An international team of astronomers have used a unique instrument on the 8-m Gemini South Telescope to determine the ages of stars across the central region of the barred spiral galaxy, M83. Preliminary results provide the first hints of a domino model of star formation where star formation occurs in a time sequence, driven by the movements of gas and stars in the central bar.
The new instrument, called CIRPASS, simultaneously produces 500 spectra, taken from across the whole region of interest, which act as a series of "fingerprints". Encoded in these "fingerprints" is not only all the information the team required to determine when individual groups of stars formed, but also information on their movements and chemical properties. Dr. Johan Knapen, project co-investigator said, "The unique combination of a state-of-the-art instrument like CIRPASS with one of the most powerful telescopes available is now providing us with truly sensational observations."
M83 is a "grand-design" spiral galaxy undergoing an intense burst of star formation in its central bar region. Large-scale images of the visible light from the galaxy, taken with ground based telescopes, show a pronounced bar across the middle of the galaxy, seen as a diagonal white structure. Astronomers believe that it is the influence of this bar that leads a concentration of gas in the central regions of the galaxy from which stars are born. "The central region of M83 is enshrouded in dust but, by using CIRPASS, which operates in the infra-red not the visible, we are able to see through this dust and investigate the hidden physical processes at work in the galaxy," said Dr Ian Parry, leader of the CIRPASS instrumentation team.
Lisa Wright | alfa
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