From the big bang to today's galaxies

This high-contrast image (outer regions shown inverted) shows the remnants of a satellite galaxy (dark arcs) in the process of being swallowed by the spiral galaxy M 63 (center) Zoom Image
This high-contrast image (outer regions shown inverted) shows the remnants of a satellite galaxy (dark arcs) in the process of being swallowed by the spiral galaxy M 63 (center)

In the big bang phase, the universe was almost perfectly homogeneous. These slight imperfections were the seeds of large-scale structure formation in the universe. Now, 13.8 billion years later, we have stars arranged in gigantic systems, some of them small and irregular, some in the shape of majestic disks, some diffusely ellipsoidal. What happened?

Again, the big picture has been around for a couple of decades. But it is only now, with detailed simulations as well as with observations that are highly detailed, deliver survey information about many different galaxies, or both, that we begin to understand the details and the contributing factors.

Tracing the raw material of star formation: molecular (blue) and atomic (red) hydrogen in the Whirlpool Galaxy M51 Zoom Image
Tracing the raw material of star formation: molecular (blue) and atomic (red) hydrogen in the Whirlpool Galaxy M51

For instance: Astronomers, including those from MPIA, are finding more and more detailed traces of galaxies swallowing other galaxies (image top right) or colliding with each other, forming larger galaxies in the process - the standard mode of growth for galaxies.

And what about the giant black holes that reside in the centers of galaxies? When fed with gas, the matter spiraling into such a black hole can produce a quasar - among the most luminous phenomena in the cosmos. MPIA researchers are trying to understand the structure and properties of quasars, but also their role in galaxy evolution.

Also, when do a galaxy's stars form - and which factors control where, when and how many? MPIA researchers address these and related questions by peering at the most distant galaxies (using telescopes like ALMA), and by taking thorough surveys of the closer ones (cf. image left).

 
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