Astronomers Find First Group of Galaxies Just Like Ours_Featured_, Space Tuesday, August 28th, 2012
(Science Daily) The Milky Way is a fairly typical galaxy on its own, but when paired with its close neighbours — the Magellanic Clouds — it is very rare, and could have been one of a kind, until a survey of our local Universe found another two examples just like us.
Astronomer Dr Aaron Robotham, jointly from the University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and the University of St Andrews in Scotland, searched for groups of galaxies similar to ours in the most detailed map of the local Universe yet, the Galaxy and Mass Assembly survey (GAMA).
“We’ve never found another galaxy system like the Milky Way before, which is not surprising considering how hard they are to spot! It’s only recently become possible to do the type of analysis that lets us find similar groups,” says Dr Robotham.
“Everything had to come together at once: we needed telescopes good enough to detect not just galaxies but their faint companions, we needed to look at large sections of the sky, and most of all we needed to make sure no galaxies were missed in the survey”
Sophisticated simulations of how galaxies form don’t produce many examples similar to the Milky Way and its surrounds, predicting them to be quite a rare occurrence. Astronomers haven’t been able to tell just how rare until now, with the discovery of not just one but two exact matches amongst the hundreds of thousands of galaxies surveyed.
“We found about 3% of galaxies similar to the Milky Way have companion galaxies like the Magellanic Clouds, which is very rare indeed. In total we found 14 galaxy systems that are similar to ours, with two of those being an almost exact match,” says Dr Robotham.
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Image: Dr. Aaron Robotham, ICRAR/St Andrews using GAMA data