The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, maybe even a grand design spiral galaxy. We can’t be sure from our vantage point. But one thing is certain: there aren’t many disk galaxies like it in our part of the Universe called the supergalactic plane.Continue reading “There Aren’t Many Galaxies Like The Milky Way Nearby. Now We Know Why”
Beginning in 1610, when famed Renaissance polymath Galileo Galilei observed the night sky using a telescope of his own manufacture, astronomers gradually realized that our Solar System is part of a vast collection of stars known today as the Milky Way Galaxy. By the 20th century, astronomers had a good idea of its size and structure, which consisted of a central “bulge” surrounded by an extended disk with spiral arms. Despite all we’ve learned, determining the true morphology of the Milky Way has remained a challenge for astronomers.
Since we, the observers, are embedded in the Milky Way’s disk, we cannot see through the center and observe what’s on the other side. Using various methods, though, astronomers are getting closer to recreating what a “birds-eye” view of the galaxy would look like. For instance, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) used the precise locations of very young objects in our galaxy (for the first time) to measure the morphology of the Milky Way. This revealed a multiple-arm morphology consisting of two symmetrical arms in the inner region and many irregular ones in the outer region.Continue reading “What Does the Milky Way Look Like?”
Here’s Hubble doing what Hubble does best.
Some of the Hubble Space Telescope’s most famous and stunning images are of distant galaxies, and this one is drop-dead gorgeous too.Continue reading “Gaze Into the Heart of a Grand Spiral Galaxy”
Scientists have speculated that given the sheer number of galaxies in our Universe – modern estimates are as high as 2 trillion – that there must be infinite opportunities for life to emerge. It has also been theorized that galaxies (like stars) have habitable zones, where star systems located too close to the core or too far out in the spiral arms will be exposed to too much radiation for life to emerge.
But are certain types of galaxies more likely to produce intelligent life? Not that long ago, scientists believed that giant elliptical galaxies – which are substantially larger than spiral galaxies (like the Milky Way) – are a far more likely place to find advanced civilizations. But according to new research from the University of Arkansas, these galaxies may not be the cradles of civilization they were previously thought to be.Read morTo e
One of the most exciting developments in astronomy today is the way that advanced arrays and techniques are letting astronomers see farther back in time to the earliest periods of the Universe. In so doing, astronomers hope to get a closer at the earliest galaxies to learn more about how and when they first emerged – which can tell us a great deal more about their subsequent evolution.
This was the purpose of the ALMA Large Program to INvestigate C+ at Early times (ALPINE), a multiwavelength survey that examined galaxies that were around when the Universe was less than 1.5 billion years old. With funding provided by NASA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the ALPINE collaboration analyzed this data and learned some interesting things about the early evolution of galaxies.Continue reading “You’re Looking at Spiral Galaxies, Already Forming When the Universe was Just a Baby”
The Hubble Space Telescope has given us a beautiful image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 7773. This is a classic galaxy of this type, and highlights the bright bar of concentrated stars that anchors the galaxy’s stately spiral arms. It was captured with the Hubble’s workhorse Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3.)Continue reading “Perfect Example of a Barred Spiral Galaxy, Seen Face On. This is What Our Milky Way Might Look Like”
Spiral galaxies get their name because of their beautiful spiral shape and iconic arms. But why do galaxies have these spiral shapes, and what causes the arms?
Galaxies are some of the most beautiful and inspiring structures in the Universe. As you know, they aren’t solid disks, they’re a gigantic spill of individual stars webbed together by gravity. There are a few rough fundamental shapes that a galaxy can have, and the bulk of these are some variation of a spiral. Each one with twisting arms of stars reaching tens of thousands of light years in every direction along a plane, out from a galactic core.
So what gives them this characteristic spiral shape? Earliest galaxies didn’t have clearly defined spiral arms. They were either two-armed or, had thick irregular chaotic woolly arms with star forming clumps. After 3.6 billion years, however, the chaos had settled down into the shapes we see today. But it took until the Universe was 8 billion years old for these modern multi-armed spirals, like the Milky Way or Andromeda to appear.
So where did they come from? These arms are in fact density waves passing through the galaxy, with stars moving in and out of the waves. The arms themselves aren’t permanent structures made of the same clumps of stars.
Imagine driving down a highway and people are slowing down to gape slack-jawed a crashed alien saucer. Cars will slow down as they reach the saucer and form a clump, and then the car in the lead of the clump will accelerate and proceed down the highway as other cars progress through the clump to take their place.
