Next up in our series of eight blog posts celebrating eight years of Galaxy Zoo is this post from Tom Melvin, who was the lead author of the the first publication from Galaxy Zoo: Hubble, which looked at how the fraction of barred disk galaxies has evolved over the last eight billion years. Tom is also the first person to write a PhD thesis substantially based on Galaxy Zoo classifications, which he is in the process of completing final corrections for.
This was the first time the Galaxy Zoo volunteers had been asked to classify galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which provided beautiful images of galaxies whose light has taken up to eight billion light years to reach us!
With your classifications, we were able to select a sample of disk and barred disk galaxies, as shown above in Figure 1, and explore how the fraction of disk galaxies that are barred has evolved over the last eight billion years. We found that this bar fraction has been increasing as the Universe has grown older, doubling from 11% eight billion years ago to 22% four billion years ago, which is shown below in Figure 2. We also know from Galaxy Zoo 2 that this continues to increase, with around one third of disks having a bar in our local Universe. We were able to expand on this by showing that it was the most massive disk galaxies that were the driver of this evolution.
As bars tend to only form in disk galaxies that are settled and relaxed, or ‘mature’, our results showing an increasing bar fraction over the last eight billion years tells us that the disk galaxy population has matured as the Universe has aged. As this evolution is being driven by the most massive disk galaxies, we were able to conclude that the most massive disk galaxies become mature sooner than their lower mass counterparts.
In addition to these results, we were able to identify a population of ‘red spiral’ galaxies thanks to your classifications. These red spirals’ would typically be omitted from other disk samples, as they would be classified as elliptical galaxies – but as you can see below, these are clearly beautiful red spiral galaxies! What is interesting about this population of disks is that their bar fraction of 45% is much higher than the bar fraction of the whole disk sample, which is roughly 14%.
So, thanks to your help classifying the amazing images from the Hubble Space Telescope, we were able to track the evolving bar fraction of disk galaxies over the last eight billion years. There is plenty more to be done with this sample of galaxies, so keep an eye out for future results looking at how galaxies have evolved over the past eight billion years!
As we approach the 8th anniversary of the Galaxy Zoo project, it is a great opportunity to look back at one of the most fascinating discoveries of citizen science in Galaxy Zoo – the “Green Pea” galaxies. Volunteers on the forum first noted these galaxies due to their peculiar bright green color and small size. Their discovery was published in our 8th paper: ‘Galaxy Zoo Green Peas: discovery of a class of compact extremely star-forming galaxies’ and is noted on the blog here. But the story doesn’t end with their discovery.
In the years since the publication of their discovery paper by the Galaxy Zoo Science Team, the Green Peas are beginning to fulfill their promise as a living fossil of galaxy evolution. Because they aren’t too far away, they provide a unique local laboratory in which we can investigate processes key to the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early universe. They are living ‘fossils,’ undergoing extraordinary, intense starbursts unlike any other galaxies known in the local universe. Their color is due to a large amount of emission in an oxygen line [OIII]/5007A that made their appearance green in the images.
Follow-up studies of the Green Peas have looked in great detail at their abundances of various elements, something that cannot be done in their high redshift analogs. The results of these studies show that they have energetic outflows of gas and lower oxygen abundances than other typical local galaxies with similar masses. They also suggest what might be responsible for ionizing the gas in the galaxies and producing those bright emission lines (e.g., Wolf-Rayet stars). Their clumpy morphologies (or shapes) have been confirmed and suggest that star formation in the peas occurs in several separate knots throughout the galaxy. Their radio emission implies they have strong magnetic fields, larger than that of the Milky Way. All of these results paint a picture of galaxies very similar to those that formed in the early Universe.
Results from studies of these galaxies can provide challenges to commonly accepted models. For example, the strong magnetic fields challenge models that suggest magnetic fields grow slowly over time and observations of the variation in Lyman alpha emission line profiles and strengths challenge models of the dependence of the emission line shape on gas properties in the galaxy. The Green Peas have held up their promise of lending new insights into galaxy evolution by characterizing an active mode of star formation, which contrasts with the typical more passive evolution dominating the local galaxy population. Studies of the Peas have suggested that a galaxy’s evolutionary pathway may depend on stochastic initial conditions, leading insights into our understandings of how galaxies throughout the Universe form.
