Using VIMOS on ESO's Very Large Telescope, a team of French and Italian astronomers have shown the strong influence the environment exerts on the way galaxies form and evolve. The scientists have for the first time charted remote parts of the Universe, showing that the distribution of galaxies has considerably evolved with time, depending on the galaxies' immediate surroundings. This surprising discovery poses new challenges for theories of the formation and evolution of galaxies.
The 'nature versus nurture' debate is a hot topic in human psychology. But astronomers too face similar conundrums, in particular when trying to solve a problem that goes to the very heart of cosmological theories: are the galaxies we see today simply the product of the primordial conditions in which they formed, or did experiences in the past change the path of their evolution?
In a large, three-year long survey carried out with VIMOS , the Visible Imager and Multi-Object Spectrograph on ESO's VLT, astronomers studied more than 6,500 galaxies over a wide range of distances to investigate how their properties vary over different timescales, in different environments and for varying galaxy luminosities . They were able to build an atlas of the Universe in three dimensions, going back more than 9 billion years.
This new census reveals a surprising result. The colour-density relation, that describes the relationship between the properties of a galaxy and its environment, was markedly different 7 billion years ago. The astronomers thus found that the galaxies' luminosity, their initial genetic properties, and the environments they reside in have a profound impact on their evolution.
"Our results indicate that environment is a key player in galaxy evolution, but there's no simple answer to the 'nature versus nurture' problem in galaxy evolution," said Olivier Le Fèvre from the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, France, who coordinates the VIMOS VLT Deep Survey team that made the discovery. "They suggest that galaxies as we see them today are the product of their inherent genetic information, evolved over time, as well as complex interactions with their environments, such as mergers."
Scientists have known for several decades that galaxies in the Universe's past look different to those in the present-day Universe, local to the Milky Way . Today, galaxies can be roughly classified as red, when few or no new stars are being born, or blue, where star formation is still ongoing. Moreover, a strong correlation exists between a galaxy's colour and the environment it resides in: the more sociable types found in dense clusters are more likely to be red than the more isolated ones.
By looking back at a wide range of galaxies of a variety of ages, the astronomers were aiming to study how this peculiar correlation has evolved over time.
"Using VIMOS, we were able to use the largest sample of galaxies currently available for this type of study, and because of the instrument's ability to study many objects at a time we obtained many more measurements than previously possible," said Angela Iovino, from the Brera Astronomical Observatory, Italy, another member of the team.
The team's discovery of a marked variation in the 'colour-density' relationship, depending on whether a galaxy is found in a cluster or alone, and on its luminosity, has many potential implications. The findings suggest for example that being located in a cluster quenches a galaxy's ability to form stars more quickly compared with those in isolation. Luminous galaxies also run out of star-forming material at an earlier time than fainter ones.
They conclude that the connection between galaxies' colour, luminosity and their local environment is not merely a result of primordial conditions 'imprinted' during their formation - but just as for humans, galaxies' relationship and interactions can have a profound impact on their evolution.
Henri Boffin | alfa
NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts
28.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Researchers create artificial materials atom-by-atom
28.03.2017 | Aalto University
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
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...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
29.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
29.03.2017 | Trade Fair News