Last time we discussed the early and mid stages of radio galaxy life that take up the majority of the radio galaxy lifetime. Today we will go much further following paths of aging radio galaxies.
‘Only few of us get here’
As we discussed last time, radio galaxies are typically between tens and hundreds of kilo- parsecs in size (30 thousands – 3 million light-years). However, some of our buddies will grow to enormous sizes. Once a radio galaxy reaches one Mega-parsec in size (3.3 million light-years across) it’s called a giant – that is, a giant radio galaxy. Not every radio galaxy will reach such enormous sizes; only the most powerful ones whose environments are not extremely dense do. We don’t see too many giant radio galaxies. There are two main problems. One is that they are of low radio luminosity, and so our telescopes are not always sensitive enough to detect more than a subset of radio galaxies reaching this stage of their lives. The other problem is that giants are often composed of numerous bright knots spread over a large area and it’s difficult for us to tell which of these knots are associated with the giant and which are from unrelated sources.
Giant radio galaxies are usually hundred of thousands, or more, years old and they are very large and extended. They can tell us a lot about what is going on within the space in between galaxies in groups and clusters, and that’s why radio astronomers cherish these giants! The largest giant radio galaxy known is 4.5 Mega-parsecs across (named J1420-0545), which is almost 15 million light-years! In radio images these radio galaxies extended over 20 or 30 arc-minutes, which means you will normally see only one of their lobes at a time in any of the Radio Galaxy Zoo images we classify. This is also the reason why we would tag these Radio Galaxy Zoo images as #overedge or #giants.
But radio galaxies will not grow to infinity, they will eventually die. What happens then is that the radio galaxy starts fading away. Physically, at this point, the supermassive black hole stops providing jets with fresh particles, which means the jets and lobes or radio galaxy are not fed with new material. The electrons in the radio galaxy lobes have a finite amount of energy they can release as light, and so the lobes simply fade away until they are no longer visible with our telescopes. Dying radio galaxies become progressively less powerful, and less pronounced: no bright jet knots nor hotspots are present within the lobes anymore (see Figure 6). Eventually we can’t see these radio galaxies any more with our telescopes. You would typically mark these radio sources as #relics or #extended in Radio Galaxy Zoo images. It takes only ten thousand years for the brightest features of radio galaxy lobes to disappear, which is barely 0.01% of the total lifespan of radio galaxy. Again, just as the birth, it’s a blink of an eye!
So is that the end?
Well… not really! Astronomers have seen evidence that radio galaxies re-start. What does that mean? That means radio galaxies sort of resurrect. After switching off, the supermassive black hole is radio silent for a while, but it can become active again; that is the whole cycle of radio galaxy life can start all over again. A single host galaxy can have multiple radio galaxy events. We still don’t know the ratio of how long the galaxy is in quiet, silent stage, to how long is in its active, violent radio galaxy forming stage. We also do not know if all galaxies go through the active, radio galaxy forming stage, or whether it’s just some of them. And we don’t know what exactly is the process that makes the galaxies switch on and off. But details on that… that’s yet another story!
Today’s blog post is written by Radio Galaxy Zoo science team member Anna Kapinska, who works on radio jets and studies how they affect the galaxies which host them at various stages of the Universe’s evolution. This is the first of a two-part series.
As most of you know by now (after classifying hundreds of radio and infrared images in our amazing Radio Galaxy Zoo!) radio galaxies are not the type of object that most of us are used to. There’s no stars and dust; no light from that. It’s all about the jets – outflows of particles ejected from the vicinity of the galaxy’s monstrous supermassive black hole and moving nearly at the speed of light. Some of these particles, electrons, emit light while spiralling in the black hole magnetic field. By no means are the radio galaxies stationary or boring!
Radio galaxies can live for as long as a few hundred thousand or even a few million years. They grow and mature over that time, and so they change. They even don’t disappear straight after they die; that takes time too. So, how does the life of a radio galaxy look like?
Just as for ourselves, humans, we have names for different stages of radio galaxy life. There are newborn and young radio galaxies. There are adults – these are the most often encountered individua. There are also old, large giants. And there are dead radio galaxies – the slowly fading away breaths of magnificent lives – a rare encounter as they don’t stay with us for too long. So, how do these radio galaxies look like and what exactly happens during their lives? Over the next two blogs I will take you through the evolutionary stages of radio galaxies.
