Old galaxies spin in sync
Today’s guest blogger is Raul Jimenez who collaborated with us on an exciting paper on the spin (clockwise vs. counter-clockwise) of spiral galaxies.
The rate at which galaxies transform gas into stars as a function of time gives astronomers insight into the way galaxies formed and evolved. By using the SDSS spectra one can infer the past star formation history of a galaxy. We have been doing this using sophisticated statistical tools, take a look here. Much has been learned about the formation of galaxies using their star formation history, for example we know that the most massive galaxies assemble their stars early on, about 1-2 Gyr after the big-bang while small mass galaxies (100 to 1000 times smaller than the milky way) do it during the whole age of the universe. What we have done in our recent paper is to look at how the star formation history of galaxies correlates to the rotation direction of galaxies as measured by the galaxy zoo project. What we have found is that galaxies that had lots of star formation in the past do tend to rotate in the same direction in groups with lengths of about 10 to 20 Mpc.
Although this might sound surprising, it is not! If one reviews very old papers, almost 40-50 years ago, where people like Andrei Doroskievich worked out the way galaxies should rotate based on how they were formed in the past, one realizes that the correlation we have found arises naturally in these models of galaxy formation, so-called hierarchical models. What is happening is that in the past the cluster of galaxies was not yet formed and the spiral galaxies that the galaxy zoo has been classifying by morphology were coming down the filamentary structure into the proto-clusters. Because the proto-cluster already contains the big elliptical galaxies, they provide the same “pull” on all the spiral galaxies in the filament. So it is quite exciting to see this result from the galaxy zoo and the MOPED/VESPA catalogs. Now it is time to go back to theory and numerical simulations and understand better what it means for galaxy formation and evolution. This is something we will do next.
The paper has been submitted to MNRAS, and the pre-print is available for download on astro-ph.