I’m incredibly happy to report that the main paper for the Galaxy Zoo: Hubble project has just been accepted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society! It’s been a long road for the project, but we’ve finally reached a major milestone. It’s due to the efforts of many, including the scientists who designed the interface and processed the initial images, the web developers who managed our technology and databases, more than 80,000 volunteers who spent time classifying galaxies and discussing them on the message boards, and the distributed GZ science team who have been steadily working on analyzing images, calibrating data, and writing the paper.
The preprint for the Galaxy Zoo: Hubble paper is available here. The release of GZH also syncs up with the publication of the Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS catalog, led by Brooke Simmons; she’ll have a blog post up later today, and the GZC paper is also available as a preprint.
Galaxy Zoo: Hubble began in 2010; it was the first work of GZ to move beyond the images taken with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). We were motivated by the need to study the evolution and formation of galaxies billions of years ago, in the early days of the Universe. While SDSS is an amazing telescope, it doesn’t have the sensitivity or resolution to make a quality image of a typical galaxy beyond a redshift of about z=0.4 (distances of a few billion parsecs). Instead, we used images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the flagship and workhorse telescope of NASA for the past two decades, and asked volunteers to help us classify the shapes of galaxies in several of Hubble’s largest and deepest surveys. After more than two years of work, the initial set of GZH classifications were finished in 2012 and the site moved on to other datasets, including CANDELS, UKIDSS, and Illustris.
So why has it taken several years to finish the analysis and publication of the data? The reduction of the GZH data ended up being more complicated and difficult than we’d originally anticipated. One key difference lies in our approach to a technique we call debiasing; these refer to sets of corrections made to the raw data supplied by the volunteers. There’s a known effect where galaxies that are less bright and/or further away will appear dimmer and/or smaller in the images which are being classified. This skews the data, making it appear that there are more elliptical/smooth galaxies than truly exist in the Universe. With SDSS images, we dealt with this by assuming that the nearest galaxies were reliably measured, and then deriving corrections which we applied to the rest of the sample.
In Galaxy Zoo: Hubble, we didn’t have that option available. The problem is that there are two separate effects in the data that affect morphological classification. The first is the debiasing issue just mentioned above; however, there’s also a genuine change in the populations of galaxies between, say, 6 billion years ago and the present day. Galaxies in the earlier epochs of the Universe were more likely to have clumpy substructures and less likely to have very well-settled spiral disks with features like bars. So if we just tried to correct for the debiasing effect based on local galaxies, we would have explicitly removed any of the real changes in the population over cosmic time. Since those trends are exactly what we want to study, we needed another approach.
Our solution ended up bringing in another set of data to serve as the calibration. Volunteers who have classified on the current version of the site may remember classifying the “FERENGI” sample. These were images of real galaxies that we processed with computer codes to make them look like they were at a variety of distances. The classifications for these images, which were completed in late 2013, gave us the solution to the first effect; we were able to model the relationship between distance to the galaxy and the likelihood of detecting features, and then applied a correction based on that relationship to the real GZH data.
The new GZH data is similar in format and structure to the data release from GZ2. The main product is a very large data table (113,705 rows by 172 columns) that researchers can slice and dice to study specific groups of galaxies with morphological measurements. We’re also releasing data from several related image sets, including experiments on fading and swapping colors in images, the effect of bright active galactic nuclei (AGN), different exposure depths, and even a low-redshift set of SDSS Stripe 82 galaxies classified with the new decision tree. All of the data will be published in electronic tables along with the paper, and are also downloadable from data.galaxyzoo.org. Our reduction and analysis code is available as a public Github repository.
The science team has already published two papers based on preliminary Galaxy Zoo: Hubble data. This included a paper led by Edmond Cheung (UCSC/Kavli IPMU) that concluded that there is no evidence connecting galactic bars and AGN over a range of redshifts out to z = 1.0. Tom Melvin (U. Portsmouth) carefully examined the overall bar fraction in disks using COSMOS data, measuring a strong decrease in bar fraction going back to galaxies 7.8 billion years ago. We’re now excited to continue new research areas, including a project led by Melanie Galloway (U. Minnesota) on the evolution of red disk galaxies over cosmic time. We hope GZH will enable a lot more science very soon from both our team and external researchers, now that the data are publicly released.
A massive “thank you” again to everyone who’s helped with this project. Galaxy Zoo has made some amazing discoveries with your help in the past eight years, and now that two new unique sets of data are openly available, we’re looking forward to many more.
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.
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 blog.galaxyzoo.org/2012/03/27/the-finale-of-merger-zoo.
