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Curtin astronomer discovers 49 galaxies in 3 hours

An astronomer from Curtin University discovered 49 new galaxies from just three hours of operating the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa.

Dr Marcin Glowacki was leading an international collaboration aiming to study the star-forming gas in a single radio galaxy.

However, while the team didn’t discover the star-forming gas in the galaxy they were studying, they instead uncovered other galaxies when inspecting the data later.

Dr Glowacki will appear on next week’s Space Connect Podcast to talk through his findings.


“I did not expect to find almost 50 new galaxies in such a short time,” Glowacki said. “By implementing different techniques for finding galaxies, which are used for other MeerKAT surveys, we were able to detect all of these galaxies and reveal their gas content.”

The discovery has been nicknamed the 49ers, a reference to the 1849 California gold rush miners, and was facilitated by IDIA (Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy).

The team later found that many of the galaxies were near each other, forming groups, and three were directly connected by their gas.

“These three are particularly interesting, as by studying the galaxies at other wavelengths of light, we discovered the central galaxy is forming many stars,” said Dr Glowacki.


“It is likely stealing the gas from its companion galaxies to fuel its star formation, which may lead the other two to become inactive.”

Professor Ed Elson, from the University of the Western Cape and a co-author of the paper, said, “This discovery highlights the raw power of the MeerKAT telescope as an imaging instrument.

“The methods we developed and implemented to study the 49ers will be useful for MeerKAT large science surveys and smaller observing campaigns such as ours.”

Dr Glowacki has recently discovered more gas-rich galaxies with the help of Jasmine White, an ICRAR summer student, who worked with him and analysed short observations made by MeerKAT.

“We hope to continue our studies and share even more discoveries of new gas-rich galaxies with the wider community soon,” Dr Glowacki said.

The Australian-led paper was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society this week.

It’s not the first time Dr Glowacki’s work has made headlines. Last year, Space Connect reported how he used the 36-dish ASKAP telescope to make a discovery that challenged the hypothesis around how “fast radio bursts” form.

Traditionally, the phenomenon has only been recorded in colliding galaxies that create the massive stars apparently necessary to generate the bursts.

However, an Australian-based team have now detected them in a much calmer galactic environment.

Fast radio bursts are intense bursts of radio emission that can last just milliseconds and were only first detected in 2007. The exact processes that cause them have long been shrouded in mystery.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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