RGZ Team Spotlight: Minnie Mao

Meet Minnie Mao, leading the study of spiral double radio lobe AGNs (or S-DRAGNs) for Radio Galaxy Zoo.

minnie_vlaHello! My name is Minnie and I am a VLA postdoc at NRAO in Socorro, NM. Astronomers use a lot of acronyms, and often are not very creative with telescope names/ VLA stands for ‘Very Large Array’, which is where some of the Radio Galaxy Zoo radio images come from!

I did my PhD at the University of Tasmania with Ray Norris (yup, THE Ray Norris), Jim Lovell, and Rob Sharp. We used optical data cross-matched with radio data from the ATCA (Australia Telescope Compact Array, where the rest of the RGZ radio images come from) to determine how galaxies have changed across cosmic time. A large chunk of the PhD was spent staring at images of radio galaxies, classifying their morphology, and determining their counterparts in optical/infrared images. While this can be a lot of fun, the Universe is rather large so I am glad I can now share this job with the wonderful zoo-ites!

One of my primary reasons for being involved in RGZ is because I am excited for the day when radio images become as familiar to people as optical images. To this end I hope you enjoy RGZ, because really, what is more fun than peering far back into the nether-reaches of the Universe?

Galaxy Zoo: Are Bars Responsible for the Feeding of Supermasssive Black Holes Beyond the Local Universe?

Supermassive black holes are thought to reside in the centers of most galaxies. These massive objects can produce powerful jets of energy that may significantly influence the evolution of their host galaxies. While we believe that black holes have an important role in galaxy evolution, a crucial unknown aspect about black holes is how they are fueled and turn into active galactic nuclei (AGN).

Among the proposed black hole fueling processes, bar-driven secular evolution is among the most popular. Bars are linear structures of stars that stretch across the centers of galaxies. They are theorized to fuel black holes by driving gas from the outskirts of galaxies into the very centers, where supermassive black holes lie.

Previous studies have tested whether bars can fuel black holes by examining whether there is an excess of bars among AGN hosts compared to non-AGN hosts. For the most part, those works found that there was not a significant enhancement of bars among AGN hosts, leading them to conclude that bars do not fuel black holes. But almost all these previous works were limited to the local universe, i.e., in the present, where the number of AGN is the lowest across cosmic time.

In this work, we investigate whether there is an excess of bars among AGN hosts beyond the local universe, i.e., in the distant past, up to 7 billion years ago. In this epoch, the number of AGN hosts is much higher, giving us a better glimpse of the identity of the black hole fueling mechanism. To conduct this experiment, we created two samples: 1) a sample of AGN hosts and 2) a carefully constructed control sample of non-AGN hosts that are matched to the AGN hosts. In order to create the largest samples possible, our experiment utilized three of the most popular extragalactic surveys: AEGIS, COSMOS, and GOODS-S. With these samples, we used the Galaxy Zoo: Hubble bar classifications to identify barred galaxies. Below is a gallery of 6 sets of AGN and their corresponding control galaxies, 2 sets from each survey.

agnbar_gallery

Our main results are shown in the figure below. We have two probes of bar presence—bar fraction (left) and bar likelihood (right)—for the AEGIS, COSMOS, and GOODS-S surveys.

bar_agn_frac_all

We find no statistically significant enhancement in the bar fraction or the bar likelihood in AGN hosts (green squares) compared to the non-AGN hosts (purple triangles). Our results, combined with previous works at the local universe, indicate that bars are not the primary fueling mechanism for supermassive black hole growth for the last 7 billion years. Moreover, given the growth of supermassive black holes over cosmic time, our results imply that bars are not directly responsible for the buildup of at least half the local supermassive black hole mass density.

Therefore, although among the most popular fueling mechanisms, it seems that bars do not fuel black holes. However, this result does narrow the search for the real black hole fueling mechanism.