This post was written as a contribution by Timothy Friel, an undergraduate Australian National University student studying Theoretical Physics and Science Communication. Tim is conducting research into citizen science projects and their social media communication strategies.
Meet two of our fantastic Zooniverse members who have been recognised as co-authors for a RGZ submitted paper.
In March 2016, the Radio Galaxy Zoo (RGZ) team submitted a paper which is co-authored by two of our SuperRGZooites. Thanks to the help of citizens around the world, over 1.6 million classifications have been made. However, a very special thanks must go to two citizens who have been greatly involved in our most recent submitted paper.
Meet Ivan Terentev and Tim Matorny, our Citizen Science co-authors.
How did you discover Radio Galaxy Zoo and become involved?
Tim: I had a passion for research and to be involved with generating new knowledge. So I began to look and met [the world of] citizen science and tried many different projects. I was already familiar with the Zooniverse, when I got email about new project – RGZ.
Ivan: I became involved in RGZ from its beginning, more or less, in December 2013, and at that time I was part of the Zooniverse for two years. I was mostly contributing to the Planet Hunters project back then, but occasionally I switched to different projects just to look for what they have to offer. And it was during one of these “Let’s try something different” moments that I discovered RGZ through the announcement post in the Galaxy Zoo blog.
What parts kept you interested and motivated to stay a part of this project?
Tim: The team of scientists and their active participation is an important part. Their blog posts, comments and links have helped me to learn about the project and my involvement with the goals.
Looking for host radio lobes which are separated by a 10′ [minutes] or looking at the behaviour of jets in galaxies clusters is really exciting for me. I like that RGZ covers a wide range of data: radio, optics, IR, X-ray.
Ivan: If we are talking specifically about RGZ, it would be the RGZ Talk community and the fact that RGZ Science team is eager to communicate with simple volunteers and involve them in the research process. But a large portion of my motivation [for RGZ] is the same as for the rest of the Zooniverse projects. You see, I am sci-fi fan and it made me interested in space exploration. I like to watch documentaries about the astronomers, their work and all the amazing stuff in the universe around us and through the Zooniverse I can actually be involved in the process of science and help to shape the future, even if it just by a very tiny fraction. I never thought that something like this would be possible before I discovered Zooniverse.
How do you feel about being a co-author of a scientific research paper?
Tim: I am still amazed and feel more motivated to look for stunning new radio galaxies.
Ivan: This isn’t the first time actually, I am also a co-author for three papers from the Planet Hunters, BUT it is always awesome, like every single time! Although, I keep my head cool over that since most of the work was done by the professional scientists. A huge thanks to them for the acknowledgment of my small contribution in the form of inviting me to be a co-author in their paper. With this RGZ paper, I got a chance to see the whole process of science starting from the simple question “What is that?” and then people trying to figure out what is going on, schedule observations, discussing things and I have been a part of it! All the way through the process, ending with the actual published science article. It was an amazing experience!
Without the contributions made by our volunteers all over the world, we would not have been so successful in our endeavours.
However, we have only reached 57% of our classification target. Head to www.bit.ly/RadioGalaxyZoo1 to become involved and you could be co-authoring another great discovery with us!
Our first paper “Radio Galaxy Zoo: host galaxies and radio morphologies derived from visual inspection” was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) in September;
upon the recommendation of our referee, our paper on hybrid morphology radio sources will be split into two papers; and
the giant wide angle tail (WAT) discovery paper will be available soon.
progress on the giant WAT is continuing to bring up more interesting information including our JVLA data – potentially 3 additional papers;
we obtained 4 hours to obtain a spectrum for four of our green DRAGN with the observations scheduled for March 2016; and
- with all your work, RGZ has discovered over 100 new giant radio galaxies!
matching of RGZ classifications to SDSS;
merging Galaxy Zoo data with Radio Galaxy Zoo data;
our observations with the JVLA on the hybrid radio sample is complete with 60 hours of observing time; and
- we are working with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to get the RGZ name official.
Martin Hardcastle (Hertfordshire)
Sarah White (ICRAR/Curtin)
Francesco de Gasperin (Leiden)
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!
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).
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.
I’ve used some statistical tools to analyze the spatial distribution of Galaxy Zoo galaxies and to see whether we find galaxies with particular classifications in more dense environments or less dense ones. By “environment” I’m referring to the kinds of regions that these galaxies tend to be found: for example, galaxies in dense environments are usually strongly clustered in groups and clusters of many galaxies. In particular, I’ve used what we call “marked correlation functions,” which I’ve found are very sensitive statistics for identifying and quantifying trends between objects and their environments. This is also important from the perspective of models, since we think that massive clumps of dark matter are in the same regions as massive galaxy groups.
