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The Spiral Galaxy Enigma --"Grand-Design Galaxies Simply Didn't Exist at Such an Early time in the History of the Universe" (Weekend Feature)

 

 

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In July of 2012, astronomers observed a spiral galaxy in the early universe, billions of years before many other spiral galaxies formed while using the Hubble Space Telescope. "The fact that this galaxy exists is astounding," said David Law, lead author of the study and Dunlap Institute postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics. "Current wisdom holds that such 'grand-design' spiral galaxies simply didn't exist at such an early time in the history of the universe." A 'grand design' galaxy has prominent, well-formed spiral arms. The galaxy, which goes by the not very glamorous name of BX442, is quite large compared with other galaxies from this early time in the universe.

"BX442 looks like a nearby galaxy, but in the early universe, galaxies were colliding together much more frequently," says Alice Shapley, a UCLA associate professor of physics and astronomy. "Gas was raining in from the intergalactic medium and feeding stars that were being formed at a much more rapid rate than they are today; black holes grew at a much more rapid rate as well. The universe today is boring compared to this early time. As you go back in time to the early universe, galaxies look really strange, clumpy and irregular, not symmetric. The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks. Our first thought was, why is this one so different, and so beautiful?"

The astronomers were taking pictures of about 300 very distant galaxies in the early universe to study their properties. This distant spiral galaxy they discovered existed roughly three billion years after the Big Bang, and light from this part of the universe has been traveling to Earth for about 10.7 billion years.

Galaxies in today's universe divide into various types, including spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way, which are rotating disks of stars and gas in which new stars form, and elliptical galaxies, which include older, redder stars moving in random directions. The mix of galaxy structures in the early universe is quite different, with a much greater diversity and larger fraction of irregular galaxies, Shapley said.

To gain deeper insight into their unique image of BX442, Law and Shapley went to the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano and used a unique state-of-the-science instrument called the OSIRIS spectrograph, which was built by James Larkin, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. They studied spectra from some 3,600 locations in and around BX442, which provided valuable information that enabled them to determine that it actually is a rotating spiral galaxy — and not, for example, two galaxies that happened to line up in the image.

"We first thought this could just be an illusion, and that perhaps we were being led astray by the picture," Shapley said. "What we found when we took the spectral image of this galaxy is that the spiral arms do belong to this galaxy. It wasn't an illusion. We were blown away." Law and Shapley also see some evidence of an enormous black hole at the center of the galaxy, which may play a role in the evolution of BX442.

Why does BX442 look like galaxies that are so common today but were so rare back then?

Law and Shapley say the answer may have to do with a companion dwarf galaxy, which the OSIRIS spectrograph reveals as a blob in the upper left portion of the image, and the gravitational interaction between them. Support for this idea is provided by a numerical simulation conducted by Charlotte Christensen, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the research in Nature. Eventually the small galaxy is likely to merge into BX442, Shapley said.

Law, a former Hubble postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, and Shapley will continue to study BX442.

"We want to take pictures of this galaxy at other wavelengths," Shapley said. "That will tell us what type of stars are in every location in the galaxy. We want to map the mixture of stars and gas in BX442."

Shapley said that BX442 represents a link between early galaxies that are much more turbulent and the rotating spiral galaxies that we see around us. "Indeed, this galaxy may highlight the importance of merger interactions at any cosmic epoch in creating grand design spiral structure," she said.

Studying BX442 is likely to help astronomers understand how spiral galaxies like the Milky Way form, Shapley concluded.

The image at the top of the page is an artist's conception of the farthest spiral galaxy ever seen; in a Hubble/Keck image (inset), the blob at upper left is a companion galaxy whose gravity may have sparked the spiral structure. Credit: (left) David Law; (right) Joe Bergeron, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics

The Daily Galaxy via UCLA News and Nature.com

Comments

In essence the development of galaxy no matter how far away is not an indication of age.it might appear that way if you believe in the big bang.

it`s just another indicator about the wrong idea we have about the age of teh Universe. A spiral galaxy doesn`t form on itself, but by colliding 2 galaxyes. How can one speculate there were collisions in teh begining of the Universe? And after that it takes a lot of rotations to create that spiral shape. Our galaxy for example rotates 4 times per billion years, so it had rotated like 20 to 30 times until now, if we believe the age of teh Universe and of our galaxy...How tf can one believe you can create a perfect beautiful spiral in 20 rotations and a perfect flat disc shape? On what stoopid computers did you simulate this ? And now as for the best joke, HOW ON EARTH YOU CAN CREATE THE SAME SHAPE IN ONLY 1 BILLION YEARS OR LESS if our galaxy needed 4 to 8 billion years for that? The amounth of lies of the "scientists" is enormous.

Dear Gaugain: As far as a scientist is concerned the truth is in the numbers. You appear to be speculating based on what you know or don't know about the numbers. A scientist doesn't need to "lie" if there is a conflict with earlier theories; the conflict and the search for a resolution is the whole purpose for a scientist. When I was young many astronomers believed in the "Steady-State" nature of the Universe; as the evidence came in, including the Cosmic Background Radiation, no one "lied" to preserve their old theories. New evidence is the stepping-stone for researchers to move on towards new understanding.

Boom. Gaugain just got served by a brick hammer of real talk.

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