Making Radio Galaxies in a Computer

At a conceptual level the formation of radio galaxies is pretty simple. According to a basic picture first introduced in the 1970s, a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy generates a symmetric pair of oppositely directed, high speed jets or beams of hot, ionized gas as a by-product of energy released or stored from matter falling onto the black hole. Those jets drill holes in the atmosphere of the galaxy and then even far beyond, dumping energy, excavating cavities and possibly entraining gas into the jets and cavities along the way. The jets carry magnetic fields and high energy electrons. Those electrons, spiraling in the magnetic fields light up the jets and the cavities they excavate in the radio band through a process called synchrotron emission.

While calculations based on this cartoon picture can correctly predict a few properties of radio galaxies, anyone who has looked at the images in Radio Galaxy Zoo can see that there must be a whole lot more to the story. Radio galaxies at best have only a rough bilateral symmetry with respect to their host galaxies. Furthermore, no two radio galaxies look alike, and most look pretty complicated; some could only be described as messy. In fact, the physics of radio galaxy formation is really very complex for a whole bunch of reasons that range from inherent instabilities in the dynamics of a fast jet, to the reality that the jets are not steady at the source. Furthermore, the surrounding environments are themselves messy, dynamic and sometimes even violent. All of these influences have impact on the appearances of radio galaxies.

The other side of the coin is that, if they can be understood, these complications may improve opportunities to decipher both the formation processes of the jets as well as the conditions that control their development and dissipation as they penetrate their environments. One part of piecing this puzzle together is expanding our awareness of all the things radio galaxies do, as well as when and where they do what they do. That’s what Radio Galaxy Zoo is about.
On the other hand, to go beyond the cartoon picture of what we see we also have to develop much more sophisticated and realistic models of the phenomena. This is very challenging. Because the detailed physics is so complex (messy!), astronomers have come to depend increasingly on large computer simulations that solve equations for gas dynamics with magnetic fields and high energy electrons. Pioneering gas dynamical simulations of jets in the 1980s already played an important role in confirming the value of the jet paradigm and helped to refine it soon after it was introduced.

Those early simulations were, however, seriously limited by available computer power and computational methods. In important ways the structures they made did not really look much like actual radio galaxies. At best they were too grainy. At worst important physics had to be left out, including the processes that actually produce the radio emission. This made it hard to know exactly how to compare the simulations with real radio galaxies. Thankfully, rapid improvements in both of those areas have led recently to much more realistic and detailed simulations that are starting to look more like the real thing and can be used to better pin down what is actually going on.

Our group at the University of Minnesota has been involved for some years now in pushing forward the boundaries of what can be learned about radio galaxies from simulations. I illustrate below some of the lessons we have learned from these simulations and some of the complex radio galaxy environments that it is now possible to explore through simulations. Each of these simulations was part of the work carried out by a student as part of their PhD training.

The jets responsible for radio galaxy formation propagate at speeds that can be a significant fraction of the speed of light. They are almost certainly supersonic. These properties lead to several related behaviors that are illustrated in Figure 1. It turns out that the flows within such a jet tend periodically to expand and then to contract. As they do so they form a sequence of shocks along the jet. These are visible in the figure. The jet also creates a sonic boom or bow shock in front as it moves forward. A close look at the jet in this figure also reveals that the jet actually does not remain straight as it moves forward. The end of the jet turns out to be unstable, so soon after launch begins to ‘flap’ or wobble. As a result the end of the jet tends to jump around, enlarging the area of impact on the ambient medium.

Figure 1: Shock waves in a simulated high speed jet propagating from the left end of the box. Since the jet is driving supersonically through its ambient medium, it also has created a bow shock (sonic boom) in the ambient medium on the far right.

Figure 1: Shock waves in a simulated high speed jet propagating from the left end of the box. Since the jet is driving supersonically through its ambient medium, it also has created a bow shock (sonic boom) in the ambient medium on the far right.

