NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will study wispy star streams that extend far beyond the apparent edges of many galaxies. Missions like the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes would need to gather hundreds of small images to see these structures around nearby galaxies in full. Roman will do it in one snapshot. Astronomers will use these observations to explore the growth of galaxies and the nature of black matter.
Stellar streams look like ethereal locks of hair extending outward from some galaxies, drifting peacefully through space as part of the halo – a spherical region surrounding a galaxy. But these stellar flights are signs of an ancient drama on a cosmic scale that serves as a fossil record of a galaxy’s past. Studying them turns astronomers into galactic archaeologists.
Particularly elusive stellar streams that formed when the The Milky Way has siphoned off the stars from globular star clusters have been detected before, but they have never been found in other galaxies. They are fainter because they contain fewer stars, making them much harder to spot in other, more distant galaxies.
Roman could detect them in several of our neighboring galaxies for the very first time. The mission’s wide, sharp, and deep view should even reveal individual stars within these huge dark structures. In a previous studyPearson led the development of an algorithm to systematically search for stellar fluxes from globular clusters in nearby galaxies.
Starkenburg’s new study adds to the picture by predicting that Roman should be able to detect dozens of streams in other galaxies from dwarf galaxies, providing unprecedented insight into galaxy growth.
“It’s exciting to learn more about our Milky Way, but if we really want to understand galaxy formation and dark matter, we need a bigger sample,” Starkenburg said. “Studying stellar fluxes in other galaxies with Roman will help us get the big picture.”
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is operated at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, with participation from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech/IPAC in Southern California, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and a scientific team composed of scientists from various research institutions. The main industrial partners are Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado; L3Harris Technologies in Melbourne, Florida; and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging in Thousand Oaks, California.
“Haloes are mostly made up of stars that have been ripped from other galaxies,” said Tjitske Starkenburg, a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who has examined Roman’s potential in this area. . “Roman’s wide and deep images will be sharp enough that we can resolve individual stars in the halos of other galaxies, making it possible to study stellar fluxes in large numbers of galaxies for the first time.”
The team, led by Starkenburg, will share their findings at the 240th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Pasadena, Calif., today.
Galactic cannibalism, stolen stars
Simulators support the theory that galaxies grow partly by engulfing smaller groups of stars. A dwarf galaxy captured in orbit by a larger one is distorted by gravity. Its stars drizzle, tracing arcs and loops around the greater galaxy until they finally become its newest members.
“As individual stars escape from the dwarf galaxy and fall into the more massive one, they form long, thin streams that remain intact for billions of years,” said Sarah Pearson, Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at the University. from New York to New York and the principal author of a separate study on the mission’s projected observations in this area. “Thus, stellar streams hold secrets of the past and can shed light on billions of years of evolution.”
Astronomers have caught this cannibalistic process in the act using telescopes like those at the ESA (European Space Agency) Satellite Gaia, which is fine-tuned to measure the positions and motions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Roman will extend these observations by making similar measurements of stars both in the Milky Way and in other galaxies.
The Milky Way is home to at least 70 stellar streams, which means it’s likely eaten at least 70 dwarf galaxies or globular star clusters – groups of hundreds of thousands of gravity-bound stars. Roman’s Milky Way images could allow astronomers to string together snapshots in time to show the movement of stars. This will help us understand what dark matter is made of – invisible matter that we can only detect by its gravitational effects on visible objects.
One theory suggests that dark matter is “cold” or made up of heavy, slow-moving particles. If so, it should clump together in galactic halos, disrupting stellar streams in ways Roman could see. By detecting or eliminating these distortions, Roman could narrow down the candidates for dark matter composition.
Astronomers are also eager to study stellar currents in several of the Milky Way’s neighboring galaxies. They are not well studied in other galaxies because they are so faint and so far away. They are also so vast that they can wrap around an entire galaxy. It takes an unparalleled panoramic view like Roman’s to capture images that are both large and detailed enough to see.
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