Announcements

H2O MegaMaser emission in sources such as the prominent NGC 4258 arise from a thin gas disc surrounding the supermassive nucleus. Space Very Long Baseline Interferometry (SVLBI) experiments with the Russian-built RadioAstron Observatory in Earth orbit and the large Green Bank and Effelsberg telescopes have resulted in the detection of the regularly-spaced emitting clouds inside the disc. The paper 'Space VLBI Observations of the H2O Megamaser in NGC 4258: evidence for periodic disc instabilities' is published in Nature Astronomy on 30 June, 2022. The authors include Christian Henkel from MPIfR (ASTRON Daily Image, July 01, 2022). more

As part of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation's Henriette Herz Scouting Program, research personalities with international network connections are selected as scouts who are given the opportunity to propose up to three scientific talents from abroad for a fellowship from the Foundation. One of the scouts selected in the fourth selection round in May 2022 is Prof. Dr. Anton Zensus, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and Head of it’s Research Department "Radio Astronomy / VLBI".
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After a break of two-years, SOFIA has returned to Christchurch, New Zealand for an eight-week mission. As always, demand from the astronomical community for southern sky observations is high, and the SOFIA team is working to make it happen. During the second half of this year's deployment to New Zealand, the GREAT ("German REceiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies") instrument, built by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne, will conduct a variety of studies, including the study of stellar feedback in star-forming regions, namely how stars influence their surrounding regions (DSI news release, June 21, 2022, in German language). more

Award of the Czech Academy of Sciences for Cologne Professor and External Scientific Member of the MPIfR more

In a joint statement, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) announced that they have decided to discontinue flight operations by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) in September 2022.
Germany contributed 20 percent of the airborne observatory’s operating costs and developed and built its globally unique telescope, which have enabled observations of the night sky from the fuselage of SOFIA for eight years. The highly successful spectroscopic receiver GREAT/upGREAT (German REceiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies) onboard SOFIA is jointly operated by the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie and the I. Physikalisches Institut der Universität zu Köln (DLR News, April 28, 2022).
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Dwarf galaxies like “Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte” (WLM) are known to be pristine probes of the early Universe, especially when they are isolated and not interacting with massive galaxies. Observations of WLM with the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa have revealed its strong interaction with the intergalactic medium. An international team including Gyula Józsa from the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie has discovered that the neutral hydrogen gas of the galaxy is getting removed by the ram pressure caused by the movement of the galaxy through the intergalactic medium, thought to be a tenuous layer of gas residing between galaxies, the first time that an interaction with such a low-density medium has been discovered. This could revolutionize our understanding of dwarf galaxy evolution and formation.  The team concludes that either these nearly “empty” inter-galactic regions are not really empty, or that the WLM galaxy is dark matter deficient (OdP Press Release, April 27, 2022, original paper by Y. Yang et al., Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters, Vol. 660, L11, April 27, 2022).
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Space urgently needs special legal protection similar to that given to land, sea and atmosphere to protect its fragile environment, a study argues. Michael Kramer, President of the Astronomische Gesellschaft and Director at MPIfR, is one of the co-authors of the study led by Andy Lawrence (Univ. of Edinburgh).
An influx of space debris in orbital space – around 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface – caused by the rapid growth of so-called satellite mega-constellations is endangering this precious ecosystem, researchers say.
The installation of these huge clusters of hardware, some with up to tens of thousands of satellites delivering broadband to Earth, are congesting space and rocket launches are also polluting the atmosphere.
Pieces of broken satellites, which travel at enormous speeds through orbital space threaten working satellites in their path, the paper says.
Furthermore, streaks from satellite flares, which cause light pollution, are increasingly disrupting research. The giant Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, which aims to carry out a 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time, has been badly affected, for example.
Space is an important environment for all professional astronomers, amateur stargazers and indigenous peoples and the scientific, economic and cultural benefits of space should be carefully considered against these damaging environmental impacts (AG Press Release, April 22, 2022).
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The SOFIA flying observatory is a joint U.S.-German project (NASA & DLR). Although the nominal German project share is "only" 20%, the German side provides almost 50% of the instruments currently in operation with GREAT (German REceiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, jointly operated by MPIfR and I. Phys. Inst. of Cologne Univ.), FIFI-LS (Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line-Spectrometer) and FPI+ (Focal Plane Imager Plus). This is reflected by the fact that between 2009 and 2019, 45% of the peer-reviewed SOFIA publications are based on observations with these instruments. These include publications in the renowned science journal "Nature" such as the first detection of helium hydride (HeH+) - the first type of molecule in the universe - with the German GREAT instrument. With the same instrument, in addition to observations of astronomical objects, researchers can in parallel determine the concentration of atomic oxygen in the Earth's mesosphere and lower thermosphere, which is important in these layers for atmospheric models and climate change predictions (SOFIA/USRA Status Report report "Future & Prospects", 52 pages, 34 MB pdf file, April 13, 2022).
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Using the MeerKAT radio telescope in the Karoo region of South Africa, an international team of researchers including Hans-Rainer Klöckner from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Bonn, Germany) discovered a powerful megamaser - a radio-wavelength laser indicative of colliding galaxies. This megamaser, dubbed “Nkalakatha” by the authors, is the most distant such object found so far.
The source was found in the framework of the LADUMA (“Looking at the Distant Universe with the MeerKAT Array”) project, one of the big MeerKAT science experiments, which is performing a sensitive search for neutral hydrogen gas in galaxies in one area of the sky, looking for sources very far from us, both in space and in time (ICRAR News Release, April 07, 2022).
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Event Horizon Telescope 2022

