A group of international astronomers, including researchers from Queen’s University, has identified two potential polar ring galaxies, according to results published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Queen’s researchers Nathan Deg and Kristine Spekkens (Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy) led the analysis of data obtained using a telescope owned and operated by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. Looking at sky maps of hydrogen gas in over 600 galaxies as part of CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope’s WALLABY survey, they identified two potential polar ring galaxies, a type of galaxy that exhibits a ring of stars and gas perpendicular to its main spiral disk.
Although this is not the first time that astronomers have observed polar ring galaxies, they are the first observed using the ASKAP telescope located at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, CSIRO’s Murchison radio astronomy observatory on Wajarri Yamaji Country in Western Australia.
These new detections in gas alone suggest polar ring galaxies might be more common than previously believed.
Understanding how galaxies evolve
Further investigation of polar ring structures can help us better understand how galaxies evolve. For example, one of the main hypotheses to explain the origin of polar rings is a merger where a larger galaxy ‘swallows’ a smaller one. If polar ring galaxies are more common than previously thought, this could mean that these mergers are more frequent.
In the future, polar ring galaxies can also be used to deepen our understanding of the universe, with potential applications in dark matter research. It is possible to use polar rings to probe the shape of dark matter of the host galaxy, which could lead to new clues about the mysterious properties of the elusive substance.
Visualizing polar ring galaxies
Jayanne English, a member of the WALLABY research team and also an expert in astronomy image-making at the University of Manitoba,…