I'm LinkedIn and Google-Plussed.

Mail and packages, use maildrop:
Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

cellphone 650 - 200 - 9211
eMail normsperling [at] gmail.com

Hanny's Voorwerp: A Protogalaxy?

© Norman Sperling, February 1, 2011

An amateur astronomer, systematically classifying observations from a massive professional survey, noticed something that, at first glance, looked very odd. Further examination confirmed that it is definitely odd. She reported it to the astronomers leading the program, who confirmed all that. Now, the Hubble Space Telescope has taken a much sharper image of the object. It is odd indeed.

Hanny van Arkel is a 24-year-old Dutch schoolteacher with a very well-built website.

Amateur astronomers have used the technology of the day to examine the sky since time immemorial. A few years ago I characterized them as "volunteer scientists" but that term didn't catch on. The most recent fashion is to call them "citizen scientists". Some waggish friends object that this new term suggests that aliens couldn't work in "citizen science", even if they're the ones who know the most. ;-)

The Galaxy Zoo started by classifying enormous numbers of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and is now working on galaxies imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Observations seem to confirm that Hanny's Voorwerp is at the same distance as the neighboring galaxy IC 2497. A detailed image from the Hubble Space Telescope was released at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle a couple weeks ago. The green filaments stand out, but also notice a yellowish background that research reports don't seem to mention. A study claimed that the green filaments are part of a gas stream from IC 2497, but the connection is vanishingly faint at both visual and radio wavelengths.

The Galaxy Zoo project has spotted a few similar odd patches near other galaxies.

One possibility is that this is gas that has not yet formed stars to constitute a new galaxy.

The present paradigm for the different major shapes of galaxies assumes that they all started with the same vast gas clouds, but differ in how turbulent they were.

* If a cloud had very little turbulence, nothing stopped the gas from quickly condensing to form stars. If you look at such a place billions of years later, you see an elliptical galaxy: almost all old stars, very little gas or dust, very little turbulence.

* If a cloud had a moderate amount of turbulence, in the dense center, atoms hit each other so often that their motion damped out and they soon formed stars. Viewed billions of years later, that zone appears as the galaxy's bulge. Farther out, where gas is thinner, collisions sufficed to collapse it to a disc but not to condense it all into stars. Stars continued to be made at a slow rate for billions of years, up to the present, where we see that disc, with the illusion of spiral "arms" as its brightest markers.

* If a cloud had a lot of turbulence, only just now would it damp out enough to start forming stars. That would yield an irregular galaxy with lots of young stars.

* Could we extrapolate this one more step: to clouds so turbulent that they have not yet started to form stars? If such a gas cloud was close enough to be irradiated by a galaxy, would it look like Hanny's Voorwerp?

The Journal of Irreproducible Results
This Book Warps Space and Time
What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You

Your Cart

View your shopping cart.