Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Science

Astronomers Solve the Mystery of 'Hanny's Voorwerp' 123

Posted by kdawson
from the do-not-look-directly-into-the-quasar dept.
KentuckyFC writes "In 2007, a Dutch school teacher named Hanny van Arkel discovered a huge blob of green-glowing gas while combing though images to classify galaxies. Hanny's Voorwerp (meaning Hanny's object in Dutch) is astounding because astronomers have never seen anything like it. Although galactic in scale, it is clearly not a galaxy because it does not contain any stars. That raises an obvious question: what is causing the gas to glow? Now a new survey of the region of sky seems to have solved the problem. The Voorwerp lies close to a spiral galaxy which astronomers now say hides a massive black hole at its center. The infall of matter into the black hole generates a cone of radiation emitted in a specific direction. The great cloud of gas that is Hanny's Voorwerp just happens to be in the firing line, ionizing the gas and causing it to glow green. That lays to rest an earlier theory that the cloud was reflecting an echo of light from a short galactic flare up that occurred 10,000 years ago. It also explains why Voorwerps are so rare: these radiation cones are highly directional so only occasionally do unlucky gas clouds get caught in the crossfire."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Astronomers Solve the Mystery of 'Hanny's Voorwerp'

Comments Filter:
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      There's a preview button for a reason dipshit.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by severoon (536737)
        It's a shame that it's not a galaxy-sized, warm incandescent light.

        Fluorescent light is so not-flattering for us here on Earth. :-/
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

    • Don't Panic!

    • by Xtifr (1323)

      Technically, "voorwerp" is simply a dutch word meaning "object", so, while you could say that "looks like a voorwerp," technically, so does this car [wikipedia.org], or this shell [wikipedia.org].

      Of course, it is possible that "voorwerp" will now enter the English language as a word meaning "illuminated intergalactic dust cloud", but let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? :)

      • by Thiez (1281866)

        > Of course, it is possible that "voorwerp" will now enter the English language as a word meaning "illuminated intergalactic dust cloud", but let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? :)

        That would be horrible! I try to leave that horrible language behind me AND IT HAUNTS MEEEE!

      • Either way, you have to love those Dutch girls, for showing their voorwerp on teh internets!
      • by pwolk (912457)
        Voorwerp indeed translates into English as object, yet it only refers to objects you can, say, pick up. A car would already be a stretch. A more general translation of the English word object is the Dutch word object. Using the first name of the discoverer and the word voorwerp for an object this size has a ring of understatement to it.
        • by Xtifr (1323)

          Heh, I'd mod you informative if you weren't replying to my post! (Can't mod and post in the same discussion).

          I think I like the name "Hanny's Voorwerp" even better now that I know there's an element of irony in it. :)

      • Every time I see that word, I just imagine the Swedish Chef.. which makes the post above suggesting that it is in fact a galactic reincarnation of Jim Henson all the more plausible..

  • Unlucky? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Reilaos (1544173) on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:30AM (#32691308) Homepage
    I think that such a gas cloud is fairly lucky to be lit up like that. Unless, of course, the radiation is somehow harmful to a giant cloud of gas.
  • Science! (Score:1, Troll)

    by Myopic (18616)

    Damn, science is cool. The stories science tells are better than the stories religions tell. Not only are the science stories bigger, grander, more interesting, more awe-inspiring, but they also have the significant added benefit of being true, to the extent that truth can be known. When science doesn't know the answer to something, science doesn't resort to meaningless cop-outs like "God did it". Instead, science gives the more reasonable answer "Yeah, uh, we don't know what that is, but we're looking into

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by boneclinkz (1284458)
      I don't know I think we should teach the controversy w/r/t celestial gas clouds and ionizing radiation.
      • Re:Science! (Score:5, Funny)

        by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:56AM (#32691622)
        Yes, clearly these are angels lighting their farts. If we refuse to teach the angels-lighting-their-farts theory of celestial gaseous illumination, then we will be depriving people of the diversity of opinions in this field. Why would astronomers want to cover it up anyway? Are they afraid it might be true?
    • Re:Science! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:00AM (#32691674) Homepage

      The problem with religious stories is that the mythologies are too paltry

      Nice troll. Really.

      But, to play purely devil's advocate -- if there truly was a creator-being, it would encompass all that is science, and wouldn't require the Earth to be only 6000 years old.

