Science Highlights

Electron Cyclotron Maser Emission from a radio star
HD133880 is a B-type rapidly-rotating star, with a period less than 1 day, on the main sequence. It is characterised by the presence of an asymmetric dipolar magnetic field of kiloGauss strength. Gyro-synchrotron radio emission has earlier been detected from this star. In 2015, Chandra et al. reported strong enhancement in the star's radio flux (at 610 MHz and 1420 MHz) at certain rotational phases, but the phase coverage was too limited for a detailed study. In the present work, Das, Chandra & Wade aimed to understand the origin of the radio pulses, by using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) 610 and 1420 MHz receivers to observe the star over a complete rotation. The GMRT 610 MHz data revealed a dramatic increase (by an order of magnitude) in the star's radio emission at a narrow epoch (phase 0.73) during its rotation, and in the right circular polarization; this can be seen in the upper panel of the attached figure. The observed enhancement is confined to a narrow range of phases and is approximately 100% polarised. Further, the enhancement occurs when the line of sight magnetic field is nearly zero, as can be seen in the lower panel of the figure. Das et al. find that the GMRT data single out Electron Cyclotron Maser Emission as the likely cause of the observed enhanced radiation. This maser process arises, under suitable conditions, due to the interaction of electromagnetic waves with a population of mildly relativistic electrons in a magnetised plasma. Previously, only one magnetic star (CU Vir) was known to host this mechanism, and it was unclear if this is a specific property of CU Vir or a common property of magnetic stars. The discovery of the maser mechanism in a second star rules out the first possibility and, since the maser process is more favourable at low frequencies, emphasizes the importance of more low frequency studies of magnetic stars to further understand the physical conditions that give rise to the maser.
The angular momentum content of gas-rich dwarf galaxies
A galaxy's spin is intricately connected to its morphology --- spiral galaxies spin faster and hence are thinner whereas elliptical galaxies have lower specific angular momentum and are puffier. The mass and the angular momentum of a galaxy are related via their evolutionary history. Various researchers in the past have reported a power-law scaling relation between the mass and the specific angular momentum of large spiral galaxies. Chowdhury and Chengalur used archival GMRT, VLA and WSRT HI 21cm data of five gas-rich dwarf galaxies and found that the specific angular momentum in these smaller, less massive, dwarf galaxies is significantly higher than that expected from the earlier studies of spiral disks. The figure shows the location of these dwarf galaxies in the specific angular momentum - mass plane, and compares them with the distribution of spiral galaxies. All the five gas-rich dwarf galaxies lie outside the 95% probability band of the relation for spiral galaxies. The chance probability that the dwarf galaxies belong to the same angular momentum - mass distribution as the spirals is less than one part in a million. The authors suggest two mechanisms through which the dwarfs may acquire their higher specific angular momentum: (i) preferential outflow of low angular momentum gas due to stellar feedback, and (ii) cosmic cold mode accretion, which is known to dominate in less massive galaxies.
A fourth radio arc in Abell 2626
The supermassive black holes at the centres of active galaxies can lead to the formation of spectacular jets that are detectable in deep radio imaging studies. When such black holes are situated close to the centres of galaxy clusters, they experience a dense environment. The radio jets can be affected by the black hole itself and by the environment, leading to complex morphologies. A system of three concave arcs was earlier known towards the galaxy cluster Abell 2626. Kale & Gitti used the 610 MHz receivers of the GMRT to discover a fourth arc in the sytem, that completes an intriguing symmetric structure of four arcs around the central massive galaxy that itself has two active nuclei. The origin of the exotic source is as yet unknown, but may be a rare event of precessing jets from the double nuclei of the central galaxy or a similarly rare configuration of a gravitational lens. The image shows the GMRT radio image in blue, overlaid on X-ray (red) and optical (green) images.
Stringent constraints on fundamental constant evolution over 3 billion years
Kanekar, Ghosh and Chengalur used the mighty Arecibo Telescope to carry out one of its deepest-ever observing runs, 125 hours on the hydroxyl (OH) lines from a gas cloud close to the z=0.247 active galactic nucleus PKS1413+135. The satellite OH lines, at rest frequencies of 1720 MHz and 1612 MHz, are ``conjugate'' in this system, mirror images of each other, with the 1720 MHz line in emission and the 1612 MHz line in absorption. Since the 1720 and 1612 MHz line frequencies have different dependences on the fine structure constant, alpha, and the ratio of the proton mass to the electron mass, mu, this expected perfect cancellation makes the two lines ideal to probe changes in alpha and mu out to z~0.247, i.e. a lookback time of nearly 3 billion years. If alpha and/or mu change with time, the lines would shift relative to each other, and would not cancel out. Kanekar et al. found that the OH satellite line remain conjugate within the measurement errors, with no evidence for a shift between the two lines. They used this perfect cancellation to place stringent constraints on changes in alpha and mu with cosmological time, limiting fractional changes in the two quantities to less than a few parts in a million. This is the most sensitive constraint on fractional changes in alpha in the literature, and with no known systematic effects. The top two panels of the figure show the two OH satellite lines from PKS1413+135 at z=0.247, with the 1720 MHz in the upper panel and the 1612 MHz line in the middle panel. The bottom panel shows the sum of the two line optical depths. It is clear that this is consistent with Gaussian noise, as expected if the lines are mirror images of each other.
