August 6, 2008
Dutch Teacher Discovers New Space Object
A Dutch schoolteacher taking part in an online research project has discovered a gaseous object that astronomers say is of unknown origin.
Hanny van Arkel was one of more than 150,000 volunteer amateur astronomers who last year helped classify more than 1 million images on the Web site galaxyzoo.org. She reported she was unable to classify an irregular, green, glowing object.
Yale astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski and colleagues at Oxford University say van Arkel might have found a new class of astronomical object that's become known as Hanny's Voorwerp -- Dutch for "object."
Schawinski asked astronomers around the world to examine the Voorwerp with ground- and satellite-based telescopes. He and his colleagues say they believe the Voorwerp is illuminated by a quasar that was once active at the center of a nearby galaxy.
Schawinski explained that "light from that past still lights up the nearby Voorwerp, even though the quasar shut down sometime in the past 100,000 years." Scientists will soon use the Hubble Space Telescope to obtain a closer look.
A manuscript of the team's observations and analysis has been submitted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.