      That creator would fall into the realm of completely unknowable -- it would be outside of what we understand of the universe, and capable of understanding and manipulating things we still can't fathom. I'm not sure the human brain could wrap itself around what that would really imply since it would be such a vastly complex and advanced thing as to be beyond our ability to perceive and understand.

      When you get to questions about "what existed before the big bang" or "what happens after we die" or the other really meta stuff, you are outside of what science can comment on. Morality, for example, isn't really in the realm of science.

      While not personally religious, I've known people with degrees in astrophysics who were quite religious, and had absolutely no conflict between the science and their concept of god. However, being Really Fucking Smart People with an understanding of the science ... their concept of god was correspondingly much bigger, and encompassed a whole lot more. God didn't need to be stepping into fiddle with the bits science wasn't clear on, and science didn't intrude on the bits that God was in control of. For them, there existed no dichotomy between god and science.

      My notion is that if your religion can include all applicable science, it's not harming anybody, and is probably a good thing overall. It's only when the religion needs to deny the science to prop up its own viewpoints that it starts to break down. At a certain level, they do (and should) cover non-intersecting areas of endeavor.

      Religion isn't bad per se, it's bad when it wants to override reality and is inflexible/oblivious to the world around it.

      Science is cool. Up with science.

      Well, yeah, that too ... :-P

      • Re:Science! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:20AM (#32691916)
        The problem is that most people are not 'Einsteinian' or 'Spinozan' deists, content that 'god' is some amorphous force out there. Most 'religious' people believe in divine revelation, which is the source of all the 'paltry' conceptions of divine environments, behaviors, and figures. And of course these divine revelations are not limited to descriptions, but include many imperatives at odds with each other and with secular society.

        If we can't know 'god', fine, the problem is most religious people think that they know god, know what 'he' wants, and feel that they are justified above any structure of society whether that is law, culture, or common morality (genocide is bad, except when GOD does it or people are commanded by him to do it!) to act on 'his' imperatives as they conceive them to be.

        Deism is harmless. Theism is a deadly evil.
        • Deism is harmless. Theism is a deadly evil.

          Spot. Fucking. On.

      • Re:Science! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by PPH (736903) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:31AM (#32692110)

        Religion isn't bad per se, it's bad when it wants to override reality and is inflexible/oblivious to the world around it.

        But who gets to decide? Buddhism: good, Christianity: bad. I can see some fundamental First Amendment problems here. So lets just keep them all out of the classroom, courtroom, and laboratory. Or make me the Grand Inquisitor and I'll deal with the heretics.

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Alex Belits (437) *

          But who gets to decide? Buddhism: good, Christianity: bad.

          All religions are bad. The fact that development of cultures often happened under the umbrellas of religious traditions, does not change the fact that each religion has an unrealistic superstition at its core.

          I can see some fundamental First Amendment problems here.

          First Amendment does not protect you from being called an idiot -- not even if government calls you so.

          • by PPH (736903)

            All religions are bad. The fact that development of cultures often happened under the umbrellas of religious traditions, does not change the fact that each religion has an unrealistic superstition at its core.

            I call it the Santa Claus effect. Small children can be bribed into behaving by creating a belief in a fat man who brings presents to the good children. Eventually, they grow out of this as they develop internal sets of morals. Back in ancient times, then people were largely illiterate, some means of proscribing 'proper' behavior was needed. Take the edicts against eating pork or shellfish. The wisest men of the village didn't know why these foods would make one sick. So even if they attributed this to some

            • by yyxx (1812612)

              Now, cut to the present. There are still people too immature or un-self aware to develop internal rules of morality, even as adults. So religion still plays a necessary part in incorporating them into society safely. The problem with religion is that those that need external guidance are exactly the people that you don't want running things.

              That's a nice theory. But where's the evidence that that actually works? And where is the evidence that we need to lie to people in order for them to behave morally?

              • by PPH (736903)

                That's a nice theory. But where's the evidence that that actually works? And where is the evidence that we need to lie to people in order for them to behave morally?

                Good questions. There may be studies to back up my hypothesis, but I'm relying on my own anecdotal evidence. Some real sociologists are going to have to conduct proper experiments to get real numbers.

                In fact, correlations between religious affiliation and behavior often show that the less religious people are, the better they behave in just those areas where religions claim to promote morality; this is true both at a population level and at the level of nations.

