We learn from a very young age that everything around us is alive, or that it once was. Well, a group of scientists apparently took that to heart (pun definitely intended), as the team of astronomers measured a galaxy’s pulse.
Contrary to popular belief, the light coming from stars throughout the Universe is not constant. It has a steady pulse, the light dimming and shining periodically. The scientists have determined that this pulse can be used to measure a galaxy’s age.
Professor Pieter van Dokkum, the co-author of the study, and Chair of Astronomy at Yale University, explains that as they age, stars begin to increase in size, and as they get closer to their deaths, they begin to pulsate and shimmer, decreasing and increasing their luminosity every few hundred years.
Many of the stars in our galaxy have already reached this stage.
This is how the team was able to measure a distant galaxy’s age, by measuring the pulsation of the stars in the galaxy over a tree month period recorded back in 2006.
The Hubble telescope captured images of the M87 galaxy in the Virgo constellation and the astronomers discovered that 25% of the pixels in those images increased and decreased in brightness over the course of their observation.
This led them to the conclusion that the galaxy had a pulse, and that it had a ‘heartbeat’ once every 270 days.
Charlie Conroy, professor at Harvard University and author of the study, declares that this is a very important tool for astronomers world-wide, as they didn’t really have many ways of determining a galaxy’s age.
The team also managed to conclude that the shimmer, or the heartbeat, is more powerful in younger galaxies. Their next step is to continue measuring pulses of other galaxies, and see what more they can discover.
The M87 galaxy is about 53 million light years away from Earth, and is full of other stars which are yet too young for their heartbeats to be measured. The fact that the galaxy’s pulse can still be measured even if it is so far away and surrounded by other sources of stellar light is a huge breakthrough for astronomers everywhere.
How do you think this new discovery will affect astrology as a science? Are you curious about any particular galaxy’s age?
Please leave your comments below.
Image source: www.wikimedia.org