At Galaxy Zoo we’re really proud of our publication record – 48 papers and counting, just from the team using your classifications. In academic research one of the most important numbers a published paper has is the number which counts how many citations that paper has – simply a count of the number of other academic publications mention your work.
And we’re not only proud of the Galaxy Zoo publication record, but the citation record is becoming impressive too (if we do say so ourselves). For this post in the lead up to the 8th anniversary of the launch of Galaxy Zoo, here are the 8 most cited of our papers:
1. Lintott et al. 2008: “Galaxy Zoo: morphologies derived from visual inspection of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey “(with 279 citations)
2. Bamford et al. 2009: “Galaxy Zoo: the dependence of morphology and colour on environment” (219 citations)
3. Lintott et al. 2011: “Galaxy Zoo 1: data release of morphological classifications for nearly 900 000 galaxies” (152 citations)
4. Skibba et al. 2009: “Galaxy Zoo: disentangling the environmental dependence of morphology and colour” (114 citations)
5. Schawinski et al. 2010: “Galaxy Zoo: The Fundamentally Different Co-Evolution of Supermassive Black Holes and Their Early- and Late-Type Host Galaxies” (102 citations)
6. Cardamone et al. 2009: “Galaxy Zoo Green Peas: discovery of a class of compact extremely star-forming galaxies” (101 citations)
7. Darg et al 2010: “Galaxy Zoo: the properties of merging galaxies in the nearby Universe – local environments, colours, masses, star formation rates and AGN activity” (92 citations)
8. Masters et al. 2010: “Galaxy Zoo: passive red spirals” (86 citations)
I’m personally especially proud of paper number 8 on that list, because it is one of the first papers I led making use of Galaxy Zoo classifications (and one of my most cited first author papers in fact). In that paper we explored the properties of the unusually passive (ie. not star forming) red spirals that had been noted in both Bamford et al. 2009 and Skibba et al. 2009. For astronomers this is one of the more well known discoveries from Galaxy Zoo, and these passive red spirals continue to be studied for what they can reveal about the modes of evolution of galaxies in our Universe, and that many spirals must stop forming stars before they lose their spiral structure.
(By the way for academics who might be interested the h-index of Galaxy Zoo is 24).
It’s a week until the 8th anniversary of the launch of Galaxy Zoo.
The Hubble Space Telescope observations of giant ionized Voorwerpje clouds near galaxies with active nuclei, many found for the first time though the effort of Galaxy Zoo participants gives us another 8 – one at the end of a long road of numbers. 16,000 galaxies with known or possible active nuclei, 200 highly-ranked cloud candidates based on input from 185 participants, 50 spectroscopic observations, 19 giant ionized clouds, among which we found 8 with evidence that the nucleus has faded dramatically (and then observed by one Hubble Space Telescope). (You wondered where the numeral 8 would come in by now… and there is another one hidden below.) The first batch of scientific results from analysis of these images was described here, and the NASA/ESA press release with beautiful visualizations of the multi-filter image data can be seen here. As a visual summary, here are the images, with starlight and emission from [O III] and H-alpha shown in roughly true visual color.
This project was an outgrowth of the discovery of Hanny’s Voorwerp, which remains probably the signature discovery of Galaxy Zoo. In astronomy, one is a pet rock, ten is a statistically valid sample – so we wanted to know more about how common such clouds might be, and what they could tell us about quasars more generally. Zoo participants answered this challenge magnificently.
The scientific interest in these objects and their history remains intense, and observations continue. I’ve recently finished processing integral-field spectra from the 8-meter Gemini-North telescope, where we have spectra at every point in a small field of view near the nucleus, and just recently we learned that our proposal for spectra in a few key areas at the high resolution of the Hubble telescope has been approved for the coming year.
Even (or especially) for kinds of objects behind its original statistical goals, Galaxy Zoo has provided an amazing ride these last 8 years. Stay with us – and if you see weirdly colored clouds around galaxies, feel free to flag them in Talk!