A Giant Radio Galaxy at z ~ 0.57
Giant radio galaxies (GRGs) are radio galaxies whose linear extent is more than 1 Mpc. Most of the known GRGs are less than a billion light years away from us. The sharp decline in the number of GRGs at larger distances, i.e. higher redshifts, is a mystery because the number of normal radio sources is actually higher at high redshifts. We recently used the GMRT to carry out a deep 150 MHz study of a small region of the sky in the Lynx constellation, and discovered a large GRG, of size 7 million light years, at a distance of about 5 billion light years, i.e. a redshift of 0.57. We used the GMRT to carry out detailed imaging studies of the GRG, at 325 MHz, 610 MHz and 1420 MHz; the new data suggest that the object is probably a double-double radio galaxy. Further, the radio core of the galaxy shows an unusually steep spectrum, which may imply that there is yet another unresolved pair of lobes within the core, making this GRG a candidate triple-double radio galaxy. Further investigations of the central region of the GRG, to test if it is a re-started radio source, are now under way using the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (EVN), which has the resolution to probe the central region very close to the supermassive black hole. The figure shows the GMRT 610 MHz image of the new GRG, overlaid on the optical SDSS gri-composite image. The optical host galaxy is shown separately in the rectangular box. The double-lobe structure on either side of the central core is clearly visible.
The gas and stellar mass of low-redshift damped Lyman-alpha absorbers
Kanekar et al. report Hubble Space Telescope Cosmic Origins Spectrograph far-ultraviolet and Arecibo Telescope HI 21cm spectroscopy of six damped and sub-damped Lyman-alpha absorbers (DLAs and sub-DLAs, respectively) at z<~0.1, which have yielded estimates of their HI column density, metallicity and atomic gas mass. This significantly increases the number of DLAs with gas mass estimates, allowing the first comparison between the gas masses of DLAs and local galaxies. Including three absorbers from the literature, they obtain HI masses ~(0.24-5.2) billion solar masses, lower than the knee of the local HI mass function. This implies that massive galaxies do not dominate the absorption cross-section for low-z DLAs. Kanekar et al. use Sloan Digital Sky Survey photometry and spectroscopy to identify the likely hosts of four absorbers, obtaining low stellar masses, ~(0.01-0.3) billion solar masses in all cases, consistent with the hosts being dwarf galaxies. They obtain high HI 21cm or CO emission line widths, ~ 100-290 km/s, and high gas fractions, ~5-100, suggesting that the absorber hosts are gas-rich galaxies with low star formation efficiencies. However, the HI 21cm velocity spreads (>~ 100 km/s) appear systematically larger than the velocity spreads in typical dwarf galaxies. The figure shows the Arecibo HI 21cm spectra for the six galaxies of the paper.
Ionized carbon and dust emission from high-redshift galaxies
Gas surrounding high-redshift galaxies has been studied through observations of damped Lyman-alpha absorbers toward background quasars for decades. However, it has proven difficult to identify and characterize the galaxies associated with these absorbers due to the intrinsic faintness (at optical wavelengths) of the foreground galaxies compared with the background quasars. Neeleman et al. used the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array to obtain the first detections of ionized carbon ([CII]) 158-micron line and dust-continuum emission from two galaxies associated with damped Lyman-alpha absorbers at very high redshifts, z~4. The two upper panels of the figure show the dust continuum emission from the galaxies, while the lower panels show the [CII] 158-micron line emission. The results indicate that the host galaxies of the two absorbers are massive, dusty and rapidly star-forming systems. The hosts appear to be embedded in enriched neutral hydrogen gas reservoirs that extend well beyond the star-forming interstellar medium of the galaxies. The figure shows the two detections of ionized carbon (bottom panels) and dust continuum emission (top panels) from the two DLAs at z~4.
Wavelet-based Characterization of Small-scale Solar Emission Features
Low radio frequency solar observations using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) have revealed the presence of numerous weak short-lived narrowband emission features, even during moderately quiet solar conditions. These non-thermal features occur at rates of many thousands per hour in the 30.72 MHz observing bandwidth, and hence necessarily require an automated approach for their detection and characterization. Suresh et al. have developed an algorithm which employs continuous wavelet transform for feature detection in the dynamic spectrum. The green circles in the figure show the peaks of the features detected in an example MWA dynamic spectrum. The left and the right panels differ only in the colour bar range and show the efficacy of this implementation in detecting features across a range of intensities, and temporal and spectral spans. They represent the first statistically robust characterization of the properties of these features. This technique can reliably detect features weaker than 1 SFU (1 SFU = 10,000 Jy), the weakest non-thermal radio emissions so far reported in the literature. The features, which typically last for 1-2 seconds and span bandwidths of 4-5 MHz, can potentially provide an energetically significant contribution to coronal and chromospheric heating. They appear to ride on a broadband background continuum, hinting at the likelihood of their being weak, type-I solar bursts.