Observing campaign in March 2022: world-wide radio telescope network performs observations with 11 participating telescopes more

A black hole at the center of a galaxy plays an important role, as it eats up the dust and gas around it, leaving not enough matter for new stars to form. Disk galaxies such as NGC 1097 often have a bar in the interior in addition to their spiral structures that further aids the transport of matter toward the galaxy center. A team led by Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez with Rainer Beck/MPIfR as second author has mapped the magnetic field in the central region of NGC 1097 with the HAWC+ polarimeter on board SOFIA, NASA’s and DLR’s flying observatory. (NASA SOFIA Newsblog, February 22, 2022).
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In a distance of 13 billion light-years away, two supermassive black holes each with hundreds of millions of times the mass of our sun appear to be orbiting around each other every two years. When the pair will merge in roughly 10,000 years, the titanic collision is expected to shake space and time itself, sending gravitational waves across the universe.

A Caltech-led team of astronomers has discovered evidence for this scenario within a fiercely energetic object, the quasar PKS 2131-021. Reporting in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the researchers including Prof. Anton Zensus from the MPIfR in Bonn, the head of its Radio Astronomy/VLBI research department, argue that PKS 2131-021 is only the second known candidate for a pair of supermassive black holes (the other being OJ 287) caught in the act of merging (CalTech Press Release, February 23, 2022). more

The Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) leads a study that reveals the almost circular shape of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole located in the center of the Milky Way. The shape indicates that the axis of rotation of the flow of matter surrounding the black hole (or a possible jet) may be pointing toward Earth. Thomas Krichbaum and Ru-Sen Lu, both from MPIfR, are co-authors in the study just published in The Astrophysical Journal (IAA-CSIC Press Release, February 22, 2022).
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Compilation of publications on SOFIA observations from 2021 including a number of results with the GREAT spectrometer platform led by MPIfR and University of Cologne (DSI announcement, 11 February 2022, in German language).
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Scientists observed the morphology of the magnetic field inside the molecular gas of the spiral galaxy Messier 51, with the air-borne observatory SOFIA. The High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera (HAWC+) mapped the magnetic fields deep in the cold, dark molecular clouds. The team compared these results with the magnetic field maps of the diffuse gas made with the Very Large Array in New Mexico and the Effelsberg radio telescope in Germany. Rainer Beck and Sui-Ann Mao from MPIfR are co-authoring the paper (Cover Image  SOFIA Newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 1, Januar 2022).
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