The Cape Navigator

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Northern Cape

49 New Galaxies Uncovered by MeerKAT in 2 Hours

Michael Hawthorne

NORTHERN CAPE – The MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa continues to demonstrate its incredible capabilities by aiding in the discovery of 49 new gas-rich galaxies. The serendipitous discovery came during a short observation session of just over two hours, far exceeding the expectations of the researchers who were initially aiming to study just a single galaxy.

An international team of astronomers, led by Dr Marcin Glowacki of the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia, stumbled upon the galactic treasure trove while analyzing data facilitated by the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA).

Originally hoping to examine star-forming gas within a single radio galaxy, the researchers were surprised to uncover a multitude of previously unknown galaxies. Dr Glowacki expressed his astonishment, “I did not expect to find almost 50 new galaxies in such a short amount of time.”

The discovery has been informally dubbed ‘the 49ers’, an allusion to the miners who sought fortune during the 1849 California gold rush. Dr Glowacki views the galaxies as precious celestial nuggets, with many of them forming groups and even a few directly connected by their gas supplies.

“These three are particularly interesting, as…we discovered the central one is forming a lot of stars. It is likely stealing the gas from its companion galaxies to fuel its star formation, which may lead the other two to become inactive,” explained Dr Glowacki.

The cutting-edge ilifu cloud computing system and visualization software developed by IDIA at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was instrumental in the rapid analysis and unveiling of these new galaxies. Professor Patrick Woudt, interim director of IDIA, and Dr. Lucia Marchetti, director of the IDIA visualization lab at UCT, expressed their delight and the significance of this discovery for their platforms.

Professor Ed Elson from the University of the Western Cape, a co-author of the findings published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, emphasizes, “This discovery highlights the raw power of the MeerKAT telescope as an imaging instrument.”

The success doesn’t end there. Recent work by ICRAR student Jasmine White, mentored by Dr Glowacki, also led to similar serendipitous discoveries of gas-rich galaxies within MeerKAT data. The team anticipates sharing even more exciting discoveries in the future.



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