Large Millimeter Telescope Explores the Murky Centers of Dust-Shrouded Galaxies

First Posted: Nov 07, 2014 09:29 AM EST

Astronomers are peering back in time with the help of the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) and its Redshift Search Receiver. Using these instruments, they've managed to estimate the rate of star formation inside murky distant galaxies shrouded in dust clouds; the findings paint a picture of what happened 4 billion years ago within their hidden centers.

"Looking at these distant dusty galaxies presents a puzzle," said Allison Kirkpatrick in a news release. "Large amounts of dust are glowing very brightly, but in order to understand what's going on inside the galaxy, we want to know what heated the dust initially."

For years, scientists have been unsure about the relationship between molecular gas and dust that surround these galaxies. Molecular gas is the fuel for forming stars within these galaxies. Now, the new findings measure the amount of molecular gas in each galaxy which, in turn, tells scientists how many stars the galaxy is capable of forming.

In addition, the light coming from the dust tells the researchers how many stars have formed in the past 10 to 100 million years. If a galaxy is undergoing steady star formation, there is a distinct relationship between the amount of molecular gas and dust heating in a galaxy.

"By comparing the dust and gas contributions, we get a hint of what's triggering the star formation in the galaxy," said Kirkpatrick. "The AGN at the center of the galaxy and light from new stars have different light signatures, so what we've done is account for, or remove the AGN, leaving what we think is a more accurate model of star formation, which has never been demonstrated before."

The findings reveal a bit more about the centers of these distant galaxies and exactly what processes are occurring within them.  This, in turn, reveals a bit more about star formation.

The findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal

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