Tag Archives: Galaxies

Video of the “Story of Light” in Vivid Sydney 2016

Following the success of our sold-out Event “The Story of Light – The Astronomer’s Perspective” for ViVID Sydney Ideas 2015, the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) continued its collaboration with ViVID Sydney 2016 organizing “The Story of Light – Deciphering the data encoded on the cosmic light”. But actually it was me who was in charge of the organization.

The five astronomers speaking during our “Sydney Vivid Ideas: The Story of Light” started at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 29th May 2016. From left to right: Luke Barnes, Alan Duffy, Vanessa Moss, Liz Mannering and Ángel López-Sánchez. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

The event was held at the PowerHouse Museum in Sydney on Sunday 29th May 2016. More than 160 people attended this special event. Five young astronomers (me included) talked about Astronomy and Big Data: the light and light-based technologies developed in Australian astronomy for both optical and radio telescopes; the tools, platforms, and techniques used for data analysis and visualization; how astronomers create simulation data; how some of these techniques are being used in other research areas; and the major scientific contributions toward our understanding of the Universe. Indeed, astronomers have been pioneers in developing “Data Science” techniques to make sense of this huge data deluge, many of which are now used in other areas.

We recorded all the event in video, and it is now publicly available  in the AAO YouTube channel. Some photos of the event are also compiled below. I want to thank AAO/ITSO Research Astronomer Caroline Foster for helping recording and editing the video and Jenny Ghabache (AAO) for taking the photos of the event.

Full recording of the event “The Story of Light 2016: Deciphering the data encoded on the cosmic light” organised by the AAO for Vivid Sydney Ideas 2016. Credit: AAO. Acknowledgment: Caroline Foster (AAO).

The event was hosted by Alan Duffy (Swinburne University). I was in charge of explaining optical astronomy, the AAO, optical surveys and big data. Then my colleagues  Vanessa Moss (Univ of Sydney/CAASTRO), Luke Barnes (Univ. of Sydney) and Liz Mannering (AAO/ICRAR) discussed radio astronomy, the ASKAP and big data (Vanessa), simulating, analysing and visualizing astronomy data (Luke) and astronomy data archive, the All-Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO) and other virtual observatories (Liz ). After the short 12-15 minutes talks (well, as usual I took a bit more time), the panel welcomed questions from the audience (and even from Twitter using #SoLSydneyIdeas) for a discussion session about Light and Astronomy and the Australian contribution to the improvement of our understanding of the Universe.

The Lecture Theatre a few minutes before our “Sydney Vivid Ideas: The Story of Light” started at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 29th May 2016. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

Our host, Alan Duffy, introducing the event. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

AAO/MQU Research Astronomer Ángel R. López-Sánchez talking about optical astronomy, the AAO and big data. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

Vanessa Moss (Univ. of Sydney/CAASTRO) talking about radioastronomy, the ASKAP and big data. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

Luke Barnes (Univ. of Sydney) talking about simulating, analysing and visualizing astronomy data. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

Liz Mannering (Univ. of Sydney) discussed astronomy data archive, the All-Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO) and other virtual observatories. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

Panel discussion with all participants answering questions from the audience. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

Angel Lopez-Sanchez answering a question from the audience. Photo credit: Jenny Ghabache (AAO).

And last… Well, if you want to see only my talk, here it is:

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Citizen scientists discover huge galaxy cluster

One of the scientific projects I’m involved actually is a citizen science program: Radio Galaxy Zoo. Using images from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope (WISE) and the NRAO Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, USA,  Radio Galaxy Zoo requests participants to associate radio emission (which is related to the relativistic electrons ejected from a massive black hole) with galaxies as seen in infrared light. The aim is to get a better understanding of the super-massive black holes that are located in the center of the galaxies and quantify their importance in galaxy evolution.

My colleagues Julie Banfield (Australian National University) and Ivy Wong  (ICRAR and University of Western Australia) lead the Radio Galaxy Zoo (RGZ) team, that was launched on December 2013. Since then, more than 10,000 volunteers have joined in with Radio Galaxy Zoo, classifying over 1.6 million images.

The wide-angle tail galaxy discovered by Terentev and Matorny is one of the largest known, and its host cluster is now known as the Matorny-Terentev cluster. Credit: Radio Galaxy Zoo.

