Image of the Week

Follow-up opportunity of a rare microlensing event

   
 

Light curve of the microlensing event Gaia16aye, composed by data from Gaia (dark spots) and supported by data from ground-based follow-up telescopes (each colour indicates a different observatory). The solid black line shows the current best microlensing model computed by Przemek Mróz. The sharp rises are called caustic crossings as explained in the text below.

 
 

The Gaia Science Alerts project has already reported more than 1000 transient events, mainly dominated by supernovae and cataclysmic variables. In July and August 2016 the first microlensing events were detected. Microlensing happens when light rays from a distant star (we call this the source) are bent by the space-time curvature of an object (e.g. a star, a planet, or a black hole), lying exactly between the observer and the distant star. This hitherto unseen object is called the lens, and being closer to us, and moving faster across the sky, leads to a sometimes dramatic increase (and then decrease) in the brightness of the background source. These two Gaia events are a little unusual, because they were found towards the Galactic spiral arms, while most microlensing events are found in studies which concentrate on the central region (the Bulge) of the Milky Way.

The first microlensing event, called Gaia16aua, was identified independently by both Gaia and by the ground-based Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE). The second microlensing event, called Gaia16aye, might be even more exciting showing an interesting lightcurve as shown in the figure above.

Gaia16aye has been followed-up from the ground very intensively and more than 6000 data points were collected so far by a dedicated follow-up team (listed at the end). The light curve of the event exhibits characteristic U-shaped changes and sudden sharp increases and decreases in brightness. These distinctive features are typical for a microlensing event when the lens is not a single object, but rather a pair. In this case the lens is likely to be a binary star system sitting in its complicated space-time geometry. This creates caustics, which lead to sudden jumps in brightness when crossed by the light rays from the lensed source.

As can be seen in the figure, the model predicts another sharp rise in brightness which is expected to happen in the first or second week of November 2016. We are currently waiting for the final predicted re-brightening, which will help solve the puzzle of the exact nature of the components of the binary system. Gaia16aye is the perfect example of the importance of ground-based follow-up of Gaia Alerts, carried out by professionals but also by amateur astronomers, which can make a huge scientific impact. Indeed, it would have been quite difficult to confirm Gaia16aye as a microlensing event without the extra follow-up, and certainly the binary nature of the lens, and constraints on the system components would be impossible.

Gaia16aye is reasonably bright (currently of about 13th mag in I and 14th mag in V), and hence is observable even by some smaller telescopes operated by schools and amateur astronomers. Please contact Lukasz Wyrzykowski if you would like to get involved and collect more data on this event, or if you already have and would like to share your data with us.

The current full light curve can be observed on the Gaia Alerts Webpage for Gaia16aye. If you are interested to learn more about the Gaia Photometric Alerts, you are welcome to visit the 7th OPTICON Gaia Science Alerts workshop, which will be held in Utrecht (The Netherlands) on 7 to 9 December 2016. Registration is still open. A more extensive story on the detection of these microlensing events is published on the ESA Science & Technology website.

The observatories already involved in following up this event are:

  • AAVSO, USA
  • APT2, Italy
  • Aristarchos Telescope, Greece
  • ASAS-SN, Hawaii, USA
  • Asiago, Italy
  • ASV, Serbia
  • Bialkow, Poland
  • Kryoneri, Greece
  • Leicester University, UK
  • LCOGT/SUPAscope network
  • Liverpool Telescope, La Palma, Spain
  • Loiano, INAF-OABO, Italy
  • Joan Oró Telescope, Montsec, Spain
  • Mercator, La Palma, Spain
  • Montarrenti, Italy
  • NOT, La Palma, Spain
  • Ondrejov, Czechia
  • OmicronC2PU, France
  • Ostrowik, Poland
  • Palomar 200-inch telescope (P200), Caltech, USA
  • PIRATE, Tenerife, Spain
  • pt5m, La Palma, Spain
  • RTT150, Turkey
  • SALT, South Africa
  • Skinakas, Greece
  • Sternberg Observatory, Russia
  • T100, Turkey
  • T60, Turkey
  • UBT60, Turkey
  • University College London, UK
  • Watcher, South Africa
  • Wise, Israel
  • Yerkes-41, USA

Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, Gaia Science Alerts Group (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge), Lukasz Wyrzykowski (Warsaw)

[Published: 27/10/2016]

 

