Maintained by LG
Galaxies are not randomly distributed in space. There are major concentrations of galaxies we refer to as clusters, nearly empty areas that we refer to as voids, and more complicated distributions such as filaments and sheets.
The projects on this page show some of the ways IfA astronomers study the universe by focusing their attention on galaxy clusters and voids.
Brent Tully is working to understand the origin of the 600 km/s motion of our Galaxy with respect to the cosmic microwave background. He has found that the reference frame is increasingly understood to be made up of several parts. A significant contributor, at the level of 260 km/s, is a motion away from the Local Void, a nearby region of space that is almost devoid of galaxies. The compelling evidence comes from a discontinuity in velocities just beyond the structure we live in, the Local Sheet. Galaxies within the Local Sheet are moving coherently with a tiny dispersion, while galaxies in the adjacent structures are moving with their own coherent but quite distinct flow. The nature of the motions makes it clear that our Local Sheet is part of the wall of the Local Void and experiencing the expansion of the void. The substantial expansion velocity implies that the Local Void is impressively large and empty.
Each spot in this figure is a galaxy, with the Milky Way at the origin. The arrow shows the motion of the Milky Way away from the Local Void.
Harald Ebeling has been undertaking the MAssive Cluster Survey (MACS) which reveals the spatial relationship between the galaxies in a cluster and the hot intergalactic gas that can be mapped by X-ray telescopes. The maps facilitate studies of phenomena from large-scale filaments, through dark-matter characterization, to measurements of key cosmological parameters.
Going beyond MACS, Ebeling’s team played a central role in the discovery of the Dark Flow, a large-scale motion of galaxy clusters across the entire observable universe detected via measurements of distortions in the cosmic microwave background data. Work in progress includes the eMACS project, an extension of MACS to yet higher redshifts and lower X-ray fluxes that uses Pan-STARRS 3π imaging data to identify the most distant X-ray luminous clusters detected in the ROSAT All-Sky Survey at X-ray wavelengths out to redshifts approaching unity.
The massive galaxy cluster MACS J0717.5+3745 a complex merger of at least four separate galaxy clusters. The diffuse X-ray emission from the hot intra-clusters gas is color-coded to show different gas temperatures.
Gravitational lensing is the bending of light from a distant background source by a mass concentration between this source and the observer. In the strong-lensing regime (near high mass concentrations) this effect can lead to dramatically magnified and distorted images of faint background objects.
Harald Ebeling uses massive X-ray selected galaxy clusters as gravitational telescopes (a) to constrain the mass distribution within the cluster (most of which consists of dark matter that cannot be detected by other means), and (b) to find and characterize distant background galaxies that would be beyond the reach of even the largest present-day telescopes without amplification by the cluster "lens".
In this negative image the arc in the center of the figure is the highly distorted image of a distant background galaxy, created by the bending of light as it traverses the massive cluster acting as the lens.
Pat Henry, Guenther Hasinger, and others have been studying an X-ray-selected cluster at z = 1.75, one of the most distant ever observed. The X-ray object lies between two galaxy overdensities at z = 1.688 and 1.751, SE and NW, respectively, with a bridge in-between. This configuration resembles so-called bullet clusters, in which the collision of two clusters separates their collisionless dark matter + galaxies from the dissipative X-ray gas. However, the situation shown in the figure is more like pearls on a string in which clumps of matter slide along large-scale matter filaments eventually merging at filament intersections. Initial analysis of the clusters’ color-magnitude diagrams shows their galaxies formed ~185 Myr before the observation epoch.
The green contours show the X-ray source; the black contours show the galaxies.