                But correlation does not prove causation. Religious beliefs may lead people to immoral behavior. Or those people who require the external guidance of a faith in place of an internal set of morals may tend to backslide more absent continuous supervision.

                There is, however, plenty of evidence that religion is being abused for political purposes.

                Of course. Its easier to manipulate groups who have delegat

                • by yyxx (1812612)

                  Good questions. There may be studies to back up my hypothesis, but I'm relying on my own anecdotal evidence. Some real sociologists are going to have to conduct proper experiments to get real numbers.

                  Real sociologists have, because a lot of people have had your idea.

                  But correlation does not prove causation.

                  But absence of a positive correlation disproves the causation that you postulate.

                  Religious beliefs may lead people to immoral behavior. Or those people who require the external guidance of a faith in plac

            • by Alex Belits (437) *

              It more often works the other way around -- religious person acts selfishly and destructive, expecting that his unwavering belief in god is more important than his actions toward lesser beings, other humans.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          But who gets to decide? Buddhism: good, Christianity: bad.

          The people they don't kill.

        • by yyxx (1812612)

          But who gets to decide? Buddhism: good, Christianity: bad. I can see some fundamental First Amendment problems here.

          What's there to decide? Treating Christianity as intrinsically immoral and at the same tolerating its practice are not incompatible with one another; as long as secular laws keep Christians from harming other people or imposing their immoral beliefs on others, they can do whatever they want, just like anybody else.

          So lets just keep them all out of the classroom, courtroom, and laboratory.

          We d

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Science has a stance on 'meta' stuff - there isn't any. Meta stuff is either make believe, or that particular branch of science is not yet developed.

        Science also has a stance on morality. Morality is well within the bounds of science.

        • by Kronon (1263422)
          I disagree. Science doesn't dispute anything, it simply doesn't use words or concepts that do not aid in describing physical phenomena.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by grasshoppa (657393)

        I quote one of my favorite historical figures ( strictly because he was an arrogant asshole );

        "Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear." - T. Jefferson

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jewelises (739285)

        But, to play purely devil's advocate -- if there truly was a creator-being...

        I don't think you're advocating the devil in this particular case. :D

      • ...if there truly was a creator-being, it would encompass all that is science, and wouldn't require the Earth to be only 6000 years old.

        That creator would fall into the realm of completely unknowable ... I'm not sure the human brain could wrap itself around what that would really imply...

        ...I've known people with degrees in astrophysics who were quite religious,... For them, there existed no dichotomy between god and science.

        I'm the grandson of a hardshell Baptist evangelist, a tent-meeting, laying-o

    • by CODiNE (27417)

      Your nick is appropriate.

    • by jc42 (318812)

      When science doesn't know the answer to something, science doesn't resort to meaningless cop-outs like "God did it". Instead, science gives the more reasonable answer "Yeah, uh, we don't know what that is, but we're looking into it.

      More often, they say "Further research is needed", and they apply for grants. Sorta like what they did in this case.

      And then, at some point, science usually comes back and says, hey, we figured it out, and the answer is awesome.

      Or, more likely, the answer immediately raises a wh

  • Voorwerpen (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:47AM (#32691504)

    Plural of voorwerp is voorwerpen (not voorwerps).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:07AM (#32691762)

      This is English. We make our own rules and other languages learn to live by them.

      Just be glad we didn't make it Veerworp.

    • by nielzz (822766)
      If you are so Dutch, then how is a 'voorwerp' different from an 'ingooi' ?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xtifr (1323)

      In Dutch, I'm sure that's true, but if this word were to enter English as a term meaning "illuminated intergalactic dust cloud", then it might well follow English rules of pluralization, as so many borrowed words do (e.g. "ninjas" or "octopuses"[*]).

      The real problem is that the stupid summary treats "voorwerp" as if it really were already adopted into English with the given meaning. The statement "Voorwerps are so rare" is simply false, because voorwerp means object, and objects are not rare.

      [*] And no, "o

    • by kindbud (90044)

      If the word has been adopted into English by astronomers to mean "mysterious galactic-scale blobs" then the plural voorwerps is correct.

  • 1080p? (Score:4, Informative)

    by WonkoDSane (951775) on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:51AM (#32691544)
    Put horizontally and vertically oriented quasars lined up in a perpendicular plane on the line between the black hole and the Voorwerp and you have just created the universe's largest TV screen.
  • by Galestar (1473827)

    Hanny's Voorwerp (meaning Hanny's object in Dutch)

    explains why Voorwerps are so rare

    I would have to disagree... "objects" are quite common.

