Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

When galaxies switch off

01.08.2013
Hubble's COSMOS survey solves "quenched" galaxy mystery

Some galaxies hit a point in their lives when their star formation is snuffed out, and they become "quenched". Quenched galaxies in the distant past appear to be much smaller than the quenched galaxies in the Universe today.


Sample of non-star-forming galaxies from the COSMOS survey
Image credit: NASA, ESA, M. Carollo (ETH Zurich)

This has always puzzled astronomers — how can these galaxies grow if they are no longer forming stars? A team of astronomers has now used a huge set of Hubble observations to give a surprisingly simple answer to this long-standing cosmic riddle.

Until now, these small, snuffed-out galaxies were thought to grow into the larger quenched galaxies we see nearby.

As these galaxies are no longer forming new stars, they were thought to grow by colliding and merging with other smaller quenched galaxies some five to ten times less massive. However, these mergers would require many such small galaxies floating around for the quenched population to snack on — which we do not see.

Until recently it had not been possible to explore a sufficient number of quenched galaxies, but now a team of astronomers has used observations from the Hubble COSMOS survey to identify and count these switched-off galaxies throughout the last eight billion years of cosmic history.

"The apparent puffing up of quenched galaxies has been one of the biggest puzzles about galaxy evolution for many years," says Marcella Carollo of ETH Zurich, Switzerland, lead author on a new paper exploring these galaxies. "No single collection of images has been large enough to enable us to study very large numbers of galaxies in exactly the same way — until Hubble's COSMOS," adds co-author Nick Scoville of Caltech, USA.

The team used the large set of COSMOS images [1], alongside additional observations from the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope and the Subaru Telescope, both in Hawaii, USA, to peer back to when the Universe was less than half its present age. These observations mapped an area in the sky almost nine times that of the full Moon.

The quenched galaxies seen at these times are small and compact — and surprisingly, it seems they stay that way. Rather than puffing up and growing via mergers over time, these small galaxies mostly keep the size they had when their star formation switched off [2]. So why do we see these galaxies apparently growing larger over time?

"We found that a large number of the bigger galaxies instead switch off at later times, joining their smaller quenched siblings and giving the mistaken impression of individual galaxy growth over time," says co-author Simon Lilly, also of ETH Zurich. "It's like saying that the increase in the average apartment size in a city is not due to the addition of new rooms to old buildings, but rather to the construction of new, larger apartments," adds co-author Alvio Renzini of INAF Padua Observatory, Italy.

This tells us a lot about how galaxies have evolved over the last eight billion years of the Universe's history. It was already known that actively star-forming galaxies were smaller in the early Universe, explaining why they were smaller when their star formation first switched off.

"COSMOS provided us with simply the best set of observations for this sort of work — it lets us study very large numbers of galaxies in exactly the same way, which hasn't been possible before," adds co-author Peter Capak, also of Caltech. "Our study offers a surprisingly simple and obvious explanation to this puzzle. Whenever we see simplicity in nature amidst apparent complexity, it's very satisfying," concludes Carollo.

Notes

[1] In making the COSMOS survey, Hubble photographed 575 slightly overlapping views of the Universe using the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard Hubble. It took nearly 1000 hours of observations and is the largest project ever conducted with Hubble. This survey has proved invaluable; it has helped to map dark matter in 3D (heic0701), to further understand the effects of gravitational lensing (heic0806), and to characterise the expansion of the Universe (heic1005).

[2] There is still the possibility of growth via mergers for a fraction of this quenched population, but not a majority, as previously thought.

Notes for editors

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The research is presented in a paper entitled “Newly-quenched galaxies as the cause for the apparent evolution in average size of the population”, for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

[1] The international team of astronomers in this study consists of C. M. Carollo (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [ETH Zurich], Switzerland), T. J. Bschorr (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [ETH Zurich], Switzerland), A. Renzini (Padova Observatory, Italy), S. J. Lilly (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [ETH Zurich], Switzerland), P. Capak (Spitzer Science Center, California Institute of Technology, USA), A. Cibinel (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [ETH Zurich], Switzerland), O. Ilbert (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France), M. Onodera (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [ETH Zurich], Switzerland), N. Scoville (California Institute of Technology, USA), E. Cameron (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [ETH Zurich], Switzerland), B. Mobasher (University of California, USA), D. Sanders (University of Hawaii, USA), Y. Taniguchi (Ehime University, Japan).

Contacts

Marcella Carollo
ETH Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
Tel: +4144633 3725
Email: marcella@phys.ethz.ch
Alvio Renzini
INAF, Astronomical Observatory of Padova
Padova, Italy
Tel: 049 8293 503
Email: alvio.renzini@oapd.inaf.it
Peter Capak
California Institute of Technology
California, USA
Tel: +1-626-395-6422
Email: capak@astro.caltech.edu
Nicky Guttridge
ESA/Hubble
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49-89-3200-6855
Email: nguttrid@partner.eso.org

| ESA/Hubble Information Centre
Further information:
http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1313/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>