ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS NOTICE
Issued by RAS Communications Officers:
Tel: +44 (0)1483-268672 Fax: +44 (0)1483-274047 (Except 4 - 9 Apr)
Tel: +44 (0)1483-420904
National Astronomy Meeting Press Room (5 - 8 April only)
Tel: +44 (0)121-414-9201 414-9202 414-9203 414-9204
Fax: +44 (0)121-414-9200
RAS Web site: http://www.ras.org.uk
RAS National Astronomy Meeting Web site:
CONTACT DETAILS ARE LISTED AT THE END OF THIS RELEASE.
A UK-led team of astronomers has discovered a completely new type of star cluster around a neighbouring galaxy.
The new-found clusters contain hundreds of thousands of stars, a similar number to the so-called “globular” star clusters which have long been familiar to astronomers.
What distinguishes them from the globular clusters is that they are much larger – several hundred light years across – and hundreds of times less dense. The distances between the stars are, therefore, much greater within the newly discovered “extended clusters”.
The discovery was made during the course of an unprecedentedly broad and detailed survey of the Milky Way’s nearby sister, the Andromeda Galaxy (often referred to by the catalogue number, M31). The survey has so far covered more than 50 square degrees of sky, compared with only a few degrees covered by all previous CCD surveys.
Part of this study involved a search for globular clusters around M31, during which the new “extended clusters” were found. The new clusters are distributed in a spherical ‘halo’ region extending about 200,000 light years from the giant M31 spiral galaxy.
objects formed, and why there are no similar clusters in the Milky Way is still
a mystery,” said Avon Huxor, a PhD student at the
“What is clear is that these clusters, like the globulars, are ancient. They are billions of years old - possibly amongst the first objects to form in the Universe.”
“It may be they were originally created not in M31, but as part of other small, so-called dwarf galaxies, which have subsequently between pulled apart and merged with the giant M31 galaxy,” commented team member Mike Irwin (University of Cambridge).
“That would be particularly exciting since they might then be more properly considered as the very smallest galaxies rather than star clusters, and help explain the apparent scarcity of such objects compared to theoretical predictions,” added Nial Tanvir, another University of Hertfordshire astronomer, who led this part of the work.
The data for the survey were acquired with the 2.5 m Isaac Newton Telescope in La Palma, Canary Islands, and the 3.6 m Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii. The observations were made using sensitive electronic CCD cameras; previous surveys of these regions had used photographic technology, which had failed to detect the faint clusters.
The team also
included astronomers from
On Tuesday 5
April, Dr. Tanvir and Dr. Huxor can be contacted via the
Normal contact details:
Dr. Nial Tanvir
Mobile: +44 (0)7980-136499
Dr. Mike Irwin
Tel: +44 (0)1223-337524
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Globular clusters are spherical star systems composed of hundreds of thousands or millions of closely packed stars. Our Milky Way is thought to contain around 200 of these clusters in a huge halo that surrounds the galactic centre. Many of the stars in these globular clusters are very ancient, having existed for most of the history of the Universe. A number of globular clusters have also been found around the Andromeda galaxy (M31), the nearest large spiral galaxy. Andromeda lies about 2.5 million light years away, and is just visible with the naked eye.
The 2005 RAS
National Astronomy Meeting is hosted by the
IMAGES CAN BE FOUND ON THE WEB AT:
1. The new clusters are distributed in a spherical region extending out to about 200,000 light years around the giant M31 spiral galaxy. M31 itself is about 2.5 million light years from the Milky Way, and contains about 200 billion stars.
2. A close-up picture of one of the new clusters, together with a more typical globular cluster for comparison.