Let’s start off with a simple plot astronomers like to use for an overview of a radio galaxy evolution during its lifetime. The plot describes how the radio luminosity changes with the radio galaxy size (Figure 2). The larger the radio galaxy, the older it is (usually), so we can trace the changes in radio galaxy luminosity and structure (size) as it gets older.
The early years
After a radio galaxy is born it will be growing up very quickly – in a blink of an eye its jets will be penetrating dense environments out to the borders of the host galaxy (the one you can see in optical and infrared wavelengths). Astronomers call these sources GPS (Gigahertz peaked sources) and CSS (compact steep spectrum) radio sources. The GPS/CSS sources are very small; they reach only kilo-parsec distances from the central black hole (3.5 thousand light years), which is merely few arc seconds, or even less, in radio images. This is the reason why we usually detect them as compact radio sources; however, one can sometimes see their double radio structure (that is the jets) in very high resolution radio images (Figure 3), hence really they are just mini-doubles!
This stage of radio galaxy life is the only one at which the radio galaxy luminosity rises steeply as the source grows in size. The stage lasts only for tens to hundreds of thousands of years, which is barely 0.1% of the radio galaxy’s lifetime. This means there is a very short window of time when we can spot CSS and GPS sources, but there are many of these sources around and they are also very bright (their radio luminosities are typically the maximum a radio galaxy can reach) so we often detect them.
After the childhood radio galaxies enter the adulthood. Astronomers have dozen of names to describe the adult radio galaxies and this depends on their structure observed in radio waves, but really, what these radio galaxies have in common is their age and size. They are usually tens to hundreds of millions of years old, and between tens and hundreds of kilo-parsecs in size (30 thousands – 3 million light-years). The luminosity of these radio galaxies slowly drops as they penetrate through the intergalactic space. When you inspect the Radio Galaxy Zoo images, these radio sources are the #hourglass, #doublelobe and #plumes. 3C 237 and Centaurus A are fantastic examples of what we usually see! (Figure 4).
You will quickly notice that there are two main types of these radio galaxies; one type that has very strong radio emission at the end of the lobes (#hourglass, #doublelobes) which is the signature of jets pushing through the ambient medium around radio galaxy. These radio galaxies are called FR IIs by radio astronomers, and the bright spots at the ends of the lobes are called hotspots. The second type has their maximum radio luminosity close to the supermassive black hole or half way through the lobes; these are #plumes within the Radio Zoo and are tagged FRIs by radio astronomers. Plumes are less powerful than the hourglass, but they are even more of a challenge to astronomers!
The radio galaxy adult stage will be the majority of their lifetime, and that’s why they are the radio galaxies and radio structures one would typically see. Next time we will see what happens when the radio galaxy gets old!
Today’s Radio Galaxy Zoo post is by Ray Norris, our Project Advisor. Ray researches how galaxies formed and evolved after the Big Bang, using radio, infrared, and optical telescopes.
In Radio Galaxy Zoo, some bright radio sources don’t have any infrared sources at all associated with them, and they have been given the hashtag #ifrs, for Infrared-Faint Radio Sources. So what are these IFRS?
In 2006, we discovered about 1000 radio sources in the Australia Telescope Large Area Survey (ATLAS). Conventional wisdom told us that all of these would be visible in the infrared observations taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, as part of the SWIRE project. So we were astonished to find that about 50 of our sources were not listed in the SWIRE catalog. Could they be bugs in our data? After eliminating iffy sources, we were left with 11 sources that are bright in the radio but invisible in the infrared images. We dubbed these objects Infrared-Faint Radio Source (IFRS). With hindsight, we should have thought of a better name for them. But at the time we didn’t know that they would turn out to be important!
We suggested in 2006 that these might be high-redshift active galaxies – galaxies whose emission is dominated by a super-massive black hole at their centre (the galaxies you are looking at in Radio Galaxy Zoo). This was surprising, because we were finding so many of them that it meant there must be far more supermassive black holes in the early Universe than found by deep optical surveys, such as SDSS (whose images we use in Galaxy Zoo). It’s also far more than can be accounted for by conventional hierarchical models of super-massive black hole formation. Naturally, our colleagues were sceptical, and most of us harboured our private doubts too. But over the next few years we tested this idea and its alternatives. Gradually our confidence grew that these were indeed high-redshift active galaxies.
