In ongoing observations of one of the universe’s earliest, most distant cluster of galaxies using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, an international team of researchers led by Texas A&M’s Dr. Kim-Vy Tran has discovered that a significant fraction of those ancient galaxies are still actively forming stars.
Tran, an assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy and member of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, and her team have spent the past four months analyzing images taken from the Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS), essentially looking back in time nearly 10 billion years at a high red-shift cluster known as CLG J02182-05102. Mere months after first discovering the cluster and the fact that it is shockingly “modern” in its appearance and size despite being observed just 4 billion years after the Big Bang, the Texas A&M-led team was able to determine that the galaxy cluster produces hundreds to thousands of new stars every year — a far higher birthrate than what is present in nearby galaxies.
What is particularly striking, according to Tran, is the fact that the stellar birthrate is higher in the cluster’s center than at the cluster’s edges — the exact opposite of what happens in our local portion of the universe, where the cores of galaxy clusters are known to be galactic graveyards full of massive elliptical galaxies composed of old stars.
“A well-established hallmark of galaxy evolution in action is how the fraction of star-forming galaxies decreases with increasing galaxy density,” explains Tran, lead author of the team’s study which appears in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “In other words, there are more star-forming galaxies in the field than in the crowded cores of galaxy clusters. However, in our cluster, we find many galaxies with star-formation rates comparable to their cousins in the lower-density field environment.”
Exactly why this star power increases as galaxies become more crowded remains a mystery. Tran thinks the densely-populated surroundings could lead to galaxies triggering activity in one another, or that all galaxies were extremely active when the universe was young.
The group’s discovery holds potentially compelling implications that could ultimately reveal more about how such massive galaxies form. Observations of nearby galaxy clusters confirm that they are made of stars that are at least 8 to 10 billion years old, which means that CLG J02182-05102 is nearing the end of its hyperactive star-building period.
Now that they have pinpointed the epoch when galaxy clusters are making the last of their stars, astronomers can focus on understanding why massive assemblies of galaxies transition from very active to passive. Identifying how long it takes for galaxies in clusters to build up their stellar mass as well as the time at which they stop provides strong constraints for how these massive galaxies form.
“Our study shows that by looking farther into the distant universe, we have revealed the missing link between the active galaxies and the quiescent behemoths that live in the local universe,” Tran adds. “Our discovery indicates that future studies of galaxy clusters in this red-shift range should be particularly fruitful for understanding how these massive galaxies form as a function of their environment.”
Tran’s team includes fellow Texas A&M astronomer Dr. Casey Papovich, who first identified the galaxy cluster CLG J02182-05102 in May. The collection of roughly 60 galaxies is observed just 4 billion years after the Big Bang, making it the earliest cluster of galaxies ever detected. However, the team was struck not by its age, but by its astoundingly modern appearance — a huge, red collection of galaxies typical in only local clusters.
The fact that Tran’s team was able to see these active galaxies so far back in time (Tran likens their find to discovering that her mild-mannered grandparent had lived a fast and furious youth) is only the preface to what they expect eventually to learn about these clusters. Tran will continue to lead an international collaboration with Papovich and their postdoctoral researchers to examine these clusters more thoroughly and hopefully to understand why they are still so energetic.
“We will analyze new observations scheduled to be taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and Herschel Space Telescope to study these galaxies more carefully to understand why they are so active,” Tran adds. “We will also start looking at several more distant galaxy clusters to see if we find similar behavior.”
The team’s findings are detailed in their paper, “Reversal of Fortune: Confirmation of an Increasing Star Formation-Density Relation in a Cluster at z=1.62,” available online at http://iopscience.iop.org/2041-8205/719/2/L126/.
For or additional information on Texas A&M Astronomy, visit http://astronomy.tamu.edu.
NASA/JPL-Caltech Feature: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/news/1172-feature10-14
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or Dr. Kim-Vy Tran, (979) 862-2747
Dr. Kim-Vy Tran | EurekAlert!
Nanomagnetism in X-ray Light
23.03.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme
When helium behaves like a black hole
22.03.2017 | University of Vermont
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences