iau1509 — Press Release

Galaxy images from the GAMA survey
10 August 2015
Charting the Slow Death of the Universe
GAMA survey releases first data at IAU XXIX General Assembly

An international team of astronomers studying more than 200 000 galaxies has measured the energy generated within a large portion of space more precisely than ever before. This represents the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe. The findings were presented today at the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii. They confirm that the energy produced in a section of the Universe today is only about half what it was two billion years ago and find that this fading is occurring across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. The Universe is slowly dying.

The study, which is part of the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, the largest multi-wavelength survey ever put together, involved many of the world’s most powerful telescopes [1].

"We used as many space and ground-based telescopes as we could get our hands on to measure the energy output of over 200 000 galaxies across as broad a wavelength range as possible," says Simon Driver (ICRAR, The University of Western Australia), who heads the large GAMA team.

The survey data, released to astronomers around the world today, includes measurements of the energy output of each galaxy at 21 wavelengths, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. This dataset will help scientists to better understand how different types of galaxies form.

All the energy in the Universe was created in the Big Bang, with some portion locked up as mass. Stars shine by converting mass into energy, as described by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 [2]. The GAMA study sets out to map and model all of the energy generated within a large volume of space today and at different times in the past.

"While most of the energy sloshing around in the Universe arose in the aftermath of the Big Bang, additional energy is constantly being generated by stars as they fuse elements like hydrogen and helium together,”" Simon Driver says. "This new energy is either absorbed by dust as it travels through the host galaxy, or escapes into intergalactic space and travels until it hits something, such as another star, a planet, or, very occasionally, a telescope mirror."

The fact that the Universe is slowly fading has been known since the late 1990s, but this work shows that it is happening across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared, representing the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.

"The Universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The Universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze," concludes Simon Driver.

The team of researchers hope to expand the work to map energy production over the entire history of the Universe, using a swathe of new facilities, including the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, which is due to be built in Australia and South Africa over the next decade.

The team presented this work at the International Astronomical Union XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawai`i, on Monday 10 August 2015.


[1] The telescopes and survey data used, in order of increasing wavelength, were: GALEX, SDSS, VST (KiDS survey), AAT, VISTA (VIKING survey)/UKIRT, WISE, Herschel (PACS/SPIRE).

[2] Much of the Universe's energy output comes from nuclear fusion in stars, when mass is slowly converted into energy. Another major source is the very hot discs around black holes at the centres of galaxies, where gravitational energy is converted to electromagnetic radiation in quasars and other active galactic nuclei. Much longer wavelength radiation comes from huge dust clouds that are re-radiating the energy from stars within them.

More information

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 10 000 professional astronomers from almost 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.



Simon Driver
ICRAR – University of Western Australia
Tel: +61 400 714 513
Cell: +1-808-304-2392
Email: simon.driver@icrar.org

Andrew Hopkins
Australian Astronomical Observatory
North Ryde, NSW, Australia
Tel: +61 432 855 049
Email: andrew.hopkins@aao.gov.au

Joe Liske
Hamburger Sternwarte, Universität Hamburg
Hamburg, Germany
Email: jochen.liske@uni-hamburg.de

Pete Wheeler
Media Contact. ICRAR – University of Western Australia
Tel: +61 423 982 018
Email: pete.wheeler@icrar.org

Richard Hook
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: rhook@eso.org


Galaxy images from the GAMA survey