This is a great analogy for movement in a galaxy. As a density wave approaches, stars accelerate towards it. Then they slow down as they move away from it. Just like a comet falling into the gravity well of the Sun. And when the density wave moves through an area, it kicks off an era of star formation. So the material of the galaxy is being constantly stirred and new stars are born as a density wave makes its way through the galaxy.
When you picture this, keep in mind that stars closer to the core of the galaxy orbit faster than the spiral arm, and the stars further out go more slowly. Our galaxy, the Milky Way takes about 240 million years to complete a full rotation. But we pass through a major spiral arm every 100 million years or so, remaining in the higher density region for about 10 million years. Astronomers have only recently figured out why these arms exist in the first place.
Originally, they suspected it might be like a garden sprinkler, with material fountaining out from the center of the galaxy, or channeled by magnetic fields. They also thought that the arms might be transient features. Appearing and disappearing over time. But new evidence and simulations show they’re long lasting, they believe the arms themselves form as a result of giant molecular clouds of hydrogen. These clouds initiate the arms and keep the shape sustained over billions of years.
What do you think? What’s your favorite spiral galaxy? Tell us in the comments below.
We keep saying this: the universe is more complex than it appears. Conventional thinking in galaxy research postulates that spiral galaxies have star-forming areas, while ellipticals do not due to a lack of gas. While this thinking has been debunked, there’s now emerging research showing a “green valley” of galaxies somewhat in between these two types.
Basically, the research (which includes participation from citizen scientists in the Galaxy Zoo project) is showing that there are two different populations of “green” galaxies, between ellipticals and spirals. Further, what happens to star formation based upon gas in the area.
“In this paper, we take a look at the most crucial event in the life of a galaxy: the end of star formation. We often call this process ‘quenching’ and many astrophysicists have slightly different definitions of quenching. Galaxies are the place where cosmic gas condenses and, if it gets cold and dense enough, turns into stars. The resulting stars are what we really see as traditional optical astronomers,” wrote Kevin Schawinski, a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford who is on the Galaxy Zoo team, in a blog post.
“Not all stars shine the same way though: stars much more massive than our sun are very bright and shine in a blue light as they are very hot. They’re also very short-lived. Lower mass stars take a more leisurely pace and don’t shine as bright (they’re not as hot). This is why star-forming galaxies are blue, and quiescent galaxies (or ‘quenched’ galaxies) are red: once star formation stops, the bluest stars die first and aren’t replaced with new ones, so they leave behind only the longer-lived red stars for us to observe as the galaxy passively evolves.”
Maybe it’s because Jurassic Park is in theaters again, but we at Universe Today sometimes worry about how one person can mess up an otherwise technologically amazing system. It took just one nefarious employee to shut down the dinosaur park’s security fences in the movie and cause havoc. How do we ensure science can fight against that, especially when everyday citizens are getting more and more involved in the scientific process?
But perhaps, after talking to Chris Lintott, that view is too suspicious. Lintott is in charge of a collaborative astronomy and science project called the Zooniverse that uses public contributions to fuel some of the science he performs. Basically, anyone with an Internet connection and a desire to contribute can hunt for planets or examine astronomical objects, among many other projects.
Lintott, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, says the science requires public contributions. Moreover, he hasn’t had a problem yet despite 800,000 individual contributors to the Zooniverse. He told Universe Today about how that’s possible in an e-mail interview.
1) Zooniverse has already produced tangible scientific results in space through collaborating with ordinary folks. Can you talk about some of the papers/findings that have been produced in your various projects?
There’s a long, long list. I’m particularly excited at the minute about our work on bulgeless galaxies; most spiral galaxies have a bulge full of old stars at their centre, but we’ve found plenty that don’t. That’s exciting because we think that means that they’re guaranteed not to have had a big merger in the last 10 billion years or so, and that means we can use them to figure out just what effect mergers have on galaxies. You’ll be hearing more about them in the next year or so as we have plenty of observing time lined up.
I’m also a big fan of Planet Hunters 1b, our first confirmed planet discovery – it’s a planet in a four-star system, and thus provides a nice challenge to our understanding of how planets form. We’ve found lots of planet candidates (systems where we’re more than 90% sure there’s a planet there) but it’s nice to get one confirmed and especially nice for it to be such an interesting world.
2) What benefits have you received from involving the public in space projects, in terms of results as well as raising awareness?
