Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The universe just became a little simpler

18.06.2003


Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have concluded that two of the most common types of galaxies in the universe are in reality different versions of the same thing. In spite of their similar-sounding names, astronomers had long considered “dwarf elliptical” and “giant elliptical” galaxies to be distinct objects. The new findings, which appear in this month’s edition of The Astronomical Journal, fundamentally alter astronomers’ understanding of these important components of the universe.


Artist’s impression of two black holes evacuating the center of a galaxy. Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz; MultiMedia Service; Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC).



Galaxies, the building blocks of the visible universe, are enormous systems of stars bound together by gravity and scattered throughout space. There are several different types, or shapes. For example, the Milky Way galaxy, in which the Earth resides, is a “spiral” galaxy, so named because its disk-like shape has an embedded spiral arm pattern. Other galaxies are known as “irregular” galaxies because they do not have distinct shapes. But together, dwarf and giant elliptical galaxies are the most common.

For the past two decades, astronomers have considered giant elliptical galaxies, which contain hundreds of billions of stars, and dwarf elliptical galaxies, which typically contain less than one billion stars, as completely separate systems. In many ways it was a natural distinction: not only do giant elliptical galaxies contain more stars, but the stars are more closely packed toward the centers of such galaxies. In other words, the overall distribution of stars appeared to be fundamentally different.


Alister Graham and Rafael Guzmán from the University of Florida decided to take a second look at the accepted wisdom. Expanding on work started by Graham at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain, the pair analyzed images of dwarf elliptical galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and combined their results with previously collected data on over 200 galaxies. The resulting sample revealed distributions of stars displaying a continuous variety of structures between the allegedly different dwarf and giant galaxy classes - in other words, these two types were just relatively extreme versions of the same object. Moreover, there was one rather interesting caveat.

In recent years, Graham said, a number of studies had revealed that the innermost centers of giant elliptical galaxies - the inner 1 percent - had been scoured out or emptied of stars. Astronomers suspect that massive black holes are responsible, gravitationally hurling away any stars that ventured too near and devouring the stars that came in really close. This scouring phenomenon had tended to dim the centers of giant elliptical galaxies, which ran counter to the trend that bigger galaxies tend to have brighter centers. The dimming phenomenon was one reason astronomers had concluded dwarf and giant galaxies must be different types.

Together with Ignacio Trujillo of the Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie in Germany and Peter Erwin and Andres Asensio Ramos of the IAC, Graham addresses this phenomenon in a separate article that appears in the same issue of The Astronomical Journal. Building on recent revelations showing a strong connection between the mass of the central black holes and the properties of their host galaxies, Graham and his colleagues introduced a new mathematical model that simultaneously describes the distribution of stars in the inner and outer parts of the galaxy. “It was only after allowing for the modification of the cores by the black holes that we were able to fully unify the dwarf and giant galaxy population,” Graham said.

“This helps to simplify the universe slightly because we can replace two distinct galaxy types with one,” said Graham. “But the implications go beyond mere astronomical taxonomy. Astronomers had thought the formation mechanisms for these objects must be different, but instead there must be a unifying construction process.”

Sidney van den Bergh, former director and researcher emeritus at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory at the National Research Council of Canada in Victoria, said Graham and Guzmán’s result puts to rest a “very puzzling” question.

“In astronomy, like in physical anthropology, there is a deep connection between the classification of species and their evolutionary connections,” van den Bergh said. “The bottom line is that the new work of Graham and Guzmán has made life a little bit simpler for those of us who want to understand how galaxies are formed and have evolved.”

Alister Graham | alfa
Further information:
http://www.iac.es/gabinete/noticias/2003/m06d16.htm

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht The taming of the light screw
22.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Magnetic micro-boats
21.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

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: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>