Disc jockeys to the stars: studying galactic stellar formation

Posted by pt91 at Feb 17, 2011 11:55 AM |
In a galaxy just next door to ours a team of astronomers, including University of Leicester scientists, have found an ideal model for investigating how large spiral galaxies like ours form.

A team of astronomers from the UK, the US and Europe, including researchers within our Department of Physics and Astronomy, have identified a thick stellar disc in the nearby Andromeda galaxy for the first time.

By analysing precise measurements of the velocities of individual bright stars within the Andromeda galaxy using the Keck telescope in Hawaii, the team have managed to separate out stars tracing out a thick disc from those comprising the thin disc, and assess how they differ in height, width and chemistry.

Currently, the formation process of the thick disc is not well understood. Previously, the best hope for comprehending this structure was by studying the thick disc of our own galaxy, but much of this is obscured from our view. The discovery of a similar thick disk in Andromeda presents a much cleaner view of spiral structure. Andromeda is our nearest large spiral neighbour - close enough to be visible to the unaided eye - and can be seen in its entirety from the Milky Way.