Astronomers Uncover a Surprising Trend in Galaxy Evolution
A comprehensive study of hundreds of galaxies observed by the Keck telescopes in Hawaii and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has revealed an unexpected pattern of change that extends back 8 billion years, or more than half the age of the universe.
"Astronomers thought disk galaxies in the nearby universe had settled into their present form by about 8 billion years ago, with little additional development since," said Susan Kassin, an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the study's lead researcher. "The trend we've observed instead shows the opposite, that galaxies were steadily changing over this time period."
Today, star-forming galaxies take the form of orderly disk-shaped systems, such as the Andromeda Galaxy or the Milky Way, where rotation dominates over other internal motions. The most distant blue galaxies in the study tend to be very different, exhibiting disorganized motions in multiple directions. There is a steady shift toward greater organization to the present time as the disorganized motions dissipate and rotation speeds increase. These galaxies are gradually settling into well-behaved disks.
Blue galaxies — their color indicates stars are forming within them — show less disorganized motions and ever-faster rotation speeds the closer they are observed to the present. This trend holds true for galaxies of all masses, but the most massive systems always show the highest level of organization.
Researchers say the distant blue galaxies they studied are gradually transforming into rotating disk galaxies like our own Milky Way.
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A study of 544 star-forming galaxies observed by the Keck and Hubble telescopes shows that disk galaxies like our own Milky Way unexpectedly reached their current state long after much of the universe's star formation had ceased. Over the past 8 billion years, the galaxies lose chaotic motions and spin faster as they develop into settled disk galaxies. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Please note: The closing time-lapse in this video is Copyright
Simulations such as this will help astronomers better understand the new findings in galaxy evolution. It tracks the development of a single disk galaxy over about 13.5 billion years, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present time. Colors indicate old stars (red), young stars (white and bright blue) and the distribution of gas density (pale blue); the view is 300,000 light-years across. The simulation ran on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and required about 1 million CPU hours. It assumes a universe dominated by dark energy and dark matter.
Credit: F. Governato and T. Quinn (Univ. of Washington), A. Brooks (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison), and J. Wadsley (McMaster Univ.).
This plot shows the fractions of settled disk galaxies in four time spans, each about 3 billion years long. There is a steady shift toward higher percentages of settled galaxies closer to the present time. At any given time, the most massive galaxies are the most settled. More distant and less massive galaxies on average exhibit more disorganized internal motions, with gas moving in multiple directions, and slower rotation speeds.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
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Galaxy Evolution Patterns
Friday, October 19, 2012 at 4:00AM
Produced by - Robert Crippen