Photo credit: NASA

Two new researches from the University of Melbourne will enable the biggest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever invented to reveal galaxies that were hidden.

The articles are published in The Astrophysical Journal and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and indicate that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, slated for launch late next year, will reveal hidden galaxies.

Simulations directed by Science PhD candidate, Madeline Marshall, indicate that while even NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope cannot see galaxies presently hidden by these quasars, the James Webb Telescope will be able to get past the glare.

“Webb will open up the opportunity to observe these very distant host galaxies for the first time,” said Ms Marshall, who conducted her research at the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).

“That can help us answer questions like: How can black holes grow so big so fast? Is there a relationship between the mass of the galaxy and the mass of the black hole, like we see in the nearby universe?”

Although quasars are perceived to occupy the centers of galaxies, it has been tough to tell what those galaxies are like and how they correlate to galaxies without quasars.

“Ultimately, Webb’s observations should provide new insights into these extreme systems,” said ASTRO 3D co-author Stuart Wyithe of the University of Melbourne.

“The data it gathers will help us understand how a black hole could grow to weigh a billion times as much as our Sun in just a billion years. These big black holes shouldn’t exist so early because there hasn’t been enough time for them to grow so massive.”

The University of Melbourne team worked together with researchers from the US, China, Germany, and The Netherlands to utilize the Hubble Space Telescope to attempt to investigate these galaxies.

They also used a state-of-the-art computer simulation called BlueTides, which was created by a team led by ASTRO 3D distinguished visitor, Tiziana Di Matteo, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US.

“BlueTides is designed to study the formation and evolution of galaxies and quasars in the first billion years of the universe’s history,” said Yueying Ni of Carnegie Mellon University, who ran the BlueTides simulation.

“Its large cosmic volume and high spatial resolution enables us to study those rare quasar hosts on a statistical basis.”

The team utilized these simulations to deduce what Webb’s cameras would see if the observatory researched these distant systems. They discovered that discerning the host galaxy from the quasar would be feasible.

They also discovered that the galaxies hosting quasars were more likely to be smaller than average, extending only about 1/30 the diameter of the Milky Way despite comprising almost as much mass as our galaxy.

“The host galaxies are surprisingly tiny compared to the average galaxy at that point in time,” said Ms Marshall.


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