective scientists.

(But he is a popular lecturer at the Art Bell School of Crackpottery.)
HannesAlfven
1.4 / 5 (17) Oct 02, 2013
Eastman's quote is hardly controversial, and it makes an incredibly important point (for those who still value critical thinking in science) that applies very directly to this article: A filament of interstellar gas will necessarily be colored by the scientific framework which a researcher uses to observe, ask questions and make inferences from. But, note in the same article that Eastman goes on to explain …

"To date, the only comprehensive models that have been carried out are based on gravity-only assumptions usually within the context of the Big Bang paradigm (with ad hoc coefficients added for consistency; viz. dark matter and dark energy). As yet, no one has attempted the much more complex task of formulating a cosmic-scale model based on both gravity and EM/plasmas, a task possibly beyond capabilities of the current generation of supercomputers."

Eastman's approach is really quite rational, insofar as he advocates a cosmologically agnostic position.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (20) Oct 02, 2013
In other words, inductive approaches to plasma cosmology systematically adapt well-established lab-tested facts, and nearby space-based tests, to larger and larger astrophysical systems."


Uh huh,,,, isn't that the guy who so "inductively" and "systematically" figured out that the 9/11 hijackers couldn't have flown a plane well enough to hit a building as large as the WTC or even as large as the Pentagon?

From "Is Gravity the Whole Story?", an interview with NASA's Timothy Eastman


Hey, how about that, it is the same guy.

Note that the inferences made depend entirely upon which direction (top-down or bottom-up) that one reasons in ...


Do ya know that he doctors up press releases, blogs, and web sites to bolster his credentials and references? A person who does that might not be in a group ya would label as objective scientists.

(But he is a popular lecturer at the Art Bell School of Crackpottery.)

Troll, blah blah troll la la...
Q-Star
3.4 / 5 (10) Oct 02, 2013
Eastman's approach is really quite rational, insofar as he advocates a cosmologically agnostic position.


"Cosmologically agnostic"? Hmm, that's why he is so popular at the Art Bell School of Crackpottery. Cosmologically agnostic, to me that sounds like everything and nothing.

Rational people don't spend their days doctoring web sites, press releases, and distorted CV's to "enchant" their audience.

But then ya are the guy who thinks Stephen Crothers is a genius who knows more than any living person, and he was treated so shabbily by academia because they were jealous of his genius and afraid of his great intellect.

Ya worship a pantheon of cranks, ya know that Stephen Crothers is as phony as a pink unicorn. Of course ya would, better than anyone else.
Urgelt
5 / 5 (4) Oct 02, 2013
Eh. The moment a crank mentions the superiority of metaphysical reasoning, his crankery is made clear. Truth through introspection! Yeah, right.

Cranks hate reductionism and empiricism, because those approaches to knowing tend to rip their cherished belief systems to shreds.
Claudius
1.8 / 5 (16) Oct 02, 2013
ten billion years ago when the Universe was one-fifth its current age


And here I was thinking the Universe was 13.798±0.037 billion years old. Silly me.

"This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."
LarryD
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 02, 2013
Say Cluadius, I had to go through other papers (and books) 'cos I thought I had gone thru a warp and ended up in a universe that was 50 billion years old. Obviously you went thru the same.
I thought everyone new that sheep started earthquakes by all jumping at the same instant.

Seriously though..
"...Quasars constitute a brief phase in the galactic life-cycle,during which they shine as the most luminous objects in the Universe, powered by the infall of matter onto a supermassive black hole..."
With regard to 'galactic life-cycle', is this so? I thought it was just a possbility given the estimates of mass -energy conversion in comparison with much lower m-e conversion in stars (p-p fusion...I think(?)). Maybe someone can enlighten me.

no fate
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 03, 2013
@Larry - If you read the first page in the link below they explain. Highest population of Quasars was between 9-13 billion years ago.

http://www.astron...s36.html

They mean that a 4 billion year "era of the quasar" is less than a third of the current estimated age of the universe and as the universe ages, that percentage will drop. In 400 billion years that 4 billion will be very brief.

Regarding the universe being "1/5th it's age" 10 billion years ago, it's closer to 1/4th...not quite 2/5ths.
Tuxford
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 03, 2013
Breaking it down...more desperation to find support for the Huge Bang Fantasy, rather than consider alternative explantations: for example,

'Because ....the discovery of deuterium in the gas confirms that the gas falling onto the galaxy is indeed pristine material left over from the Big Bang.'

Or the observation simply confirms the origination of the new matter from a natural process in deep space. Think, the fact that intergalactic space is permeated with tenuous gas clouds does not prove the fantasy model.

And at the same time they reach for the HBF model, they admit the detection of outflowing gas, and still conclude that somehow it must be in-falling as well. It is both an apple and an orange, at the same time! Dumbfounding!

Q-Star
3.5 / 5 (8) Oct 03, 2013
If we would observe such a feature around multiple distant (= old) galaxies at the same moment, we could consider it as a good indicia supporting the Big Bang model.


Zeph, this is a most difficult phenomenon to observe. It's not like pointing a telescope at a near by star and producing a spectrograph.

Unfortunately the single isolated observation is not very conclusive evidence of it - on the contrary.


Single isolated observation? When ya have only one such observation, it means that 100% of all the observations are what ya seem to be observing.

But, ya are otherwise very correct in your reasoning. It would be a good thing to make more such observations, then ya would know whether ya are dealing with a vagarious or inconsistent phenomenon.

The obsessive and compulsive and most gratuitous mentioning of the AWT, as always, is just silly twaddling.

HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (17) Oct 03, 2013
Cranks hate reductionism and empiricism, because those approaches to knowing tend to rip their cherished belief systems to shreds.


It's fascinating that the term "crank" is now applied to anybody who disagrees with ideology in science today, as if disagreement in science is somehow anti-science. Have you forgotten that it is generally quite difficult to do experiments in space, that parallax only works to 1% the diameter of the Milky Way, and that the baryonic matter is said to represent only around 4% of the universe? When people call this empirical science, they are really lowering the bar -- which basically guarantees that all sorts of truly crazy people will attempt to use the same loose system of "logic" they see the "professionals" using.

When it becomes fashionable to ridicule those who question non-falsifiable entities (like black holes), we can forecast a future for science devoid of any philosophical rigor.
Q-Star
3.7 / 5 (9) Oct 03, 2013
Without AWT (which explains the red shift with scattering of light) we would have no reason to doubt the above finding at all - and the discussion would be over.


So put me in the camp who has no reason to doubt because I can be counted on to do without the AWT.

Ya do understand that this observation is confirming a prediction rather than an explanation which followed an observation? I'm the first to agree that we need more of similar observations to firm up the interpretation.

But as to the discussion being over,,,, As long as Zephyr(s)-HannesAlfven-(Stephen Crothers the Vandal)-cantdrive-AntonKole-Reg Mundy-RealityCheck-Tuxford-et al are around, the discussion will never be over.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (12) Oct 03, 2013
HannesAlfven-(Stephen Crothers the Vandal)

I think you've got your EU guys mixed up. Although HA has presented at EU conferences, I'm fairly certain he's not Crothers.
no fate
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 03, 2013
Cranks hate reductionism and empiricism, because those approaches to knowing tend to rip their cherished belief systems to shreds.


It's fascinating that the term "crank" is now applied to anybody who disagrees with ideology in science today, as if disagreement in science is somehow anti-science.


Systems under examination will have absolute truths, logically inferred truths, and speculation. Cranks disregard the absolutes in favor of one of the other two without understanding that the absolute truth category trumps conflicting info from the other two, unless you can present tangible evidence to overturn the absolute truth.

You go with what works, until it doesn't or is replaced by something that we learn works better.
yyz
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 03, 2013
"Unfortunately the single isolated observation is not very conclusive evidence of it"

This is not the only observation of a distant (z=2.4) galaxy accreting gas from the intergalactic medium. There is a small but growing number of equally distant galaxies caught in the act, so to speak. E.g.:

http://arxiv.org/abs/1105.5381

http://arxiv.org/abs/1306.0134

http://arxiv.org/abs/1106.1205

There's also plenty of evidence for gas accretion in galaxies that are nearer: http://www.mpa-ga...ubin.pdf

As Q-star points out, observations of these distant examples are extremely difficult. But the number of such systems is growing and hopefully 'scopes like JWST can ferret out more. Astronomers are also interested in how gas accretion onto galaxies evolves over the lifetime of the universe and how it affects galaxy growth and these recent observations help to put this into perspective.
yyz
5 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2013
Btw, a preprint of the paper referenced in this article is available here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1307.6588
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (12) Oct 03, 2013
Cranks disregard the absolutes in favor of one of the other two without understanding that the absolute truth category trumps conflicting info from the other two, unless you can present tangible evidence to overturn the absolute truth.


Ok, I follow you, but what does this have to do with the more speculative disciplines of science like astrophysics and cosmology? And what about the professional astrophysicists like Stephen Hawking who are inviting people to completely disregard philosophy of science, and who routinely put science to work asking metaphysical questions which science can never actually answer?

You go with what works, until it doesn't or is replaced by something that we learn works better.


Some of us have deeply engaged this notion of paradigm change, and have found that good, philosophically tight ideas are routinely thrown away, based upon little more than how different they are from established theory.

Also: Why not hedge risk by creating more models?
yyz
4 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2013
Franklins, I was merely pointing out that there are multiple examples of cold gas accretion onto distant galaxies. Whether you think this is/is not consistent with BBT is, Frankly, irrelevant. Get over it.
Q-Star
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 03, 2013
I don't think,,,


That is a true thing ya say Zeph.

I just argue.


Tis another true thing ya say.

What you think about it is irrelevant as well.


That part is wrong Zeph,,, It was unfair of ya (of all people) to say that. What he thinks is very relevant to any rational person who comes to this site seeking to understand some very complicated topics. His comments are always on point, typically brief and concise, easily understood and informative.
no fate
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2013
Franklins: Galileo was an enlightened man labelled a crank by a society of them. History is repleat with examples of this, but today's world is different. Astrophysics was in its infancy in Galileo's time where as today anyone with a computer can learn about anything. Preaching beliefs like they have already been validated scientifically when they have not earns the crank label.

Hannes: Scientists with a testable hypothesis about something will find a way to test it (if it is at all possible)whether the mainstream buys the hypothesis or not. If a model can be constructed it will be and yes the budget available directly correlates to the quality of the model, so you have to be creative when seeking financial backing. Especially if you are attempting to overturn one of those accepted truths.

Or you can bitch about the establishment and do nothing. One trait every respectful scientist I have ever met has had is tenacity. If you can prove what you say...why not do it?
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (15) Oct 04, 2013
Preaching beliefs like they have already been validated scientifically when they have not earns the crank label.

Like black holes, DM, DE, Neutron stars, quasars, blazars, queersars, and any number of other mathematical/hypothetical constructs which "standard theorists" claim as "facts". According to your own claim, there are many cranks here.

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