In 2011 we showed that they were similar to high-redshift radio galaxies (HzRG) but even more extreme. Crucially, we suggested that they follow the same correlations between the radio and infrared emission as the HzRG. If this suggestion turned out to be correct, then that would push them to be amongst the first supermassive black holes in the Universe.
Fortunately, it was possible to test this hypothesis by measuring the redshifts of less extreme objects, to see if they followed these same correlations. Two new papers confirm that they do indeed follow this correlation. In one, Andreas Herzog and his colleagues use the European Very Large Telescope to measure the redshifts of three of these less extreme objects, and find they lie on the correlation, at redshifts between 2 and 3, just as predicted. In the other paper Jordan Collier and his colleagues take exactly the same data now being shown in Radio Galaxy Zoo, and search for objects which are relatively much brighter in the FIRST (radio) data than in the WISE (infrared) data. 1,317 of these are found, of which 19 have measured redshifts. Again, all but one of these lie in the redshift range 2 to 3. This is strong support for the hypothesis!
Armed with this, we are increasingly confident that the most extreme IFRSs that will turn up in the fainter ATLAS and COSMOS field, to be released in Radio Galaxy Zoo in a few weeks, will include many supermassive black holes formed in the first half-billion years after the Big Bang. According to conventional hierarchical black hole formation models, these shouldn’t exist. So the race will be on to identify them and measure their redshifts using instruments like ALMA.
Not everything in Radio Galaxy Zoo classified as being an IFRS will turn out to be a high-redshift black hole, as the data currently being displayed (FIRST and WISE) are not deep enough to pick out the really high-redshift objects. But when the new ATLAS data are loaded into RGZ in a few weeks, almost every object that appears in the radio but not in the infrared will be one of these enigmatic objects. We can’t wait to see how many you find!
This post was written by Radio Galaxy Zoo team member Stas Shabala, an astronomer at the University of Tasmania.
The supermassive black holes at the hearts of galaxies are supposed to be simple. For someone looking at a black hole from afar, physicists tell us all black holes can be described by just three parameters: their mass, electric charge, and spin. For really big black holes, such as the ones astronomers deal with, things are even simpler: there is no charge (that’s because they are so big that there would always be enough neighbouring positive and negative charges to more or less cancel out). So if you know how heavy a black hole is, and how fast it spins, in theory at least you have enough information to predict a black hole’s behaviour.
Of course the black holes in Radio Galaxy Zoo often have at least one other, quite spectacular, feature – bright jets of radio plasma shooting through their host galaxy and into intergalactic space. Where do these jets come from?, I hear you ask. This is a very good question, and one to which astronomers are yet to find a wholly convincing answer. We have some pretty good hunches though.
The fact that black holes can spin might be quite important. Matter accreted by a black hole will rotate faster and faster as it falls in. Stuff closer to the equator will also rotate faster than stuff at the poles, and that causes the accreting material to flatten out into a pancake, which astronomers call the accretion disk.
The accreting matter near the black hole event horizon (a fancy term for the point of no return – any closer to the black hole, and not even light is fast enough to escape the gravitational pull) is subject to friction, which heats it up so much that individual atoms dissociate into plasma. These plasma (i.e. positively and negatively charged) particles are moving, so they are in fact driving an electrical current. When this current interacts with the rotating magnetic field of the black hole and the accretion disk, the charged particles are flung out at close to the speed of light along the axis of black hole rotation. We can see these fast-moving particles as jets in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum. A useful analogy is a car alternator, where electrical currents and magnetic fields are also combined to generate energy.
There are many things we don’t know. For example, we don’t know for sure where most of the jet energy comes from. It could be from the accreted matter, or the spin of the black hole, or a combination of both. We are also not sure exactly what sort of charged particles these jets are made up of. Understanding black hole jets is one of the great unsolved mysteries in astronomy. By studying a huge number of these jets at different points in their lifetimes, Radio Galaxy Zoo — with your help — will help us solve this puzzle.
