Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How Do Galaxies Grow? Massive Galaxies Caught In The Act Of Merging

Date:
August 26, 2008
Source:
ESO: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere
Summary:
Astronomers have caught multiple massive galaxies in the act of merging about 4 billion years ago. This discovery, made possible by combining the power of the best ground- and space-based telescopes, uniquely supports the favoured theory of how galaxies form.

Composite colour-image of the brightest galaxies in four groups located about 4 billion light-years away. The galaxies are ordered in increasing stellar mass, i.e. a rough time sequence (upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right).
Credit: Image courtesy of ESO

Astronomers have caught multiple massive galaxies in the act of merging about 4 billion years ago. This discovery, made possible by combining the power of the best ground- and space-based telescopes, uniquely supports the favoured theory of how galaxies form.

Related Articles


How do galaxies form? The most widely accepted answer to this fundamental question is the model of 'hierarchical formation', a step-wise process in which small galaxies merge to build larger ones. One can think of the galaxies forming in a similar way to how streams merge to form rivers, and how these rivers, in turn, merge to form an even larger river. This theoretical model predicts that massive galaxies grow through many merging events in their lifetime. But when did their cosmological growth spurts finish? When did the most massive galaxies get most of their mass?

To answer these questions, astronomers study massive galaxies in clusters, the cosmological equivalent of cities filled with galaxies. "Whether the brightest galaxies in clusters grew substantially in the last few billion years is intensely debated. Our observations show that in this time, these galaxies have increased their mass by 50%," says Kim-Vy Tran from the University of Zόrich, Switzerland, who led the research.

The astronomers made use of a large ensemble of telescopes and instruments, including ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Hubble Space Telescope, to study in great detail galaxies located 4 billion light-years away. These galaxies lie in an extraordinary system made of four galaxy groups that will assemble into a cluster.

In particular, the team took images with VIMOS and spectra with FORS2, both instruments on the VLT. From these and other observations, the astronomers could identify a total of 198 galaxies belonging to these four groups.

The brightest galaxies in each group contain between 100 and 1000 billion of stars, a property that makes them comparable to the most massive galaxies belonging to clusters.

"Most surprising is that in three of the four groups, the brightest galaxy also has a bright companion galaxy. These galaxy pairs are merging systems," says Tran.

The brightest galaxy in each group can be ordered in a time sequence that shows how luminous galaxies continue to grow by merging until recently, that is, in the last 5 billion years. It appears that due to the most recent episode of this 'galactic cannibalism', the brightest galaxies became at least 50% more massive.

This discovery provides unique and powerful validation of hierarchical formation as manifested in both galaxy and cluster assembly.

"The stars in these galaxies are already old and so we must conclude that the recent merging did not produce a new generation of stars," concludes Tran. "Most of the stars in these galaxies were born at least 7 billion years ago."

The team is composed of Kim-Vy H. Tran (Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Zόrich, Switzerland), John Moustakas (New York University, USA), Anthony H. Gonzalez and Stefan J. Kautsch (University of Florida, Gainesville, USA), and Lei Bai and Dennis Zaritsky (Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, USA).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ESO: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tran et al. The Late Stellar Assembly of Massive Cluster Galaxies via Major Merging. The Astrophysical Journal, 2008; 683 (1): L17 DOI: 10.1086/591422

Cite This Page:

ESO: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. "How Do Galaxies Grow? Massive Galaxies Caught In The Act Of Merging." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080826080808.htm>.
ESO: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. (2008, August 26). How Do Galaxies Grow? Massive Galaxies Caught In The Act Of Merging. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080826080808.htm
ESO: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. "How Do Galaxies Grow? Massive Galaxies Caught In The Act Of Merging." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080826080808.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) — More than a year after NASA declared the Kepler spacecraft broken beyond repair, scientists have figured out how to continue getting useful data. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) — NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 16, 2014) — NASA's Mars Curiosity rover finds methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic chemicals in the planet's soil, the latest hint that Mars was once suitable for microbial life. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies in China

Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies in China

AFP (Dec. 16, 2014) — The Geminids meteor shower lights up the skies over the Changbai Mountains in northeast China. Duration: 01:03 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins