Astronomers discover 49 new galaxies in under three hours

A team of international astronomers have discovered 49 new gas-rich galaxies using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa from observations that were not even three hours long and were made possible by IDIA (Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy).

Dr. Marcin Glowacki, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia, led the research, which aimed to study the star-forming gas in a single radio galaxy.  Although the team didn’t find any star-forming gas in the galaxy they were studying, Dr. Glowacki instead discovered other galaxies while inspecting the data.

In total, the gas of 49 galaxies was detected. Dr Glowacki said this was a great example of how fantastic an instrument like MeerKAT is for finding the star-forming gas in galaxies.

“I did not expect to find almost fifty new galaxies in such a short time,” he said. “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.”

The new galaxies have been informally nicknamed the 49ers – a reference to the 1849 California gold rush miners. Dr Glowacki views the 49 new galaxies as valuable as gold nuggets in our night sky. Many galaxies are near each other, forming galaxy groups, with several identified in one observation.

Three galaxies, in particular, are directly connected by their gas.

Dr Glowacki said, “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.”

Professor Ed Elson, from the University of the Western Cape and a co-author of the paper, said, “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.”

The discovery was no accident. Recently, an ICRAR summer student, Jasmine White, working with Dr 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,” Dr Glowacki said.

The research was published overnight in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


RELEASE
‘A serendipitous discovery of HI-rich galaxy groups with MeerKAT’, ‘published in Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society – March 2024.

MULTIMEDIA

Multimedia assets available from  https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1pUvCeak23LQDLmCt8ENPkkv_1J1pKV5q?usp=sharing


MORE INFORMATION

ICRAR

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. Its role is to assist in the building of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) – the world’s largest radio observatory.

CURTIN UNIVERSITY

Curtin University is Western Australia’s largest university, with close to 60,000 students. Curtin has campuses in Perth, Kalgoorlie, Midland, as well as four global campuses in Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, and Mauritius.

MeerKAT

MeerKAT radio telescope, situated 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1.

IDIA (Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy)

IDIA has a partnership with three South African universities. The purpose is to provide the South African university research community the capacity and expertise in data-intensive research.


MEDIA SUPPORT

Charlene D’Monte

ICRAR Media Contact | charlene.dmonte@icrar.org | +61 468 579 311| +61 8 6488 7758

Lucien Wilkinson

Curtin University Media Contact | lucien.wilkinson@curtin.edu.au | +61 401 103 683 | +61 8 9266 9185

INTERVIEWS

Dr Marcin Glowacki | ICRAR/Curtin | marcin.glowacki@curtin.edu.au | +61 423 486 919

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