Eight per cent leakage of Lyman continuum photons from a compact, star-forming dwarf galaxy
Nature 529, 7585 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature16456
Authors: Y. I. Izotov, I. Orlitová, D. Schaerer, T. X. Thuan, A. Verhamme, N. G. Guseva & G. Worseck
One of the key questions in observational cosmology is the identification of the sources responsible for ionization of the Universe after the cosmic ‘Dark Ages’, when the baryonic matter was neutral. The currently identified distant galaxies are insufficient to fully reionize the Universe by redshift z ≈ 6 (refs 1, 2, 3), but low-mass, star-forming galaxies are thought to be responsible for the bulk of the ionizing radiation. As direct observations at high redshift are difficult for a variety of reasons, one solution is to identify local proxies of this galaxy population. Starburst galaxies at low redshifts, however, generally are opaque to Lyman continuum photons. Small escape fractions of about 1 to 3 per cent, insufficient to ionize much surrounding gas, have been detected only in three low-redshift galaxies. Here we report far-ultraviolet observations of the nearby low-mass star-forming galaxy J0925+1403. The galaxy is leaking ionizing radiation with an escape fraction of about 8 per cent. The total number of photons emitted during the starburst phase is sufficient to ionize intergalactic medium material that is about 40 times as massive as the stellar mass of the galaxy.
Astronomers have made the most detailed study yet of an extremely massive young galaxy cluster using three of NASA's Great Observatories. This multiwavelength image shows this galaxy cluster, called IDCS J1426.5+3508 (IDCS 1426 for short), in X-rays recorded by the Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, visible light observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in green, and infrared light from the Spitzer Space Telescope in red.
Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system located within 10,000 light-years of Earth, is best known for an enormous eruption seen in the mid-19th century that hurled an amount of material at least 10 times the sun's mass into space. Still shrouded by this expanding veil of gas and dust, Eta Carinae is the only object of its kind known in our galaxy. Now a study using archival data from NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes has found five similar objects in other galaxies for the first time.
Cosmology: Rare isotopic insight into the Universe
Nature 529, 7584 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature16326
Authors: Nikos Prantzos
Light isotopes of hydrogen and helium formed minutes after the Big Bang. The study of one of these primordial isotopes, helium-3, has now been proposed as a useful strategy for constraining the physics of the standard cosmological model.
A continuum from clear to cloudy hot-Jupiter exoplanets without primordial water depletion
Nature 529, 7584 (2016). doi:10.1038/nature16068
Authors: David K. Sing, Jonathan J. Fortney, Nikolay Nikolov, Hannah R. Wakeford, Tiffany Kataria, Thomas M. Evans, Suzanne Aigrain, Gilda E. Ballester, Adam S. Burrows, Drake Deming, Jean-Michel Désert, Neale P. Gibson, Gregory W. Henry, Catherine M. Huitson, Heather A. Knutson, Alain Lecavelier des Etangs, Frederic Pont, Adam P. Showman, Alfred Vidal-Madjar, Michael H. Williamson & Paul A. Wilson
Thousands of transiting exoplanets have been discovered, but spectral analysis of their atmospheres has so far been dominated by a small number of exoplanets and data spanning relatively narrow wavelength ranges (such as 1.1–1.7 micrometres). Recent studies show that some hot-Jupiter exoplanets have much weaker water absorption features in their near-infrared spectra than predicted. The low amplitude of water signatures could be explained by very low water abundances, which may be a sign that water was depleted in the protoplanetary disk at the planet’s formation location, but it is unclear whether this level of depletion can actually occur. Alternatively, these weak signals could be the result of obscuration by clouds or hazes, as found in some optical spectra. Here we report results from a comparative study of ten hot Jupiters covering the wavelength range 0.3–5 micrometres, which allows us to resolve both the optical scattering and infrared molecular absorption spectroscopically. Our results reveal a diverse group of hot Jupiters that exhibit a continuum from clear to cloudy atmospheres. We find that the difference between the planetary radius measured at optical and infrared wavelengths is an effective metric for distinguishing different atmosphere types. The difference correlates with the spectral strength of water, so that strong water absorption lines are seen in clear-atmosphere planets and the weakest features are associated with clouds and hazes. This result strongly suggests that primordial water depletion during formation is unlikely and that clouds and hazes are the cause of weaker spectral signatures.
Astrophysics: Why black holes pulse brightly
Nature 529, 7584 (2016). doi:10.1038/529028a
Authors: Poshak Gandhi
Black holes can produce oscillating outbursts of radiation that were thought to be associated with high rates of infalling matter. The observation of pulses of visible light from a black hole complicates this picture. See Letter p.54