We are pleased to announce that a Galaxy Zoo project is one of the first projects built on the new Zooniverse! Several years ago we measured the lengths of galactic bars in relatively nearby galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and Ben Hoyle wrote an excellent paper presenting new an interesting results on how bars, which are a distinct feature caused by a change in the nature of the orbits of some of the stars in a galaxy, relate to other physical properties of the galaxy, such as color (indicative of recent star formation) and the nature of spiral arms or rings. That work showed the power of measurements like these, which are not always easy for computers to get right.
Today, we’re hoping you’ll help us extend that set of detailed galaxy measurements into the distant Universe, with measurements of bars in about 8,000 galaxies from our previous projects using Hubble Space Telescope data, including the AEGIS, CANDELS, COSMOS, GEMS and GOODS surveys.
We’ve deliberately been pretty broad in our selection of galaxies which may have a bar, so the first thing the project asks you is to confirm whether you think the galaxy does indeed have one. There are many examples of barred and not-barred galaxies (including examples of sort-of-looks-like-barred-but-actually-isn’t-and-here’s-why) included in the project, and you can access them anytime by clicking the “Need some help?” button.
If the galaxy doesn’t have a bar, then you can move on to the next one. If it does, there are some follow-up questions about spiral arms and rings, and then we ask you to draw 2 lines on the image: one for the bar width and one for its length.
You can also join in the discussions after the classifications with our new Talk discussion tool, which is completely separate from the main Galaxy Zoo Talk (just like the rest of the project).
On a more personal note, this is a big step forward for the Zooniverse as a whole. The first draft version of this project came together in under 1 hour back in April. Afterward, we shared project links between science team members and iterated back and forth on the right questions to ask and the right data to use. This process would normally take at least 6 months and require a lot of one-on-one time with a Zooniverse developer. Instead, because the Zooniverse development team has done a brilliant job creating a Project Builder that’s flexible, powerful and also easy to use, we were able to create a new project in a way that’s analogous to, well, creating a blog.
In these early days of the new site’s release I’m sure there will be some bugs that need zapping, but even so the new capabilities of the Zooniverse are phenomenal. I suspect this is just the first of many new projects to be spun up in the New Zooniverse. (In fact, there are 3 more projects debuting alongside ours.)
Try it out here: Galaxy Zoo: Bar Lengths
Since our discovery in 2010 that the red spirals identified by your classifications in the first phase of Galaxy Zoo were twice as likely to host galactic scale bars as normal blue spirals, a lot of our research time has focused on understanding which types of galaxies host bars, and why that might be.
Our research with the bars identified by you in the second phase of Galaxy Zoo continues to gives us hints that these structures in galaxies might be involved in the process which quenches star formation in spiral galaxies and through that could be part of the process involved in the reduction of star formation in the universe as a whole.
We’ve also used your classifications as part of Galaxy Zoo Hubble and Galaxy Zoo CANDELS to identify the epoch in the universe when disc galaxies were first stable enough to host a significant number of bars, finding them possibly even earlier in the Universe than was previously thought.
Last Friday I spoke at the monthly “Ordinary Meeting” of the Royal Astronomical Society, giving summary of the evidence we’re collecting on the impact bars have on galaxies thanks to your classifications (a video of my talk will be available at some point). This was the second time I’ve spoken at this meeting about results from Galaxy Zoo, and it’s a delightful mix of professional colleagues, and enthusiastic amateurs – including some Galaxy Zoo volunteers.
Prompted by that I thought it was timely to write on this blog about what these bars really are, what they do to galaxies, and why I think they’re so interesting. I wrote the below some time ago when I had a spare few minutes, and was just looking for the right time to post it.
The thing about galaxies, which is sometimes hard to remember, is that they are simply vast collections of stars, and that those stars are all constantly in motion, orbiting their common centre of mass. The structures that we see in galaxies are just a snapshot of the locations of those stars right now (on a cosmic timescale), and the patterns we see in the positions of the stars reveals patterns in their orbital motions. A stellar bar for example reveals a set of very elongated orbits of stars in the disc of a galaxy.
Another extraordinary thing about a disc galaxy is how thin it is. To put this is perspective I’ll give you a real world example. In the Haus der Astronomie in Heidelberg you can walk around inside a scale model of the Whirlpool galaxy. The whole building was laid out in a design which reflects the spiral arms of this galaxy. However it’s not an exact scale model – to properly represent the thickness of the disc of the Whirlpool galaxy the building (which in actual fact has 3 stories and hosts a fairly large planetarium in its centre) would have to be only 90cm tall…..
