Live blog : Voorwerp press conference
As anyone who’s been following the twitter feed in the last few days knows, today is a very exciting day for Galaxy Zoo as the long-awaited Hubble Space Telescope image of Hanny’s Voorwerp is released. Kevin has already shown the image in a science talk this morning, and Bill’s poster is up in the conference hall giving more details, but the official release is in just a few minutes. I’m writing live from the press conference room at the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Seattle, sitting next to the object’s discoverer and namesake Hanny van Arkel and Zooniverse developer Rob who will be keeping twitter up to date.
There’s a separate, long post from Bill ready to go live describing the results, including some very exciting new details, but I’ll use this post to keep you up to date with what happens in the press conference itself.
Three minutes to go…
12.44 : Kevin and Bill are on stage, alongside Leo Blitz of the University of California and Amy Reines from the University of Virginia, who will also be talking about their work during the conference.
12:52 : Introductions from Rick Feinberg, AAS press officer are over, and Bill’s taking the stand.
12:54 : Bill : ‘Conclusive proof that we have seen a quasar turn off’. Giving the background to the Voorwerp, and introducing Hanny, who immediately became the focus of every camera in the room.
12.56 : The image appears on screen. It looks terrible under the press room lights. Go to the online version, everyone!
12.58 : On to Kevin – the quasar is either hidden or has shut down, in which case the Voorwerp would be an echo of light, not of sound. In the meantime, for those wanting gory details Bill’s blog post is up.
13:00 : IC 2497 does shine in x-rays, but it’s like looking for a floodlight through a bank of fog and finding only a laser pointer – totally inadequate to light up the Voorwerp.
13:04 : In fact, the difference is at least 10,000 times. The timescale on which the reduction must have happened is now believed to be 200,000 years or less (we used to think 70,000 years or less).
13:06 : Back to Bill for one of the major results from Hubble : The bright area close to IC2497 is an area of star formation – so the interaction is triggering star formation in the Voorwerp. We couldn’t have seen this without Hubble, but it fits with the Westerbork radio results that showed evidence for a jet and larger outflow of gas in this direction. We think these are compressing the gas – rather as happens in Minkowski’s object (which was mentioned in my original Voorwerp paper). Much milder in the Voorwerp, though.
13:10 : Spectrum of the main galaxy confirms x-ray results – but we also cut across another area, which seems to be a bubble being blown into the disk of the galaxy – another aspect of an outflow of gas fostered by the nucleus of IC 2497.
13:15 : Bill again : We think that one reason this object is important is because it would be a coincidence for us to get lucky only once, with the nearest quasar. The Galaxy Zoo volunteers have poured through 15,000 candidate images and found 18 related objects – which have been confirmed by follow up. Being presented in another poster, the lead author of which is a Galaxy Zoo volunteer (and undergraduate on a summer program).
13:15 : Dodgy internet connection – sorry! We’re going to try a ustream chat with Kevin, Bill and Hanny after the conference ends. I see Hanny’s mother is watching – we can confirm she’s been very well behaved.
13:22 : Leo Blitz moves us away from the Voorwerp – They believe they’ve found a missing link between galaxies that form stars and those that are dead. A major topic of astronomical interest is how galaxies loose their gas and become old, red and dead. NGC 1266 is an unremarkable galaxy, slightly less massive and smaller than the Milky Way. It has an active galactic nucleus, but to all appearances is otherwise dead. Observations of the molecular gas from which stars mind form show that it’s concentrated in the nucleus of the galaxy. Excitingly, it appears to be fueling a wind that’s been blowing for more than 2.5 million years, and moving fast enough to escape the galaxy. About 13 Sun’s worth of gas escapes each year, and so in about 85 million years’ time, at the current rate, the gas will have been exhausted and the galaxy will have completed its transition to an old galaxy.
13:26 : Our final speaker, Amy Reines, is introducing us to Heinze 2-10. It’s a small galaxy, and yet it hosts a super-massive black hole. In fact, the black hole is the same size as that in the Milky Way but the galaxy is closer to the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Magellenic clouds.
13:30 : Possibly explanation is that black holes form before the bulges at the center of the galaxies do – which would answer an age-old chicken and egg problem! Now on to questions – my laptop is dying, but I’ll hang on as long as I can.
13:36 : Good question on Twitter from Ann Finkbeiner – ‘if the galaxy is 650 million LY away and the quasar turned off 200,000 years ago, how come we’re now seeing it with no quasar?’. We mean that we’re now seeing light that was emitted no more than 200,000 years after the quasar switched off.