Image of the Week Archive

2017
07/07: Chariklo stellar occultation follow-up
24/04: Gaia reveals the composition of asteroids
20/04: Extra-galactic observations with Gaia
10/04: How faint are the faintest Gaia stars?
24/03: Pulsating stars to study Galactic structures
09/02: Known exoplanetary transits in Gaia data
31/01: Successful second DPAC Consortium Meeting
2016
23/12: Interactive and statistical visualisation of Gaia DR1 with vaex
16/12: Standard uncertainties for the photometric data (in GDR1)
25/11: Signature of the rotation of the galactic bar uncovered
15/11: Successful first DR1 Workshop
27/10: Microlensing Follow-Up
21/10: Asteroid Occultation
16/09: First DR1 results
14/09: Pluto Stellar Occultation
15/06: Happy Birthday, DPAC!
10/06: 1000th run of the Initial Data Treatment system
04/05: Complementing Gaia observations of the densest sky regions
22/04: A window to Gaia - the focal plane
05/04: Hipparcos interactive data access tool
24/03: Gaia spots a sunspot
29/02: Gaia sees exploding stars next door
11/02: A new heart for the Gaia Object Generator
04/02: Searching for solar siblings with Gaia
28/01: Globular cluster colour-magnitude diagrams
21/01: Gaia resolving power estimated with Pluto and Charon
12/01: 100th First-Look Weekly Report
06/01: Gaia intersects a Perseid meteoroid
2015
18/12: Tales of two clusters retold by Gaia
11/11: Lunar transit temperature plots
06/11: Gaia's sensors scan a lunar transit
03/11: Celebrity comet spotted among Gaia's stars
09/10: The SB2 stars as seen by Gaia's RVS
02/10: The colour of Gaia's eyes
24/09: Estimating distances from parallaxes
18/09: Gaia orbit reconstruction
31/07: Asteroids all around
17/07: Gaia satellite and amateur astronomers spot one in a billion star
03/07: Counting stars with Gaia
01/07: Avionics Model test bench arrives at ESOC
28/05: Short period/faint magnitude Cepheids in the Large Magellanic Cloud
19/05: Visualising Gaia Photometric Science Alerts
09/04: Gaia honours Einstein by observing his cross
02/04: 1 April - First Look Scientists play practical joke
05/03: RR Lyrae stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud as seen by Gaia
26/02: First Gaia BP/RP deblended spectra
19/02: 13 months of GBOT Gaia observations
12/02: Added Value Interface Portal for Gaia
04/02: Gaia's potential for the discovery of circumbinary planets
26/01: DIBs in three hot stars as seen by Gaia's RVS
15/01: The Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution
06/01: Close encounters of the stellar kind
2014
12/12: Gaia detects microlensing event
05/12: Cat's Eye Nebula as seen by Gaia
01/12: BFOSC observation of Gaia at L2
24/11: Gaia spectra of six stars
13/11: Omega Centauri as seen by Gaia
02/10: RVS Data Processing
12/09: Gaia discovers first supernova
04/08: Gaia flag arrives at ESAC
29/07: Gaia handover
15/07: Eclipsing binaries
03/07: Asteroids at the "photo finish"
19/06: Calibration image III - Messier 51
05/06: First Gaia BP/RP and RVS spectra
02/06: Sky coverage of Gaia during commissioning
03/04: Gaia source detection
21/02: Sky-background false detections in the sky mapper
14/02: Gaia calibration images II
06/02: Gaia calibration image I
28/01: Gaia telescope light path
17/01: First star shines for Gaia
14/01: Radiation Campaign #4
06/01: Asteroid detection by Gaia
2013
17/12: Gaia in the gantry
12/12: The sky in G magnitude
05/12: Pre-launch release of spectrophotometric standard stars
28/11: From one to one billion pixels
21/11: The Hipparcos all-sky map
15/10: Gaia Sunshield Deployment Test
08/10: Initial Gaia Source List
17/09: CU1 Operations Workshop
11/09: Apsis
26/08: Gaia arrival in French Guiana
20/08: Gaia cartoons
11/07: Model Soyuz Fregat video
01/07: Acoustic Testing
21/06: SOVT
03/06: CU4 meeting #15
04/04: DPCC (CNES) 
26/03: Gaia artist impression 
11/02: Gaia payload testing  
04/01: Space flyby with Gaia-like data
2012
10/12: DPAC OR#2. Testing with Planck
05/11: Galaxy detection with Gaia
09/10: Plot of part of the GUMS-10 catalogue
23/07: "Gaia" meets at Gaia
29/06: The Sky as seen by Gaia
31/05: Panorama of BAM clean room
29/03: GREAT school results
12/03: Scanning-law movie
21/02: Astrometric microlensing and Gaia
03/02: BAM with PMTS
12/01: FPA with all the CCDs and WFSs
2011
14/12: Deployable sunshield
10/11: Earth Trojan search
21/10: First Soyuz liftoff from the French Guiana
20/09: Fast 2D image reconstruction algorithm
05/09: RVS OMA
10/08: 3D distribution of the Gaia catalogue
13/07: Dynamical Attitude Model
22/06: Gaia's view of open clusters
27/05: Accuracy of the stellar transverse velocity
13/05: Vibration test of BAM mirrors
18/04: L. Lindegren, Dr. Honoris Causa of the Observatory of Paris
19/01: Detectability of stars close to Jupiter
05/01: Delivery of the WFS flight models
2010
21/12: The 100th member of CU3
17/11: Nano-JASMINE and AGIS
27/10: Eclipsing binary light curves fitted with DPAC code
13/10: Gaia broad band photometry
28/09: Measuring stellar parameters and interstellar extinction
14/09: M1 mirror
 
Please note: Entries from the period 2003-2010 are available in this PDF document.