The wide-angle tail galaxy discovered by Terentev and Matorny is one of the largest known, and its host cluster is now known as the Matorny-Terentev cluster. Credit: Radio Galaxy Zoo.

Well, the news is that two RGZ volunteer participants from Russia, Ivan Terentev and Tim Matorny, have discovered a rare galaxy cluster. They found that one particular radio-source had just one of a line of radio blobs that delineate a C-shaped “wide angle tail galaxy” (WAT). The C-shaped was formed because the massive galaxy hosting the super-massive black hole and its associated jets are moving through intergalactic gas, indicating the existence of a cluster of galaxies. The new wide-angle tail galaxy is one of the largest known, and its host cluster is now known as the Matorny-Terentev cluster.

The details of this discovery has been published this week in the prestigious scientific journal MNRAS, the paper “Radio Galaxy Zoo: discovery of a poor cluster through a giant wide-angle tail radio galaxy” was lead by Julie Banfield (ANU).

There is plenty of information in the Radio Galaxy Zoo webpage, the  CAASTRO Press Release and in this nice Article in “The Conversation” by Ray Norris (CSIRO/Western Sydney University and PI of the EMU project to be conducted in the ASKAP), so I’ll just add here the nice interview to Ivy Wong  (ICRAR and University of Western Australia) in Ten News Australia yesterday.

More information:

A year since the “Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies” Conference

I cannot believe a FULL YEAR has already gone since the “Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies” Conference happened. And I have never found the time to just describe how much work this was for me, and at the success of this meeting. At least let me share today the article I wrote for “The Observer”, the AAO Newsletter.

 
The Southern Cross Astrophysics Conferences, which are jointly supported by the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS), are held annually around Australia with the aim of attracting international experts with wide ranging skills to discuss a particular astrophysical topic. The conference “Multiwavelength dissection of galaxies”, which was held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in  Coogee Beach, Sydney between 24th – 29th May 2015, was the 8th of the Southern Cross Conference Series. This Conference focused on galaxy evolution, combining resolved optical/near-infrared integral field spectroscopy data with other multiwavelength properties (from X-ray to radio) of nearby galaxies plus giving the view of what is known in our Milky Way.

Poster of the Conference "Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies".

Poster of the Conference “Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies”.

Indeed, the number of studies of galaxies using integral field spectroscopy (IFS) is rapidly increasing as a consequence of surveys such as ATLAS-3D, CALIFA, SAMI (that is conducted at the AAT), or MANGA. IFS techniques allow to spatially resolve internal properties of galaxies with unprecedented detail, and therefore they are providing key clues for understanding the structural components of galaxies, their star-formation activity, kinematics, stellar populations, metal distribution, and nuclear activity, as well as how galaxies evolve with time. Nevertheless, for a complete picture of how galaxies work it is crucial to use other multi-wavelength results, targeting galaxies in X-ray, ultraviolet, infrared, and radio frequencies. In particular, HI radio-surveys such as HIPASS, LVHIS, THINGS, Little-THINGS, ALFALFA, HALOGAS or WALLABY are essential to trace the neutral gas content of galaxies, as the 21 cm HI radio data provide key information about how the cold gas in converted into stars and galaxy dynamics. At the same time we are notably increasing our knowledge of the structure and composition of the Milky Way. This is possible thanks to the combination of very detailed observations of individual stars (such those coming from the RAVE survey conducted at the 1.2m UKST or the on-going GALAH survey at the AAT using the new high-resolution HERMES spectrograph), detailed analyses of Galactic nebulae, large field studies of the interstellar medium, and surveys searching for the diffuse gas with and around our Galaxy.

Hence, the aim of the “Multiwavelength dissection of galaxies” Conference was to bring together international experts in both Galactic and extragalactic astronomy to discuss the different components of a galaxy: stars, gas, dust, and dark matter, and where these components are found within and around galaxies, from both an observational (from radio to X-rays, but with a fundamental optical IFS component) and a theoretical point of view (from the most recent simulations of galaxy assembly to models reproducing the chemical evolution of galaxies), with the final objective of getting a better understanding on the processes that rule the evolution of the galaxies.