GMRT monitoring of the X-ray binary V404 Cygni during its June 2015 outburst
Chandra & Kanekar used the GMRT at 1280, 610, 325 and 235 MHz to monitor the black hole X-ray binary V404 Cygni during its 2015 June outburst, extending for a period of 2.5 weeks, and beginning on June 26.9 UT, a day after the strongest radio/X-ray outburst. They find the low-frequency radio emission of V404 Cygni to be extremely bright and fast-decaying in the outburst phase, with an inverted spectrum below 1.5 GHz and an intermediate X-ray state. The radio emission settles to a weak, quiescent state roughly 11 days after the outburst, with a flat radio spectrum and a soft X-ray state. Combining the GMRT measurements with flux density estimates from the literature, the authors identify a spectral turnover in the radio spectrum at ~1.5 GHz on June 26.9 UT (see the attached image), indicating the presence of a synchrotron self-absorbed emitting region. They use the measured flux density at the turnover frequency with the assumption of equipartition of energy between the particles and the magnetic field to infer the jet radius, magnetic field, minimum total energy, and transient jet power. The relatively low value of the jet power, despite V404 Cygni’s high black hole spin parameter, suggests that the radio jet power does not correlate with the spin parameter.
A candidate sub-parsec binary black hole in the Seyfert galaxy NGC 7674
Kharb, Lal & Merritt have used Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) observations to discover only the second candidate sub-parsec binary black hole. The existence of such binary super-massive black holes (SMBHs) is predicted by models of hierarchical galaxy formation, but only a single such binary SMBH has been imaged until now. Kharb et al. used the VLBA to study the gas-rich interacting spiral galaxy NGC7674, which possesses a kpc-scale Z-shaped radio jet. The leading model for the formation of such Z-shaped sources postulates the presence of an uncoalesced binary SMBH, created during the infall of a satellite galaxy. Kharb et al. used the high angular resolution of the VLBA to image the central region of NGC7674 at radio frequencies between 2 and 15 GHz, resulting in the detection of two radio cores, separated by just 1 light year, at the highest observing frequency, 15 GHz. The inverted radio spectra of the two cores are consistent with their being accreting super-massive black holes!
Discovery of a radio relic in the low mass galaxy cluster PLCK G200.9-28.2
Kale et al. used the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory, and the Jansky Very Large Array to discover a new radio relic in the galaxy cluster PLCKG200.9-28.2 at z~0.22. Such arc-like radio relics are usually found at the periphery of massive colliding clusters, and are extremely rare, arising in fewer than 5% of merging clusters. Despite their rarity, radio relics are an excellent tracer of the shocks that are expected to be driven in the diffuse intra-cluster medium by violent cluster collisions. Indeed, it is very difficult to even detect these shocks at other wavelengths. So far, radio relics have been found only in the vicinity of merging massive clusters. The new radio relic detected by Kale et al. is very interesting because it arises in a cluster of low mass, the lowest mass at which such a relic has ever been seen! This demonstrates that violent mergers in low-mass clusters are capable of producing strong shock waves in their diffuse media. In the adjoining figure, the 235 MHz emission imaged with the GMRT is shown in red and the X-ray emission imaged with the XMM-Newton satellite observatory is shown in blue. The elongated source seen in red is the new radio relic.
GMRT imaging of a high-energy supernova remnant
Nayana et al. used the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) to detect 325 and 610 MHz radio emission from HESS J1731-347, one of only five known very-high-energy (VHE; > 0.1 TeV) shell-type supernova remnants (SNRs). Multiple filaments of the SNR are clearly seen in the GMRT 610 and 325 MHz images, shown, respectively, in the left and right panels of the adjacent figure. However, the faintest feature in the GMRT bands corresponds to the peak in the VHE emission. This anti-correlation can be explained if the observed VHE gamma-ray emission has a leptonic origin. The individual filaments of the SNR (indicated by "1", "2", "3", and "4") have steep radio spectra, consistent with a non-thermal origin.
An AGN's rendezvous with a radio relic
van Weeren et al. used data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, the Jansky Very Large Array, and other telescopes to discover a cosmic event never seen before. Galaxy clusters contain multiple sources of radio emission, including active galactic nuclei (AGNs), radio halos and radio relics. A long-standing problem in studies of clusters is how low-Mach-number shocks can accelerate electrons efficiently to produce the observed radio relics. van Weeren et al. discovered, for the first time, a direct connection between a radio relic and an AGN (a radio galaxy) in the merging galaxy cluster Abell 3411-3412 by combining radio, X-ray and optical data. This discovery indicates that fossil relativistic electrons from AGNs are re-accelerated at cluster shocks. It also implies that radio galaxies play an important role in governing the non-thermal component of the intra-cluster medium in merging clusters. For the first time, two of the most powerful phenomena in the Universe have been clearly linked together in the same system. Image credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru;