'Dinosaurs' in space found by PhD student (w/ Video)

Oct 07, 2010

Using Australian telescopes, Swinburne University astronomy student Andy Green has found 'living dinosaurs' in space: galaxies in today's Universe that were thought to have existed only in the distant past.

The report of his finding - Green's first scientific paper - appears on the cover of the 7 October issue of Nature.

"We didn't think these existed. We've found they do, but they are extremely rare," said Professor Karl Glazebrook, Green's thesis supervisor and team leader.

The Swinburne researchers have likened the galaxies to the ‘living dinosaurs' or Wollemi Pines of space - galaxies you just wouldn't expect to find in today's world.

"Their existence has changed our ideas about how star formation is fuelled and understanding star formation is important. Just look at the Big Bang, which is how we all got here," Glazebrook said.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

The galaxies in question look like disks, reminiscent of our own galaxy, but unlike the Milky Way they are physically turbulent and are forming many young stars.

"Such galaxies were thought to exist only in the distant past, ten billion years ago, when the was less than half its present age," Glazebrook said.

"Stars form from gas, and astronomers had proposed that the extremely fast star formation in those ancient galaxies was fuelled by a special mechanism that could exist only in the early Universe - cold streams of gas continually falling in."

But finding the same kind of galaxy in today's Universe means that that mechanism can't be the only way such rapid star formation is fuelled. Instead it seems that when young stars form, they create turbulence in their surrounding gas. The more stars are forming in a galaxy, the more turbulence it has.

"Turbulence affects how fast stars form, so we're seeing stars regulating their own formation," Green said.

"It's a bit like a little girl deciding how many siblings she should have." "We still don't know where the gas to make these stars comes from though," he said.

Understanding star formation is one of the most basic, unsolved problems of astronomy. Another significant aspect of the paper is that it was authored by a PhD student.

As Glazebrook pointed out, being first author of a Nature paper as a student is as rare as the galaxies they've discovered. This is an achievement not lost on the young scientist.

"Nature is one of the most prestigious journals in science. It was a pleasant surprise for our work to receive this kind of accolade," Green said.

The study was based on selected galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a kind of census of modern galaxies.

"We studied extreme galaxies to compare them with the ancient Universe," Green said.

He observed them using the Anglo-Australian (AAT) and the Australian National University's 2.3 metre telescope, both located at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. Professor Matthew Colless, Director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, which operates the AAT, said that the study highlighted the value of the instruments found at Australia's telescopes.

"They are ideal for studying in detail the nearby counterparts of galaxies seen in the distant Universe by the eight and 10 metre telescopes," he said.

For the next stage of his research, Green plans to use one of these 10 metre telescopes - in fact the largest optical telescope in the world at the Keck Observatory - to take an even closer look at the rare galaxies he has discovered.

Green admitted: "Really, we need a bigger telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope, to understand . But, until it's constructed, Keck is the best tool available."

Green's access to the Keck will be possible thanks to Swinburne's agreement with Caltech, which gives the Swinburne astronomers access to the Keck Observatory in Hawaii for up to 20 nights per year.

Explore further: Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

More information: Go to www.nature.com/nature/journal/… ull/nature09452.html

Provided by Swinburne University of Technology

4.4 /5 (8 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Baby booms and birth control in space

Sep 25, 2007

Stars in galaxies are a bit similar to people: during the first phase of their existence they grow rapidly, after which a stellar birth control occurs in most galaxies. Thanks to new observations from Dutch ...

Survey Reveals Building Block Process For Biggest Galaxies

Apr 12, 2006

A new study of the universe's most massive galaxy clusters shows how mergers play a critical role in their evolution. Astronomers used the twin Gemini Observatory instruments in Hawaii and Chile, and the Hubble Space Telescope ...

Dwarf galaxy has giant surprise

Jan 12, 2005

Huge gas disk may be similar to stuff of early universe An astronomer studying small irregular galaxies has discovered a remarkable feature in one of them that may provide key clues to understanding how galaxies form and ...

Astronomers put forward new theory of galaxy formation

Feb 02, 2005

How and when did galaxies form? How and when did stars form in these island-like universes? These questions are still posing a considerable challenge to present-day astronomers. An international team of astronomers, ...

Recommended for you

Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

22 hours ago

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the Star of Wonder that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was ...

Hubbles spies the beautiful galaxy IC 335

23 hours ago

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the galaxy IC 335 in front of a backdrop of distant galaxies. IC 335 is part of a galaxy group containing three other galaxies, and located in the Fornax ...

Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

Dec 22, 2014

Most celestial events unfold over thousands of years or more, making it impossible to follow their evolution on human timescales. Supernovas are notable exceptions, the powerful stellar explosions that make ...

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources in starburst galaxies

Dec 22, 2014

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. ULXs are rare. Most galaxies (including ...

When a bright light fades

Dec 22, 2014

Astronomer Charles Telesco is primarily interested in the creation of planets and stars. So, when the University of Florida's giant telescope was pointed at a star undergoing a magnificent and explosive death, ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JamesThomas
not rated yet Oct 07, 2010
Congratulations to both Professor Karl Glazebrook, and Andy Green.
vidar_lund
not rated yet Oct 10, 2010
Amazing achievement of a student, this guy will be able to pick any job he likes.
MrPressure
Oct 13, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.