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  • richardmitnick 5:15 pm on September 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , QUEST-La Silla AGN Variability Survey, Sloan Digital Sky Survey,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Black Holes Flicker as They Stop Gorging Themselves on Matter” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    September 7, 2018
    Alison Klesman

    1
    This artistically enhanced image shows a Hubble Space Telescope view of the active galaxy Arp 220, which houses a feeding supermassive black hole at its center. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Black holes are by nature difficult to study directly. Because even light cannot escape these massive objects, astronomers must turn to other methods to spot and study them. While information is lost once it crosses a black hole’s event horizon, outside that boundary, it can still escape. A recent study, led by a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy of the Universidad de Chile, has now found that the amount of light emitted from around a black hole is determined by one thing, and one thing only: the rate at which matter is falling into the black hole.

    The research, published September 4 in The Astrophysical Journal, was aimed at determining the physical mechanism behind the variability observed from the active black holes at the centers of galaxies (known as active galactic nuclei, or AGN), which are supermassive black holes currently sucking in matter.

    In astronomy, this process is known as accretion. Such black holes have accretion disks, which are disks of matter swirling around them as it is funneled inward, like water going down a drain. Outside the event horizon, these disks shine brightly as the material inside is heated by friction, giving off visible light and even more energetic light, such as X-rays. These disks are also variable — astronomers aren’t exactly sure why, but the current understanding is that as clumps of matter interact in the disk or fall into the black hole, it causes changes in the light the disk emits.

    The team combined data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the QUEST-La Silla AGN Variability Survey to combine physical properties —the mass and the accretion rate, or the speed at which a black hole is eating — of about 2,000 AGN with information about their variability.

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, near Sunspot NM, USA, Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    ESO/Cerro LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    What they found was surprising: “Contrary to what was believed, the only important physical property to explain the amplitude of the variability is the AGN accretion rate,” said Paula Sánchez-Sáez, the student who led the study and first author of the paper, in a press release.

    Out With The Old

    Why is this surprising? “The results obtained in this study challenge the old paradigm that the amplitude of the AGN variability depended mainly on the luminosity of the AGN,” Sánchez-Sáez said. What this means is that previously, astronomers assumed that more luminous (brighter) AGN varied more, while less luminous (dimmer) AGN varied less. This study instead discovered that the rate at which a black hole is eating is the only thing that affects the amount its light varies, regardless of whether it is bright or dim.

    But the challenge to previous thinking makes sense, Sánchez-Sáez said, because in the past, it’s been difficult to accurately measure a black hole’s mass, and thus its accretion rate. Only with newer data provided by large surveys can astronomers begin to build up the numbers they need to test their assumptions.

    With Black Holes, Less is More

    Furthermore, the study revealed a relationship that may seem backwards: “What we detect is that the less they [black holes] swallow, the more they vary,” said Paulina Lira of the Universidad de Chile and the CATA Center for Excellence in Astrophysics, and a co-author on the paper. In scientific terms, the amplitude (amount) of variability is inversely proportional to the accretion rate, or the amount of food a black hole is consuming at any given time.

    This initial study was based on variability information from the QUEST-La Silla AGN Variability Survey spanning about five years. Now, the researchers are looking to study the variability of these objects in greater detail, for which they’ll need more data. That means staring at these AGN for longer periods of time — at least 10 years or more. For that, they’ll need to wait for future surveys, such as those proposed with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which is expected to reach full science operations by 2023. This will “extend our light curves to an order of 20 years,” said Lira, providing an even more accurate picture of the black hole’s behavior over longer periods of time.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:27 am on June 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , D.O.E. Office of Science, , , , Lambda-Cold Dark Matter Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, , Sloan Digital Sky Survey   

    From US D.O.E. Office of Science: “Our Expanding Universe: Delving into Dark Energy” 

    DOE Main

    Department of Energy Office of Science

    06.21.17
    Shannon Brescher Shea
    shannon.shea@science.doe.gov

    Space is expanding ever more rapidly and scientists are researching dark energy to understand why.

    1
    This diagram shows the timeline of the universe, from its beginnings in the Big Bang to today. Image courtesy of NASA/WMAP Science Team.

    The universe is growing a little bigger, a little faster, every day.

    And scientists don’t know why.

    If this continues, almost all other galaxies will be so far away from us that one day, we won’t be able to spot them with even the most sophisticated equipment. In fact, we’ll only be able to spot a few cosmic objects outside of the Milky Way. Fortunately, this won’t happen for billions of years.

