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The out-of-this-world discoveries made by a U of M researcher

A University of Manitoba researcher was among an international cohort of astronomers who have made some out-of-this-world discoveries -- two potential polar ring galaxies.

Jayanne English, an expert in astronomy image-making and a professor at the U of M, was part of the team that made these celestial sightings through the WALLABY survey.

First established over 10 years ago, the survey analyzes data from a radio telescope owned by Australia’s national science agency. English has been involved with the project since its inception.

The survey’s results were published Wednesday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The researchers looked at sky maps of hydrogen gas in over 600 galaxies. They were able to identify two potential polar ring galaxies – a type of galaxy that exhibits a ring of stars and gas perpendicular to its main spiral disk.

A key takeaway, English says, is that these polar ring galaxies are more discoverable using radio telescopes instead of optical telescopes.

While polar ring galaxies have been detected before, English says they were discovered by the light from stars.

The radio telescope in Australia allowed researchers to confirm there was hydrogen gas in the galaxies.

“This one, the stars are so faint. If they’re there at all, we can’t detect it in regular optical light, so we find it by having the hydrogen gas that have emission. Then we can discover these by gas instead of by starlight,” she told CTV Morning Live Winnipeg’s Rachel Lagacé in an interview.

Radio telescopes use several specialized antennas on railway tracks. As the earth spins, English says, it synthesizes a mirror to create a large telescope that captures radiation in the radio range in the electromagnetic spectrum.

English’s main contribution to Wednesday’s paper was developing the first composite images of these gaseous polar ring galaxies. She used a combination of optical and radio data from different telescopes and virtual reality.

“I make specific colour tables which will help a viewer at a glance determine which part of the ring is coming towards them and which part is going away from them,” she said.

Next, English says researchers will continue to analyze more data and hopefully discover more polar ring galaxies.

“As we study these rings, we’ll be able to learn more and understand more about galaxies colliding together to form new galaxies and find out more about the dark matter in galaxies as well.”

-With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagacé Top Stories

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