Australian Gemini Cosmic Poll 2015

December 23, 2015

Australian Gemini Cosmic Poll 2015 Final Update and Summary

Welcome to the Cosmic Poll finale Page! This finale is GALAXY SIZED… the size of NGC3310 to be exact! The Australian Gemini Cosmic Poll object NGC3310 was observed recently and we now have the finished image to share with you.

We will start off this year-end event with a little recap of our grand Australian Gemini Cosmic Poll adventure. When we first started out the goal was to have the public choose which type of object the Gemini Telescope would observe. The original poll is at: Thinkable

The winning category was ‘individual galaxy’ which means a galaxy that is not currently interacting with any other galaxies. Our own Milky Way is an individual galaxy so by looking at other galaxies we might get an idea about how the stars in our own stellar backyard were formed. For the original individual galaxy summary you can see the video on the Cosmic Poll site: Individual Galaxy

Knowing that we would be using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii for this observation our next step was to investigate the telescope. To do this we held a ‘Live at Gemini’ event with Peter Michaud and colleagues at Gemini North. In case you missed it, the whole session is on the AAO youtube channel at: Live at Gemini

The live event was also recorded on the Gemini blog at: Gemini Blog

Once we had finished inspecting the telescope we selected NGC3310 as a good individual galaxy that had yet to be observed by the Gemini. Now that our Gemini observation has taken place we were fortunate to get Travis Rector at Gemini Observatory/AURA and University of Alaska Anchorage to help us with the data reduction. The final image shows that NGC3310 is even more interesting than we previously thought!

With our new observation of NGC3310 we can now see the structure of this galaxy in much greater detail; it’s a spiral but there’s more going on than just stars. It turns out NGC3310 has a lot of gas. The pink color highlights dense gas regions where stars are forming, while white and blue show the stars. NGC3310 has a spiral structure with lots of star formation. In fact it is what is called a ‘starburst galaxy’ meaning many new bright and big stars are being formed. All this star formation may have been triggered by a collision with one of its’ past neighbors. From NASA Hubble measurements we know NGC3310 is 46 million light years from Earth, meaning it takes 46 million years for light from those stars to reach us.

NGC3310 is thought to be 50,000 light years wide, which sounds like a lot, but it’s only about half the size of our Galaxy the Milky Way. It was perhaps described best by the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day website who said that NGC3310 has a “star forming party” going on. Could this be how our Milky Way stars were formed as well? We can also see how the dense gas is forming more stars in the spiral arms; we think that this happens in our Milky Way as well. We now have a much better picture of NGC3310! 

Thanks Australia for helping us to close out 2015 with this wonderful individual galaxy, NGC3310. We also have many people to thank for helping to make this cosmic poll happen! for hosting the poll, Travis Rector for helping with the reductions, of course Gemini Observatory for the live event and for observing our galaxy, big thanks to you all!

This will be our last Cosmic Poll update but we will continue with International Telescope updates after the New Year on AAO Facebook and Twitter with #ITSOaao.