    But it’s not supposed to be this way – at least according to theory. Based on the fact that gravity pulls galaxies together, Albert Einstein’s theory predicted that the universe should be expanding more slowly over time. But in 1998, astrophysicists were quite surprised when their observations showed that the universe was expanding ever faster. Astrophysicists call this phenomenon “cosmic acceleration.”

    “Whatever is driving cosmic acceleration is likely to dominate the future evolution of the universe,” said Josh Frieman, a researcher at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermilab [FNAL] and director of the Dark Energy Survey.


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam

    While astrophysicists know little about it, they often use “dark energy” as shorthand for the cause of this expansion. Based on its effects, they estimate dark energy could make up 70 percent of the combined mass and energy of the universe. Something unknown that both lies outside our current understanding of the laws of physics and is the major influence on the growth of the universe adds up to one of the biggest mysteries in physics. DOE’s Office of Science is supporting a number of projects to investigate dark energy to better understand this phenomenon.

    The Start of the Universe

    Before scientists can understand what is causing the universe to expand now, they need to know what happened in the past. The energy from the Big Bang drove the universe’s early expansion. Since then, gravity and dark energy have engaged in a cosmic tug of war. Gravity pulls galaxies closer together; dark energy pushes them apart. Whether the universe is expanding or contracting depends on which force dominates, gravity or dark energy.

    Just after the Big Bang, the universe was much smaller and composed of an extremely high-energy plasma. This plasma was vastly different from anything today. It was so dense that it trapped all energy, including light. Unlike the current universe, which has expanses of “empty” space dotted by dense galaxies of stars, this plasma was nearly evenly distributed across that ancient universe.

    As the universe expanded and became less dense, it cooled. In a blip in cosmic time, protons and electrons combined to form neutral hydrogen atoms. When that happened, light was able to stream out into the universe to form what is now known as the “cosmic microwave background [CMB].”

    CMB per ESA/Planck


    ESA/Planck

    Today’s instruments that detect the cosmic microwave background provide scientists with a view of that early universe.

    Back then, gravity was the major force that influenced the structure of the universe. It slowed the rate of expansion and made it possible for matter to coalesce. Eventually, the first stars appeared about 400 million years after the Big Bang. Over the next several billion years, larger and larger structures formed: galaxies and galaxy clusters, containing billions to quadrillions (a million billion) of stars. While these cosmic objects formed, the space between galaxies continued to expand, but at an ever slower rate thanks to gravitational attraction.

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex MittelmannColdcreation

    But somewhere between 3 and 7 billion years after the Big Bang, something happened: instead of the expansion slowing down, it sped up. Dark energy started to have a bigger influence than gravity. The expansion has been accelerating ever since.

    Scientists used three different types of evidence to work out this history of the universe. The original evidence in 1998 came from observations of a specific type of supernova [Type 1a]. Two other types of evidence in the early 2000s provided further support.

    “It was this sudden avalanche of results through cosmology,” said Eric Linder, a Berkeley Lab researcher and Office of Science Cosmic Frontier program manager.

    Now, scientists estimate that galaxies are getting 0.007 percent further away from each other every million years. But they still don’t know why.

    What is Dark Energy?

    “Cosmic acceleration really points to something fundamentally different about how the forces of the universe work,” said Daniel Eisenstein, a Harvard University researcher and former director of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. “We know of four major forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong forces. And none of those forces can explain cosmic acceleration.”

    So far, the evidence has spurred two competing theories.

    The leading theory is that dark energy is the “cosmological constant,” a concept Albert Einstein created in 1917 to balance his equations to describe a universe in equilibrium. Without this cosmological constant to offset gravity, a finite universe would collapse into itself.

    Today, scientists think the constant may represent the energy of the vacuum of space. Instead of being “empty,” this would mean space is actually exerting pressure on cosmic objects. If this idea is correct, the distribution of dark energy should be the same everywhere.

    All of the observations fit this idea – so far. But there’s a major issue. The theoretical equations and the physical measurements don’t match. When researchers calculate the cosmological constant using standard physics, they end up with a number that is off by a huge amount: 1 X 10^120 (1 with 120 zeroes following it).

    “It’s hard to make a math error that big,” joked Frieman.

    That major difference between observation and theory suggests that astrophysicists do not yet fully understand the origin of the cosmological constant, even if it is the cause of cosmic acceleration.

    The other possibility is that “dark energy” is the wrong label altogether. A competing theory posits that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly because gravity acts differently at very large scales from what Einstein’s theory predicts. While there’s less evidence for this theory than that for the cosmological constant, it’s still a possibility.