Such an incredibly thin disc of stars floating independently in space would be quite unstable dynamically (meaning its own gravity should cause it to buckle and collapse on itself). This instability would immediately manifest in elongated orbits of stars, which would make a stellar bar (as part of this process of collapse). Simple computer models of disks of stars immediately form bars. Of course we now know that galaxy discs are submerged in massive halos of dark matter. So my first favourite little fact about bars is
(1) the fact that not all disc galaxies have bars was put forward as evidence that the discs must be embedded in massive halos before the existence of dark matter was widely accepted.
Now we can model dark matter halos better we discover that even with a dark matter halo, as long as that halo can absorb angular momentum (ie. rotate a bit) all discs will eventually make a bar. So my second favourite little fact is that
(2) we still don’t understand why not all disc galaxies have bars.
What this second fact means is that perhaps what I should really be doing is studying the galaxies you have identified as not having bars to figure out why it is they haven’t been able to form a bar yet. It should really be the properties of these which are unexpected….. We find that this is more likely to happen in blue, intermediate mass spirals with a significant reservoir of atomic hydrogen (the raw material for future star formation). In fact this last thing may be the most significant. Including realistic interstellar gas in computer simulation of galaxies is very difficult, but people do run what is called “smooth particle hydrodynamic” simulations (basically making “particles” of gas and inserting the appropriate properties). If they add too much gas into these simulations they find that bar formation is either very delayed, or doesn’t happen in the time of the simulation…..
Anyway I hope this has given you a flavour of what I find interesting about bars in galaxies. I think it’s fascinating that they give us a morphological way to identify a process which is so dynamical in nature. And it’s a very complex process, even though the basic physics (just orbits of stars) is very simple and well understood. Finally, I have become convinced though tests of the bars identified by you in Galaxy Zoo compared to bars identified by other methods, that if you want a clean sample of very large bars in galaxies that multiple independent human eyes will give you the best result. You are much less easy to trick that automated methods for finding galactic bars.
So thanks again for the classifications, and keep clicking. :)
After two rounds of comments and questions from the journal referee, the first paper discussing the detailed results of the Hubble observations of the giant ionized clouds we’ve come to call Voorwerpjes has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal. (In the meantime, and freely accessible, the final accepted version is available at http://arxiv.org/abs/1408.5159 ) We pretty much always complain about the refereeing process, but this time the referee did prod us into putting a couple of broad statements on much more quantitively supported bases. Trying to be complete on the properties of the host galaxies of these nuclei and on the origin of the ionized gas, the paper runs to about 35 pages, so I’ll just hit some main points here.
These are all in interacting galaxies, including merger remnants. This holds as well for possibly all the “parent” sample including AGN which are clearly powerful enough to light up the surrounding gas. Signs include tidal tails of star as well as gas, and dust lanes which are chaotic and twisted. These twists can be modeled one the assumption that they started in the orbital plane of a former (now assimilated) companion galaxy, which gives merger ages around 1.5 billion years for the two galaxies where there are large enough dust lanes to use this approach. In 6 of 8 galaxies we studied, the central bulge is dominant – one is an S0 with large bulge, and only one is a mostly normal barred spiral (with a tidal tail).<?p>
Incorporating spectroscopic information on both internal Doppler shifts and chemical makeup of the gas we can start to distinguish smaller areas affected by outflow from the active nuclei and the larger surrounding regions where the gas is in orderly orbits around the galaxies (as in tidal tails). We have especially powerful synergy by adding complete velocity maps made by Alexei Moiseev using the 6-meter Russian telescope (BTA). In undisturbed tidal tails, the abundances of heavy elements are typically half or less of what we see in the Sun, while in material transported outward from the nuclei, these fractions may be above what the solar reference level. There is a broad match between disturbed motions indicating outward flows and heavy-element fractions. (By “transported” above, I meant “blasted outwards at hundreds of kilometers per second”). Seeing only a minor role for these outflows puts our sample in contrast to the extended gas around some quasars with strong radio sources, which is dominated by gas blasted out at thousands of kilometers per second. We’re seeing either a different process or a different stage in its development (one which we pretty much didn’t know about before following up this set of Galaxy Zoo finds.) We looked for evidence of recent star formation in these galaxies, using both the emission-line data to look for H-alpha emission from such regions and seeking bright star clusters. Unlike Hanny’s Voorwerp, we see only the most marginal evidence that these galaxies in general trigger starbirth with their outflows. Sometimes the Universe plays tricks. One detail we learned from our new spectra and the mid-infared data from NASA’s WISE survey satellite is that giant Voorwerpje UGC 7342 has been photobombed. A galaxy that originally looked as if it night be an interacting companion is in fact a background starburst galaxy, whose infrared emission was blended with that from the AGN in longer-wavelength IR data. So that means the “real” second galaxy has already merged, and the AGN luminosity has dropped more than we first thought. (The background galaxy has in the meantime also been observed by SDSS, and can be found in DR12).
