Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Globular star clusters: The survivors of a massacre 13 billion years ago

14.02.2012
Our Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by some 200 compact groups of stars, containing up to a million stars each.

These globular clusters are almost as old as the universe itself and hold valuable information on how the first generations of stars and galaxies formed. Now a team of astronomers from Germany and the Netherlands have conducted a novel type of computer simulation that looked at how they were born - and they find that these giant clusters of stars are the only survivors of a 13 billion year-old massacre that destroyed many of their smaller siblings. The new work, led by Dr Diederik Kruijssen of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching appears in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Globular star clusters have a remarkable characteristic: the typical number of stars they contain appears to be about the same throughout the Universe. This is in contrast to much younger stellar clusters, which can contain almost any number of stars, from fewer than 100 to many thousands. The team of scientists proposes that this difference can be explained by the conditions under which globular clusters formed early on in the evolution of their host galaxies.

The researchers ran simulations of isolated and colliding galaxies, in which they included a model for the formation and destruction of stellar clusters. When galaxies collide, they often generate spectacular bursts of star formation (“starbursts”) and a wealth of bright, young stellar clusters of many different sizes. As a result it was always thought that the total number of star clusters increases during starbursts. But the Dutch-German team found the opposite result in their simulations.

While the very brightest and largest clusters were indeed capable of surviving the galaxy collision due to their own gravitational attraction, the numerous smaller clusters were effectively destroyed by the rapidly changing gravitational forces that typically occur during starbursts. After the starburst had ended, the researchers were surprised to see that only clusters with high numbers of stars had survived. These clusters had all the characteristics that should be expected for a young population of globular clusters, as they would have looked about 11 billion years ago.

Dr Kruijssen comments: “It is ironic to see that starbursts may produce many young stellar clusters, but at the same time also destroy the majority of them. This occurs not only in galaxy collisions, but should be expected in any starburst environment. In the early Universe, starbursts were commonplace – it therefore makes perfect sense that all globular clusters have approximately the same large number of stars. Their smaller brothers and sisters that didn’t contain as many stars were doomed to be destroyed.”

According to the simulations, most of the star clusters were destroyed shortly after their formation, when the galactic environment was still very hostile to the young clusters. After this episode ended, the surviving globular clusters have lived quietly until the present day.

The researchers have further suggestions to test their ideas. Dr Kruijssen continues: “In the nearby Universe, there are several examples of galaxies that have recently undergone large bursts of star formation. It should therefore be possible to see the rapid destruction of small stellar clusters in action. If this is indeed found by new observations, it will confirm our theory for the origin of globular clusters.”

The simulations suggest that most of a globular cluster’s traits were established when it formed. The fact that globular clusters are comparable everywhere then indicates that the environments in which they formed were very similar, regardless of the galaxy they currently reside in. In that case, Dr Kruijssen believes, they can be used as fossils to shed more light on the conditions in which the first stars and galaxies were born.

Original publication:
Kruijssen et al, "Formation versus destruction: the evolution of the star cluster population in galaxy mergers", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.1065
Science Contact:
Dr Diederik Kruijssen
Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 (0)89 30000 2241
E-mail: kruijssenmpa-garching.mpg.de
Media Contact:
Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Email: rmras.org.uk
Dr Hannelore Hämmerle
Press officer
Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 (0)89 30000 3980
E-mail: prmpa-garching.mpg.de

Dr Hannelore Hämmerle | Max-Planck-Institute
Further information:
http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de
http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/mpa/institute/news_archives/news1202_aaa/news1202_aaa-en.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level

20.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Relax, just break it

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>