Models of Merging

Once upon a time, there was an experimental project called Galaxy Zoo: Mergers. It used ancient, mystical technology to allow volunteers to run simulations of merging galaxies on their computers, and to compare the results of many such simulations. Their mission: to find matches to more than fifty nearby mergers selected from Galaxy Zoo data.

The wonderful Penguin Galaxy, studied in the project.

The wonderful Penguin Galaxy, studied in the project.

Amongst the chosen galaxies were not just run-of-the-mill, everyday mergers, but also the various oddities that the volunteers found, such as the Penguin galaxy. The team led volunteers through a series of tournaments designed to pit potential solutions for a particular galaxy against each other. In total, more than 3 million simulations were reviewed producing the results described in the paper, now accepted by the journal MNRAS, and in the dataset visible at the main Galaxy Zoo data repository. This represents a huge amount of effort, and a speeding up of the process – in the paper, we note that previous fits to mergers have taken months of effort to complete.

Which is not to say the analysis, led by Anthony Holincheck and John Wallin, has been easy. In a recent email to the Galaxy Zoo team, John commented:

This is by far the most complex project I have ever worked on. Most papers that model interacting galaxies contain one or two systems where the author uses a few dozen simulations. We just published a paper that modeled 62 different systems using a brand new modeling technique where the 3 million simulation results were reviewed by citizen scientists. Best of all, the 62 models were done using the same code and the same coordinate system so others can reproduce them. Doing this with other published simulations is nearly impossible.

I know an immense amount of effort went into making sure that the results weren’t wasted, and the paper thus represents a happy ending to a tale that’s been running a long time. But it is not really an end; we are already planning to observe some of these galaxies as part of surveys like MaNGA that can measure the way that the galaxies’ components are moving today, allowing us to test these models. We also hope a library of models might be useful for other astronomers, and will be looking to try and revive this kind of project.

Read more about Galaxy Zoo: Mergers in this old blog post

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