Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Case astronomers find vast stellar web spun by colliding galaxies

21.09.2005


Virgo image gives evidence of violent life, death of cluster galaxies

Case Western Reserve University astronomers have captured the deepest wide-field image ever of the nearby Virgo cluster of galaxies, directly revealing for the first time a vast, complex web of "intracluster starlight" -- nearly 1,000 times fainter than the dark night sky -- filling the space between the galaxies within the cluster. The streamers, plumes and cocoons that make up this extremely faint starlight are made of stars ripped out of galaxies as they collide with one another inside the cluster, and act as a sort of "archaeological record" of the violent lives of cluster galaxies.

The Virgo image was captured through Case’s newly refurbished 24-inch Burrell Schmidt telescope, built in the 1930s and located at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Over the course of 14 dark moonless nights, the researchers took more than 70 images of the Virgo Cluster, then used advanced image processing techniques to combine the individual images into a single image capable of showing the faint intracluster light.

"When we saw all this very faint starlight in the image, my first reaction was WOW!," project leader Chris Mihos said. "Then I began to worry about all the things we could have done wrong." Many effects, such as stray light from nearby stars, from instruments in the observatory and even from the changing brightness of the night sky could all contaminate the image and lead to inaccurate results. "But as we corrected for each of these contaminants, not only did the faint starlight not disappear, it became even more apparent. That’s when we knew we had something big."

The new image gives dramatic evidence of the violent life and death of cluster galaxies. Drawn together into giant clusters over the course of cosmic time by their mutual gravity, galaxies careen around in the cluster, smashing into other galaxies, being stripped apart by gravitational forces and even being cannibalized by the massive galaxies which sit at the cluster’s heart. The force of these encounters literally pulls many galaxies apart, leaving behind ghostly streams of stars adrift in the cluster, a faint tribute to the violence of cluster life.

"From computer simulations, we’ve long suspected this web of intracluster starlight should be there," says Mihos, associate professor of astronomy at Case, "but it’s been extremely hard to map it out because it’s so faint." Mihos and graduate students Craig Rudick (Case) and Cameron McBride (University of Pittsburgh, and former Case undergraduate) have developed computer simulations that track how clusters of galaxies evolve over time, to study exactly how this intracluster starlight is created.

"With the data from the telescope, we see how a cluster looks today," Mihos explains. "But with computer simulations, we can watch how a cluster evolves over 10 billion years of time. By comparing the simulation to the real features we now see in Virgo, we can learn how the cluster formed and what happened to its many galaxies." For example, the fact that the intracluster light in Virgo is so complex and irregular lends credence to the theory of "hierarchical assembly," where clusters grow sporadically when groups of galaxies fall into the cluster, rather than through the smooth, slow addition of galaxies one by one.

To detect the faint intracluster light, upgrades were needed to Case’s Burrell Schmidt telescope, originally part of the original Warner and Swasey Observatory in Cleveland until its move to Kitt Peak in 1979. The improvements included the installation of a new camera system and upgrades to the telescope to make it more structurally stable and reduce unwanted scattered light.

"It’s like ’The Little Engine that Could’," says Case astronomer Paul Harding, who directed the refurbishment of the telescope. "It’s the smallest telescope on the mountain, but with these upgrades it’s capable of some pretty incredible science." The telescope’s wide field of view -- enough to fit three full moons across the image -- proved crucial to the project, allowing the team to map out the intracluster light over a much larger part of the Virgo Cluster than would be possible using larger telescopes with their much smaller fields of view.

The Virgo Cluster of galaxies -- so named because it appears in the constellation of Virgo -- is the nearest galaxy cluster to the Earth, at a distance of approximately 50 million light years. The cluster contains more than 2,000 galaxies, the brightest of which can be seen with the aide of a small telescope.

The Case findings are reported in the paper "Diffuse Light in the Virgo Cluster" to be published in the September 20th issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Along with Mihos team researchers included Case astronomers Heather Morrison and Paul Harding, and John Feldmeier, a National Science Foundation Fellow at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. (and formerly of Case).

The wide-field image of the Virgo Cluster, along with movies of computer simulations of galaxies and galaxy clusters, can be found at http://astroweb.case.edu/hos/Virgo.

For more information, contact: Chris Mihos, department of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University at 216-368-3729 or by e-mail at mihos@case.edu.

Susan Griffith | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://astroweb.case.edu/hos/Virgo/
http://www.case.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Heating quantum matter: A novel view on topology
22.08.2017 | Université libre de Bruxelles

nachricht Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University

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: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease

22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Meter-sized single-crystal graphene growth becomes possible

22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Repairing damaged hearts with self-healing heart cells

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>