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Carbon monoxide predicts ‘red and dead’ future of gas guzzler galaxy

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 July 2014 11:07
Published on Wednesday, 09 July 2014 11:05

Astronomers have studied the carbon monoxide in a galaxy over 12 billion light years from Earth and discovered that it's running out of gas, quite literally, and headed for a 'red and dead' future. The research is reported in a paper published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

atca2 smallFive antennas of the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), used for the study of ALESS65. The radio telescope is located near Narrabri in Australia. Credit: John Masterson/CSIRO. Click for a larger version.Carbon monoxide (CO) is the second most common molecule in the universe, but very little is known about it in galaxies this far away. Dr Minh Huynh from The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) led the team on their search for carbon monoxide in a galaxy known as ALESS65.

This galaxy was first spotted by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in 2011, but has now been studied using the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA). The new research shows it is one of less than 20 galaxies at this distance that are known to contain carbon monoxide.

"We're familiar with carbon monoxide here on Earth as a deadly gas that can cause suffocation, but in galaxies it plays an important role in the life cycle of stars," said Huynh. "Out of the galaxies that we know contain carbon monoxide, less than 20 are as far away from Earth as ALESS65. Out of the billions of galaxies out there, the detections are very rare!"

ALESS65Radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide molecules in the galaxy ALESS65, as observed by the Australia Telescope Compact Array. Credit: Huynh et al. (2014). Click for a larger version.Huynh said that at first astronomers didn't think there could be massive 'red and dead' galaxies in the distant Universe, so studying galaxies heading towards that fate is important to solve the puzzle of their existence. Using the ATCA radio telescope in Australia, Huynh and her team worked out how much carbon monoxide they could see in ALESS65 and extrapolated that out into how much gas the galaxy has left – how much fuel it has.

"All galaxies have a certain amount of fuel to make new stars," said Huynh. "Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has about five billion years before it runs out of fuel and becomes 'red and dead', but ALESS65 is a gas guzzler and only has tens of millions of years left – very fast in astronomical terms."

arp220Arp220, a nearby ‘Ultraluminous Infrared Galaxy’ similar to what ALESS65 would look like if it were closer to Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Team.The team also combined their observations of the galaxy with the original data from ALMA to work out how similar ALESS65 is to galaxies nearer to Earth. "We were able to work out the strength of the UV radiation in ALESS65; it's similar to some 'starburst' galaxies in the local universe, but the stars in ALESS65 are forming in much larger areas when compared to local galaxies," said Huynh.

The researchers will now turn their attentions to the search for carbon monoxide in another galaxy near to ALESS65, named ALESS61. "Finding and studying carbon monoxide in more galaxies will tell us even more about how stars formed in the early days of the Universe and help solve the mystery of far away 'red and dead' galaxies" said Huynh.

 

Media contacts

Kirsten Gottschalk
International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
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David Stacey
University of Western Australia
+61 8 6488 3229 or +61 432 637 716
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Dr Keith Smith
Royal Astronomical Society
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Science contact

Dr Minh Huynh
University of Western Australia
+61 8 6488 4594 or +61 413 698 670
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Images and captions

https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/press/atca2.jpg
Five antennas of the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), used for the study of ALESS65. The radio telescope is located near Narrabri in Australia.
Credit: John Masterson/CSIRO

https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/press/huynh_ALESS65.png
Radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide molecules in the galaxy ALESS65, as observed by the Australia Telescope Compact Array.
Credit: Huynh et al.

https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/press/huynh_arp220.jpg
Arp220, a nearby 'Ultraluminous Infrared Galaxy' similar to what ALESS65 would look like if it were closer to Earth.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Team.

More media and captions are available from http://www.icrar.org/home/carbon-monoxide-predicts-red-and-dead-future-of-gas-guzzler-galaxy

 

Further information

This research has been published in Huynh M. et al., 2014, "Detection of molecular gas in an ALMA [CII]-identified Submillimetre Galaxy at z=4.44", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 443, p. L54-L58, published by Oxford University Press.

 

Notes for editors

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia.

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter.