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.
The “green pea” galaxies were one of the first discoveries of the Galaxy Zoo; they were first noticed by several of our early volunteers, and appeared in a paper led by Carie Cardamone in 2009 (with over 100 citations so far!). They’ve been the subject of a great deal of follow-up research since then, much of which we’ve tried to follow on this blog.
A new paper on the Green Peas has just appeared in Nature, one of the most prestigious and widely-read journals in science. A truly international team of researchers (working in Ukraine, Czech Republic, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the United States) made observations of one green pea galaxy, known as J0925+1403, using an ultraviolet spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope. They were able to measure emission from what astronomers call “Lyman continuum” photons; this is light produced by massive stars that are solidly in the ultraviolet wavelengths.
The reason this is so important and interesting relates to one of the most fundamental steps in the history of the Universe that astronomers know of. The majority of matter in the Universe is hydrogen (formed shortly after the Big Bang), and much of it exists in diffuse clouds between galaxies, which is called the intergalactic medium. We know from observations that almost all of that hydrogen is currently ionized – that means instead of consisting of a neutral atom with one proton and one electron orbiting it, the average hydrogen atom between galaxies has had its electron stripped away from the proton. This is a big difference because neutral atoms interact with light differently than ionized atoms. If the hydrogen between galaxies were neutral, it would absorb much of the light coming from individual stars and galaxies, making a huge difference in our ability to observe distant objects.
It’s been known for years the Universe is currently ionized; however, about 700 million years after the Big Bang, we know that the Universe used to be neutral. That’s pretty well-established — however, there’s a great deal of debate about what caused the sudden reionization. Something must have produced large numbers of photons that traveled into the intergalactic medium and ionized all of the hydrogen fairly quickly. There have been lots of papers proposing different possible sources for this, including dwarf galaxies, active galactic nuclei, quasars, very early and massive stars, etc.
This new paper proposes that green pea galaxies could be responsible for re-ionizing the early Universe. The measurements from this paper show that at least one green pea galaxy is actively emitting photons with sufficient energy to ionize neutral hydrogen. Lots of galaxies can create such radiation, but one unique aspect of the peas is that the photons are escaping the galaxy where they’re being formed. Usually they’re absorbed by dust or gas clouds within the galaxy before they can affect the rest of the Universe. This is the first time that it’s been demonstrated to occur for a green pea galaxy.
The paper (Izotov et al. 2016) is available online. Nature has also published a nice summary at a slightly less technical level to accompany the article that I’d recommend – you can read that here. Please post if you have any questions or want to discuss more about what this means. We’re extremely excited that your discoveries are still yielding new and interesting science!
I swear we are consistently trying to keep our live hangouts to about 15 minutes. We have so far failed at keeping to time, but hopefully also succeeded in the sense that we only run over because there’s so much to discuss.
We had a number of good questions from Twitter, Facebook and the blog about various types of galaxies — from red spirals to green peas and blue ellipticals — and I rather arbitrarily decided this was an indication that our hangout should have a color theme. That is, what exactly does “color” mean in the context of astronomy? What is going on physically when a galaxy is one color versus another, or has multiple colors? Is color information always telling us the same thing? We tried to address all those questions, as well as show some examples of different galaxies in the above queried categories. As a bonus, we learned how galaxy colors are related to the town my grandparents retired to. (This post’s title is a quote from the Green Valley Chamber of Commerce’s official website.) That was as much a surprise to me as it was to the viewers!
We also talked about what’s currently going on in Galaxy Zoo behind the scenes. Earlier today, Kyle sent around a really nice draft of the Galaxy Zoo 2 data paper for the team to read and comment on (you’ll have to watch the video to get a sneak peek at some of the figures).
And it’s that time again: Hubble Space Telescope proposals are due in about a week. We talked about the proposal process from concept to submission to review, discussing both specifics of certain telescopes and the general practices that (we hope) help lead to a successful proposal. Here’s a hint: it may not be what you think!
We covered all this and some other questions, too. No wonder we ran a little over…
And here’s the podcast version:
After the paper describing the `green pea’ galaxies discovered by the citizen scientists on the forum, other scientists started to take a keen interest in them. One group working on the peas independently of the Galaxy Zoo team are Ricardo Amorin and collaborators from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia for SEO Services and Galaxies in Granada, Spain. They also analyzed the green pea galaxies in particular to study the abundance of heavy elements produced by the death of stars that pollute the gas in galaxies and can give clues to the evolution of galaxies.
