Hubble gazes at a cosmic megamaser

December 29, 2016 by Karl Hille
This megamaser galaxy is named IRAS 16399-0937 and is located over 370 million light-years from Earth. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image belies the galaxy's energetic nature, instead painting it as a beautiful and serene cosmic rosebud. The image comprises observations captured across various wavelengths by two of Hubble's instruments: the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS). Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt (geckzilla)

This galaxy has a far more exciting and futuristic classification than most—it hosts a megamaser. Megamasers are intensely bright, around 100 million times brighter than the masers found in galaxies like the Milky Way. The entire galaxy essentially acts as an astronomical laser that beams out microwave emission rather than visible light (hence the 'm' replacing the 'l').

A megamaser is a process that involves some components within the galaxy (like gas) that is in the right physical condition to cause the amplification of light (in this case, microwaves). But there are other parts of the galaxy (like stars for example) that aren't part of the maser process.

This megamaser galaxy is named IRAS 16399-0937 and is located over 370 million light-years from Earth. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image belies the galaxy's energetic nature, instead painting it as a beautiful and serene cosmic rosebud. The image comprises observations captured across various wavelengths by two of Hubble's instruments: the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).

NICMOS's superb sensitivity, resolution, and field of view gave astronomers the unique opportunity to observe the structure of IRAS 16399-0937 in detail. They found it hosts a double nucleus—the galaxy's core is thought to be formed of two separate cores in the process of merging. The two components, named IRAS 16399N and IRAS 16399S for the northern and southern parts respectively, sit over 11,000 light-years apart. However, they are both buried deep within the same swirl of cosmic gas and dust and are interacting, giving the galaxy its peculiar structure.

The nuclei are very different. IRAS 16399S appears to be a starburst region, where new stars are forming at an incredible rate. IRAS 16399N, however, is something known as a LINER nucleus (Low Ionization Nuclear Emission Region), which is a region whose emission mostly stems from weakly-ionized or neutral atoms of particular gases. The northern nucleus also hosts a black hole with some 100 million times the mass of the sun!

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16 comments

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RNP
5 / 5 (11) Dec 29, 2016
The paper is definitely worth a look. Open access version here: https://arxiv.org...61v1.pdf
dan42day
5 / 5 (7) Dec 29, 2016
Let's hope NASA gets the Orion or something flying in time to insure that we can keep Hubble running for a few more decades. That old telescope has certainly been and continues to be a valuable asset.
FineStructureConstant
5 / 5 (8) Dec 30, 2016
@RNP - thanks for the link to the paper - there's a lot of interesting information on data-reduction techniques applied to publicly-available data sources from various observation platforms and over a wide range of frequencies.

I note from Section 5.4 of the paper that
The location of the OH megamaser source(s) in IRAS 16399-0937 is, unfortunately, unknown, since there are no extant high resolution interferometry data at the OH line frequencies
Since the OH lines in question are at 1665 and 1667 MHz, this galaxy would be a good candidate for a future interferometric study by the SKA Mid-Frequency Aperture Array which is currently under construction.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (6) Dec 30, 2016
Very interesting, I had never heard of astrophysical masers before now. And thanks again, @RNP, for the link to the source paper. The data and methods will provide checks on the models of galactic evolution for this class of galaxies.
RNP
5 / 5 (8) Dec 30, 2016
@FSC, DS
My pleasure ladies/gentlemen. I find masers of particular interest as they can provide a purely geometric distance measurement over intergalactic distances and are therefore playing an important role in refining the distance ladder. (E.g. see https://en.wikipe...sier_106 ).
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (12) Dec 30, 2016
Expanding on the pseudoscience of astrophysics does nothing to advance science.
Tuxford
1.4 / 5 (9) Dec 30, 2016
They found it hosts a double nucleus—the galaxy's core is thought to be formed of two separate cores in the process of merging.

'thought'...Since merger maniacs have no other possibility.
sit over 11,000 light-years apart. However, they are both buried deep within the same swirl of cosmic gas and dust and are interacting, giving the galaxy its peculiar structure.
The nuclei are very different.

All strong hints that the cores are instead the result of core fission, where the smaller core is the daughter of the larger parent core, and wherein the cores are gradually drifting apart while still interacting within the same swirl of gas and dust.

If they were merging instead, more likely the cores would be more widely separated and the galaxy itself be less ordered.

But this kind of thinking is blasphemy! Astrophysics is firmly trapped within an intellectual straight jacket, since astrophysicists are a bit crazed with merger mania.
FineStructureConstant
5 / 5 (8) Dec 30, 2016
@cd - prozelytizing your own brand of pseudoscientific bunkum does nothing to halt the advance of science. Do your worst, sunshine - piss into the ocean all you like, you'll never turn it yellow.

@tux - you didn't once mention Zwicky. Slacker...
gkam
2.7 / 5 (7) Dec 30, 2016
Actually lasers were first masers, not the other way around.

Theodore Maiman thought he had found something not seen in nature.
Uncle Ira
2.9 / 5 (9) Dec 30, 2016
Actually lasers were first masers, not the other way around.
Uh huh. I think you might be on the wrong article Cher. This megamaser is at least 350 millions of years old. Is your first laser older than that?

Theodore Maiman thought he had found something not seen in nature.
I bet you are glad the article was not about blazers,,,, you should be.
Da Schneib
4.2 / 5 (6) Dec 30, 2016
Technically speaking, @Ira, Gracie is right: masers were first, and lasers were originally called "optical masers." At least, that's the order we discovered them in. But that's only referring to human experimentation, not the existence of the astronomical masers themselves, so you're right too.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Dec 31, 2016
Gosh, Da Schnit, my name is George Kamburoff, not Gracie.

If you want respect, you have to earn it.
gkam
1.5 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
"Uh huh. I think you might be on the wrong article Cher. This megamaser is at least 350 millions of years old. Is your first laser older than that?"
----------------------------------

You have it backwards in your ignorance. Theodore Maiman "invented" the maser first. The "laser" came later.

Those of you who are not in a science field are subject to this kind of error.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 31, 2016
Technically speaking, @Ira, Gracie is right: masers were first, and lasers were originally called "optical masers." At least, that's the order we discovered them in. But that's only referring to human experimentation, not the existence of the astronomical masers themselves, so you're right too
-And so youll have to ask gracie if masers were only invented a little while ago, were these stars doing something else for all those millions of years?

Or you could ask him why he thinks that throwing random facts around makes him look like any less of a dipshit -? Especially on a science site where most of the people have known such simple facts since birth -?

Can gracie say 'duh'?
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 31, 2016
"-And so youll have to ask gracie if masers were only invented a little while ago, were these stars doing something else for all those millions of years?"
----------------------------------
When Maiman invented the maser, he thought it was something new to existence, unaware of natural masers.

What is so hard about that?

This is what I meant when I talked about those unfamiliar with science, and only respond with emotion.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2016
This is what I meant when I talked about those unfamiliar with science, and only respond with emotion
Gracie thinks that random wiki facts will convince goobers that he was 'in the business'. We know he was never in any business for very long, because he TOLD us so. What was it - 14, 16 and counting?

Do men come any smaller? Or do small men just shrivel with age?
https://youtu.be/gku_xU2BXBs

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