Galaxy Formation And Evolution Models Garner Award For Rutgers Astronomer
January 25, 2013

Rutgers Astronomer Makes Big Contribution To Astronomy Community

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A Rutgers University astronomer has created computer models and simulations that help to explain how galaxies formed and evolved.

Astronomer Rachel Somerville, who works as a professor of astrophysics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, School of Arts and Sciences, created these models to show how gases like hydrogen and helium coalesce into stars and galaxies and how exploding stars and black holes impact their galactic environments.

Somerville was awarded with the Dannie Heineman Prize in Astrophysics at a scientific conference earlier this month, recognizing her work. The prize recognizes work by mid-career astronomers, and cited Somerville for providing fundamental insights into galaxy formation and evolution using modeling, simulations, and observations.

She said that she values the opportunities she gets to interact with observational astronomers at Rutgers and other places, who help provide her with new data to make her models.

“It´s hard to make models that fit all the observations,” Somerville said in a recent statement. “I try to go the extra distance to connect what the models predict with things that we can actually observe.”

Astronomers are able to see any single galaxy evolve through a telescope, and modeling galaxy formation is essential to help understanding the paths of evolution taken by different types of galaxies.

“We see galaxies at different points in their lifetimes and in different wavelengths,” she said.

Somerville explained that images acquired with visible light, radio waves and X-rays help astronomers predict which kinds of early galaxies evolved into disks like the Milky Way.

She said her goal is to build more expertise in galaxy formation theory, and help the department's astronomy group pursue new areas like the study of extrasolar planets.

“Rutgers is a great place for galaxy formation theorists because we have opportunities to interact with the excellent observational astronomers here,” she said. “I´ve benefitted from supportive colleagues and contact with graduate and undergraduate students. I´m constantly inspired by their enthusiasm.”