Paper Spotlight: “A massive, dead disk galaxy in the early Universe”

NMSU Astronomy professor Dr. Moire Prescott recently co-authored an article in Nature on the surprising discovery of a massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy in the early Universe that appears to be “dead”, in that it has long since stopped making any new stars.  Dr. Prescott contributed the dynamical modeling demonstrating that the galaxy is rotating more than twice as fast as the Milky Way.  The results were highlighted in a Space Telescope Science Institute press release on June 21, 2017 (excerpt below) as well as in a local NMSU/Las Cruces Sun-News “Eye on Research” piece.

The full Space Telescope Science Institute press release is available here.

The NMSU/Las Cruces Sun-News “Eye on Research” article is available here, and a video interview is available here.

The original article published in Nature (June 22, 2017) is available here.

Hubble Captures Massive Dead Disk Galaxy that Challenges Theories of Galaxy Evolution

Young, Dead, Compact, Disk Galaxy Surprises Astronomers, Offers New Clues to How Modern-Day Elliptical Galaxies Formed

Astronomers combined the power of a “natural lens” in space with the capability of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to make a surprising discovery—the first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang. Researchers say that finding such a galaxy so early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve. Astronomers expected to see a chaotic ball of stars formed through galaxies merging together. Instead, they saw evidence that the stars were born in a pancake-shaped disk. The galaxy, called MACS 2129-1, is considered “dead” because it is no longer making stars. This new insight is forcing astronomers to rethink their theories of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies. “Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early ‘dead’ galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven’t been able to resolve them,” said study leader Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

Science: NASA, ESA, and S. Toft (University of Copenhagen)
Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team



About this image: Dying Young: Massive Dead Disk Galaxy Challenges the Picture of How Galaxies Evolve Acting as a “natural telescope” in space, the gravity of the extremely massive foreground galaxy cluster MACS J2129-0741 magnifies, brightens, and distorts the far-distant background galaxy MACS2129-1, shown in the top box. The middle box is a blown-up view of the gravitationally lensed galaxy. In the bottom box is a reconstructed image, based on modeling, that shows what the galaxy would look like if the galaxy cluster were not present. The galaxy appears red because it is so distant that its light is shifted into the red part of the spectrum. Credits: Science: NASA, ESA, and S. Toft (University of Copenhagen) Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team


About this image: This artist’s concept shows what the young, dead, disk galaxy MACS2129-1, right, would look like when compared with the Milky Way galaxy, left. Although three times as massive as the Milky Way, it is only half the size. MACS2129-1 is also spinning more than twice as fast as the Milky Way. Note that regions of Milky Way are blue from bursts of star formation, while the young, dead galaxy is yellow, signifying an older star population and no new star birth. Credits: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levy (STScI)


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