Now we’re on to polishing the next paper analyzing this rich data set, moving on to what some colleagues find more interesting – what the gas properties are telling us about the last 100,000 years of history of these nuclei, and how their radiation correlates (or indeed anti-correlates) with material being blasted outward into the galaxy from the nucleus. Once again, stay tuned!
I am very happy to present the results from the first published paper based on your classifications of the HST-CANDELS Images.
Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS combined optical and infrared imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope, which allows us to probe galaxies back to when the universe was only around 3 billion years old (early than we could do with optical HST images alone). So we are looking at galaxies whose light has taken over 10 billion years to reach us!
Our first area of research with this data is to look at disk and barred disk galaxies, as the title suggests…….
This work is based on an initial sample of 876 disk galaxies, which are from the Cosmic Assembly Near-Infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS). We want to explore what happens to barred disk galaxies beyond eight billion years ago, building on our work looking at the evolving bar fraction with Galaxy Zoo: Hubble.
When we began this work, we were unsure what we would find when looking so far back. From our Galaxy Zoo: Hubble work we had identified that 10% of disk galaxies hosted a galactic bar eight billion years ago, but beyond this our knowledge of disks was limited to a single simulation of disk galaxies. This simulation predicted that bars in disk galaxies were very rare beyond the epoch we had observed to, as the Universe would be to young for disk galaxies to
have settled down enough to form barred structures.
As Figure 1 shows, we actually find that roughly 10% of all disk galaxies host a bar, even back to when the Universe was only 3 billion years old! This is a very exciting result, as it shows that disk galaxies were able to settle at much earlier times than originally believed.
What we need to understand now is how do these disk galaxies form their bars? Could they be completely settled disk galaxies which have naturally formed bars, even during this epoch of violent galaxy evolution where galaxy mergers are more frequent? Or were these bars formed by a galaxy-galaxy interaction, as seen by some simulations? The answer could be one or the other, or most likely a combination of these two theories. Either way, we hope to explore this population of barred disk galaxies in greater detail over the coming months!
So there is a summary of the first Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS paper. If you would like to see this in more detail, please take a look at the paper here, and why not check out the RAS press release too! Thank you all for your hard work, and keep classifying!
Posted on behalf of Tom Melvin.
While preparing for more observations of the Galaxy Zoo giant AGN clouds (Voorwerpjes), this is a good time to introduce more complete ways of obtaining astronomical spectra. Traditionally, we’ve put a long slit in front of spectrographs, so we can measure everything along that line without worries about overlapping spectra of different objects or pieces of sky. In some cases, as with the optical fibers used by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, we get the light summed within a circular aperture on the sky (with Sloan, from hundreds of different objects at each pointing of the telescope). But many of the things we want to understand are large and oddly shaped, so these approaches limit us to a very partial view (or to making many observations to cover everything of interest). Enter the Integral-Field Unit (IFU), which is any kind of device that lets us get the spectrum of every point in some region of the sky. They often use fiber optics to rearrange light from the object, so each small region of it comes out at a different place on what would otherwise be the spectrograph slit. After that it all becomes a software problem.