Many radio galaxies form inside clusters of galaxies, where the ambient medium is highly non-uniform and stirred up as a result of its own, violent formation. This distorts and bends the radio structures. At the same time the energy and momentum deposited by the jets creates cavities in the cluster gas that lead to dark holes in the thermal X-ray emission of the cluster. Figure 2 illustrates some of these behaviors for a simulated radio galaxy formed at the center of a cluster. Even though the source of the radio galaxy is at rest, there are fast gas motions in the cluster gas that obviously deflect the radio galaxy jets. ‘Mock’ radio images representing synchrotron emission by high energy electrons in the magnetic field carried by the jets are shown on the right in the figure at two times. At the same two times mock images of thermal X-rays are shown to the left. The X-ray images have been processed to exaggerate the dark cavities produced by the jets. Note that each image spans about 700 kpc or 2 million light years.

Figure 2: Simulation of radio galaxy formation in a cluster of galaxies that was extracted from a separate simulation of galaxy cluster formation. Mock obsevations of thermal X-rays (left) and radio synchrotron emission (right) are shown at two times after a pair of oppositely directed jets formed in the cluster center.

Figure 2: Simulation of radio galaxy formation in a cluster of galaxies that was extracted from a separate simulation of galaxy cluster formation. Mock observations of thermal X-rays (left) and radio synchrotron emission (right) are shown at two times after a pair of oppositely directed jets formed in the cluster center.

Quite a few radio galaxies in clusters are not made by galaxies anchored in the cluster center, but are hosted by galaxies moving through the cluster. This is especially common in clusters that are in the process of merging with another cluster. In that case the host galaxy can be moving very fast, and even supersonically with respect to its local, ambient medium. Then the radio jets can be very strongly deflected into ‘tails’ by an effective cross wind and eventually disrupted. Figure 3 illustrates the mock synchrotron emission from such a simulated radio galaxy. The abruptness of jet bending depends on the relative speed of the jet with respect to its internal sound speed and the relative speed of the host galaxy through its ambient medium with respect to the sound speed of that medium. So, when strongly bent jets are seen in a radio galaxy it is a strong clue that the motion of the galaxy is supersonic in relation to its environment. When multiple tailed radio galaxies are found in a given cluster it provides potentially valuable information about the dynamical condition of the cluster, since a relaxed cluster ought not to have many galaxies moving at supersonic speeds through the cluster gas.

Figure 3: Mock synchrotron image of a simulated radio galaxy embedded in a supersonic cross wind. The two jets have bent into downstream, turbulent tails .

Figure 3: Mock synchrotron image of a simulated radio galaxy embedded in a supersonic cross wind. The two jets have bent into downstream, turbulent tails .

Even more complex motions between the host galaxies and the ambient gas are possible. Those can sometimes lead to really exotic-looking radio structures. One beautiful example of this is the radio source 3C75 in the merging cluster Abell 400. Evidently two massive galaxies have become gravitationally bound into a binary system with a separation of about 7 kpc. The orbital period should be around 100 Myr. The pair  also appears to be moving together supersonically through the ambient medium. Each of those galaxies has formed radio jets. If it were not for the binary the expected outcome might resemble the situation pictured in Figure 3. However, the binary motions cause each of the two galaxies to oscillate in its motion and this causes the radio jets to develop more complex, twisted shapes before they disrupt into tails. Figure 4 illustrates a preliminary effort to simulate this dynamics. The image on the right shows the real 3C75, where pink is the radio emission (VLA) and blue is thermal X-rays (Chandra). The image on the left traces the distribution of gas expelled by each of the two galaxies in the binary system. This simulation seems to capture the general character of the dynamical situation responsible for 3C75.

Figure 4: Right-the radio galaxy 3C75 as seen in the radio (pink) and associated thermal X-rays from the cluster Abell 400 (blue). Left-Simulated jets from a binary pair of galaxies intended to mimic the dynamics of 3c75.

Figure 4: Right-the radio galaxy 3C75 as seen in the radio (pink) and associated thermal X-rays from the cluster Abell 400 (blue). Left-Simulated jets from a binary pair of galaxies intended to mimic the dynamics of 3c75.

From this short set of simulation results it ought to be clear why many different kinds of radio galaxy structures are expected to form. It also ought to be apparent that we need better catalogs of what behaviors do exist in nature in order to see how to focus our simulation efforts and to establish what are the most important dynamical conditions in radio galaxy formation.

