Astronomers find 49 new gas-rich galaxies in 3 hours using MeerKAT radio telescope

28th March 2024

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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A team of international astronomers have discovered 49 new gas-rich galaxies using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa from observations under three hours long.

The research was aimed at studying the star-forming gas in a single radio galaxy and was led by International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) Curtin University node researcher Dr Marcin Glowacki.

Although the team did not find any star-forming gas in the galaxy they were studying, Glowacki instead discovered other galaxies while inspecting the data, and, in total, the gas of 49 galaxies was detected.

“I did not expect to find almost 50 new galaxies in such a short time. By implementing different techniques for finding galaxies, which are used for other MeerKAT surveys, we were able to detect all of these galaxies and reveal their gas content.”

This was a great example of how fantastic an instrument like MeerKAT is for finding the star-forming gas in galaxies, Glowacki said.

Many of the galaxies are near each other, forming galaxy groups, with several identified in one observation. Three galaxies, in particular, are directly connected by their gas.

“These three are particularly interesting, as by studying the galaxies at other wavelengths of light, we discovered the central galaxy is forming many stars. It is likely stealing the gas from its companion galaxies to fuel its star formation, which may lead the other two to become inactive,” he noted.

The research was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The observations were made possible by the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy, which is a partnership between three South African universities.

Informally nicknamed the 49ers, which is a reference to the 1849 California gold rush miners, Glowacki views the 49 new galaxies as valuable gold nuggets in the night sky.

“This discovery highlights the raw power of the MeerKAT telescope as an imaging instrument. The methods we developed and implemented to study the 49ers will be useful for MeerKAT large science surveys, and smaller observing campaigns such as ours,” said University of the Western Cape researcher and paper co-author Professor Ed Elson.

Further, the discovery was no accident. ICRAR summer student Jasmine White, who was working with Glowacki, helped find even more gas-rich galaxies in other short observations made by MeerKAT.

“We hope to continue our studies and share even more discoveries of new gas-rich galaxies with the wider community soon,” Glowacki added.

The MeerKAT radio telescope, in the Northern Cape, is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online





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