A York astrophysicist looks into the past for future research
Posters of galaxies and star clusters litter the bulletin board behind professor Timothy Paglione’s office at York College. Along with a number a student projects hanging from the walls like a proud parent putting up their child’s drawing on the fridge, Paglione isn’t afraid to talk about his own baby project, a 20-year-old venture partnering with NASA to find light bursts from other galaxies.
“I started this project back in the mid-90’s when I was a grad student,” Paglione said. “A fellow grad student suggested it’d be a unique use of the available high energy telescope at the time, and he was right.”
At that time, the physical relationship between the far-infrared and radio fluxes of star forming galaxies had been undetermined, and Paglione saw an opportunity in discovering them.
“My advisor wrote a NASA proposal which was granted and I spent 18 months on that study,” Paglione continued.
In order to obtain the necessary data to conduct the study, the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) that captures gamma-rays, electromagnetic radiation emitted from decaying atomic energy.
“The Fermi Telescope is continually scanning the sky from orbit and receiving gamma ray photons,” Paglione explains. “The data is beamed down to a NASA center, cleaned up, and just about eight hours after being received, they are available. We download the data we’re interested in, and run them through a set of tools provided by the Fermi team.”
Almost three-and-a-half years worth of data was downloaded and filtered from the Sculptor and Cigar Galaxies, which provided a less ambiguous estimate of the physical properties in the nucleus of star-laden galaxies.
Due to the large ranges of data, the scientist decided the background had to be molded in order to ensure that what they were looking at wasn’t being interfered with outside radiation. So Paglione rummaged through a number of model options mapping out the galaxies.
“Some models fit well, others don’t,” said Paglione. “This lets me know what the properties of the source are since the models have different physical inputs.”
The successful operation of the Fermi Gamma-Ray space telescope provided the first opportunity to provide the potential origins of high-energy emissions from normal galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The study concluded that the likely origins of gamma rays from starburst galaxies occurred with a number of supernovae giving off an immense amount of dense molecular gas.
Next, Paglione is analyzing our own galaxy.
“We hope to characterize the properties of cosmic rays in the sun’s neighborhood,” Paglione said.
Although this has been one of his most successful journal articles, being cited by other scientists during other studies 12 times, since the study was conducted Paglione has now moved closer to home. Paglione has now shifted to observing gamma rays from local clouds, as opposed to nearby galaxies.