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#Science

Dead galaxies in coma cluster may provide clues about dark matter

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Researchers have revealed based on mathematical simulations that dead galaxies in a coma cluster some 300 million light years away may contain as much as 100 times more dark matter than visible matter and this could provide them with some important clues about dark matter.

Coma cluster is considered one of the largest structures in the Universe wherein thousands of galaxies are bound together by gravity and according to the researchers, the galaxies could have fallen into this particular cluster some 7 billion years ago.

Researchers say that if their simulations are correct and if current theories of galaxies evolution hold true, then there must be lots of dark matter protecting the visible matter from being ripped apart by the cluster. Dark matter cannot be seen directly but the mysterious substance is thought to make up about 84 per cent of the matter in the Universe.

International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research PhD student Cameron Yozin, who led the study, says the paper demonstrates for the first time that some galaxies that have fallen into the cluster could plausibly have as much as 100 times more dark matter than visible matter.

Yozin, who is based at The University of Western Australia, says the galaxies he studied in the Coma Cluster are about the same size as our own Milky Way but contain only one per cent of the stars.

This artist's impression of the ‘quenching’ process shows how a normal blue (star-forming) galaxy lost its gas while falling into the Coma Cluster very early on in its formation. Credit: Cameron Yozin, ICRAR/UWA

This artist’s impression of the ‘quenching’ process shows how a normal blue (star-forming) galaxy lost its gas while falling into the Coma Cluster very early on in its formation. Credit: Cameron Yozin, ICRAR/UWA

He says the galaxies appear to have stopped making new stars when they first fell into the cluster between seven and ten billion years ago and have been dead ever since, leading astrophysicists to label them “failed” galaxies.

This end to star formation is known as “quenching”.

“Galaxies originally form when large clouds of hydrogen gas collapse and are converted to stars–if you remove that gas, the galaxy cannot grow further,” Yozin says.

“Falling into a cluster is one way in which this can happen. The immense gravitational force of the cluster pulls in the galaxy, but its gas is pushed out and essentially stolen by hot gas in the cluster itself.

“For the first time, my simulations have demonstrated that these galaxies could have been quenched by the cluster as early as seven billion years ago.

“They have however avoided being ripped apart completely in this environment because they fell in with enough dark matter to protect their visible matter.”

This research was motivated by the recent observational discovery of these galaxies by an American and Canadian team led Professor Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University.

Using the data the North American team published last year, Yozin was able to create computer simulations to model how the galaxies evolved into what we can see today.