Archive for Atacama Large Millimetre Array

Merging Galaxies in the Early Universe

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on November 14, 2017 by telescoper

I just saw this little movie circulated by the European Space Agency.

The  source displayed in the video was first identified by European Space Agency’s now-defunct Herschel Space Observatory, and later imaged with much higher resolution using the ground-based Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. It’s a significant discovery because it shows two large galaxies at quite high redshift (z=5.655) undergoing a major merger. According to the standard cosmological model this event occurred about a billion years after the Big Bang. The first galaxies are thought to have formed after a few hundred million years, but these objects are expected to have been be much smaller than present-day galaxies like the Milky Way. Major mergers of the type seen apparently seen here are needed if structures are to grow sufficiently rapidly, through hierarchical clustering, to produce what we see around us now, about 13.7 Gyrs after the Big Bang.

The ESA press release can be found here and for more expert readers the refereed paper (by Riechers et al.) can be found here (if you have a subscription to the Astrophysical Journal or for free on the arXiv here.

The abstract (which contains a lot of technical detail about the infra-red/millimetre/submillimetre observations involved in the study) reads:

We report the detection of ADFS-27, a dusty, starbursting major merger at a redshift of z=5.655, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). ADFS-27 was selected from Herschel/SPIRE and APEX/LABOCA data as an extremely red “870 micron riser” (i.e., S_250<S_350<S_500<S_870), demonstrating the utility of this technique to identify some of the highest-redshift dusty galaxies. A scan of the 3mm atmospheric window with ALMA yields detections of CO(5-4) and CO(6-5) emission, and a tentative detection of H2O(211-202) emission, which provides an unambiguous redshift measurement. The strength of the CO lines implies a large molecular gas reservoir with a mass of M_gas=2.5×10^11(alpha_CO/0.8)(0.39/r_51) Msun, sufficient to maintain its ~2400 Msun/yr starburst for at least ~100 Myr. The 870 micron dust continuum emission is resolved into two components, 1.8 and 2.1 kpc in diameter, separated by 9.0 kpc, with comparable dust luminosities, suggesting an ongoing major merger. The infrared luminosity of L_IR~=2.4×10^13Lsun implies that this system represents a binary hyper-luminous infrared galaxy, the most distant of its kind presently known. This also implies star formation rate surface densities of Sigma_SFR=730 and 750Msun/yr/kpc2, consistent with a binary “maximum starburst”. The discovery of this rare system is consistent with a significantly higher space density than previously thought for the most luminous dusty starbursts within the first billion years of cosmic time, easing tensions regarding the space densities of z~6 quasars and massive quiescent galaxies at z>~3.

The word `riser’ refers to the fact that the measured flux increases with wavelength from the range of wavelengths measured by Herschel/Spire (250 to 500 microns) and up 870 microns. The follow-up observations with higher spectral resolution are based on identifications of carbon monoxide (CO) and water (H20) in the the spectra, which imply the existence of large quantities of gas capable of fuelling an extended period of star formation.

Clearly a lot was going on in this system, a long time ago and a long way away!



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!

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.