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.

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 July 31, 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 July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) — The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) — Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) — Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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