Nav: Home

Elliptical elegance

August 08, 2018

Whereas ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) can observe very faint astronomical objects in great detail, when astronomers want to understand how the huge variety of galaxies come into being they must turn to a different sort of telescope with a much bigger field of view. The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) is such a telescope. It was designed to explore vast swathes of the pristine Chilean night skies, offering astronomers detailed astronomical surveys (https://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/paranal-observatory/surveytelescopes/vst/surveys/ ) of the southern hemisphere.

The powerful surveying properties of the VST led an international team of astronomers to conduct the VST Early-type GAlaxy Survey (VEGAS) [1] to examine a collection of elliptical galaxies in the southern hemisphere [2]. Using the sensitive OmegaCAM detector at the heart of the VST [3], a team led by Marilena Spavone from INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte in Naples, Italy, captured images of a wide variety of such galaxies in different environments.

One of these galaxies is NGC 5018, the milky-white galaxy near the centre of this image. It lies in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) and may at first resemble nothing but a diffuse blob. But, on closer inspection, a tenuous stream of stars and gas -- a tidal tail -- can be seen stretching outwards from this elliptical galaxy. Delicate galactic features such as tidal tails and stellar streams are hallmarks of galactic interactions, and provide vital clues to the structure and dynamics of galaxies.

As well as the many elliptical (and a few spiral) galaxies in this remarkable 400-megapixel image, a colourful variety of bright foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy also pepper the image. These stellar interlopers, such as the vividly blue HD 114746 near the centre of the image, are not the intended subjects of this astronomical portrait, but happen to lie between the Earth and the distant galaxies under study. Less prominent, but no less fascinating, are the faint tracks left by asteroids in our own Solar System. Just below NGC 5018, the faint streak left by the asteroid 2001 TJ21 (110423) -- captured over several successive observations -- can be seen stretching across the image. Further to the right, another asteroid -- 2000 WU69 (98603) -- left its trace in this spectacular image.

While astronomers set out to investigate the delicate features of distant galaxies millions of light-years from Earth, in the process they also captured images of nearby stars hundreds of light-years away, and even the faint trails of asteroids only light-minutes away in our own Solar System. Even when studying the furthest reaches of the cosmos, the sensitivity of ESO telescopes and dark Chilean skies can offer entrancing observations much closer to home.
-end-
Notes

[1] VEGAS is a deep multi-band imaging survey of early-type galaxies carried out with the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), led by Enrichetta Iodice from INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.

[2] Elliptical galaxies are also known as early-type galaxies, not because of their age, but because they were once thought to evolve into the more familiar spiral galaxies, an idea now known to be false. Early-type galaxies are characterised by a smooth ellipsoidal shape and usually a lack of gas and active star formation. The bewildering diversity of shapes and types of galaxy is classified into the Hubble Sequence.

[3] OmegaCAM is an exquisitely sensitive detector formed of 32 individual charge coupled devices, and it creates images with 256 million pixels, 16 times greater than the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope (http://www.spacetelescope.org/about/ )'s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS. OmegaCAM was designed and built by a consortium including institutes in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy with major contributions from ESO.

More information

This research was presented in the paper "VEGAS: A VST Early-type GAlaxy Survey. III. Mapping the galaxy structure, interactions and intragroup light in the NGC 5018 group" by Marilena Spavone et al., to appear in the Astrophysical Journal.

The team is composed of Marilena Spavone (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy), Enrichetta Iodice (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy), Massimo Capaccioli (University of Naples, Naples, Italy), Daniela Bettoni (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), Roberto Rampazzo (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), Noah Brosch (The Wise Observatory and School of Physics and Astronomy Tel Aviv University, Israel), Michele Cantiello (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Teramo, Italy), Nicola R. Napolitano (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy), Luca Limatola (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy), Aniello Grado (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy), Pietro Schipani (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".

Links

* Research paper - http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1827/eso1827a.pdf

* Photos of ESO's Survey Telescopes - http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/surveytelescopes/

Contacts

Marilena Spavone
INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte
Napoli, Italy
Tel: +39 081 5575602
Email: marilena.spavone@oacn.inaf.it

Mariya Lyubenova
ESO Outreach Astronomer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6188
Email: mlyubeno@eso.org

Calum Turner
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
Email: pio@eso.org

ESO

Related Solar System Articles:

From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
Plumbing a 90 million-year-old layer cake of sedimentary rock in Colorado, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University has found evidence confirming a critical theory of how the planets in our solar system behave in their orbits around the sun.
Why are there different 'flavors' of iron around the Solar System?
New work from Carnegie's Stephen Elardo and Anat Shahar shows that interactions between iron and nickel under the extreme pressures and temperatures similar to a planetary interior can help scientists understand the period in our Solar System's youth when planets were forming and their cores were created.
Does our solar system have an undiscovered planet? You can help astronomers find out
ASU's Adam Schneider and colleagues are hunting for runaway worlds in the space between stars, and citizen scientists can join the search with a new NASA-funded website.
Rare meteorites challenge our understanding of the solar system
Researchers have discovered minerals from 43 meteorites that landed on Earth 470 million years ago.
New evidence on the formation of the solar system
International research involving a Monash University scientist is using new computer models and evidence from meteorites to show that a low-mass supernova triggered the formation of our solar system.
Planet Nine could spell doom for solar system
The solar system could be thrown into disaster when the sun dies if the mysterious 'Planet Nine' exists, according to research from the University of Warwick.
Theft behind Planet 9 in our solar system
Through a computer-simulated study, astronomers at Lund University in Sweden show that it is highly likely that the so-called Planet 9 is an exoplanet.
Studying the solar system with NASA's Webb Telescope
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will look across vast distances to find the earliest stars and galaxies and study the atmospheres of mysterious worlds orbiting other stars.
'This solar system isn't big enough for the both of us.' -- Jupiter
It's like something out of an interplanetary chess game. Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in another planet's ejection from the Solar System altogether.
IBEX sheds new light on solar system boundary
In 14 papers published in the October 2015 Astrophysical Journal Supplement, scientists present findings from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, mission providing the most definitive analyses, theories and results about local interstellar space to date.

Related Solar System Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".