The Hunt Is On

One of our scientists Prof. Ray Norris put the call out to the Radio Galaxy Zoo community for a hunt on spiral galaxies hosting powerful radio sources.  The first known galaxy of this type is 0313-192, a galaxy much like our Milky Way and has left astronomers baffled.

IDL TIFF fileFigure 1: 0313-192 The wrong galaxy from the Astronomy Picture of the Day.  Credit: W. Keel (U. Alabama), M. Ledlow (Gemini Obs), F. Owen (NRAO, AUI, NSF, NASA.

Here is Prof. Norris’ post:

Keep an eye out for any hourglass sources that seem to be hosted by galaxies that look spiral in the infrared. These objects are incredibly rare in the local Universe (only 2 or 3 known) and we may not see any in Radio Galaxy Zoo, but if someone does find one, that would be worth writing a paper about (with the discoverer as co-author, of course). The rarity of radio-loud spirals is thought to be because the radio jets heat up and disrupt the gas in the spiral, switching off star formation, and turning the galaxy into a “red dead” elliptical. But we might find one or two where the jets have only just switched on and haven’t yet destroyed the spiral. See The radio core of the Ultraluminous Infrared Galaxy F00183-7111: watching the birth of a quasar for another example of this process in its very early stage. So keep your eyes peeled and yell out (very loudly) if you find one!

We are pleased to announce that the Radio Galaxy Zoo community has identified over a dozen potential candidates and we are in the process of following these up.

Have you seen any? Head over to Radio Galaxy Zoo to join in on the hunt and let us know what you find.

RGZ Team Spotlight: Julie Banfield

Meet Julie (aka @42jkb on RadioTalk), a project scientist on Radio Galaxy Zoo!

julieI’m a postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science in Australia. This is my first position after obtaining my PhD from the University of Calgary, Canada working on magnetic fields of radio galaxies. My first memories of astronomy and the wonders of the Universe were spending summer nights outside at campfires with my family staring up and counting the number of “shooting stars” we could see. It wasn’t until my second year of undergraduate studies at Western University in Ontario Canada that I considered doing astrophysical research; I was actually going through to be an airline pilot! I haven’t looked back at my decision to change into physics and astronomy and everyday I am amazed at the complexity and beauty of the Universe.

I spend my time researching magnetic fields and how important they are to radio galaxies. You can usually find me at the Australia Telescope Compact Array taking observations of all types of radio galaxies, sitting in front of a computer doing the exact same thing as Radio Galaxy Zoo, learning about life from my daughter, and educating myself on the wonderful country I now live in. I am excited about what Radio Galaxy Zoo has to offer the astronomical community and what the Universe will unfold for us through this project. Thank you for taking part!

AAAS Symposium in Feb. 2015: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Citizen Scientists

Some colleagues and I successfully proposed for a symposium on citizen science at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, CA in February 2015. (The AAAS is one of the world’s largest scientific societies and is the publisher of the Science journal.) Our session will be titled “Citizen Science from the Zooniverse: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Scientists.” It refers to the more than one million volunteers participating in a variety of citizen science projects. This milestone was reached in February, and the Guardian and other news outlets reported on it.

Zooniverse-300x110

The Zooniverse began with Galaxy Zoo, which recently celebrated its seventh anniversary. Of course, Galaxy Zoo has been very successful, and it led to the development of a variety of citizen science projects coordinated by the Zooniverse in diverse fields such as biology, zoology, climate science, medicine, and astronomy. For example, projects include: Snapshot Serengeti, where people classify different animals caught in millions of camera trap images; Cell Slider, where they classify images of cancerous and ordinary cells and contribute to cancer research; Old Weather, where participants transcribe weather data from log books of Arctic exploration and research ships at sea between 1850 and 1950, thus contributing to climate model projections; and Whale FM, where they categorize the recorded sounds made by killer and pilot whales. And of course, in addition to Galaxy Zoo, there are numerous astronomy-related projects, such as Disk Detective, Planet Hunters, the Milky Way Project, and Space Warps.

