Washington, July 10 (ANI): A scientist is using a new instrument at the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory to dissect nearby galaxies to learn how stars form, and in the process, generating a flood of new information that will benefit other scientists' work.
The scientist in question is University of Texas at Austin graduate student Guillermo A. Blanc.
Blanc's research will provide a new way to study star formation in nearby galaxies using the best instrument in the world for these kind of studies.
He is mapping star formation in 30 nearby spiral galaxies in amazing detail using the VIRUS-P instrument on McDonald Observatory's 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope.
His project is called VENGA, the VIRUS-P Exploration of Nearby Galaxies.
"We are going to dissect these galaxies in every possible way," he said.
"The tendency for galaxy studies today is to look at galaxies farther away, and farther back in time. But in order to understand those, you really need to first understand galaxies in detail. The best way to do that is to look at nearby galaxies. It allows you to interpret the data on distant galaxies," he added.
The study is helping to determine the drivers for star formation in galaxies.
Previous studies disagreed about the role played by molecular gas at setting the rate at which stars form.
Blanc's study, done in collaboration with Texas astronomers Amanda Heiderman, Karl Gebhardt, Neal Evans, and Joshua Adams, shows that the amount of molecular gas is the key factor determining how many stars are formed.
"We confirm that the star formation rate correlates very well with the amount of molecular gas present in different regions inside galaxies," he said.
"These two quantities are expected to be correlated since this is gas in giant molecular clouds, which are the birth places of stars. These new type of observations allow us not only to observe this correlation, but also to measure precisely how these two quantities relate to each other," he added.
He also found that the efficiency of star formation in this galaxy is very low - only one percent of the available gas is transformed into stars in a characteristic time.
Additionally, Blanc's studies reveal that for a given amount of gas, the rate of star formation can vary by a factor of three, meaning there might be other important drivers of star formation.
Blanc plans to investigate these in future studies. (ANI)