We’ve mainly used them in two papers, where we analyzed the environmental dependence of morphology and color and where we analyzed the environmental dependence of barred galaxies. These papers have been described a bit in this post andthis post. We’ve also had other Galaxy Zoo papers about similar subjects, especially this paper by Steven Bamford and this one by Kevin Casteels.
What I loved about these projects is that we obtained impressive results that nobody else had seen before, and it’s all thanks to the many many classifications that the citizen scientists have contributed. These statistics are useful only when one has large catalogs, and that’s exactly what we had in Galaxy Zoo 1 and 2. We have catalogs with visual classifications and type likelihoods that are ten times as large as ones other astronomers have used.
What are these “marked correlation functions”, you ask? Traditional correlation functions tell us about how objects are clustered relative to random clustering, and we usually write this as 1+ ξ. But we have lots of information about these galaxies, more than just their spatial positions. So we can weight the galaxies by a particular property, such as the elliptical galaxy likelihood, and then measure the clustering signal. We usually write this as 1+W. Then the ratio of (1+W)/(1+ξ), which is the marked correlation function M(r), tells us whether galaxies with high values of the weight are more dense or less dense environments on average. And if 1+W=1+ξ, or in other words M=1, then the weight is not correlated with the environment at all.
First, I’ll show you one of our main results from that paper using Galaxy Zoo 1 data. The upper panel shows the clustering of galaxies in the sample we selected, and it’s a function of projected galaxy separation (rp). This is something other people have measured before, and we already knew that galaxies are clustered more than random clustering. But then we weighted the galaxies by the GZ elliptical likelihood (based on the fraction of classifiers identifying the galaxies as ellipticals) and then took the (1+W)/(1+ξ) ratio, which is M(rp), and that’s shown by the red squares in the lower panel. When we use the spiral likelihoods, the blue squares are the result. This means that elliptical galaxies tend to be found in dense environments, since they have a M(rp) ratio that’s greater than 1, and spiral galaxies are in less dense environments than average. When I first ran these measurements, I expected kind of noisy results, but the measurements are very precise and they far exceeded my expectations. Without many visual classifications of every galaxy, this wouldn’t be possible.
Second, using Galaxy Zoo 2 data, we measured the clustering of disc galaxies, and that’s shown in the upper panel of the plot above. Then we weighted the galaxies by their bar likelihoods (based on the fractions of people who classified them as having a stellar bar) and measured the same statistic as before. The result is shown in the lower panel, and it shows that barred disc galaxies tend to be found in denser environments than average disc galaxies! This is a completely new result and had never been seen before. Astronomers had not detected this signal before mainly because their samples were too small, but we were able to do better with the classifications provided by Zooites. We argued that barred galaxies often reside in galaxy groups and that a minor merger or interaction with a neighboring galaxy can trigger disc instabilities that produce bars.
What kinds of science shall we use these great datasets and statistics for next? My next priority with Galaxy Zoo is to develop dark matter halo models of the environmental dependence of galaxy morphology. Our measurements are definitely good enough to tell us how spiral and elliptical morphologies are related to the masses of the dark matter haloes that host the galaxies, and these relations would be an excellent and new way to test models and simulations of galaxy formation. And I’m sure there are many other exciting things we can do too.
Great news everybody! The latest Galaxy Zoo 1 paper has been accepted by MNRAS and has appeared on astro-ph: http://arxiv.org/abs/1402.4814
In this paper, we take a look at the most crucial event in the life of a galaxy: the end of star formation. We often call this process “quenching” and many astrophysicists have slightly different definitions of quenching. Galaxies are the place where cosmic gas condenses and, if it gets cold and dense enough, turns into stars. The resulting stars are what we really see as traditional optical astronomers.
Not all stars shine the same way though: stars much more massive than our sun are very bright and shine in a blue light as they are very hot. They’re also very short-lived. Lower mass stars take a more leisurely pace and don’t shine as bright (they’re not as hot). This is why star-forming galaxies are blue, and quiescent galaxies (or “quenched” galaxies) are red: once star formation stops, the bluest stars die first and aren’t replaced with new ones, so they leave behind only the longer-lived red stars for us to observe as the galaxy passively evolves.
