Pune astronomers identify Kathryn’s Wheel

Jun 25, 2024

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Astronomers from Pune’s Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics have identified a galaxy, known as Kathryn’s Wheel, as “an explosive factory” of gamma rays of unidentified origin.

Located some 30 million light years from the Milky Way, Kathryn’s Wheel is one of the rarest kind of galaxies. It was birthed when two galaxies collided directly into each other with intense star formation activity occurring in their outer layers.

The researchers also confirmed that the galaxy categorised as a collisional ring — was formed, when the smaller galaxy, called ‘bullet’ — pierced through the larger one. This led to a shock wave that pushed the dust and gas out of the system, leaving behind it a star-forming ring.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the analysis revealed that the data gathered about the collision of the two galactic centres and star formation merely does not explain the amount of the observed gamma ray emission.

Why it is important to understand the source of gamma rays?

Gamma rays are emanated in the form of relativistic jets — powerful jets of electromagnetic radiation moving at speeds approaching the speed of light — and made up of photons that come from active galactic nuclei, supernovae or explosions of massive stars, and other such high-energy environments.

Hunting the sources of gamma rays and other high-energy astrophysical phenomena is a key problem in research. Understanding astronomical sources that produce these intense energy beams is necessary to know how high-energy particles interact with galactic environments.

Studying these particles is also opening up a new field in physics — the study of neutrinos: exotic, tiny collapsed atoms of dead stars that pass through everything without causing any damage.

Understanding high-energy physics also helps in furthering research into dark matter and dark energy, which are thought to make up a majority of the known universe.

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