Screen+Shot+2012-12-11+at+2.03.18+PM

We haven’t confirmed all of the speakers for our AAAS session yet, but we plan to have six speakers who will introduce and present results from the Zooniverse, Galaxy Zoo, Snapshot Serengeti, Old Weather, Cell Slider, and Space Warps. I’m sure it will be exciting and we’re all looking forward to it!

Thanks for the photons Hawaii – Last night of the CSO run

cso_large

Image Credit: Caltech/CSO

 

Hi, I’m Meg Schwamb (normally from Planet Hunters and Planet Four), but not to fear, I’m not here to talk about planets. With the Oxford Galaxy Zoo Team, I’ve been helping to observe on the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Mauna Kea. Chris blogged about our first night.  I thought I’d give a quick update, before final preparation for the start of tonight’s observing.

It’s been quite a world-wide effort. I’m currently based in Taipei, Taiwan. So I’m remotely logging into the telescope and instrument controls from home while Chris, Brooke, and Becky have been logging in remotely from Oxford Zooniverse HQ. Then we’re in a Skype call, so we can communicate and know who’s commanding the telescope and helping support the person running the observation.

Chris and the Zooniverse’s Rob Simpson talked more about the details of why we’re observing with the CSO these past few nights and what the experience has been like on their latest episode of Recycled Electrons, which you can find here.

The weather the past few nights hasn’t been great, we were closed Sunday night in Hawaii, we opened part of the night last night and closed due to high humidity in the middle of the night and never reopened. A few hours ago, the primary observers whose time this is, made the call that the conditions are not good enough for their project, but they are good enough for us to observe. Since I’m 7 hours ahead of the UK, one of my tasks is to be checking the Mauna Kea weather reports and waiting for the decision from the lead observer of the primary program. So about an hour ago, I phoned to start waking up the Oxford team.

The conditions are looking pretty good on the mountain. So I think we’ll have a smooth night in turns of humidity and wind. The optical depth is looking as good as our first night. I’m off to start my final checks and preparations, as I’m the lead observer of tonight’s observers (which includes Becky and Brooke in Oxford), so I make the calls of when to open, close, when we move to the next target.

If things are moving smoothly, we’ll try and update the blog occasionally. In the meantime, enjoy the view of sunset  from of the CFHT webcams on the submit of Mauna Kea.

9:42pm Hawaii time – We’re all pointed on source and taking data. Been on there observing for about an hour now. We”ll move off soon to do a pointing check on a carbon star and then back integrating on our target galaxy.  (Meg)

1:03am Hawaii time- We’re still on the same target. We were thinking of maybe moving off, but decided to stay on to see what some other features in the data look like with more time. We’ll be moving to our end of night source in about 40 minutes, and sit on that for the next several hours. Becky and Brooke are driving the telescope (Meg).

2:49am Hawaii time – Weather continues to about the same. We’re on to another source. Below here’s an image of the spectrograph data GUI windows that we see. The telescope has two spectrographs that simultaneous take data on the source. The bottom one FFTS2 covers a broader range and is higher resolution than the top spectrograph (FFTS1)

spectrograph_live_output

Live Output from the Spectrographs We’re Using Tonight

4:05 am – We’ve decided to stay on the same source for the rest of the night. So we’re just going to be sitting and taking observations on source then a system temperature calibration and then back to observing on source for the rest of the night. We shut an hour before sunrise so around 4:42am Hawaii local time (Meg).

Sunset in Hawai’i

c4

Hello from the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i! We’re here to follow up on a host of Galaxy Zoo blue ellipticals, trying to use the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory to catch the signature of Carbon Monoxide – gas which might provides the fuel for star formation.

Sadly, we’re not in Hawai’i – I’m in the office in Oxford (my sunrise is below), Becky is in Bristol and we’re joined by Meg Schwamb from Planet Hunters on her first extragalactic observing run. Conditions look good, if a bit windy, and I’ll try and keep you informed as the night wears on.

2014-07-12 06.29.48

Chris

EDIT: We have an open dome and the weather is looking good. Here’s a dark webcam image you can squint at to pick out a telescope and sky.

