Physics | MeerKAT’s Swift scan reveals 49 new galaxies in 3 hours: Science Alert

Area | MeerKAT’s Swift scan reveals 49 new galaxies in 3 hours: Science Alert


Stars are principally shaped from large clouds of hydrogen gasoline floating in house. Astronomers like me examine this gasoline as a result of it helps us perceive how stars and galaxies kind and develop.

Hydrogen gasoline provides off a faint glow that’s invisible to the human eye however might be noticed with telescopes used to detect radio waves.

Just lately, my colleagues and I have been utilizing one such telescope – a radio telescope known as MeerKAT, in South Africa – to seek for hydrogen gasoline in a specific galaxy. We have been solely observing for lower than three hours, which is a really brief time as a result of the hydrogen brightness is so low.

After we noticed the outcomes, we have been in for a giant shock. As a substitute of discovering hydrogen gasoline in our goal galaxy, we noticed it in no fewer than 49 beforehand unknown galaxies. Our outcomes are revealed in Month-to-month Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Gasoline in galaxies

The massive clouds of gasoline wherein stars are born are known as nebulae. When stars ultimately die, they expel their gasoline into their environment, the place it will definitely cools to kind new nebulae.

Galaxies are like large factories the place the life cycle of stars repeats itself over and over. To correctly perceive galaxies and their development and evolution, astronomers want to think about each the celebs and the gasoline that make up the galaxy.

One factor we’re significantly desirous about is “merger occasions,” when two galaxies collide and merge into a bigger galaxy. These occasions also can have an effect on the formation of gasoline, and kick-start stars.

Finding out gasoline can typically assist us perceive the historical past of galaxies. Gasoline is usually rather more diffuse than the celebs in galaxies.

After we see a path of disturbed gasoline, it is a traditional indication {that a} galaxy has lately merged or interacted.

However we do not see galactic gasoline simply with optical telescopes. Fortunately, radio telescopes are a superb software for locating hydrogen gasoline.

Image of several large white radio dishes standing in a field.
The MeerKAT radio telescope consists of 64 radio dishes that work collectively to behave as one massive telescope.
South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)

Merkat radio telescope

The MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa lately celebrated its fifth anniversary. It is among the “pathfinder” telescopes for the Very Massive Sq. Kilometer Array (SKA), a challenge underneath development in South Africa and Australia.

MeerKAT has already achieved some spectacular outcomes, from detecting large radio galaxies to learning the middle of our personal galaxy, the Milky Method.

Bigger survey initiatives are underway with MeerKAT to check star-forming hydrogen gasoline in galaxies. These embrace the MIGHTEE-HI and LADUMA surveys, the latter of which is able to use MeerKAT to go looking a piece of the sky for hydrogen gasoline in distant galaxies for greater than 3,000 hours.

These surveys are particularly targeted on the seek for hydrogen gasoline and are fastidiously deliberate and executed with this purpose in thoughts.

However that is not the one method MeerKAT can be utilized. Astronomers also can provide you with concepts for “open time” observations to handle different science questions or objectives.

Thus it was found. I hoped to detect hydrogen gasoline in a selected galaxy with MeerKAT, as it’s the most delicate telescope for these research.

We didn’t discover hydrogen gasoline on this galaxy, which was high-quality. We astronomers do not at all times discover what we’re on the lookout for.

However once I examined the MeerKAT information, I noticed some gasoline removed from the goal galaxy. So we investigated additional.

Utilizing methods developed for big MeerKAT science surveys like Laduma, we discovered a variety of gasoline. In whole, we had 49 detections.

An image of a field of stars with small loops of colored lines.
49 new gas-rich galaxies found by the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. Every detection is proven as coloured contours, with purple colours indicating gasoline farther away from us, and blue colours indicating close by gasoline. The background picture comes from the optical PanSTARRS survey. (Glowacki et al. 2024).

Meet the 49ers

Every hint of gasoline in these galaxies was utterly new. In simply over two hours of observing, MirKate revealed a number of clusters of neighboring galaxies.

A few of these neighbors are even interacting with one another, as their gasoline content material reveals. It wasn’t apparent simply by taking a look at optical pictures of their stars.

In a single case, one galaxy is stealing gasoline from two companion galaxies, and utilizing it to gas its personal star formation.

Physics | MeerKAT's Swift scan reveals 49 new galaxies in 3 hours: Science Alert
Examples of particular person gasoline identifications detected by MeerKAT (white determine) above a three-color optical picture from the DECaLS DR10 survey. The gasoline seen right here is rather more unfold out than the celebs within the galaxies. (Glowacki et al. 2024).

I’ve informally nicknamed this assortment of galaxies the 49ers, a reference to the miners of the 1849 California Gold Rush.

Whereas MeerKAT took observations containing 49 gold nuggets in just some hours, they wanted a number of different instruments to win.

These included the ilifu cloud supercomputer, the place we decreased the MeerKAT observations (“information discount” is a kind of preprocessing that makes the uncooked observations helpful), and an information visualization software known as CARTA that we used for preliminary discovery. used. The galaxies

We additionally evaluated our information with iDaVIE-v, a digital actuality software program for viewing astronomical datasets in 3D. The software program has already been used for brand spanking new discoveries comparable to polar circle galaxies.

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Extra gold nuggets to be discovered.

Discovering 49 new galaxies in such a brief interval of statement is sort of uncommon, even with a robust telescope like MeerKAT. Nonetheless, we all know that there are extra galaxies in future and present MeerKAT observations.

In newer work, our workforce discovered gasoline signatures in additional than 80 galaxies (principally model new) in three separate MeerKAT observations. Every of those observations was initially targeted on one galaxy, just like the “Open Time” statement wherein we discovered 49ers.

What’s going to we search for subsequent? We do not know, however with MeerKAT – and ultimately its extra highly effective successor, the SKA telescope – we’re positive astronomers will produce many extra nuggets of gold.Conversation

Marcin Glowecki, Analysis Affiliate, Curtin College

This text is republished from The Dialog underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.

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