Astronomy - Recent Discoveries and Developments
by Paul Rumsby
Astronomy - Recent Discoveries and Developments Gathers the most significant, ground breaking, headline making stories and presents them in an easy to read, easy to understand format. Each section is accompanied by colour images and illustrations which beautifully reinforces the subject. Makes essential reading for interested laypersons, Amateur and Professional Astronomers, In fact anyone with an attraction for this fascinating and absorbing subject.
The Perfect Catch-Up
The Perfect Introduction
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Written by Curtis Struck.
Published by Springer/Praxis
Galaxy Collisions is a big book, not physically but conceptually. The author, Curtis Struck, warns us in the preface that the structures and timeframes discussed in the text are vast, almost beyond the ability of the human mind to contemplate meaningfully. It is suggested that a suitable workaround is to imagine these impossibly immense structures as familiar everyday objects and the timeframes the length of a TV drama. This works really well to keep the readers mind from being lost in the scale of the subject.
The study of galaxy collisions is a relatively recent field of research. Not until 1924 when Edwin Hubble, using Henrietta Leavitt’s newly discovered correlation between the pulsation period and intrinsic luminosities of Cepheid’s, discovered that previously observed ‘nebular’ thought to be located within the Milky Way were far more distant objects, discrete galaxies in their own right, did the fledgling field begin to take flight. Even then it was some years before we conceived the possibility that these far flung, remote objects could interact with each other and had been doing so since the early ages of the Universe.
Hubble classified galaxies as elliptical or spiral. The famous pictorial representation of his classification scheme resembles a tuning fork, with the elliptical galaxies forming the forks handle, the upper fork tine housing spiral galaxies and the bottom tine is home to barred spirals. Along with these three observable types of structure Hubble also observed a small group of galaxies that he classed as ‘peculiars’. These irregular shaped galaxies gave the first clues that large scale galactic interactions were not just possible but very probable. Galaxy Collisions tells two stories, firstly the history of this field nicely interwoven into the main content, the life story of the grandest assemblages of matter in the Universe and how their interactions have shaped, not just the way we see them, but our very existence.
Starting with the history of galaxy discovery and a general background of the field, Galaxy Collisions goes on to explore the early stages of interaction. How incredibly beautiful, seemingly engineered designs can be the result of head on collisions or gravity induced tidal waves caused by close fly-bys. Colour images, some appropriately from the Hubble Space Telescope, and diagrams support the text where needed throughout. The book continues by exploring galaxy evolution through the build up of matter, firstly between the mergers of equal sized collision partners and then by the capture of small satellite galaxies by an adopting parent. The book details the evidence for the latter currently occurring within the Milky Way environs with the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The spectacular increase in star formation as a result of galaxy interactions and merger events is discussed, the author considerers the statistics and physical processes involved and how these can create and feed Active Galactic Nuclei. The book draws to a close with a look at evidence of galaxy interactions within our local group and on a broader, larger scale how clusters and super clusters of galaxies undergo and are affected by interactions.
The author states, quite rightly, the necessity for staying on track and deliberately keeps the text jargon free where possible and limits it use where not. This he succeeds in doing very well and it is refreshing to read a book that stays strictly on topic. It would be all too easy, considering the scope of the subject, to wander down many a small road and byway. Where an explanation is required to ensure understanding it is given quickly then attention is swiftly refocused back to the main subject. Given this, I feel the reader who has a good understanding of the key concepts of Astronomy will get a lot from this book whereas a novice may well be left floundering, needing to nip out occasionally to fill in some missing information before continuing.
As a means to understanding the large scale structure of the Universe and the short history of its recent discovery Galaxy Collisions works extremely well. As an aside, it also demonstrates nicely the snowballing of scientific research and resources in the last half of Twentieth Century and how these have now spilled out into the public domain. The first models used to explore galaxy interactions in the Sixties pushed computer resources to the limits, restricted the complexity of the models and were available to a few high level researchers. A quick internet search today finds java script apps capable of modelling the collisions of galaxies based on parameters supplied which are probably hundreds of times more powerful and complex than those early models. For both amateur and professional astronomers alike we live in exciting and privileged times.
17th August 2011
About the Author; Professor Curtis Struck has worked in the field of galaxy collisions since his graduate studies in the late 1970's. He has published more than 50 refereed journal papers, the majority in this area, and many as first author. He has spoken at a number of international research conferences and given many public talks.
Struck is a theorist and computer modeler and has worked with many observers on the interpretation of data on colliding galaxies in all wavebands, except gamma-ray. This includes ground-based optical and radio data, and data from NASA's Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and GALEX space observatiories.