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Hubble provides new evidence for dark matter around small galaxies

   
   
12 Mar 2009 11:13:00.000

A team led by astronomers at The University of Nottingham has used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to uncover a strong new line of evidence that galaxies are embedded in halos of dark matter.

 

Peering into the tumultuous heart of the nearby Perseus galaxy cluster, the researchers discovered a large population of small galaxies that have remained intact while larger galaxies around them are being ripped apart by the gravitational tug of other galaxies.

 

Dark matter is an invisible form of matter that accounts for most of the universe’s mass. Astronomers have deduced the existence of dark matter by observing its gravitational influence on normal matter, consisting of stars, gas, and dust.

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The Hubble images provide further evidence that the undisturbed galaxies are enshrouded by a ‘cushion’ of dark matter, which protects them from their rough-and-tumble neighborhood.

Leading the Hubble observations, Professor Christopher Conselice, of The University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “We were surprised to find so many dwarf galaxies in the core of this cluster that were so smooth and round and had no evidence at all of any kind of disturbance.

“These dwarfs are very old galaxies that have been in the cluster a long time. So if something was going to disrupt them, it would have happened by now. They must be very, very dark-matter-dominated galaxies.”

The dwarf galaxies may have even a higher amount of dark matter than spiral galaxies. “With these results, we cannot say whether the dark-matter content of the dwarfs is higher than in the Milky Way Galaxy,” Professor Conselice added. “Although, the fact that spiral galaxies are destroyed in clusters, while the dwarfs are not, suggests that is indeed the case.”

First proposed about 80 years ago, dark matter is thought to be the ‘glue’ that holds galaxies together. Astronomers suggest that dark matter provides a vital ‘scaffolding’ for the universe, forming a framework for the formation of galaxies through gravitational attraction. Previous studies with Hubble and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory found evidence of dark matter in entire clusters of galaxies such as the Bullet Cluster. The new Hubble observations continue the search for dark matter in individual galaxies.

Observations by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys spotted 29 dwarf elliptical galaxies in the Perseus Cluster, located 250 million light-years away and one of the closest galaxy clusters to Earth. Of those galaxies, 17 are new discoveries.

Because dark matter cannot be seen, astronomers detected its presence through indirect evidence. The most common method is by measuring the velocities of individual stars or groups of stars as they move randomly in the galaxy or as they rotate around the galaxy. The Perseus Cluster is too far away for telescopes to resolve individual stars and measure their motions. So Professor Conselice and his team derived a new technique for uncovering dark matter in these dwarf galaxies by determining the minimum mass the dwarfs must have to protect them from being disrupted by the strong, tidal pull of gravity from larger galaxies.

Studying these small galaxies in detail was possible only because of the sharpness of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Professor Conselice and his team first spied the galaxies with the WIYN Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson, Ariz. Those observations, Professor Conselice said, only hinted that many of the galaxies were smooth and therefore dark-matter dominated. “Those ground-based observations could not resolve the galaxies, so we needed Hubble imaging to nail it,” he added.

                                                                — Ends —

Notes to editors: The Hubble results appeared in the March 1 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Other team members are Samantha J Penny of The University of Nottingham; Sven De Rijcke of the University of Ghent in Belgium; and Enrico Held of the University of Padua in Italy.
For images and more information, visit http://hubblesite.org/news/2009/11
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., Washington, D.C.

The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's ‘only truly global university’, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation – School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Story credits

 More information is available from Professor Christopher Conselice on +44 (0)115 951 5137, christopher.conselice@nottingham.ac.uk
Emma Thorne

Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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