Conference Photo with the majority of the participants to the “Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies” meeting, 24th - 29th  May 2015. The background is an image of the Southern sky showing the Southern Cross and the Pointers. Credit: Conference Photo: Andy Green (AAO), Background image & composition: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

Conference Photo with the majority of the participants to the “Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies” meeting, 24th – 29th May 2015. The background is an image of the Southern sky showing the Southern Cross and the Pointers. Credit: Conference Photo: Andy Green (AAO), Background image & composition: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

Around 120 astronomers all around the globe attended to this Conference. In five days we had 94 talks, including 27 invited talks and a Summary talk, and 26 poster contributions. Highlight invited talks were given by Rosemary Wyse (The Structure of the Milky Way), Naomi McClure-Griffiths (Neutral gas in and around the Milky Way), Baerbel Koribalski (Diffuse gas in and around galaxies), Christy Tremonti (Measuring Gas Accretion and Outflow Signatures with MaNGA), César Esteban (Ionized gas in the Milky Way), Evan Skillman (The Chemical Properties of the ISM of Nearby Galaxies), Sarah Martell (Introduction to the GALAH Survey), Geraint Lewis (Galactic Archeology in the Local Group), Alessandro Boselli (The dust emission properties of nearby galaxies after Herschel), Jakob Walcher (News about the interstellar medium in galaxies from the CALIFA survey), Stas Shabala (Resolving the mysteries of AGN feedback:radio jets, galaxies and citizen science), Joss Bland-Hawthorn (Near Field Cosmology), Martin Asplund (The Gaia-ESO survey), Richard Bower (The EAGLE Universe), Lisa Kewley (SAMI Science) and Molly Peeples (A Multiwavelength View of the Circumgalactic Medium).

We also organised a “Poster Contest”: participants were asked to vote for their 2 favourite posters, and they got a short (10 minutes) talk during the last session of the Conference. The winners were two PhD students: Christina Baldwin (Macquarie University, Australia, with the poster “Early-Type Galaxy Stellar Populations in the Near-Infrared”) and Manuel Emilio Moreno-Raya (Universidad Complutense Madrid and CIEMAT, Spain, with the poster “Dependence of SNe Ia absolute magnitudes on the host galaxies elemental gas-phase abundances”).

We have compiled all scientific presentations at the Conference Webpage:

http://www.aao.gov.au/conference/multiwavelength-dissection-of-galaxies

Furthermore, participants were very active in Twitter, that followed the hashtag of the Conference #MDGal15, allowing a wider diffusion of the main results speakers were presenting. We have also compiled all tweets in a Storify for each day, they are available in our website.

Besides the scientific talks, participants enjoyed the social events we organised for the Conference, including a Welcome Cocktail Cruise on Sunday 24th May (delegates enjoyed not only the great views of Sydney Harbour but also a starry sky and the famous ViVID Lights Sydney Festival), a Wine Tasting event on Tuesday 26th, an outdoors barbecue and a visit to Sydney Observatory and Stargazing on Wednesday 27th May, and the Conference Dinner on Thursday 28th May, which was held at the Spanish restaurant “Postales” in famous Martin Place, Sydney. Furthermore, the AAO organised the Public Event “The Story of Light: The Astronomer’s Perspective” on Sunday 24th May at the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney). This event, which was fully booked, was included as part of the ViVID Festival and connected the International Year of Light 2015 with our Conference.

Overall, we considered it was a great Conference and some important and controversial research topics were actually discussed during those five days, generating new ideas and projects, and many new collaborations between participants (even between Galactic and extragalactic astronomers) started there.

Finally, I would like to thank the impeccable organisation of the staff at Crown Plaza Hotel, as everything worked very smoothly and we didn’t have any problems at all during our Conference. In particular, coffee breaks and lunches were very well attended, and we really enjoyed a great quality food. Of course, I also must thank all the members of the LOC and the SOC committees for their invaluable help organising this Conference. In particular, I would like to thank Helen Woods (AAO) for her enormous effort and Andrew Hopkins and AAO’s Director, Warrick Couch, for their strong support to this meeting.

Spiral galaxy NGC 4027 with AAT: an outreach exercise

During this week I’m curator of the @astrotweep, a Twitter account that each week features an astronomer or planetary scientist taking about their research, science and life. I’m having a lot of fun with it, although I have to recognize it is extra work.