    The Biggest Maps of the Universe

    To collect evidence that can prove or disprove these theories, scientists are creating a visual history of the universe’s expansion. These maps will allow astrophysicists to see dark energy’s effects over time. Finding that the structure of the universe changed in a way that’s consistent with the cosmological constant’s influence would provide strong evidence for that theory.

    There are two types of surveys: imaging and spectroscopic. The Dark Energy Survey and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) are imaging surveys, while the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey), eBOSS, and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument are spectroscopic.


    LSST Camera, built at SLAC



    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    BOSS Supercluster Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS)

    LBNL/DESI Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument for the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Ariz, USA

    Imaging surveys use giant cameras – some the size of cars – to take photos of the night sky. The farther away the object, the longer the light has taken to reach us. Taking pictures of galaxies, galaxy clusters, and supernovae at various distances shows how the distribution of matter has changed over time. The Dark Energy Survey, which started collecting data in 2013, has already photographed more than 300 million galaxies. By the time it finishes in 2018, it will have taken pictures of about one-eighth of the entire night sky. The LSST will further expand what we know. When it starts in 2022, the LSST will use the world’s largest digital camera to take pictures of 20 billion galaxies.

    “That is an amazing number. It could be 10% of all of the galaxies in the observable universe,” said Steve Kahn, a professor of physics at Stanford and LSST project director.

    However, these imaging surveys miss a key data point – how fast the Milky Way and other galaxies are moving away from each other. But spectroscopic surveys that capture light outside the visual spectrum can provide that information. They can also more accurately estimate how far away galaxies are. Put together, this information allows astrophysicists to look back in time.

    The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), part of the larger Sloan Digital Sky Survey, was one of the biggest projects to take, as the name implies, a spectroscopic approach. It mapped more than 1.2 million galaxies and quasars.

    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    However, there’s a major gap in BOSS’s data. It could measure what was going on 5 billion years ago using bright galaxies and 10 billion years ago using bright quasars. But it had nothing about what was going on in-between. Unfortunately, this time period is most likely when dark energy started dominating.

    “Seven billion years ago, dark energy starts to really dominate and push the universe apart more rapidly. So we’re making these maps now that span that whole distance. We start in the backyard of the Milky Way, our own galaxy, and we go out to 7 billion light years,” said David Schlegel, a Berkeley Lab researcher who is the BOSS principal investigator. That 7 billion light years spans the time from when the light was originally emitted to it reaching our telescopes today.

    Two new projects are filling that gap: the eBOSS survey and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI). eBOSS will target the missing time span from 5 to 7 billion years ago.

    4
    SDSS eBOSS.

    DESI will go back even further – 11 billion light years. Even though the dark energy was weaker then relative to gravity, surveying a larger volume of space will allow scientists to make even more precise measurements. DESI will also collect 10 times more data than BOSS. When it starts taking observations in 2019, it will measure light from 35 million galaxies and quasars.

    “We now realize that the majority of … the universe is stuff that we’ll never be able to directly measure using experiments here on Earth. We have to infer their properties by looking to the cosmos,” said Rachel Bean, a researcher at Cornell University who is the spokesperson for the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration. Solving the mystery of the galaxies rushing away from each other, “really does present a formidable challenge in physics. We have a lot of work to do.”

    See the full article here .

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    The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

    Science Programs Organization

    The Office of Science manages its research portfolio through six program offices:

    Advanced Scientific Computing Research
    Basic Energy Sciences
    Biological and Environmental Research
    Fusion Energy Sciences
    High Energy Physics
    Nuclear Physics

    The Science Programs organization also includes the following offices:

    The Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs, which the Office of Science manages for the Department;
    The Workforce Development for Teachers and Students program sponsors programs helping develop the next generation of scientists and engineers to support the DOE mission, administer programs, and conduct research; and
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  • richardmitnick 3:58 pm on March 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Sloan Digital Sky Survey   

    From SDSS: “Seeing the whole galaxy with a “second eye on the sky”” Press Release 

    SDSS Telescope

    Sloan Digital Sky Survey

    March 29, 2017

    Earlier this month, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) reached an important milestone by opening its “second eye on the sky” – a new instrument called the “APOGEE South spectrograph.”

    1
    UVA APOGEE-South Team Installs Spectrograph | Department of Astronomy, U.Va

    This new instrument at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile is the twin of the APOGEE North spectrograph, and will let astronomers study stars across the whole Milky Way like never before.


    Carnegie Las Campanas Observaory in the southern Atacama Desert of Chile in the Atacama Region approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of the city of La Serena

    The name APOGEE is short for the Apache Point Observatory Galaxy Evolution Experiment, based on the location of the experiment’s first “eye” at Apache Point Observatory, New Mexico.