Screenshot 2014-07-12 07.30.29

And first observations for calibrations are on Mars! Here’s an excitingly noisy spectrum with a nice broad absorption line in the middle – you’re looking at CO (carbon monoxide) in the atmosphere of Mars. The width can even tell you about the current wind speed on Mars. From Oxford to Hawaii to Mars to back to you at home.

Screenshot 2014-07-12 07.34.29

 

Becky

EDIT : Well, that was interesting. It turns out it helps if you know a telescope – none of us have used the CSO before and it’s been quite hard work to get our heads round the right software. Still, we successfully observed our first target – an unprepossessing, rather distant blue elliptical by Sloan standards (see below) and on first glance didn’t quite see anything. It set before we could quite confirm that there was nothing there to see, and we’ve moved on to a second galaxy, stopping off on the way by a cool star in order to calibrate the system.

Blue784

EDIT : End of a long night. One disadvantage of observing remotely is that we have to be very cautious, so we’re commanded to shut the telescope an hour before sunrise. We got data, certainly, but it’s not one of those nights in which wonderous things are apparent immediately. We have more chances for the rest of the week if the weather cooperates, so watch this space.

A perfect woollen gift for the SEVENTH anniversary

In the UK on a seventh anniversary the traditional gift is one made of wool. So considering it’s the SEVENTH anniversary of Galaxy Zoo TODAY (July 11th) our very own, super talented Karen Masters has knitted us the Galaxy Zoo logo!

knittedlogo

If you feel like getting your astronomical knit on for this momentous occasion, here’s a few inspirational photo’s.

Karen also knitted our favourite Penguin Galaxy as a birthday present for the lovely Alice :

 

knittedpenguin

And check out the skills of Jen Greaves and the NAM Knitters who knitted a WHOLE GALAXY CLUSTER at this year’s National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth:

knittedcluster

 

For those of you itching to stretch your creative muscles but haven’t been struck by that bolt of inspiration yet, here’s a KNITTING PATTERN (a first I believe for the Galaxy Zoo blog) for the Galaxy Zoo logo to keep you busy…

KnittedGalaxyZooLogo

Our SEVEN Favourites

To honour the SEVENTH anniversary of Galaxy Zoo (July 11th) we’ve put together a gallery of the Science Team’s favourite images from the site (and why) for your visual pleasure…

Chris’s favourite: I love the flocculent spiral galaxies. The ones you can stare at and still have no idea how many spiral arms they have.

flocc

Karen’s favourite: I’m a sucker for merging galaxies, despite the fact that I work on barred galaxies mainly! This one which looks like the yin-yang symbol (or maybe a heart) is a particular favourite. It’s amazing that the Universe can be so vast that we can find galaxies in so many different shapes. 

heart

 

Kevin’s favourite: The penguin galaxy shows the power of human pattern recognition – and a crucial stage in galaxy evolution!

Penguin

Brooke’s favourite: when the latest Galaxy Zoo launched, the volunteers made a find almost right away that turned out to be a very rare kind of object called a gravitational lens. I love this image because it shows not just the variety of things that are out there in the Universe — in this case the very distant universe — but also the rare place that Galaxy Zoo itself occupies. It’s a diverse community and diverse images like this are part of the reason why.

lens_brooke

Kyle’s favourite: did you know that we can spell Galaxy Zoo out of galaxies? The users originally started collecting a list of galaxies that look like letters and now we have writing.galaxyzoo.org thanks to Steven. Since it’s the anniversary, here’s my favourite letter G.BestG

Bill’s favourite: Hanny’s Voørwerp really started something – the blue stuff in the image – other teams are now finding similar objects at smaller and larger distances too. 

hanny

Becky’s favourite: this amazing image has SO much going on in it – mergers, interactions, spirals, bars, ellipticals, grand designs, foreground stars etc. It feels like a visual representation of thoughts in my head at times, which is clearly why I love it.merger

BONUS:

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field!!!! Just to remind us all why we’re all here. Every single thing you can see in this image is a galaxy – even the most minuscule of dots. And the size of the image on the sky is about 1/20 the size of the Full Moon… Let’s just all take a minute to let that sink in as we stare and wonder...

hudf

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,282 other followers