## The Future of Extragalactic Observations from the Past

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2021 by telescoper

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day triggered a memory that twenty years ago, in July 2001, I was an invited speaker at a Conference in Cape Town entitled The Early Universe and Cosmological Observations: a Critical Review. That meeting was preceded by the 16th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation in Durban which I also attended, but did not speak at. For the Cape Town meeting I was asked to give a talk about some of the things coming up in the future to do with observational extragalactic astronomy, though I was told to avoid the cosmic microwave background and galaxy redshift surveys as other speakers were covering those areas. At the time I was serving on the Astronomy Advisory Panel for the (now defunct) Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council so I was keeping up with developments fairly well then.

Anyway, I wrote up my talk and it was published in 2002 in a special issue of Classical and Quantum Gravity, along with the other talks (which were more theoretical, as opposed to hypothetical). I never bothered to put in on the arXiv so if you want a copy you’ll have to get it from the publisher.

I’m not claiming it is a particularly insightful article – and I did refrain from giving specific timescales – but, looking back at it, it is interesting which projects I mentioned in the abstract actually did get completed in the following twenty years.

The European X-ray mission XEUS was never completed. It was proposed for a while to merge it with a rival US mission Constellation-X in the International X-ray Observatory (IXO), but that was cancelled in 2011/12 owing to budget constraints at NASA. An ESA X-ray mission, called ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics, based to some extent on the XEUS concept, is pencilled in for launch in 2034.

At the time of writing the article, JWST was called the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) and was envisaged to be an 8m class telescope, though I did suggest in the article would probably be “de-scoped” to involve a smaller mirror “perhaps 6m or thereabouts”. As we now know, it was finally launched on December 25 2021 and has a mirror of diameter 6.5m.

GAIA was developed and launched in 2013 and will operate until next year; it has been a tremendous success.

The Overwhelming Large (OWL) Telescope was planned to be a huge ground-based telescope, with a 100m diameter mirror and a target timescale of around 2015, to be built by the European Southern Observatory in Chile. I remember in informal discussions we used to call it the FLT. It was eventually decided that was not technically feasible and it was downgraded to a merely Extremely Large Telescope, which has a 39m mirror, underwhelming in comparison. Construction is in progress and it should see first light in 2027.

As well as the ELT there are now also the Thirty Metre Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will come into operation on a similar timescale.

The Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) consisting of 66 telescopes working as an interferometer was completed and has been fully operational since 2013. That too has been a great success.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) also had its share of cost overruns and technical delays and although initial construction plans have been developed it is not expected to be operational until 2027.

Probably the most notable omission from my list is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) now called the Vera Rubin Observatory. That wasn’t really within my horizon in 2001, although its planning phase had started then. It really got under way around 2008 and is now nearing completion. I certainly would have mentioned it had I known more about it at the time!

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the Euclid Mission due to be launched in early 2023 was very far from the drawing board in 2001 so I don’t apologize for not mentioning it!

## High-resolution Observation of the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Effect With ALMA

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on August 1, 2016 by telescoper

I just saw a very interesting paper (by Kitayama et al.) on the arXiv, which I’m pretty sure presents the highest-ever resolution observations of the (Thermal) Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Effect in a galaxy cluster taken with the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA). This is basically a distortion of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background seen in the direction of the cluster caused by scattering of CMB photons off electrons in the extremely hot plasma that pervades such an object. The key parameter to be measured along each line of sight is the Compton y-parameter, which is defined as

$y = \tau \frac{kT}{m_ec^2},$

where $\tau$ the optical depth of the cluster (which in this case is essentially the fraction of CMB photons that get scattered) and $T$ is the plasma temperature; for a more technical discussion of the process see here.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

We present the first image of the thermal Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect (SZE) obtained by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Combining 7-m and 12-m arrays in Band 3, we create an SZE map toward a galaxy cluster RXJ1347.5-1145 with 5 arc-second resolution (corresponding to the physical size of 20 kpc/h), the highest angular and physical spatial resolutions achieved to date for imaging the SZE, while retaining extended signals out to 40 arc-seconds. The 1-sigma statistical sensitivity of the image is 0.017 mJy/beam or 0.12 mK_CMB at the 5 arc-second full width at half maximum. The SZE image shows a good agreement with an electron pressure map reconstructed independently from the X-ray data and offers a new probe of the small-scale structure of the intracluster medium. Our results demonstrate that ALMA is a powerful instrument for imaging the SZE in compact galaxy clusters with unprecedented angular resolution and sensitivity. As the first report on the detection of the SZE by ALMA, we present detailed analysis procedures including corrections for the missing flux, to provide guiding methods for analyzing and interpreting future SZE images by ALMA.

And here is the key image, a map of the variation of the Compton y-parameter across the cluster:

It’s not at all easy to isolate the Sunyaev-Zeld’dovich effect, so this is an impressive result and the paper is well-worth reading. Observations at such high resolution will help greatly to understand the behaviour of hot gas in rich clusters, especially when combined with observations of the emission from the cluster plasma itself, which is hot enough to radiate in the X-ray part of the spectrum.

## An Einstein Ring – Courtesy of ALMA

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2015 by telescoper

Just back from a short Easter holiday, I thought I’d resume blogging activities by showing you this remarkable image.

