The Local Universe Offered Up In Unprecedented Detail
October 31, 2012

Survey Offers Up Data From 100 Galaxies In Local Universe

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The intimate details of 100 galaxies in the local universe have been published by the Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field Area survey (CALIFA).

The survey offers up new data, representing the first large-scale effort at "two plus one" mapping of galaxies. For every pixel within each two-dimensional image, scientists could perform a detailed analysis and provide information about dynamics and chemical composition.

This information could allow scientists to reconstruct the structure and dynamics of galaxies, as well as their evolution over time.

Galaxies are the large-scale building blocks of the cosmos, and their ingredients include between millions and hundreds of billions of stars, along with gas and dust clouds.

"Understanding the dynamical processes within and between galaxies that have shaped the way they are today is a key part of understanding our wider cosmic environment," said Dr. Glenn van de Ven, a member of the managing board of the CALIFA survey, said in a prepared statement.

CALIFA survey astronomers selected more than 900 galaxies in the local Universe with a distance between 70 to 400 million light years away from the Milky Way. Their selection included all possible types of galaxies, from round elliptical to spiral galaxies.

Astronomers believe that the data to come from this survey could revolutionize what scientists know about the galactic dynamics.

"Large amounts of gas in these galaxies are being ionized — intense radiation is stripping the gas's atoms of electrons. CALIFA allows us to study these processes in unprecedented detail," said Dr. Knud Jahnke, one of the co-founding members of the CALIFA project.

Dr. Mariya Lyubenova, a postdoctoral research fellow at MPIA, said that even dark matter in these galaxies can no longer go undetected.

Dark matter consists of about 20 percent of the total energy of the Universe, but its exact distribution within distant galaxies is difficult to determine. Dark matter's gravitational attraction influences the motions of a galaxy's stars and gas.

The CALIFA survey will be able to track these motions with great precision, allowing the galaxy's dark matter distribution to be uncovered.

All of the data from the survey will become freely available online to be used by scientists around the world. The data from the initial set of 100 galaxies is now being released.