IFUs are becoming more common on large telescopes. We’ve gotten excellent data on some Voorwerpje systems with the unit on the 8-meter Gemini North telescope. Here’s a sample of raw data on UGC 11185. Each horizontal streak is the spectrum of an area 0.2 arcseconds square. The sampling, sensitivity, and image quality are superb, revealing multiple clouds of gas moving within a total span of almost 1000 km/s.
On the other hand, if we want to use its whole wavelength range, the Gemini device covers only 3.5×5 arcseconds of sky at once. I’m headed to the 3.5m WIYN telescope on Kitt Peak to use a complementary device called Hexpak, newly commissioned by instrument designer Matt Bershady of the University of Wisconsin (who I’ve been emailing about this since I learned of the project three years ago). This fiber bundle plugs into the multipurpose spectrograph kept in a climate-controlled room below the telescope, and combines small and densely-packed fibers in the middle (for things like galactic nuclei, small and bright with lots of structure) and large fibers near the edges (collecting a lot of signal from large diffuse surrounding material – sound familiar?). Matt and his team were able to get a short exposure through thin clouds of UGC 11185 as a feasibility test – here’s a piece of that raw data frame, showing the small central fiber and the larger surrounding ones (which show brighter night-sky airglow lines as well as more object signal; the bright [O III] lines and H-beta are near the middle, with wavelength increasing to the right for each spectrum). I hope to get a lot more data like this shortly.
Elsewhere, the European Southern Observatory has commissioned an enormous IFU, and the Sloan team has rebuilt their fiber bundles so that each one now makes multiple IFUs which can be placed on many galaxies at a time – this part of the Sloan survey extension is known as MANGA. Then there is the Spanish-led CALIFA project for hundreds of galaxies, which has publicly released data for their first two subsets. Then there are SAURON (whose data ca be tamed in software by GANDALF) and the upgrade of SCORPIO-2 and more… Swimming in data as we sift for knowledge, I am reminded of this anonymous computer error message in haiku form:
Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky
but we never will.
At a conceptual level the formation of radio galaxies is pretty simple. According to a basic picture first introduced in the 1970s, a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy generates a symmetric pair of oppositely directed, high speed jets or beams of hot, ionized gas as a by-product of energy released or stored from matter falling onto the black hole. Those jets drill holes in the atmosphere of the galaxy and then even far beyond, dumping energy, excavating cavities and possibly entraining gas into the jets and cavities along the way. The jets carry magnetic fields and high energy electrons. Those electrons, spiraling in the magnetic fields light up the jets and the cavities they excavate in the radio band through a process called synchrotron emission.
While calculations based on this cartoon picture can correctly predict a few properties of radio galaxies, anyone who has looked at the images in Radio Galaxy Zoo can see that there must be a whole lot more to the story. Radio galaxies at best have only a rough bilateral symmetry with respect to their host galaxies. Furthermore, no two radio galaxies look alike, and most look pretty complicated; some could only be described as messy. In fact, the physics of radio galaxy formation is really very complex for a whole bunch of reasons that range from inherent instabilities in the dynamics of a fast jet, to the reality that the jets are not steady at the source. Furthermore, the surrounding environments are themselves messy, dynamic and sometimes even violent. All of these influences have impact on the appearances of radio galaxies.
The other side of the coin is that, if they can be understood, these complications may improve opportunities to decipher both the formation processes of the jets as well as the conditions that control their development and dissipation as they penetrate their environments. One part of piecing this puzzle together is expanding our awareness of all the things radio galaxies do, as well as when and where they do what they do. That’s what Radio Galaxy Zoo is about.
On the other hand, to go beyond the cartoon picture of what we see we also have to develop much more sophisticated and realistic models of the phenomena. This is very challenging. Because the detailed physics is so complex (messy!), astronomers have come to depend increasingly on large computer simulations that solve equations for gas dynamics with magnetic fields and high energy electrons. Pioneering gas dynamical simulations of jets in the 1980s already played an important role in confirming the value of the jet paradigm and helped to refine it soon after it was introduced.
Those early simulations were, however, seriously limited by available computer power and computational methods. In important ways the structures they made did not really look much like actual radio galaxies. At best they were too grainy. At worst important physics had to be left out, including the processes that actually produce the radio emission. This made it hard to know exactly how to compare the simulations with real radio galaxies. Thankfully, rapid improvements in both of those areas have led recently to much more realistic and detailed simulations that are starting to look more like the real thing and can be used to better pin down what is actually going on.
