Thursday, August 15, 2013
“The rate of star formation was highest about 10 billion years ago, a period that CANDELS astronomers call ‘Cosmic High Noon.’ The redshift then was about 2, which means that the universe has expanded by a factor of three since then in each of the three spatial dimensions, so it was 3x3x3 = 27 times denser back then. The universe was also much brighter, with so many galaxies so much closer together forming lots of short-lived massive stars, which shine much more brightly than lower-mass long-lived stars like our sun.
What did those early galaxies look like, and how did they evolve into the galaxies we see around us today? Answering that question is one of the most important goals of the CANDELS survey. The infrared capability of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), installed in the last astronaut visit to Hubble Space Telescope in 2009, gives us the ability to see galaxies at redshift 2 in the wavelengths of visible light. Visible light, with wavelengths ranging from blue at 0.4 to red at 0.7 microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter), gives us crucial information about the long-lived stars in galaxies. The wavelengths of light emitted at redshift 2 expand by a factor of 3, just as space does, so visible wavelengths expand to 1.2 to 2.1 microns. WFC3 allows us to make images at wavelengths as long as 1.7 microns, while WFC3 and other HST cameras make images at shorter wavelengths that allow us to trace recent star formation because such ultraviolet light is emitted by short-lived massive stars.
Simulated galaxy at redshift 2.1 from a high-resolution cosmological simulation. Top: rest-frame optical
image from the Sunrise computer code, taking in account stellar evolution and the scattering and absorption
of light by dust and subsequent dust re-radiation. Bottom: The same simulated galaxy, as seen by Hubble
Space Telescope in V (visual light) and H (1.5-1.7 micron infrared wavelengths) bands. Because of the
redshift of the radiation from this galaxy, what HST sees as V-band light was emitted as ulraviolet in the
galaxy rest frame, which mainly traces new star formation, while what HST sees as H-band light was emitted
as red light, which traces the older stellar population in the high-redshift galaxy. Note that the V-band image
is clumpy, which is also often the case for real galaxies at these redshifts. Image Credit: Joel Primack
One of the things that we have found is that star-forming galaxies at redshift 2 were often rather clumpy, unlike the rather smooth Milky Way and other nearby galaxies. My colleagues and I have been simulating the formation and evolution of galaxies, and our simulations often also look rather clumpy, with giant star-forming regions in their disks. The clumps occur partly because the galaxies have so much gas in their disks that the disks become gravitationally unstable and break up into clumps of gas that rapidly form stars. We have been comparing the observed and simulated galaxies systematically, and we have been gratified to find that they appear fairly similar in their sizes and shapes, as well as their clumpiness.”
See the full article here.
About the CANDELS blog
In late 2009, the Hubble Space Telescope began an ambitious program to map five carefully selected areas of the sky with its sensitive near-infrared camera, the Wide-Field Camera 3. The observations are important for addressing a wide variety of questions, from testing theories for the birth and evolution of galaxies, to refining our understanding of the geometry of the universe.
This is a research blog written by people involved in the project. We aim to share some of the excitement of working at the scientific frontier, using one of the greatest telescopes ever built. We will also share some of the trials and tribulations of making the project work, from the complications of planning and scheduling the observations to the challenges of trying to understand the data. Along the way, we may comment on trends in astronomy or other such topics.
CANDELS stands for the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey. It builds on the legacy of the Hubble Deep Field, as well as the wider-area surveys called GOODS, AEGIS, COSMOS, and UKIDSS UDS. The CANDELS observations are designed to search for galaxies within about a billion years of the big bang, study galaxies at cosmic high-noon about 3 billion years after the big bang – when star-formation and black hole growth were at their peak intensity – and discover distant supernovae for refining our understanding of cosmic acceleration. You can find more details, and download the CANDELS data, from the CANDELS website.
You can also use the Hubble Legacy Archive to view the CANDELS images.
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