A Globular Cluster was Completely Dismantled and Turned Into a Ring Around the Milky Way

Artist’s impression of the thin stream of stars torn from the Phoenix globular cluster, wrapping around our Milky Way (left). For the study, the astronomers targeted bright Red Giant stars, to measure the chemical composition of the disrupted Phoenix globular cluster (artist’s impression on right). Credit: James Josephides (Swinburne Astronomy Productions) and the S5 Collaboration.

According to predominant theories of galaxy formation, the earliest galaxies in the Universe were born from the merger of globular clusters, which were in turn created by the first stars coming together. Today, these spherical clusters of stars are found orbiting around the a galactic core of every observable galaxy and are a boon for astronomers seeking to study galaxy formation and some of the oldest stars in the Universe.

Interestingly enough, it appears that some of these globular clusters may not have survived the merger process. According to a new study by an international team of astronomers, a cluster was torn apart by our very own galaxy about two billion years ago. This is evidenced by the presence of a metal-poor debris ring that they observed wrapped around the entire Milky Way, a remnant from this ancient collision.

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This Video Is The Closest You’ll Get To Experiencing Warp Drive

A simulation of the "cosmic web" believed to connect galaxies. A void is visible in the center of the image, a spot where researchers found galaxy "tendrils." Credit: Cunnama, Power, Newton and Cui (ICRAR).

Engage! This video shows some results of the the Galaxy and Mass Assembly catalogue, including the real positions of galaxies. The simulated flythrough, with galactic bodies whizzing by, appears like the view from the Starship Enterprise going at high speed.

Unlike that science fiction series, however, the data you’re seeing has charted information in it (although the galaxies have been biggified for our “viewing pleasure.”)

It’s all part of new research showing that galaxies in “vast empty regions” of the Universe are “aligned into delicate strings,” stated the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

“The spaces in the cosmic web are thought to be staggeringly empty,” stated Mehmet Alpaslan, a Ph.D. candidate at St Andrews University, Scotland who led the research. “They might contain just one or two galaxies, as opposed to the hundreds that are found in big clusters.”

His team discovered faint galaxies lined up in areas of space believed to hold practically nothing. The work is part of an emerging set of research looking at voids in the “cosmic web”, or the filaments that are believed to hold galaxies together across great distances.

Alpaslan’s team used a galaxy census — the biggest ever — of the skies in the south created with observations of Australia’s Anglo-Australian Telescope. The arrangement of galaxies in these voids was surprising to researchers.

“We found small strings composed of just a few galaxies penetrating into the voids, a completely new type of structure that we’ve called ‘tendrils’,” stated Alpaslan.

It will be interesting to see what further research reveals. As the press release accompanying this news states, “These aren’t the voids you’re looking for.”

Alpaslan’s study will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. You can read the research in preprint version on Arxiv.

Source: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research