Our group at the University of Minnesota has been involved for some years now in pushing forward the boundaries of what can be learned about radio galaxies from simulations. I illustrate below some of the lessons we have learned from these simulations and some of the complex radio galaxy environments that it is now possible to explore through simulations. Each of these simulations was part of the work carried out by a student as part of their PhD training.
The jets responsible for radio galaxy formation propagate at speeds that can be a significant fraction of the speed of light. They are almost certainly supersonic. These properties lead to several related behaviors that are illustrated in Figure 1. It turns out that the flows within such a jet tend periodically to expand and then to contract. As they do so they form a sequence of shocks along the jet. These are visible in the figure. The jet also creates a sonic boom or bow shock in front as it moves forward. A close look at the jet in this figure also reveals that the jet actually does not remain straight as it moves forward. The end of the jet turns out to be unstable, so soon after launch begins to ‘flap’ or wobble. As a result the end of the jet tends to jump around, enlarging the area of impact on the ambient medium.
Many radio galaxies form inside clusters of galaxies, where the ambient medium is highly non-uniform and stirred up as a result of its own, violent formation. This distorts and bends the radio structures. At the same time the energy and momentum deposited by the jets creates cavities in the cluster gas that lead to dark holes in the thermal X-ray emission of the cluster. Figure 2 illustrates some of these behaviors for a simulated radio galaxy formed at the center of a cluster. Even though the source of the radio galaxy is at rest, there are fast gas motions in the cluster gas that obviously deflect the radio galaxy jets. ‘Mock’ radio images representing synchrotron emission by high energy electrons in the magnetic field carried by the jets are shown on the right in the figure at two times. At the same two times mock images of thermal X-rays are shown to the left. The X-ray images have been processed to exaggerate the dark cavities produced by the jets. Note that each image spans about 700 kpc or 2 million light years.
Quite a few radio galaxies in clusters are not made by galaxies anchored in the cluster center, but are hosted by galaxies moving through the cluster. This is especially common in clusters that are in the process of merging with another cluster. In that case the host galaxy can be moving very fast, and even supersonically with respect to its local, ambient medium. Then the radio jets can be very strongly deflected into ‘tails’ by an effective cross wind and eventually disrupted. Figure 3 illustrates the mock synchrotron emission from such a simulated radio galaxy. The abruptness of jet bending depends on the relative speed of the jet with respect to its internal sound speed and the relative speed of the host galaxy through its ambient medium with respect to the sound speed of that medium. So, when strongly bent jets are seen in a radio galaxy it is a strong clue that the motion of the galaxy is supersonic in relation to its environment. When multiple tailed radio galaxies are found in a given cluster it provides potentially valuable information about the dynamical condition of the cluster, since a relaxed cluster ought not to have many galaxies moving at supersonic speeds through the cluster gas.
Even more complex motions between the host galaxies and the ambient gas are possible. Those can sometimes lead to really exotic-looking radio structures. One beautiful example of this is the radio source 3C75 in the merging cluster Abell 400. Evidently two massive galaxies have become gravitationally bound into a binary system with a separation of about 7 kpc. The orbital period should be around 100 Myr. The pair also appears to be moving together supersonically through the ambient medium. Each of those galaxies has formed radio jets. If it were not for the binary the expected outcome might resemble the situation pictured in Figure 3. However, the binary motions cause each of the two galaxies to oscillate in its motion and this causes the radio jets to develop more complex, twisted shapes before they disrupt into tails. Figure 4 illustrates a preliminary effort to simulate this dynamics. The image on the right shows the real 3C75, where pink is the radio emission (VLA) and blue is thermal X-rays (Chandra). The image on the left traces the distribution of gas expelled by each of the two galaxies in the binary system. This simulation seems to capture the general character of the dynamical situation responsible for 3C75.
From this short set of simulation results it ought to be clear why many different kinds of radio galaxy structures are expected to form. It also ought to be apparent that we need better catalogs of what behaviors do exist in nature in order to see how to focus our simulation efforts and to establish what are the most important dynamical conditions in radio galaxy formation.