A quick post to say congratulations to new Galaxy Zoo science team member Edmond Cheung, a PhD student from UC Santa Cruz, on the publication of his first Galaxy Zoo paper. Edmond approached us some time ago and was interested in doing further study on the barred galaxies in both Galaxy Zoo 2 and GZ: Hubble. This paper is the result of the excellent work he’s done looking at more detail on the properties of bars in the Galaxy Zoo 2 classifications.
The paper has recently been accepted to the Astrophysical Journal, and will appear on the arxiv very shortly.
The main result is a stronger proof than has ever before been seen that secular (that is, very slow) evolution affects the properties of barred galaxies, which grow larger bulges and slow down in their star formation the longer the bars grow (or the older the bars are).
Edit: This paper is now available on the arXiv at http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.2941
Since the original launch of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) in 2000, the data from the project has been released to the public on a timescale of every year or two. These Data Releases include both new observations from the telescope, as well as refinements to old data based on improving the processing and reduction routines.
Today, Sloan announced that Data Release 10 (DR10) is now available to both the general astronomy community and to the public. It contains the first release of spectra from the APOGEE experiment, which has been observing tens of thousands of red giant stars in the Milky Way. It also includes new data from BOSS, which has been measuring redshifts for distant galaxies in order to measure cosmological parameters and study structure formation.
The original data from Galaxy Zoo was included in the SDSS Data Release 8. That’s quite important for a couple of reasons. It makes it much easier for scientists to use the GZ data, since SDSS uses this as the input for their own database, called CasJobs. This database enables matching of morphologies to other properties of the galaxies that SDSS measures, such as color or size. It also provides one of the main means of access to the data for people who aren’t members of the Galaxy Zoo team. Finally, it’s a validation that your GZ classifications have become a core data product of the survey, and something which is worth preserving and sharing as widely as possible.
In DR10, we’re happy to announce that data from Galaxy Zoo 2 is available for the first time. The reduction and description of the data is covered in a recent paper, which received a very favorable referee report a couple of weeks ago and will be resubmitted soon. We’ll share the paper as soon as it’s been formally accepted. The GZ2 data will also be hosted on our own site within Galaxy Zoo in the near future.
Please check out DR10 if you’re interested in peeking at the GZ2 data – do acknowledge both Willett et al. (GZ2) and Ahn et al. (DR10) if you end up using it, though. Congratulations to the SDSS team on this new release!
Experience Science from Beginning to End! Classify, Analyze, Discuss, and Collaboatively Write an Article!
Galaxy Zoo and other Zooniverse projects have given thousands the opportunity to contribute to scientific research. It’s time to take the role of volunteers to the next level. For the next two months*, this new Galaxy Zoo Quench project provides the opportunity to take part in the ENTIRE scientific process – everything from classifying galaxies to analyzing results to collaborating with astronomers to writing a scientific article!
Galaxy Zoo Quench will examine a sample of galaxies that have recently and abruptly quenched their star formation. These galaxies are aptly named Post-Quenched Galaxies. They provide an ideal laboratory for studying how galaxies evolve from blue, star-forming spiral galaxies to red, non-star-forming elliptical galaxies. Using the more than a million galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, we identified ~3000 post-quenched galaxies. By classifying these galaxies and analyzing the results, we will explore the mechanisms that quenched their star formation and investigate the role of post-quenched galaxies in galaxy evolution.
The entire process of classifying, analyzing, discussing, and writing the article will take place over an 8 week period*, beginning July 18th. After classifying the galaxies, volunteers will use the tools available within Zooniverse to plot the data and look for trends. Through reading articles and interaction in Talk, volunteers will gain background information. Throughout, they’ll discuss with the science team their interpretation of the results. At the end of the process, volunteers and the science team will collaboratively write a 4-page Astrophysical Journal article.
What causes the star formation in these galaxies to be quenched? How do interactions impact galaxy evolution? What is the fate of our Milky Way? Join us this Summer (or Winter if you’re below the equator!) in exploring these questions, being a part of the scientific process, and contributing to our understanding of this dynamic phase of galaxy evolution!
CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE!
We’ll be sharing more details about this project during the next Galaxy Zoo Hangout, on Monday, July 15th at 14:00 CST / 19:00 GMT / 20:00 BST. Have questions about the project? Post them here or tweet at us (@galaxyzoo). Just before the Hangout starts, we’ll embed the video here so you can watch from the blog.
