How galaxies grow up and mature study shows
Shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, the universe was an unmanageable place. The galaxies continued to collide. The stars formed at tremendous speed in huge gas clouds. But after billions of years of intergalactic chaos, undisciplined embryonic galaxies have become more stable and evolved over time into beautiful spiral galaxies. The exact course of these developments has long been a mystery to astronomers around the world. However, in a new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers were able to shed light on the dark.
"Using a supercomputer, we have created a high-resolution simulation that provides a detailed picture of a galaxy's development since the Big Bang, and how young chaotic galaxies transition into well-ordered spirals" says Oscar Agertz, astronomy researcher at Lund University.
In the study, astronomers working with Oscar Agertz and Florent Renaud use the stars of the Milky Way as a starting point. Like time capsules, stars reveal secrets about distant ages and the environment in which they were formed. Their positions, speeds and quantities of different chemical elements can therefore help us to understand with the help of computer simulations how our own galaxy was formed.
"We have discovered that when two large galaxies collide, a new disc can be created around the old one due to the enormous inflows of star-forming gas. Our simulation shows that the old and new discs slowly merged over a period of several billion years. This is something that not only resulted in a stable spiral galaxy, but also in populations of stars that are similar to those in the Milky Way," says Florent Renaud, astronomy researcher at Lund University.
The new findings will help astronomers interpret current and future maps of the Milky Way. The study points to a new direction for research on the interaction between collisions of large galaxies and the formation of spiral galaxies. The Lund research team has already started new supercomputing simulations in collaboration with the PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) research infrastructure.
"With the current study and our new computer simulations we will generate a lot of information which means we can better understand the Milky Way's fascinating life since the beginning of the Universe," concludes Oscar Agertz.
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