    Apache Point Observatory,Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA

    “The original APOGEE made history by measuring extremely detailed properties of more stars than ever before,” said Steven Majewski of the University of Virginia, Principal Investigator of the APOGEE experiment. “But we always wanted a more complete view, especially because the center of the Galaxy is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere. With the APOGEE South spectrograph, we are finally realizing that vision.” Data collected by the twin instruments will help astronomers make a map of the entire Milky Way, with an unprecedented combination of size and detail.

    2
    The “first light” observations for the APOGEE South spectrograph. The dots show stars whose spectra were observed by APOGEE. Some example spectra are shown (colors are representative only, as APOGEE spectra are in the infrared).

    The first light observations included spectra of supermassive stars in the Tarantula Nebula. This nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud is forming stars more rapidly than any other region in our Local Group of galaxies. It can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere, underscoring the importance of APOGEE South’s location. The spectrograph will allow us to study the chemistry and evolution of the stars in the nebula in greater detail than ever before. Image Credit: SDSS collaboration; Tarantula Nebula image from ESA/Herschel and NASA/Spitzer.

    The APOGEE South spectrograph in Chile is identical to the original APOGEE spectrograph in New Mexico. Both work by spreading starlight into detailed rainbow patterns called “spectra.” Astronomers use these spectra to determine the chemical compositions of those stars, and also to find subtle shifts due to the Doppler Effect created by the stars’ motion through space. These pieces of information – composition and velocity – are combined with the known stellar positions to create an incredibly detailed map of our Galaxy.

    5
    Three instrument team members work on the APOGEE South instrument, before the top was closed. It was then cooled down and placed under vacuum ready for observing. Left to right: Garrett Ebelke, Matt Hall, and Mita Tembe (all from the University of Virginia). Image Credit: John Wilson (University of Virginia)

    John Wilson of the University of Virginia, APOGEE’s Instrument Scientist, explains the decision to build identical instruments in two hemispheres: “If the two spectrographs are exactly the same, then the spectra we collect from them will also be the same. We don’t need to worry that differences we see are due to differences in instrument design. We can directly compare the parts of our Galaxy we can see from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.”

    The APOGEE experiment to date has measured more than one million spectra of 277,000 individual stars, making it the largest high-resolution, near-infrared spectroscopic sample of stars ever observed. By working in infrared light, the APOGEE instruments can peer through the thick clouds of dust that obscure the inner Milky Way. By the end of APOGEE South’s mission, the number of stars observed will double, resulting in the most complete map of the Milky Way ever created.

    7
    With the installation of the APOGEE South spectrograph on the du Pont telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the SDSS can now view the whole night sky from both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This new view gives us an unprecedented, homogeneous, and complete view of the entire Milky Way Galaxy, as well as its satellites the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (shown just below the Milky Way in this image). The Tarantula Nebula, where APOGEE South took its first data, is visible as a bright pink spot in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Image Credit: Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital Inc.; SDSS collaboration

    The new APOGEE South spectrograph is located at the Irénée du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, located at an elevation of 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile — about the same distance south of the equator as the New Mexico site of the original APOGEE spectrograph is to the north.


    Carnegie Las Campanas Dupont telescope, Atacama Desert, approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of the city of La Serena,Chile

    “Looking from the Southern Hemisphere will allow us to study the innermost regions of our Galaxy,” said Manuela Zoccali of Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile and the Millennium Institute of Astrophysics, the chair of the SDSS Chilean Participation Group. “This is the first time that a large team of Chileans has worked with colleagues around the world on such an ambitious project. We are pleased we can now work together on the first data.”

    The director of the SDSS-IV project, Michael Blanton of New York University, agrees. “Working with our colleagues in Chile has helped us extend our survey in exciting new ways. Ever since we began in 2000, people have asked us when we would go to the Southern Hemisphere. We are delighted to have found a second home at Las Campanas.”

    About the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

    Funding for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and the Participating Institutions. SDSS acknowledges support and resources from the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah. The SDSS web site is http://www.sdss.org.

    SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions of the SDSS Collaboration including the Brazilian Participation Group, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Mellon University, the Chilean Participation Group, the French Participation Group, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, The Johns Hopkins University, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (IPMU) / University of Tokyo, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Leibniz Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP), Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA Heidelberg), Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik (MPA Garching), Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE), National Astronomical Observatories of China, New Mexico State University, New York University, University of Notre Dame, Observatório Nacional / MCTI, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, United Kingdom Participation Group, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, University of Arizona, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Oxford, University of Portsmouth, University of Utah, University of Virginia, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University.
    About the Chilean Participation Group of SDSS-IV

    The infrastructure for the APOGEE South instrument has been developed and will be operated in a partnership with seven universities in Chile: Pontificia Universidad Católica, Universidad Andres Bello, Universidad de Antofagasta, Universidad de Chile, Universidad de Concepción, Universidad de La Serena, and Universidad de Valparaíso.