The best way to send us a comment during the live Hangout is through twitter (@galaxyzoo). You can also leave a comment on this blog post, or on Google Plus, Facebook or YouTube. See you soon!
Update: here’s the hangout (and the mp3 version)!
*Note: science timelines often subject to a factor of two uncertainty. We’ll do our best to keep on track, at the same time expecting the unexpected (all part of the fun of doing science!).
After a very busy week, I’ve suddenly had the happy realization that ZooCon ’13 (in Oxford) is tomorrow.
Okay, it’s not like I had completely forgotten about it – I’ve been thinking about what I want to say in my talk and discussing the schedule with the other organizers for a while now – but what a lovely feeling to suddenly connect that the thing you’ve been looking forward to as an opportunity to meet some interesting people and talk about interesting stuff is less than 24 hours away!
There’s still time to register: just go to the Eventbrite page and sign up (it’s free!) and we’ll see you tomorrow.
I’m planning to talk mostly about the future of Galaxy Zoo, including CANDELS and other projects as well as interesting new tools to enable different kinds of collaborative science, including volunteer-led science. But I’m most looking forward to the other talks, which will include updates from Old Weather, Space Warps and Planet Four.
What are you most looking forward to?
(Besides the pub afterwards, of course!)
Way back in August I gave a evening (public) plenary talk about “The Zoo of Galaxies” at the 28th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union. I wrote a couple of blog posts about it at the time (here and a bit more here). Just this week I got word that the video is now available, so here it is:
To go with this I have also posted the “proceedings” (a write-up based on my talks) which will be appearing in the 16th Volume of “Highlights of Astronomy”. This is available on the arxiv. It’s not supposed to be a transcript as such, but if you watch both the video and read this I think you’ll see they’re quite similar.
This post was written by Kyle Willett. He is a postdoc at the University of Minnesota and a member of the Galaxy Zoo science team.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Long Beach, California. Kevin and Bill already made several excellent posts on their conference experience (tip: showing data hot off the telescope and having Swiss chocolate at your poster really generate foot traffic). I wanted to write a bit more about the research that I presented and how it related to other topics at the meeting.
My poster was up during on the third day of AAS, in the “Catalogs” section of the big poster hall. This is a bit unusual in that the posters there were sorted more by their methods, rather than science content. A group like this is useful for identifying projects with similar challenges, including curation of large data sets, reduction techniques, and how to best publish the data so the scientific community will recognize and use it. The content varies widely, though – I got to compare what galaxy morphologies might have in common with catalogs of bright stars, exoplanets, and infrared mosaics.
The content of my poster focused on three topics. The first was a description of the Galaxy Zoo 2 project, describing the new questions we developed (and that you answered) and the sample of galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that the results cover. This is slightly different from the original Galaxy Zoo, since GZ2 uses a brighter sample of galaxies in which more detail can be seen.
The second portion was my work on data reduction for the Galaxy Zoo 2 catalog; in particular, the way in which we demonstrate that more distant galaxies appear smaller and dimmer in the classification interface, and how this can be corrected. I showed data for 4 of the questions (smooth vs. features? is it an edge-on disk? is there a bar? are there spiral arms?) as examples of successful corrections that we’ve already done. The remaining 7 are being finished this week, with results looking good so far.
Finally, I had a section summarizing the science results from using Galaxy Zoo 2 data. So far, these have all been led by members of our own science team (which you can find here). Our goal in releasing the full catalog, though, is to make GZ2 a community resource – we want other groups to use the data and write even more interesting papers. We know we have a unique data source – the challenge is to reduce it properly, put it in a useful public format, and help publicize it by writing papers and attending conferences.
I had a lot of good conversations with other astronomers at this meeting, many of whom are very keen to see the data come out. Several interesting presentations raised questions we can explore with GZ2. I was intrigued by Michael Rutkowski’s (Arizona State) talk on the surprising amount of star formation and diversity amongst early-type galaxies, as well as Benjamin Davis’ (Arkansas) talk on using computers to measure the angle of spiral arms and how it relates to their central black holes.
Overall, it was a great meeting both for general astronomy and for Zoo-related projects. The science team and I are finishing the first draft of the data release paper this month, and we’ll be submitting it to a journal shortly after. I’ll keep writing as we make progress – as always, thanks for your classifications that make my work possible!