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Fall 2013 Archive - Exploring Galaxy Superclusters

By Dominique Scarlett, Journalism

The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a notable peer-reviewed scientific journal covering research in astronomy and astrophysics, recently published a paper by UMaine doctoral candidate Merida Batiste and Dr. David Batuski, chairperson of the physics and astronomy department.

“A Dynamical Analysis of the Corona Borealis Supercluster” examines gravitationally bound superclusters of galaxies, focusing on the Corona Borealis supercluster, and provides the most conclusive evidence to date that the structure is bound and in collapse.

Galaxy clusters are structures, which consist of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. Superclusters are composed of large groups of galaxy clusters and are the largest known objects in the Universe. The paper used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a photometric observation of 35 percent of the sky conducted at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. The survey contains photometric observations of over 500 million objects.

Batiste has also conducted research  at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in northern Chile, working for weeks at a time in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Her work at CTIO was funded by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (Merida Batiste)

The telescope, in operation since 1967, overlooks the Andes mountain range from the top of Mount Tololo in the Coquimbo Region of Chile. During Batiste’s time at CTIO, she worked alone observing clusters of galaxies and taking images of optical wave bands, which are all of the visible wavelengths of light.

“For particular types of galaxies you can relate some observables about them,” Batiste said, “Their size and their brightness, for instance, are related and they can be used to tell you how far away those galaxies are—and if you average all of those together—you can get a distance for the cluster.”

Batiste needed these images to examine the size and brightness of the galaxies, which would allow her to calculate the distance of the superclusters Aquarius and Microscopium.

“Being able to go out and be at a telescope and take those pictures, as the night sky is passing over your head, is an incredible experience,” Batiste said, “You’ve got the snowcapped mountains on one side of you and the sea on the other side of you.”

Batiste moved to the United States from England when she was a junior in high school and went on to receive her bachelor of arts in physics from Kenyon College. Her interest in astronomy can be traced back to a film she watched as a teenager.

“I was going to be a novelist and an actor, and that was what I was going to do with my life because that’s what I was good at and that’s what I loved,” Batiste said, “And then I saw the movie ‘Contact’—which is terribly mortifying as a serious scientist—and it suddenly occurred to me that I could spend the whole rest of my life studying the universe and suddenly nothing else seemed particularly interesting to me.”

Batiste is currently analyzing the data from her time working at CTIO and hopes to schedule time in the future at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) in Australia.

For more information about the department of physics and astronomy or to learn more about upcoming publications, visit the Department of Physics and Astronomy web page.


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