I chose to do it this week because there are some few things happening. In particular, I’m supporting observations at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia) using the 2dF / HERMES instruments. I thought it would be nice to be tweeting life how observations are doing. And that is precisely what I’ve doing today.

On top of that, “this morning” I had an idea. As we always have some “free time” at the AAT after completing the “2dF first night setup” (1) I decided to observe a nice bright deep sky object and get a nice image with the AAT. I was starting to search for a suitable target, but then I though, why don’t I ask the public what do they want to observe?

After consulting with my supervisors and getting the OK to do this, I initiated a poll in both @astrotweeps and @AAOastro asking the public to vote for one of the four following astro objects:

  1. The elliptical galaxy NGC 2865.
  2. The planetary nebula NGC 4361.
  3. The warped and almost edge-on spiral galaxy ESO 510-G13.
  4. The barred spiral galaxy NGC 4027.

For around 8 hours people were casting their vote, we received 153 unique votes in total combining the @AAOastro and the @astrotweets accounts.

And the winner (2) was… the barred spiral galaxy NGC 4027!

But surprises didn’t end here. In the afternoon, when I was starting to prepare the instruments for the night (I’m conducting observations remotely from Sydney), I explained to astronomers and technicians at the AAT what we were doing. Rob Paterson, our afternoon technician, then told me “Do you know we already have the new CCD camera installed in 2dF and just waiting for testing it?

Let me explain why I was so excited when I heard this. For years the 2dF instrument has had an auxiliary camera, the FPI camera, that we use for properly positioning 2dF in the requested field. Rarely it has been used for science, as it is just a 516×516 pixels camera without filters. Occasionally I have also used it for getting some images of deep sky objects. But, as it has no filters, I had to get the color of the images elsewhere, usually taking archive data taken with other telescopes. But the new CCD camera in 2dF does have filters!

Rob phoned Steve Lee, the head of the Night Assistants at the AAT, and with Bob Dean the three of them managed to prepare CACTI (that is the name of the new camera) to have it ready for us.

Although there is still a lot to be done and tests to be conducted, the very first images I got this evening are quite promising. Here is the final result:

Spiral galaxy NGC 4027 located at around 75 million light years in Corvus (The Crow). This barred spiral galaxy, also identified as Arp 22, is identified as a peculiar galaxy by the extended arm, thought to be the result of a collision with another galaxy millions of years ago. This image is the “First Light” of the new CACTI camera in 2dF @ 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope. Color image using B (4 x 120 s, blue) + V (6 x 60 s, green) + R (6 x 60 s, red) filters. The data were taken on 11 May 2016 as part of an “outreach exercise” via social media. Click here to get a higher resolution image. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ) & Steve Lee, Robert Paterson & Robert Dean (AAO). Night assistant at the AAT: Andre Phillips (AAO).

Note that this image, that actually is the “first light” of the CACTI camera, only combines 6 minutes in V and R and 8 minutes in B, that is, it is not deep at all. Furthermore not extra calibrations were taken (some flatfield images would have been nice). The deep image obtained by the 3.6m NTT telescope (ESO La Silla Observatory, Chile) provides many more details and resolution… but of course they were using the EFOSC instrument, which was specifically designed for deep imaging in optical filters. And the  image of NGC 4027 obtained by David Malin (AAO) using photographic plates at the AAT in 1982 is much more colorful.

But I still think it is a pretty result, particularly as this new image of NGC 4027 was obtained as a completely improvised “outreach exercise” using social media, in which 153 people voted for their favorite object to be observed at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope.

I really hope to repeat this exercise soon.

(1) A 2dF Plate must be configured with a scientific field, that is, allocating ~350 optical fibres to different objects in the sky. This takes ~ 20-30 minutes.

