A team of astronomers recently discovered two possible polar ring galaxies, described as a strange celestial body.
The polar ring galaxy has a ring of stars and gas oriented at a 90 degree angle toward the other stars in the world as well as its main disk.
The potential findings suggest that polar ring galaxies may not be as rare as scientists previously thought.
“Polar ring galaxies are some of the most fascinating galaxies in the universe,” said Nathan Degg, co-leader of the team and a researcher at Queen’s University. He said in a statement. “These results suggest that between 1 and 3 percent of nearby galaxies may contain polar rings of gas, a much higher percentage than suggested by optical telescopes.”
The two galaxies are named NGC 4632, located about 56 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, and NGC 6156, located about 150 million light-years away in the constellation Ara. The ringed features of the two galaxies are hidden in visible light, and invisible to the human eye, due to the combination of light outside the visible light spectrum, such as radio light from cold hydrogen gas. But it is detected in radio observations.
The rings of stars and gas that surround the galaxy are thought to form during mergers in which a larger galaxy swallows a smaller galaxy. The gravitational influence of one galaxy pulls a stream of matter from the other. If polar ring galaxies are more common than originally thought, it means that such mergers are more frequent as well.
By studying polar ring galaxies, it may help scientists understand more about dark matter. A mysterious substance that is invisible to us, but makes up about 85% of the matter in the universe.
“These results are a truly beautiful illustration of the enormous value of mapping the sky deeper and wider than has been done before,” Christine Spiekers, co-leader of the research and a scientist at Queen’s University, said in the statement. “This is serendipity at its best: we have found things that we definitely did not expect to find.”
Jian English, a University of Manitoba scientist and member of the discovery team, shared that she used the data to “map multiple colors.” […] To subtly convey the motion occurring within the polar ring.”
The color gradations within the rings are useful because they show the different orbital motions of the gas, with the purple regions at the base of the disc showing regions moving toward Earth, while the white regions at the top of the disc are moving away from us.
“…the movement of gas gives us some clues about how galaxies evolve over time,” English concluded.
The next step for researchers is to confirm that these are indeed polar ring galaxies by examining NGC 4632 and NGC 6156 using a wide range of telescopes.
The team’s findings were published September 13 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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