Beautiful in Death

Posted By Pamela on Jan 10, 2008 | 2 comments

Megan Gray of the University of Nottingham (UK) is blowing away my mind with an elegant and articulate press conference on the link between galaxies and their environment. She is using beautiful analogies and I just want to say that if you want a speaker on galaxy evolution and you’re in England (or have a good travel budget), get her. It helps that there are amazing pictures punctuating her lilting scientific story.

Case in point.

Okay, here’s the science. By looking at a section of the sky in the optical, x-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared colors of light, they were able to peer through gas and dust and explore the apparent shapes of galaxies. The thing is, how things appear and how they are actually shaped aren’t always the same thing – gravitational lensing can cause galaxies to appear deformed. My measuring these deformities, we can measure (and they did measure) the distribution of dark matter. When galaxies are in rich environments – where they constantly interact with visible and invisible matter – it effects how the galaxies evolve.

Interactions initially trigger star formation while simultaneously stripping gas and dust out of the interacting systems. This leads to almost all the gas and dust in a system either forming stars or getting removed. After that initial burst of star formation ends, the galaxy if left to die. With the gas effectively removed or used up, it has nothing left to form stars. The majority of the star formation takes place in the suburbs of galaxy clusters, where individual galaxies most often undergo prolonged interactions. (In the center, things are moving fast and don’t interact as long. On the outskirts interactions are rare.) These interacting star forming galaxies are often deformed, bright, and beautiful in their death throes.

This work actually relates to some of the research I’m doing with a student, which I’ll write about later.


  1. Ooh nice. Ain’t it a funny old world though. Bad Astronomy introduces me to your site, which I subscribe to just in time for you guys to head off to Austin, whereupon you report back on a talk given by a lady who’s working in my own home town. I’ll keep an eye out for anything in a similar vein happening locally.

    You’re doing a fine job there feeding my fascination with the field of astronomy. Many thanks.

  2. Steve, I couldn’t have put it better myself!

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