From sparkling blue rings to dazzling golden disks, Galaxy Evolution Explorer (Galex) scientists are handing out a collection of their finest galactic treasures at the January 2006 American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C.
Mined from the mission's Survey of Nearby Galaxies data, these cosmic gems were collected with the telescope's sensitive ultraviolet instruments. The gallery of galaxies has been made into a poster for meeting attendees visiting the mission's booth. Organized from far-ultraviolet to near-ultraviolet bright galaxies, this poster encapsulates the heart of the mission to study how galaxies and star formation rates have changed over the past 10 billion years.
Events in space take millions or billions of years to unfold, which means that astronomers can't watch individual galaxies and stars age over time. Luckily, because the physics of light travel dictates that the farther away an object is from Earth, the longer it takes for its light to travel to us, the universe can be thought of as a time machine. By building telescopes sensitive enough to capture objects that are 10 billion light-years away, astronomers can essentially see an object the way it looked 10 billion years ago. Galex astronomers are using this phenomenon to their advantage by taking snapshots of different galaxies at various distances in space. By comparing portraits of numerous objects at various times in the universe's history, the team can begin to piece together the life cycle of stars and galaxies.
For the poster, Galex scientists organized 196 different nearby galaxies in bins of increasing ultraviolet color. By placing the various snapshots side by side, astronomers can see how galaxies age differently. When viewed in ultraviolet, active star-forming regions in galaxies can be seen as glittering blue structures, while a soft, golden glow indicates the presence of older stars.
The 196 galaxies represented in the poster were selected from more than 1,000 galaxies in the "Ultraviolet Atlas of Nearby Galaxies." So far, the Galex mission has surveyed more than 100 million galaxies.