In the Cardamone et al. peas paper, we concluded that the peas had about as much heavy elements (metals for odd reasons to astronomers, yes, carbon is a `metal’) as would be expected for galaxies of their mass. In their paper, Amorin et al sportsbet. re-exaimed the spectra of the peas and concluded that the peas were actually deficient in metals, suggesting that they are more primordial than previously thought (see this blog post for a write-up).
Now Amorin et al. posted a conference proceeding on their work on the green peas. Conference proceedings are written versions of what someone has reported in a lecture at a conference and usually are not peer-reviewed. Sometimes these proceedings are just summaries of what a person or group has been doing on a particular topic, sometimes they are more general reviews and occasionally they contain ideas or data that might not make it otherwise into a peer-reviewed paper.
But what really caught my attention in this proceedings is the final paragraph:
Recent deep and high signal-to-noise imaging and spectroscopic observations with OSIRIS at the 10-m. Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) (Amoın et al. 2011, in prep) will provide new insights on the evolutionary state of the GPs. In particular, we will be able to see whether the GPs show an extended, old stellar population underlying the young burst, like those typically dominant in terms of stellar mass in most BCGs (e.g., , , ). The age, metallicity and mass of the old and young stellar populations will be analyzed in more detail by fitting population and evolutionary synthesis models to the observed spectra.
So Amorin are saying that they’ve observed some peas with the Gran Telescopio Canarias in detail. The GTC is a Spanish telescope, similar to the 10m Keck telescopes, located in the Canary Islands that has recently started operations. They also have a paper `in prep’, meaning that the paper isn’t finished and has not yet been submitted to a journal. They want to see if there are underlying old stars present in the peas which would suggest that the peas underwent previous bursts of star formation. If there are no such old stars, it would further strengthen the idea that the peas are really primordial galaxies in the old Universe – living fossils found in the Zoo.
We are eagerly waiting to see what Amorin et al find….
Working with scientists in India, we have been awarded time on the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) to study the radio properties of the Green Pea galaxies discovered by Galaxy Zoo users. We hope to use this telescope to detect the first signs of radio emission from the Peas, establishing them as a new class of radio sources.
Why do we want to search for radio signals from the Peas? The radio emission comes from remnant supernovae which can accelerate relativistic electrons that emit synchrotron radiation. So when we are detecting star forming galaxies in radio emission, we are finding signatures from these supernovae, which tell us about the stars that live (or lived) in the galaxy. Therefore, using the radio emission we can trace recent star formation activity in the galaxy.
We are particularly interested in these Green Peas, because they are the closest analogues to a class of vigorously star forming galaxies found in the early universe (known as Lyman Break Galaxies). These galaxies behaved very differently from star forming galaxies in the present day universe, and can help us to understand how galaxies formed in the early universe. Because Lyman Break Galaxies are so far away, Astronomers have not yet been able to detect radio emission from any of these galaxies individually. In contrast, the Peas are much closer and we have a good chance of being able to directly detect them in radio emission. Detecting this radio emission, and determining whether or not the radio emission from the Peas is like that in nearby star forming galaxies will help us to understand the nature of star formation in the youngest galaxies.
It’s sometimes difficult to know which papers will excite other scientists and get them to follow-up what you’ve done. Our peas paper already has seven references to it, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to find a whole paper discussing the peas on astro-ph today. Astro-ph is required reading for all astrophysicists and contains pre-prints of papers that are updated every day. Some papers are posted when they’re submitted to a journal, others only once they’ve been accepted. A wonderful thing about the field of astronomy is the free access to data and the wide sharing of ideas through forums such as astro-ph. This creates new and exciting scientific results at an amazing pace.
This paper, written by Ricardo O. Amorín, E. Pérez-Montero and J.M. Vílchez (all at the IAA-CISC), follows up on one of the aspects of the peas: the metallicity (amount of elements other than hydrogen and helium) that are polluting the gas in the peas. These elements (or metals, as astronomers confusingly say) are generated in supernovae, so the metallicity,and the ratios of specific elements, can give astronomers some idea of how “evolved” a galaxy is. The more metals, the more supernovae must have gone off and polluted the gas.