(2) Just to provide the details of the votes, see table below:

OBJECT    @Astrotweeps   @AAOastro       COMBINED

NGC 2865               5                  4                    9    ( 6% )

NGC 4361            36                   9                   45   (29%)

ESO 510-G13      36                  7                     43   (28%)

NGC 4027           36                20                    56   (37%)

TOTAL              113                 40                   153

CALIFA: City of Light

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

Next April 2016 the Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field spectroscopy Area (CALIFA) survey will make public to the international astronomical community the datacubes belonging to 600 galaxies observed by this survey using the PMAS (Potsdam Multi Aperture Spectrophotometer) spectrograph, that is installed at the 3.5m Telescope at Calar Alto Observatory (Almería, Spain). The release of the CALIFA DR3 (“Data Release 3”) will be coincident with this interesting Conference in Cozumel (Mexico).

My friend Rubén García-Benito (IAA-CSIC) has prepared the following “teaser” of the CALIFA DR3, which uses a 3D movie he has prepared using the CALIFA data. The teaser, entitled “CALIFA: City of Light”, is available in Youtube and in YouKu (for Chinese astronomers):

“CALIFA: City of Light”, teaser announcing the release of CALIFA DR3 in April 2016, that will make publish the 3D data of 600 galaxies observed for this survey. Credit: Rubén García-Benito (IAA-CSIC)

I think it is a quite original idea for giving a bit of extra publicity to the CALIFA DR3, don’t you think so?

Related Posts

Dissecting galaxies of the Local Universe with the CALIFA survey, 1 October 2014.

Kathryn’s Wheel: A ring of fireworks around a nearby galactic collision

Story based on the news release about Kathryn’s Wheel I prepared for the Australian Astronomical Observatory webpage.

The majority of the galaxies in the Universe can be classified into two well-distinguished classes: spiral galaxies (as our own Milky Way Galaxy) or elliptical galaxies. Spiral galaxies have on-going star-formation activity, possess a lot of young, blue stars, and are rich in gas and dust. However elliptical galaxies are just made up of old stars, with no signs of star formation, gas and dust. Besides these two large galaxy classes, some galaxies are found to have irregular or disturbed morphologies. That is certainly the case of many dwarf galaxies. A disturbed morphology is typically indicating a galaxy that has experienced an interaction with a nearby companion object. Indeed, all galaxies are experiencing interactions and mergers with other galaxies during their life time: the theory currently accepted about how galaxies grow and evolve naturally explains the building of spiral galaxies as mergers of dwarf galaxies, and the birth of an elliptical galaxy after the merger of two spiral galaxies. This will actually be the final destiny of our Milky Way, when it is colliding and merging with the Andromeda galaxy in around 4.5 billions years from now.

When galaxies collide, stars and gas are pulled out from them by gravity, and long tails of material stripped from the parent galaxies are formed. Famous galaxies in interaction developing these long “tidal tails” are the Mice Galaxies (NGC 4676) and the Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/4039). Very rarely, the geometry of the galaxy encounter is such that a small galaxy passes through the centre of a spiral galaxy creating a collisional ring galaxy. The ring structure is created by a powerful shock wave that sweeps up gas and dust, triggering the formation of new stars as the shock wave moves outwards. The most famous ring galaxy is the Cartwheel (ESO 350-40) galaxy, which is located at 500 million light-years away in the Southern constellation of the Sculptor. However complete ring galaxies are extremely rare in the Universe, only 20 of these objects are known.


Images of the interacting galaxies The Mice (NGC 4676), the Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/4039), and the Cartwheel (ESO 350-40) galaxy. Credit: The Mice: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA, Antennae Galaxies: Robert Gendler, The Cartwheel: ESA/Hubble & NASA.

An international team of astronomers led by Prof. Quentin Parker (The University of Hong Kong / Australian Astronomical Observatory) has discovered a nearby ring galaxy which in some ways is similar to the Cartwheel galaxy but 40 times closer. The system was discovered as part of the observations of the AAO/UK Schmidt Telescope (UKST) Survey for Galactic H-alpha emission. Completed in late 2003, this survey used the 1.2m UKST at Siding Spring Observatory (NSW, Australia) to get wide-field photographic data of the Southern Galactic Plane and the Magellanic Clouds using a H-alpha filter. This special filter is able to trace the gaseous hydrogen (and not the stellar emission) within galaxies, allowing astronomers to detect the ionized gas from nebulae. The survey films were scanned by the SuperCosmos measuring machine at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (UK), to provide the online digital atlas “SuperCOSMOS H-alpha Survey” (SHS). When using this survey to search for new, undiscovered planetary nebulae (dying stars which often show ring morphologies in nebular emission) in the Milky Way, the team realised that a very peculiar of these structures was actually found around a nearby galaxy, ESO 179-13, located in the Ara (the Altar) constellation. The reason why this magnificent collisional ring structure has been unknown by astronomers is that it is located behind a dense star field (this area of the sky is very close to the Galactic plane, where the majority of the Milky Way stars are located) and very close to a bright foreground star.

