Hubble Provides Data on Rapidly Evolving Galaxies for Faculty, Undergraduate Researchers

MELBOURNE, FLA. – Florida Institute of Technology astronomers are beginning to analyze data from the hearts of the most rapidly evolving galaxies in the universe using new data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Daniel Batcheldor, assistant professor of physics and space sciences and director of the on-campus F.W. Olin Observatory, is spearheading the data collection and analysis efforts of this project, which is part of an international collaboration led by Professor Clive Tadhunter of the University of Sheffield, UK. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., has awarded Florida Tech $72,000 to help with this research effort.

Working with Batcheldor is Michelle Berg, a junior in the Florida Tech Physics and Space Sciences department.

“It is fantastic to have Michelle working on this Hubble data,” said Batcheldor. “Michelle is one of Florida Tech’s most talented students and has already demonstrated excellence in research.”

Berg was selected as one of 10 students from a pool of over 120 to be part of the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates internships this past summer.

The new study aims to determine the relative importance of supermassive black holes in regulating galaxy evolution compared to a phenomenon known as starbursts. Starbursts represent a period in a galaxy’s life in which there is an incredible amount of star formation that generates large regions of outflowing warm gas and dust. It is theorized that both starbursts and supermassive black holes can feed energy back into the remaining galaxy to influence its evolution. Whether the supermassive black holes or starbursts are more important for this process, or whether they both have a significant role to play, is yet to be understood. The images and spectra from Hubble will allow the energies from these two outflow mechanisms to be compared for the first time in a significant sample of rapidly evolving galaxies.

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