    • by MiniMike (234881)

      Apparently not in Dutch.

    • Re:Um (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:23AM (#32691956)

      Hanny's Voorwerp (meaning Hanny's object in Dutch) ... explains why Voorwerps are so rare

      I would have to disagree... "objects" are quite common.

      And I counter-disagree. Objects are quite rare compared to vacuum. They're just easy to spot because there's nothing between most of them except photons.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        And I counter-counter-disagree. Vacuums without objects are more rarified.

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          And I counter-counter-disagree. Vacuums without objects are more rarified.

          Your comment is composed of 100% win.

    • by pe1chl (90186)

      Actually "Hanny's Voorwerp" is not correct Dutch at all. The 's in Dutch is used for plural form of certain words, not for the possessive form.
      It should be written as "Hannies Voorwerp" if it were proper Dutch.
      (the s is directly affixed without apostrophe, and as in this case the word ends in y the y is changed to ie)

  • Astounding? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LordNimon (85072) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:00AM (#32691682)
    Hanny's Voorwerp ... is astounding because astronomers have never seen anything like it.

    Is it really astounding? I thought astronomers see things they've never seen before all the time.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Is it really astounding? I thought astronomers see things they've never seen before all the time.

      In this case, I believe it's actually an entirely new class of object that can be seen. Those crop up fairly rarely.

      Usually the new stuff is variations on existing themes -- a new kind/occurrence of something, or more knowledge about something we already knew about.

      Heck, it's the first new class of object I remember ever hearing about. Quasars, black holes, galaxies, stars, nebulae, comets, meteors, planets, a

    • by kindbud (90044) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:28PM (#32694206) Homepage

      Astronomer returns home from day at work

      Astronomer: Hi, Honey!
      Astronomer's wife: Hello dear, how was work?
      Astronomer: Oh, the usual. An astounding object we've never seen before, and a couple of amazing discoveries, and this morning was a mad house, there was a huge batch of surprising observations waiting for me when I got in. I was swamped for hours.
      Astronomer's wife: That's nice, dear.

  • by sconeu (64226) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:06AM (#32691746) Homepage Journal

    "Hanny's Voorwerp" would be a great name for a Rock Band.

  • Advertising Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, apparently.

  • Why does the voorwerp shine? (The voorwerp is a mass of ionized gas.)

  • Just an ordinary gas cloud... but watch out, because that's no ordinary gas cloud!
  • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:54AM (#32692586)

    What mystery? We hear that Voorwerp Voorwerp Voorwerp sound whenever that stupid police box appears. There's no mystery except nobody knows what the owner's name is.

  • and get cozy with my childhood favorite "How the Grinch Stole Gas Clouds, Star Systems, and Oh Zark, We're Next."

  • Just to nitpick:

    these radiation cones are highly directional so only occasionally do unlucky gas clouds get caught in the crossfire.

    So, if it is getting caught in the crossfire what is shooting it on the other side? Oh, you meant it was just caught in the line of fire.

    • Presumably there is another galaxy "nearby" that this one is having a shootout with. In a few hundred million years we'll see the poor gas cloud light up again as it gets nailed from the other side.

      On the other hand, maybe all the excitement will cause it to start forming stars.

  • Derp?

  • As the candy hearts poured into the fiery quasar, a wondrous thing happened, why not. They vaporised into a mystical love radiation that spread across the universe, destroying many, many planets, including two gangster planets and a cowboy world. But one planet was at exactly the right distance to see the romantic rays, but not be destroyed by them: Earth. So all over the world, couples stood together in joy. And me, Zoidberg! And no one could have been happier unless it would have also been Valentine's Day

  • Perhaps the universe is really full of these things all over the place and we just can't see them? It would seem to be a pretty plausible explanation for the 'missing mass' problem.

    How boring would it be if 'dark matter' just turned out to be a bunch of ordinary, super thin gas clouds?

    • Cold baryonic matter was the first thing the astronomers thought of. Unfortunately, it does not fit the observations.

  • It's what's left when you actually have to detonate your Corbomite device...

    ...and a warning.

  • "We are working day and night to plug the accidental ignition of the black hole beam. We are currently lowering a beam-cap in place...." - IBP

The reason that every major university maintains a department of mathematics is that it's cheaper than institutionalizing all those people.

Working...