Discovery images of the “Kathryn’s Wheel” using the data obtained at the 1.2m UKST by the “SuperCOSMOS H-alpha Survey” (SHS). The left panel (SR) shows the red image tracing mainly the stars. The three main components of the system are labelled. The central panel shows the image using the H-alpha filter (Hα), which sees both the diffuse ionized gas and the stars. The right panel (Hα-SR) shows the continuum-substracted image of the system, revealing for the very first time the intense collisional star-forming ring. Image credit: Quentin Parker / the research team.

The discovery SHS images of the system reveal 3 main structures (A, B and C) plus tens of H-alpha emitting knots making the ring. Component A is the remnant of the main galaxy, the collisional ring is centered on it. Component A does not possess ionized gas (that is, it does not have star-formation at the moment). On the other hand, component B seems to be the irregular, dwarf galaxy (“the bullet”) that impacted with the main galaxy. Component B does possess a clumpy and intense H-alpha emission.

Astronomers have dubbed this ring galaxy as “Kathryn’s Wheel” in honour of the wife of one of the discoverers, Prof. Albert Zijlstra, (University of Manchester, UK). Kathryn’s Wheel lies at a distance of 30 million light years away, and therefore it is an ideal target for detailed studies aiming to understand how these rare collisional ring galaxies are formed, the physics behind these structures, and their role in galaxy evolution. Interestingly, the collisional ring is not very massive: its mass is only a few thousand million Suns. This is less than ~1% of the Milky Way mass, indicating that ring galaxies can be formed around small galaxies, something that was not considered so far.

(Left) Colour image of the collision, made by combining data obtained at the Cerro-Tololo InterAmerican Observatory (CTIO) 4-metre telescope in Chile. The H-alpha image is shown in red and reveals the star-forming ring around the galaxy ESO 179-13, that has been dubbed “Kathryn’s Wheel”. Image credit: Ivan Bojicic / the research team. (Right) Image showing only the pure H-alpha emission of the system highlighting just the areas of active star formation. For clarity any remaining stellar residuals have been removed. Image credit: Quentin Parker / the research team.

Furthermore, the galaxy possesses a lot of diffuse, neutral hydrogen in its surroundings. This cold gas is the raw fuel that galaxies need to create new stars. Observations using the 64-m Parkes radiotelescope (“The Dish”, Parkes, NSW) as part of the “HI Parkes All-Sky Survey” (HIPASS) revealed that the amount of neutral gas around Kathryn’s Wheel is similar to the amount of mass found in stars in the system. Astronomers are unsure about from where this cold gas is coming from, although they suspect it mainly belonged to the main galaxy before the collision started. However, as the remnant of the galaxy (component A) does not have star-formation at the moment, it seems that the diffuse gas has been expelled from the centre of the system to the outskirts of the galaxy.

The results were published in MNRAS in August 2015.
MNRAS 452, 3759–3775 (2015) doi:10.1093/mnras/stv1432
Kathryn’s Wheel: a spectacular galaxy collision discovered in the Galactic neighbourhood
Authors: Quentin A. Parker, Albert A. Zijlstra, Milorad Stupar, Michelle Cluver, David J. Frew, George Bendo and Ivan Bojicic

Gas, star-formation and chemical enrichment in the spiral galaxy NGC 1512

How do galaxies grow and evolve? Galaxies are made of gas and stars, which interact in very complex ways: gas form stars, stars die and release chemical elements into the galaxy, some stars and gas can be lost from the galaxy, some gas and stars can be accreted from the intergalactic medium. The current accepted theory is that galaxies build their stellar component using their available gas while they increase their amount of chemical elements in the process. But how do they do this?

