Space Telescopes Deliver Snapshot Premieres
The Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes provide two more unique photo records from the depths of the universe: Hubble photographed a quasar ten billion light-years away five times simultaneously for the first time. This was only possible with the gravity assistance of a galaxy cluster, which served as a gravitational lens. Meanwhile, the infrared eyes of the Spitzer telescope also spotted jets ejected from a neutron star for the first time, such as have previously only been detected at black holes.
The new Hubble photo highlight owes its existence to a galaxy group seven billion light-years away. It was only recently discovered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a large-scale survey of the distant Universe.
In addition to countless galaxies and galaxy clusters, the image now shows a supernova that flared up around seven billion years ago. It had not been visible in an image of the same region of sky taken a year ago. The most spectacular object, however, is the quasar, greatly enlarged by a gravitational lens, and its distant host galaxy, which can be identified in the form of red crescent-shaped brightenings. The galaxy cluster SDSS J1004+4112 serves as a lens, which bends the light rays of the quasar behind it in the direction of Earth and thus optically brightens them from our point of view. Hubble's brilliant optics were now able to record five diffraction images of the object.
The Spitzer Space Telescope meanwhile looked much less far into space, but at a distance of 10,000 light years it discovered previously unseen details of the binary system 4U 0614+091 in the constellation Orion. Here, an ordinary sun orbits a neutron star. As the Spitzer images suggest, the neutron star is continuously blowing matter out of a surrounding accretion disk into space. Such jets, which have so far only been described at black holes, are apparently more common than assumed: "Accretion disks and extreme gravitational fields alone may be sufficient for the formation of jets," according to the scientists of the observation team.
Jets are more commonly detected at radio wavelengths, where they contrast well with black hole emissions. However, the faint jets from a neutron star could only be detected after hours of observations from radio telescopes. Spitzer's infrared light optics now allowed faster detection and conclusions about the geometry of the jets.