Artificial Intelligence Examines Over 200,000 Galaxies to Confirm Galaxy Mergers Ignite Starbursts

Two galaxies in the process of merging.
Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

When two galaxies merge, there are brief periods of stellar baby booms. A group of astronomers led by Lingyu Wang from SRON have now used a sample of over 200,000 galaxies to confirm that galaxy mergers are the driving force behind star bursts. It is the first time that scientists use artificial intelligence in a galaxy merger study.

One of the most pressing questions in astronomy is how and when stars formed in the galaxies we see around us. The Universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies and they come in many shapes and forms. Take for example the Sombrero Galaxy, the Black Eye Galaxy, the Whirlpool Galaxy or our own Milky Waystretching across the entire sky. Each harbors hundreds of billions of twinkly lights. How and when did all those stars emerge on the cosmic stage?

A popular hypothesis among astrophysicists is that galaxy mergers go hand-in-hand with short starburst phases and an increase of around a factor two in star formation over the whole duration of the merger. Mergers would produce shock waves in the interstellar gas, igniting significant baby booms of stars. A group of astronomers led by Lingyu Wang from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, including first author William Pearson and co-author Floris van der Tak, now confirm this theory by analyzing a record number of over 200,000 galaxies. They found up to twice the number of star bursts in merging galaxies compared to single galaxies.

Deep learning

Because their database was so large, the team built…

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