That is part of my current astrophysical research: how gas is processed inside galaxies? What is the chemical composition of the gas? How does star-formation happen in galaxies? How galaxies evolve? Today, 21st May 2015, the prestigious journal “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society”, publishes my most recent scientific paper, that tries to provide some answers to these questions. This study has been performed with my friends and colleagues Tobias Westmeier (ICRAR), Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO), and César Esteban (IAC, Spain). We present new, unique observations using the 2dF instrument at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), in combination with radio data obtained with the Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) radio-interferometer, to study how the gas in processed into stars and how much chemical enrichment has this gas experienced in a nearby galaxy, NGC 1512.

Deep images of the galaxy pair NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 using optical light (left) and ultraviolet light (right).Credit: Optical image: David Malin (AAO) using photographic plates obtained in 1975 using de 1.2m UK Schmidt Telescope (Siding Spring Observatory, Australia). UV image: GALEX satellite (NASA), image combining data in far-ultraviolet (blue) and near-ultraviolet (red) filters.

NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 is an interacting galaxy pair composed by a spiral galaxy (NGC 1512) and a Blue Compact Dwarf Galaxy (NGC 1510) located at 9.5 Mpc (=31 million light years). The system possesses hundreds of star-forming regions in the outer areas, as it was revealed using ultraviolet (UV) data provided by the GALEX satellite (NASA). Indeed, the UV-bright regions in the outskirts of NGC 1512 build an “eXtended UV disc” (XUV-disc), a feature that has been observed around the 15% of the nearby spiral galaxies. However these regions were firstly detected by famous astronomer David Malin (AAO) in 1975 (that is before I was born!) using photographic plates obtained with the 1.2m UK Schmidt Telescope (AAO), at Siding Spring Observatory (NSW, Australia).

The system has a lot of diffuse gas, as revealed by radio observations in the 21 cm HI line conducted at the Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) as part of the “Local Volume HI Survey” (LVHIS) and presented by Koribalski & López-Sánchez (2009). The gas follows two long spiral structures up to more than 250 000 light years from the centre of NGC 1512. That is ~2.5 times the size of the Milky Way, but NGC 1512 is ~3 times smaller than our Galaxy! One of these structures has been somehow disrupted recently because of the interaction between NGC 1512 and NGC 1510, that it is estimated started around 400 million years ago.

Multiwavelength image of the NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 system combining optical and near-infrared data (light blue, yellow, orange), ultraviolet data from GALEX (dark blue), mid-infrared data from the Spitzer satellite (red) and radio data from the ATCA (green). The blue compact dwarf galaxy NGC 1510 is the bright point-like object located at the bottom right of the spiral galaxy NGC 1512.
Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ) & Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO).

Our study presents new, deep spectroscopical observations of 136 genuine UV-bright knots in the NGC 1512/1510 system using the powerful multi-fibre instrument 2dF and the spectrograph AAOmega, installed at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT).

2dF/AAOmega is generally used by astronomers to observe simultaneously hundreds of individual stars in the Milky Way or hundreds of galaxies. Without considering observations in the Magellanic Clouds, it is the first time that 2dF/AAOmega is used to trace individual star-forming regions within the same galaxy, in some way forming a huge “Integral-Field Unit” (IFU) to observe all the important parts of the galaxy.

Two examples of the high-quality spectra obtained using the AAT. Top: spectrum of the BCDG NGC 1510. Bottom: spectrum of one of the brightest UV-bright regions in the system. The important emission lines are labelled.
Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ), Tobias Westmeier (ICRAR), César Esteban (IAC) & Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO).


The AAT observations confirm that the majority of the UV-bright regions are star-forming regions. Some of the bright knots (those which are usually not coincident with the neutral gas) are actually background galaxies (i.e., objects much further than NGC 1512 and not physically related to it) showing strong star-formation activity. Observations also revealed a knot to be a very blue young star within our Galaxy.

Using the peak of the H-alpha emission, the AAT data allow to trace how the gas is moving in each of the observed UV-rich region (their “kinematics”), and compare with the movement of the diffuse gas as provided using the ATCA data. The two kinematics maps provide basically the same results, except for one region (black circle) that shows a very different behaviour. This object might be an independent, dwarf, low-luminosity galaxy (as seen from the H-alpha emission) that is in process of accretion into NGC 1512.