    See the full article here.

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    The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has created the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the Universe ever made, with deep multi-color images of one third of the sky, and spectra for more than three million astronomical objects. Learn and explore all phases and surveys—past, present, and future—of the SDSS.

    The SDSS began regular survey operations in 2000, after a decade of design and construction. It has progressed through several phases, SDSS-I (2000-2005), SDSS-II (2005-2008), SDSS-III (2008-2014), and SDSS-IV (2014-). Each of these phases has involved multiple surveys with interlocking science goals. The three surveys that comprise SDSS-IV are eBOSS, APOGEE-2, and MaNGA, described at the links below. You can find more about the surveys of SDSS I-III by following the Prior Surveys link.

    Funding for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and the Participating Institutions. SDSS- IV acknowledges support and resources from the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah. The SDSS web site is http://www.sdss.org.

    SDSS-IV is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions of the SDSS Collaboration including the Brazilian Participation Group, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Mellon University, the Chilean Participation Group, the French Participation Group, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, The Johns Hopkins University, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (IPMU) / University of Tokyo, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Leibniz Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP), Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA Heidelberg), Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik (MPA Garching), Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE), National Astronomical Observatory of China, New Mexico State University, New York University, University of Notre Dame, Observatório Nacional / MCTI, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, United Kingdom Participation Group, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, University of Arizona, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Oxford, University of Portsmouth, University of Utah, University of Virginia, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:14 pm on March 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Lambda Cold Dark Matter paradigm, , Sloan Digital Sky Survey   

    From Seeker: “Elusive Dwarf Galaxies Found Hidden Away in Tiny Clusters” 

    Seeker bloc

    SEEKER

    Jan 23, 2017 [Where has this been hiding?]
    IRENE KLOTZ

    The discovery of these bite-sized galaxy clusters provides a key piece of evidence for how galaxies evolve — and how dark matter might be in the middle of it all.

    1
    Photo: Robert Gendler/NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

    Computer simulations and theoretical models have shown that clusters of miniature galaxies, some 10- to 1,000 times smaller than the Milky Way, should exist, but proof has been elusive. Detections of dwarf galaxy clusters would provide key evidence that the current theory for how the universe evolved structures is correct.

    The so-called Lambda Cold Dark Matter paradigm is the prediction that smaller things merge to form bigger things, University of Virginia astronomer Sabrina Stierwalt told Seeker. But there has been scant observational evidence of this process for low-mass galaxies despite the fact that small galaxies greatly outnumber bigger ones like the Milky Way, she added.

    In paper published in this week’s Nature Astronomy, Stierwalt and colleagues describe a new hunt for dwarf galaxy clusters using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

    4
    SDSS Galaxy Map – Gallery – SDSS-III

    The team first looked for pairs of interacting dwarf galaxies, then studied those pairs to see if they could be part of a bigger group.

    Follow-up observations with the Magellan Telescope in Chile, the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii provided optical images and spectroscopy of additional suspected group members.

    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan  Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.
    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA
    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA

    Gemini/North telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    Gemini/North telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    In all, the scientists found seven groups of dwarf galaxies, each with three- to five members.

    “We suspect these groups are gravitationally bound and thus will eventually merge to form one larger, intermediate-mass galaxy,” Stierwalt said.

    The galaxies are located between 200 million and 650 million light-years from Earth.

    “That sounds like a lot but it is relatively nearby given the vast size of the universe. Dwarf galaxies are fainter and smaller than more massive galaxies like the Milky Way we reside in, and so they are harder to detect at farther distances,” Stierwalt said.

    The number of clusters matches predictions, which builds confidence in the computer models.

    “Such groups are predicted to be rare theoretically and found to be rare observationally at the current epoch,” the astronomers noted in the paper.

    The newly found dwarf galaxy groups “provide direct probes of hierarchical structure formation in action at the low mass end, giving us a new window into a process expected to be common at earlier times, but nearly impossible to observe at such redshifts,” the paper said.

    “Redshifts” is a cosmic yardstick for measuring distance and time. It refers to the lengthening of wavelengths of light as a radiating object moves farther away, similar to how the sound of a train shifts as it recedes.

    See the full article here .

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