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Astronomers discover unusual spindle-like galaxies

Bringing some of the mysteries of the universe a little closer to home.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:51 pm

Galaxies are majestic, rotating wheels of stars? Not in the case of the spindle-like galaxies studied by Athanasia Tsatsi (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and her colleagues. Using the CALIFA survey, the astronomers found that these slender galaxies, which rotate along their longest axis, are much more common than previously thought. The new data allowed the astronomers to create a model for how these unusual galaxies probably formed, namely out of a special kind of merger of two spiral galaxies. The results have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

When most people think of galaxies, they think of majestic spiral galaxies like that of our home galaxy, the Milky Way: billions of stars, rotating in a flat disk similar to the way that a wheel rotates around its central axis. But there is another kind of galaxy, which used to be thought very rare: so-called prolate rotators, each shaped like a cigar, which rotates along its long axis, like a spindle.

Now, a group of astronomers led by Athanasia Tsatsi of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has completed a thorough study of these cosmic spindles. Using data from the CALIFA survey, a systematic study that examined the velocity structure of more than 600 galaxies, the astronomers discovered eight new prolate rotating galaxies, almost doubling the total known number of such galaxies (from 12 to 20). Cosmic spindles are considerably less rare than astronomers had thought!

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:53 pm

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Credit: J. Chang, PMO / T. Müller, HdA

An elliptical galaxy in prolate rotation. The galaxy resembles the shape of a cigar, with its stars rotating around the galaxy's long axis, similar to a spindle. the background image is a snapshot of a simulation by A. Tsatsi and colleagues.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:54 pm



The formation of an elliptical galaxy in prolate rotation. The mechanism shown here was proposed by Athanasia Tsatsi and her colleagues in order to explain the recent discoveries of galaxies of this kind with the CALIFA survey.

The formation involves a polar merger of two spiral galaxies. One of the spiral galaxies develops a marked elongated structure (a "bar," to use the technical term) before the merger, which gives the resulting elliptical galaxy its cigar-like (prolate) shape.

The stars of the second spiral galaxy end up orbiting around the bar of the first companion. Together they form a cigar-shaped elliptical galaxy that rotates like a spindle around its long axis.

 
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