Map showing the velocity field of the galaxy pair NGC 1512 / NGC 1510 as determined using the H-alpha emission provided by the AAT data. This kinematic map is almost identical to that obtained from the neutras gas (HI) data using the ATCA, except for a particular region (noted by a black circle) that shows very different kinematics when comparing the maps.
Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ), Tobias Westmeier (ICRAR), César Esteban (IAC) & Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO).

The H-alpha map shows how the gas is moving following the optical emission lines up to 250 000 light years from the centre of NGC 1512, that is 6.6 times the optical size of the galaxy. No other IFU map has been obtained before with such characteristics.

Using the emission lines detected in the optical spectra, which includes H I, [O II], [O III], [N II], [S II] lines (lines of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur), we are able to trace the chemical composition -the “metallicity”, as in Astronomy all elements which are not hydrogen or helium as defined as “metals”- of the gas within this UV-bright regions. Only hydrogen and helium were created in the Big Bang. All the other elements have been formed inside the stars as a consequence of nuclear reactions or by the actions of the stars (e.g., supernovae). The new elements created by the stars are released into the interstellar medium of the galaxies when they die, and mix with the diffuse gas to form new stars, that now will have a richer chemical composition than the previous generation of stars. Hence, tracing the amount of metals (usually oxygen) within galaxies indicate how much the gas has been re-processed into stars.


Metallicity map of the NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 system, as given by the amount of oxygen in the star-forming regions (oxygen abundance, O/H). The colours indicate how much oxygen (blue: few, green: intermediate, red: many) each region has. Red diamonds indicate the central, metal rich regions of NGC 1512. Circles trace a long, undisturbed, metal-poor arm. Triangles and squares follow the other spiral arms, which is been broken and disturbed as a consequence of the interaction between NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 (blue star). The blue pentagon within the box in the bottom right corner represents the farthest region of the system, located at 250 000 light years from the centre.
Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ), Tobias Westmeier (ICRAR), César Esteban (IAC) & Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO).


The “chemical composition map” or “metallicity map” of the system reveals that indeed the centre of NGC 1512 has a lot of metals (red diamonds in the figure), in a proportion similar to those found around the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. However the external areas show two different behaviours: regions located along one spiral arm (left in the map) have low amount of metals (blue circles), while regions located in other spiral arm (right) have a chemical composition which is intermediate between those found in the centre and in the other arm (green squares and green triangles). Furthermore, all regions along the extended “blue arm” show very similar metallicities, while the “green arm” also has some regions with low (blue) and high (orange and red) metallicities. The reason of this behaviour is that the gas along the “green arm” has been very recently enriched by star-formation activity, which was triggered by the interaction with the Blue Compact Dwarf galaxy NGC 1510 (blue star in the map).

When combining the available ultraviolet and radio data with the new AAT optical data it is possible to estimate the amount of chemical enrichment that the system has experienced. This analysis allows to conclude that the diffuse gas located in the external regions of NGC 1512 was already chemically rich before the interaction with NGC 1510 started about 400 million years ago. That is, the diffuse gas that NGC 1512 possesses in its outer regions is not pristine (formed in the Big Bang) but it has been already processed by previous generations of stars. The data suggest that the metals within the diffuse gas are not coming from the inner regions of the galaxy but very probably they have been accreted during the life of the galaxy either by absorbing low-mass, gas-rich galaxies or by accreting diffuse intergalactic gas that was previously enriched by metals lost by other galaxies.

In any case this result constrains our models of galaxy evolution. When used together, the analysis of the diffuse gas (as seen using radio telescopes) and the study of the metal distribution within galaxies (as given by optical telescopes) provide a very powerful tool to disentangle the nature and evolution of the galaxies we now observe in the Local Universe.

More information

Scientific Paper in MNRAS: “Ionized gas in the XUV disc of the NGC 1512/1510 system”. Á. R. López-Sánchez, T. Westmeier, C. Esteban, and B. S. Koribalski.“Ionized gas in the XUV disc of the NGC1512/1510 system”, 2015, MNRAS, 450, 3381. Published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) through Oxford University Press.

AAO/CSIRO/ICRAR Press Release (AAO): Galaxy’s snacking habits revealed

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ATNF Daily Astronomy Picture on 21st May 2015.