From: Amorin et al. (2010), arXiv:1004.4910. Horizontal axis: galaxy mass; Vertical axis: “metallicity”
What they find is different from our paper. Using a different method to measure the metallicity of the peas, they include the abundance of Nitrogen. This turns out to be anomalous in the peas, and suggests that the peas are less metal-enriched than we concluded. They then look at whether the peas have the amount of metals that other galaxies of similar mass have, and conclude that the peas are off the “mass-metallicity relation” (see plot above – green points are the peas,which are below the grey shaded area representing normal star forming galaxies). This is definitely different from what we concluded – we deduced that the peas are actually on the mass-metallicity relation.
They discuss what this means – if they are right, this makes the peas even more exceptional, since they don’t fit in with normal galaxies in our old, evolved Universe, and underscores their role as “living fossils” since the peas are more like primordial galaxies than evolved ones. The differences in this nitrogen abundance tells us something about the way the peas convert gas into stars that is quite different from what occurs in galaxies like our own Milky Way. Amorin et al. further suggest that the “pea” phase is likely short-lived as the intense star formation in the peas will quickly enrich the gas to make them appear more like their normal cousins. The differences in this nitrogen abundance can imply
So who is right? We don’t know yet. The Amorin et al. paper is appearing in the Astrophysical Journal as a Letter and hopefully starts off a debate on the topic. Stay tuned!
Kevin & Carie
I meant to post about this earlier, so apologies for those who only read the blog and not the forum. My only excuse is that we’ve been busy hunting for Supernovae…
On Sunday 16th August, a motley gathering of Zooites and Zookeepers will be descending on the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. There are more details in the forum, but the general plan is as follows :
13.45 : Recommended Planetarium Show – The Sky Tonight Live. An ROG astronomer takes you around the night sky – a traditional, live planetarium show.
14.30 : Galaxy Zoo Tour of the ROG site – Led by Jim, not only an ROG astronomer but also developer on a future Zoo project. Meet in the Planetarium Foyer.
15.15 : Recommended Planetarium Show – Dawn of the Space Age. In the 40th year since the Apollo landings, the ROG’s new show looks back to how it all began.
16.00 : Meet the Zookeeper – In the ‘Discovery Space’ in the main ROG building. On the eve before the largest gathering of Zookeepers in history (for a team meeting) this is your chance to chat to some of the team who come from further afield. Confirmed
victims attendees are Bill ‘NGC 3314’ Keel, Carie ‘Peas’ Cardamone and Jordan ‘Motivation study’ Raddick. I will also be making a less exotic appearance, but should have the first results from Galaxy Zoo : Supernovae to show off.
I’m afraid that it’ll be necessary to book tickets for the planetarium shows, but the astronomy displays provide more than enough to keep you busy otherwise.
Our paper ‘Green Peas in Galaxy Zoo hits the public pre-print archive astro-ph today. If you’d like to see the paper in full detail you can download it here
(click on PDF to get the full paper).
We’ve also summarized the science results and much of the process of writing the paper in a separate blog post. Its now been accepted for publication in MNRAS, and we’ll keep you all up to date as it goes through the publication process.
Edit: Yale press release
Warning: This “History of the Peas” is rather long. At Carie’s request, Rick wrote a shorter version here.
The SDSS telescope has five colour filters, one of which is green. Like a rainbow played backwards as it splits in a prism, the colours from all filters are shown to us all at once, so we see them mixed and averaged out – usually twinkling blue star formation, golden ellipticals, and red faraway objects or nearby stars. When an object moves relative to Earth while the SDSS telescope images it, sometimes only gets through the green filter at one given time and thus leaves a pure green image in our pictures – which is usually the case with a camera glitch, one of the three images of asteroids, or satellite trails.
Some objects, though, seem to be green in their own right. We were all so busy in the first month of Galaxy Zoo trying to work out what pretty much anything was, and getting used to a hundred and one things new and strange, that not all of us (certainly not me) paid much attention to the random greenness. Those who did found a great variety of forms:
Writing the Peas paper has been a great experience for me. I’m still new to the process; its only my 3rd paper and my first with Galaxy Zoo. Kevin and Jordan suggested that I use my experience here to talk a little bit about the process of writing a paper. Every time a paper is written the stages you go through can vary, but I’ll try to describe what we’ve been doing with the Peas paper over the last year. This is a separate perspective from the one Alice is putting together giving the history of the Peas on the Galaxy Zoo Forum.