What you see is a near-perfect example of an Einstein Ring which is a result of a chance alignment between a background galaxy and a foreground concentration of mass, sometimes a cluster of galaxies but in this case another galaxy. A more usual effect is the formation of a number of bright arcs; here there are two bright segments, but there is enough detail to see the rest of the circle. The lensed galaxy has a redshift about 3, so that light from it was emitted when the Universe was about one-quarter its current size, about 12 billion years in the past.

This object, codenamed SDP81, was initially detected as a potential lens system by the Herschel Space Observatory, which turned out to be superb at identifying gravitational lenses. I posted about this here, in fact. Working in the far-infrared makes it impossible to resolve the detailed structure of lensed images with Herschel – even with a 3.5m mirror in space, λ/D isn’t great for wavelengths of 500 microns! However, the vast majority of sources found during the Herschel ATLAS survey with large fluxes at this wavelengths can be identified as lenses simply because their brightness tells us they’ve probably been magnified by a lens. Candidates can then be followed up with other telescopes on the ground. A quick look during the Science Demonstration Phase of Herschel produced the first crop of firmly identified gravitational lens systems published in Science by Negrello et al. This one was followed up last year by the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), itself a remarkable breakthrough in observational technology; the image was actually made in an extended configuration during the commissioning tests of ALMA’s long-baseline interferometric capability, which gives it stunning resolving power of about 23 milli-arcseconds. It’s absolutely amazing to see such detail in an image made in the submillimetre region of the spectrum.

The press release accompanying this can be found here and the full scientific paper by Vlahakis et al. is already on the arXiv here.

For the specialists the abstract of the journal paper reads:

We present initial results of very high resolution Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations of the z=3.042 gravitationally lensed galaxy HATLAS J090311.6+003906 (SDP.81). These observations were carried out using a very extended configuration as part of Science Verification for the 2014 ALMA Long Baseline Campaign, with baselines of up to 15 km. We present continuum imaging at 151, 236 and 290 GHz, at unprecedented angular resolutions as fine as 23 milliarcseconds (mas), corresponding to an un-magnified spatial scale of ~180 pc at z=3.042. The ALMA images clearly show two main gravitational arc components of an Einstein ring, with emission tracing a radius of ~1.5″. We also present imaging of CO(10-9), CO(8-7), CO(5-4) and H2O line emission. The CO emission, at an angular resolution of ~170 mas, is found to broadly trace the gravitational arc structures but with differing morphologies between the CO transitions and compared to the dust continuum. Our detection of H2O line emission, using only the shortest baselines, provides the most resolved detection to date of thermal H2O emission in an extragalactic source. The ALMA continuum and spectral line fluxes are consistent with previous Plateau de Bure Interferometer and Submillimeter Array observations despite the impressive increase in angular resolution. Finally, we detect weak unresolved continuum emission from a position that is spatially coincident with the center of the lens, with a spectral index that is consistent with emission from the core of the foreground lensing galaxy.

ALMA will only work in long baseline mode for a small fraction of its time, and it is bound to be in very heavy demand, so it’s not clear how many of the hundreds of candidate lenses flagged up by Herschel will ever be mapped in such detail, but this is definitely one for the album!

## Con Alma

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 14, 2013 by telescoper

Well, Herschel may be going blind but it seems that just as one observatory gets ready to close its eyes on the Universe, another one gets ready to open them. Yesterday saw the official opening of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (known to its friends as ALMA). What better way to celebrate the opening of this remarkable observatory than with an appropriately-named piece of music.

Con Alma is an original composition by Dizzy Gillespie who plays it on this track made with his big band in 1954, a period when Dizzy was experimenting with various fusions of bebop with Latin-American rhythms. It’s a deceptively complicated tune, with lots of changes of key to keep everyone on their toes. It may be more Cuban than Chilean in influence, but that’s the closest I could think of!

## Galaxies con Alma

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on October 3, 2011 by telescoper

It’s back to School with a vengeance today, so not much time for the blog. However, I couldn’t resist mentioning the fact that the European Southern Observatory’s Atacama Large Millimetre Array, known to its friends as ALMA, has at last opened its eyes. Or at least some of them. ALMA in fact is an interferometer which eventually will comprise 66 dishes,   working together to with baselines as long 16km to synthesize a single huge aperture. The preliminary results that have just been released were obtained using just 16 dishes so they only offer a taste of what the full ALMA will do when it’s completed in 2013.

ALMA works in the millimetre wave region of the spectrum, operating at wavelengths between 0.3 and 9.6 mm. The overlap with the  wavelength range probed by the Herschel Space Observatory together with its much higher resolution than Herschel, which is a single telescope of only 3.5m diameter, makes the two very complementary: Herschel is good for surveying large parts of the sky, because it has a large field of view, whereas ALMA can do high-resolution follow-up of selected regions.

Anyway, here is ALMA’s view of the Antennae Galaxies (left) shown next to an optical image taken with the Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The system consists of two galaxies so close together that they interact strongly with each other via enormous tidal forces, hence the disturbed structure. The coloured regions in the ALMA image show radiation emanating from carbon monoxide present in huge clouds both in and between the galaxies. Altogether these clouds contain several billion solar masses worth of gas which has never been viewed before.