Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Galaxy growth spurts explained: Young galaxies can grow by sucking in cool gas

Date:
October 14, 2010
Source:
ESO
Summary:
New observations from ESO's Very Large Telescope have, for the first time, provided direct evidence that young galaxies can grow by sucking in the cool gas around them and using it as fuel for the formation of many new stars. In the first few billion years after the Big Bang the mass of a typical galaxy increased dramatically and understanding why this happened is one of the hottest problems in modern astrophysics.

This artist's impression shows a young galaxy, about two billion years after the Big Bang, accreting material from the surrounding hydrogen and helium gas and forming many young stars. New results from ESO's Very Large Telescope have provided the first direct evidence that the accretion of pristine gas alone, without the need for violent major mergers, can fuel vigorous star formation and the growth of massive galaxies in the young universe.
Credit: ESO/L. Calηada

The first galaxies formed before the Universe was less than one billion years old and were much smaller than the giant systems -- including the Milky Way -- that we see today. So somehow the average galaxy size has increased as the Universe has evolved. Galaxies often collide and then merge to form larger systems and this process is certainly an important growth mechanism. However, an additional, gentler way has been proposed.

Related Articles


A European team of astronomers has used ESO's Very Large Telescope to test this very different idea -- that young galaxies can also grow by sucking in cool streams of the hydrogen and helium gas that filled the early Universe and forming new stars from this primitive material. Just as a commercial company can expand either by merging with other companies, or by hiring more staff, young galaxies could perhaps also grow in two different ways -- by merging with other galaxies or by accreting material.

The team leader, Giovanni Cresci (Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri) says: "The new results from the VLT are the first direct evidence that the accretion of pristine gas really happened and was enough to fuel vigorous star formation and the growth of massive galaxies in the young Universe." The discovery will have a major impact on our understanding of the evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to the present day. Theories of galaxy formation and evolution may have to be re-written.

The group began by selecting three very distant galaxies to see if they could find evidence of the flow of pristine gas from the surrounding space and the associated formation of new stars. They were very careful to make sure that their specimen galaxies had not been disturbed by interactions with other galaxies. The selected galaxies were very regular, smoothly rotating discs, similar to the Milky Way, and they were seen about two billion years after the Big Bang (at a redshift of around three).

In galaxies in the modern Universe the heavy elements [1] are more abundant close to the centre. But when Cresci's team mapped their selected distant galaxies with the SINFONI spectrograph on the VLT [2] they were excited to see that in all three cases there was a patch of the galaxy, close to the centre, with fewer heavy elements, but hosting vigorously forming stars, suggesting that the material to fuel the star formation was coming from the surrounding pristine gas that is low in heavy elements. This was the smoking gun that provided the best evidence yet of young galaxies accreting primitive gas and using it to form new generations of stars.

As Cresci concludes: "This study has only been possible because of the outstanding performance of the SINFONI instrument on the VLT. It has opened a new window for studying the chemical properties of very distant galaxies. SINFONI provides information not only in two spatial dimensions, but also in a third, spectral dimension, which allows us to see the internal motions inside galaxies and study the chemical composition of the interstellar gas."

[1] The gas filling the early Universe was almost all hydrogen and helium. The first generations of stars processed this primitive material to create heavier elements such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon by nuclear fusion. When this material was subsequently spewed back into space by intense particle winds from massive young stars and supernova explosions the amounts of heavy elements in the galaxy gradually increased. Astronomers refer to elements other than hydrogen and helium as "heavy elements."

[2] By carefully splitting up the faint light coming from a galaxy into its component colours using powerful telescopes and spectrographs, astronomers can identify the fingerprints of different chemicals in remote galaxies, and measure the amounts of heavy elements present. With the SINFONI instrument on the VLT astronomers can go one better and get a separate spectrum for each part of an object. This allows them to make a map that shows the quantity of heavy elements present in different parts of a galaxy and also determine where in the galaxy star formation is occurring most vigorously.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ESO. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. G. Cresci, F. Mannucci, R. Maiolino, A. Marconi, A. Gnerucci, L. Magrini. Gas accretion as the origin of chemical abundance gradients in distant galaxies. Nature, 2010; 467 (7317): 811 DOI: 10.1038/nature09451

Cite This Page:

ESO. "Galaxy growth spurts explained: Young galaxies can grow by sucking in cool gas." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013131827.htm>.
ESO. (2010, October 14). Galaxy growth spurts explained: Young galaxies can grow by sucking in cool gas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013131827.htm
ESO. "Galaxy growth spurts explained: Young galaxies can grow by sucking in cool gas." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013131827.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Antares Liftoff Explosion

Raw: Antares Liftoff Explosion

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) — Observers near Wallops Island recorded what they thought would be a routine rocket launch Tuesday night. What they recorded was a major rocket explosion shortly after lift off. (Oct 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Russian Cargo Ship Docks at Space Station

Raw: Russian Cargo Ship Docks at Space Station

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) — Just hours after an American cargo run to the International Space Station ended in flames, a Russian supply ship has arrived at the station with a load of fresh supplies. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Journalist Captures Moment of Antares Rocket Explosion

Journalist Captures Moment of Antares Rocket Explosion

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 29, 2014) — A space education journalist is among those who witness and record the explosion of an unmanned Antares rocket seconds after its launch. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rocket Explosion Under Investigation

Rocket Explosion Under Investigation

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) — NASA and Orbital Sciences officials say they are investigating the explosion of an unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station. It blew up moments after liftoff Tuesday evening over the launch site in Virginia. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
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