Using Europe’s Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope network, astronomers believe they have detected more than 300,000 new galaxies which have remained furtively hidden in a small section of the northern sky up until now.
As Science Alert reports, thanks to LOFAR, astronomers now have even more detailed evidence of radio waves sweeping through the universe, which has helped them learn more about everything from black holes to magnetic fields.
While space may seem remarkably quiet, it is actually filled with low frequency waves which emanate everywhere, a product of both electromagnetic fields and rapidly accelerating particles.
For astronomers to accurately measure these low frequency waves, equipment like LOFAR is needed, which uses a whopping 20,000 antennas to pick up signals from above and conducts surveys through frequencies of between 120 to 168 megahertz. While this telescope network is engaged in a great manner of different tasks, one of its most important is to study the northern sky at night, which is how astronomers spotted what they believe may be 300,000 or more new galaxies.
While just 20 percent of this survey of the northern sky has been completed, astronomers still have a great wealth of new materials at their disposal, despite the fact that they are currently only able to access just 10 percent of the data that LOFAR has processed at this time.
However, astronomers are very excited now with the new discovery of 325,694 points in the sky where radio waves were found to be roughly five times stronger than the background noise emitted around it, something which startled those studying the telescope network’s data. And while the vast majority of these points are also tied to an optical signal, astronomers are fairly certain that these may be over 300,000 new galaxies.
Astrophysicist Philip Best from the University of York stated, “LOFAR has a remarkable sensitivity and that allows us to see that these jets are present in all of the most massive galaxies, which means that their black holes never stop eating.”
While discovering over 300,000 galaxies may teach us a lot about new worlds, discovering their location also helps to potentially unlock the mystery of everything that exists in between these galaxies in the deepest stretches of space, as University of Bologna astrophysicist Annalisa Bonafede noted.
“What we are beginning to see with LOFAR is that in some cases, clusters of galaxies that are not merging can also show this emission, albeit at a very low level that was previously undetectable. This discovery tells us that besides merger events, there are other phenomena that can trigger particle acceleration over huge scales.”
The new studies using LOFAR data, including one which looks at the potential discovery of more than 300,000 hidden and new galaxies, have been published in Astronomy and Astrophysics.