Blue Ellipticals & Red Spirals
The received wisdom in galaxy evolution had been that spirals are blue, and ellipticals are red, meaning that spirals form new stars (or rather: convert gas into stars) and ellipticals do not form new stars (they have no gas to convert to stars). Since you’re taking part in Galaxy Zoo, you know that this isn’t entirely true: there are blue (star-forming) ellipticals and red (passive) spirals. It’s those unusual objects that we started Galaxy Zoo for, and in this paper they help us piece together how, why and when galaxies shut down their star formation. You can already conclude from the fact that blue ellipticals and red spirals exist that there is no one-to-one correlation between a galaxy’s morphology and whether or not it’s forming stars.
Blue, Red and…. Green?
A few years back, astronomers noticed that not all galaxies are either blue and star forming or red and dead. There was a smaller population of galaxies in between those two, which they termed the “green valley” (the origin of the term is rather interesting and we talk about it in this Google+ hangout). So how do these “green” galaxies fit in? The natural conclusion was that these “in between” galaxies are the ones who are in the process of shutting down their star formation. They’re the galaxies which are in the process of quenching. Their star formation rate is dropping, which is why they have fewer and fewer young blue stars. With time, star formation should cease entirely and galaxies would become red and dead.
The Green Valley is a Red Herring
Ok, why is this green valley a red herring you ask? Simple: the green valley galaxies aren’t a single population of similar galaxies, but rather two completely different populations doing completely different things! And what’s the biggest evidence that this is the case? Some of them are “green spirals” and others are “green ellipticals”! (Ok, you probably saw that coming from a mile away).
So, we have both green spirals and green ellipticals. First: how do we know they must be doing very different things? If you look at the colour-mass diagram of only spirals and only ellipticals, we start to get some hints. Most ellipticals are red. A small number are blue, and a small number are green. If the blue ellipticals turn green and then red, they must do so quickly, or there would be far more green ellipticals. There would be a traffic jam in the green valley. So we suspect that quenching – the end of star formation – in ellipticals happens quickly.
In the case of spirals, we see lots of blue ones, quite a few green one and then red ones (Karen Masters has written several important Galaxy Zoo papers about these red spirals). If spirals slowly turn red, you’d expect them to start bunching up in the middle: the green “valley” which is revealed to be no such thing amongst spirals.
Galaxy Quenching time scales
We can confirm this difference in quenching time scales by looking at the ultraviolet and optical colours of spirals and ellipticals in the green valley. What we see is that spirals start becoming redder in optical colours as their star formation rate goes down, but they are still blue in the ultraviolet. Why? Because they are still forming at least some baby stars and they are extremely bright and so blue that they emit a LOT of ultraviolet light. So even as the overall population of young stars declines, the galaxy is still blue in the UV.
Ellipticals, on the other hand, are much redder in the UV. This is because their star formation rate isn’t dropping slowly over time like the spirals, but rather goes to zero in a very short time. So, as the stellar populations age and become redder, NO new baby stars are added and the UV colour goes red.
It’s all about gas
Galaxies form stars because they have gas. This gas comes in from their cosmological surroundings, cools down into a disk and then turns into stars. Galaxies thus have a cosmological supply and a reservoir of gas (the disk). We also know observationally that gas turns into stars according to a specific recipe, the Schmidt-Kennicutt law. Basically that law says that in any dynamical time (the characteristic time scale of the gas disk), a small fraction (around 2%) of that gas turns into stars. Star formation is a rather inefficient process. With this in mind, we can explain the behaviour of ellipticals and spirals in terms of what happens to their gas.
Spirals are like Zombies
Spirals quench their star formation slowly over maybe a billion years or more. This can be explained by simply shutting off the cosmological supply of gas. The spiral is still left with its gas reservoir in the disk to form stars with. As time goes on, more and more of the gas is used up, and the star formation rate drops. Eventually, almost no gas is left and the originally blue spiral bursting with blue young stars has fewer and fewer young stars and so turns green and eventually red. That means spirals are a bit like zombies. Something shuts off their supply of gas. They’re already dead. But they have their gas reservoir, so they keep moving, moving not knowing that they’re already doomed.
Ellipticals life fast, die young
The ellipticals on the other hand quench their star formation really fast. That means it’s not enough to just shut off the gas supply, you also have to remove the gas reservoir in the galaxy. How do you do that? We’re not really sure, but it’s suspicious that most blue ellipticals look like they recently experienced a major galaxy merger. There are also hints that their black holes are feeding, so it’s possible an energetic outburst from their central black holes heated and ejected their gas reservoir in a short episode. But we don’t know for sure…
So that’s the general summary for the paper. Got questions? Ping me on twitter at @kevinschawinski