We couldn’t do our research any other way. Astronomers have got very good in the last few decades at collecting information about the universe, but we’re not always so good at learning how to use all of that information. The Zooniverse allows us to collaborate with hundreds of thousands of people so that we can scale our efforts to deal with that flood of data, and many of those volunteers go much further than just clicking on buttons we provide. So really our research is now driven in collaboration with thousands of people, spread all around the world – that’s an inspiring thought.
3) How many people do you manage in your space projects, approximately? How do you keep track of them all?
We have more than 800,000 registered volunteers – luckily, the computer keeps track of them (when they log in!).
4) How do you ensure their results meet the standards of scientific publication?
We carefully design projects so that we’re sure they will produce scientifically useful results before they’re launched; this usually means running a test with a small amount of data and comparing work done by volunteers with that of professionals. We usually find the volunteers are better than us! It helps that we have several people complete each task, so collectively we don’t make accidental mistakes.
5) How do you guard against somebody deliberately or accidentally altering the results?
The system insists that every classification is independent, and as we have several people look at each classification finding any deliberate attack would be easy – in any case, we’ve never seen any evidence of such a thing. Despite popular reports, most people are nice!
The sprawling northern constellation of Draco is home to a monumental galactic merger which left a singular spectacle – NGC 5907. Surrounded by an ethereal garment of wispy star trails and currents of stellar material, this spiral galaxy is the survivor of a “clash of the dragons” which may have occurred some 8 to 9 billion years ago. Recent theory suggests galaxies of this type may be the product of a larger galaxy encountering a smaller satellite – but this might not be the case. Not only is NGC 5907 a bit different in some respects, it’s a lot different in others… and peculiar motion is just the beginning.
“If the disc of many spirals is indeed rebuilt after a major merger, it is expected that tidal tails can be a fossil record and that there should be many loops and streams in their halos. Recently Martínez-Delgado et al. (2010) have conducted a pilot survey of isolated spiral galaxies in the Local Volume up to a low surface brightness sensitivity of ~28.5 mag/arcsec2 in V band. They find that many of these galaxies have loops or streams of various shapes and interpret these structures as evidence of minor merger or satellite infall.” says J. Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “However, if these loops are caused by minor mergers, the residual of the satellite core should be detected according to numerical simulations. Why is it hardly ever detected?”
The “why” is indeed the reason NGC 5907 is being intensively studied by a team of six scientists of the Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Astronomical Observatories of China NAOC and Marseille Observatory. Even though NGC 5907 is a member of a galactic group, there are no galaxies near enough to it to be causing an interaction which could account for its streamers of stars. It is truly a warped galaxy with gaseous and stellar disks which extend beyond the nominal cut-off radius. But that’s not all… It also has a peculiar halo which includes a significant fraction of metal enriched stars. NGC 5907 just doesn’t fit the patterns.
“For some of our models, we assume a star formation history with a varying global efficiency in transforming gas to stars, in order to preserve enough gas from being consumed before fusion.” explains the research team. “Although this fine-tuned star formation history may have some physical motivations, its main role is also to ensure the formation of stars after the emergence of the gaseous disc just after fusion.”
Now enter the 32- and 196-core computers at the Paris Observatory center and the 680-core Graphic Processor Unit supercomputer of Beijing NAOC with the capability to run 50000 billion operations per second. By employing several state of the art, hydrodynamical, and numerical simulations with particle numbers ranging from 200 000 to 6 millions, the team’s goal was to show the structure of NGC 5907 may have been the result of the clash of two dragon-sized galaxies… or was it?
“The exceptional features of NGC 5907 can be reproduced, together with the central galaxy properties, especially if we compare the observed loops to the high-order loops expected in a major merger model.” says Wang. “Given the extremely large number of parameters, as well as the very numerous constraints provided by the observations, we cannot claim that we have already identified the exact and unique model of NGC 5907 and its halo properties. We nevertheless succeeded in reproducing the loop geometry, and a disc-dominated, almost bulge-less galaxy.”
In the meantime, major galaxy merger events will continue to be a top priority in formation research. “Future work will include modelling other nearby spiral galaxies with large and faint, extended features in their halos.” concludes the team. “These distant galaxies are likely similar to the progenitors, six billion years ago, of present-day spirals, and linking them together could provide another crucial test for the spiral rebuilding disc scenario.”
And sleeping dragons may one day arise…
Original Story Source: Paris Observatory News. For Further Reading: Loops formed by tidal tails as fossil records of a major merger and Fossils of the Hierarchical Formation of the Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 5907.