“Food pills" were a staple of science fiction for decades. For our Galaxy, they may be real.
The Galaxy has been making stars for the last 8 billion years. What’s kept it going all that time?
When old stars die, some of their gas goes back into the galactic “soup” for star making. But in the long run a lot of it gets locked up in long-lived dwarf stars.
By Lisa Harvey-Smith
“So - what do you do?”
The question dreaded by astronomers seeking a quiet social evening. When I do fess up, quite often I get a grilling about alien life on other planets.
The truth is that most astronomers have little stake in finding life on other planets. Our work primarily focuses on studying a particular type of star or galaxy, or probing the physical or chemical processing that drive the evolution of our universe.
In the journal Science today, astronomers using our Parkes telescope have revealed signs of cataclysms in the distant Universe.
They've found four 'bursts' or 'flashes' of radio waves, the furthest one coming from about 11 billion light-years away. And, they say, if you had 'radio eyes' — eyes that could detect radio waves — you'd see one of these 'bursts' going off somewhere in the sky…
Like well-made tomato soup, the very early Universe was hot and (fairly) smooth. How did it evolve into the Universe that we have today — a Universe more like minestrone — a Universe that has galaxies, stars, planets and people?
One aspect of the process astronomers want to learn about is how galaxies assembled themselves and how they started forming stars.
Astronomers using a CSIRO radio telescope have taken the Universe’s temperature, and have found that it has cooled down just the way the Big Bang theory predicts.
Using the CSIRO Australia Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri, NSW, an international team from Sweden, France, Germany and Australia has measured how warm the Universe was when it was half its current age.
“This is the most precise measurement ever made of how the Universe has cooled down during its 13.77 billion year history,” said Dr Robert Braun, Chief Scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.
Because light takes time to travel, when we look out into space we see the Universe as it was in the past — as it was when light left the galaxies we are looking at. So to look back half-way into the Universe’s history, we need to look half-way across the Universe.
How can we measure a temperature at such a great distance?
The astronomers studied gas in an unnamed galaxy 7.2 billion light-years away [a redshift of 0.89].
The only thing keeping this gas warm is the cosmic background radiation — the glow left over from the Big Bang.
By chance, there is another powerful galaxy, a quasar (called PKS 1830-211), lying behind the unnamed galaxy.
Radio waves from this quasar come through the gas of the foreground galaxy. As they do so, the gas molecules absorb some of the energy of the radio waves. This leaves a distinctive “fingerprint” on the radio waves.
From this “fingerprint” the astronomers calculated the gas’s temperature. They found it to be 5.08 Kelvin (-268.07 degrees Celsius): extremely cold, but still warmer than today’s Universe, which is at 2.73 Kelvin (-270.42 degrees Celsius).
According to the Big Bang theory, the temperature of the cosmic background radiation drops smoothly as the Universe expands. “That’s just what we see in our measurements. The Universe of a few billion years ago was a few degrees warmer than it is now, exactly as the Big Bang Theory predicts,” said research team leader Dr Sebastien Muller of Onsala Space Observatory at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
“A precise and accurate determination of the cosmic microwave background temperature at z=0.89″, by S. Muller et al. Accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics; online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1212.5456
MEDIA: Helen Sim Ph: +61 2 9372 4251 E: email@example.com