Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble and ESO’s VLT provide unique 3D views of remote galaxies

12.03.2009
Astronomers have obtained exceptional 3D views of distant galaxies, seen when the Universe was half its current age, by combining the twin strengths of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s acute eye, and the capacity of ESO’s Very Large Telescope to probe the motions of gas in tiny objects.

By looking at this unique “history book” of our Universe, at an epoch when the Sun and the Earth did not yet exist, scientists hope to solve the puzzle of how galaxies formed in the remote past.

For decades, distant galaxies that emitted their light six billion years ago were no more than small specks of light on the sky. With the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in the early 1990s, astronomers were able to scrutinise the structure of distant galaxies in some detail for the first time. Under the superb skies of Paranal, the VLT’s FLAMES/GIRAFFE spectrograph (ESO 13/02) — which obtains simultaneous spectra from small areas of extended objects — can now also resolve the motions of the gas in these distant galaxies (ESO 10/06).

“This unique combination of Hubble and the VLT allows us to model distant galaxies almost as nicely as we can close ones,” says François Hammer, who led the team. “In effect, FLAMES/GIRAFFE now allows us to measure the velocity of the gas at various locations in these objects. This means that we can see how the gas is moving, which provides us with a three-dimensional view of galaxies halfway across the Universe.”

The team has undertaken the Herculean task of reconstituting the history of about one hundred remote galaxies that have been observed with both Hubble and GIRAFFE on the VLT. The first results are coming in and have already provided useful insights for three galaxies.

In one galaxy, GIRAFFE revealed a region full of ionised gas, that is, hot gas composed of atoms that have been stripped of one or several electrons. This is normally due to the presence of very hot, young stars. However, even after staring at the region for more than 11 days, Hubble did not detect any stars! “Clearly this unusual galaxy has some hidden secrets,” says Mathieu Puech, lead author of one of the papers reporting this study. Comparisons with computer simulations suggest that the explanation lies in the collision of two very gas-rich spiral galaxies. The heat produced by the collision would ionise the gas, making it too hot for stars to form.

Another galaxy that the astronomers studied showed the opposite effect. There they discovered a bluish central region enshrouded in a reddish disc, almost completely hidden by dust. “The models indicate that gas and stars could be spiralling inwards rapidly,” says Hammer. This might be the first example of a disc rebuilt after a major merger (ESO 01/05).

Finally, in a third galaxy, the astronomers identified a very unusual, extremely blue, elongated structure — a bar — composed of young, massive stars, rarely observed in nearby galaxies. Comparisons with computer simulations showed the astronomers that the properties of this object are well reproduced by a collision between two galaxies of unequal mass.

“The unique combination of Hubble and FLAMES/GIRAFFE at the VLT makes it possible to model distant galaxies in great detail, and reach a consensus on the crucial role of galaxy collisions for the formation of stars in a remote past,” says Puech. “It is because we can now see how the gas is moving that we can trace back the mass and the orbits of the ancestral galaxies relatively accurately. Hubble and the VLT are real ‘time machines’ for probing the Universe’s history”, adds Sébastien Peirani, lead author of another paper reporting on this study.

The astronomers are now extending their analysis to the whole sample of galaxies observed. “The next step will then be to compare this with closer galaxies, and so, piece together a picture of the evolution of galaxies over the past six to eight billion years, that is, over half the age of the Universe,” concludes Hammer.

More information
The results reported here are either in print or to be printed in Astronomy and Astrophysics:
Puech et al. 2009, A&A, 493, 899, A forming disk at z~0.6: Collapse of a gaseous disk or major merger remnant?
Peirani et al. 2009, A giant bar induced by a merger event at z=0.4?
Hammer et al. 2009, A forming, dust enshrouded disk at z=0.43: the first example of a late type disk rebuilt after a major merger?
The team is composed of F. Hammer, H. Flores, M. Puech, Y. Yang, and M. Rodrigues (Observatoire de Paris, France), L. Athanassoula (LAM, France), B. Neichel (Observatoire de Paris and ONERA, France), and S. Peirani (Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, France).

The observations were obtained in the framework of the IMAGES ESO Large Programme.

This is a joint ESO/ST-EcF release. The Hubble update is available on:
http://www.spacetelescope.org/updates/html/update0903.html
Contacts
François Hammer, Mathieu Puech
Observatoire de Paris, GEPI, France
Phone: +33 (1) 45 07 74 08, +33 (1) 45 07 71 58
E-mail: Francois.Hammer@obspm.fr, mathieu.puech@obspm.fr
Sébastien Peirani
Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, France
Phone: +33 (1) 44 32 81 34
E-mail: peirani@iap.fr

Dr. Henri Boffin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.eso.org

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

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

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

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>