Astronomers Discover A Galaxy With ‘Heartbeat’

Posted: Nov 17 2015, 3:02am CST | by , Updated: Nov 17 2015, 9:10pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Astronomers Discover a Galaxy with ‘Heartbeat’
Image of M87 taken from Hubble Space Telescope, Yale University

For the first time astronomers have taken the pulse of a distant galaxy.

Astronomers have spotted a galaxy with a heartbeat and noticed thousands of stellar pulses in it.

A layman may think that stars always remain stable and unchanged but the fact is they undergo significant transformation throughout their life especially in the ending years. They are born, they live and die and now can have a pulse as well.

Stars begin pulsating in the later years of their life, meaning they start increasing and decreasing their brightness frequently after every few hundred days. They also become very bright and large in size and gobble up any planet which comes in their way.

Until now, no one has measured the effect of their pulsating on the light coming from surrounding galaxies. Astronomers from Yale and Harvard have detected a galaxy called Messier 87 (M87), which is exactly going through the phase and measured the effects of its pulsating for the first time.

"We realized that these stars are so bright and their pulsations so strong, that they are difficult to hide," said lead author Charlie Conroy, an assistant professor at Harvard University and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "We decided to see if the pulsations of these stars could be detected even if we couldn't separate their light from the sea of unchanging stars that are their neighbors."

The galaxy M87 around 10 billion years old and is located 53 million light years away from the Earth. Astronomers had started to take a series of images of the galaxy with Hubble Space Telescope for three months, back in 2006. What they found was really remarkable.

“Amazingly, one in four pixels in the image changes with time,” said Peiter Van Dokkum, in charge of astronomy department of Yale University. “We tend to think of galaxies as steady beacons in the sky, but they are actually ‘shimmering’ due to all the giant’ pulsating stars in them.”

Images show that up and down changes in brightness happened regularly and appeared similar to heartbeats. It approximately takes a timescale of 270 days to change its brightness. 

Astronomers call it “as if we’re taking the pulse of the galaxy.” They believe that stellar heartbeat should vary from one galaxy to another and every galaxy should have its own distinctive pattern. 

The discovery offers a new way to determine the age of a galaxy. The next they aim is to take the pulse of other galaxies.

“Our models suggest that the pulsations will be stronger in younger galaxies and that’s something we’d love to test.”

Source: Yale News

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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