UF astronomers have uncovered new details about the formation of the Milky Way galaxy with the help of the world's largest telescope.
Third-year astronomy graduate student Jesus Martinez and chairman of the department of astronomy Rafael Guzman led the team in the Canary Islands, Spain. There, they used the Gran Telescopio Canarias, the world's largest telescope, to discover that galaxies like the Milky Way are not as large as astronomers originally thought.
UF owns 5 percent of the $180 million telescope, which was first used in July 2009.
Until now, astronomers had believed galaxies were more dense and compact but had transformed into a large, scattered mass at some point in time. However, astronomers had no explanation for the theory.
Martinez, Guzman and their team discovered why. The UF researchers found that four of the dense galaxies were six times less massive than previously thought.
"We used a different technique that was much more accurate," Martinez said.
The team used a method called spectroscopy to break the light gathered by the telescope into separate components, Martinez said.
"When you break light, you study features that are revealed in a much more accurate way," Martinez said.
The Gran Telescopio Canarias can gather more light than other telescopes, and the more light gathered, the farther the distance into the universe astronomers can see.
The use of spectroscopy allowed the team to view the characteristics of the galaxies differently than previous astronomers.
"The big impact is that we're going to trust less of the previous techniques," Martinez said. "People will be more careful."
This latest discovery will not change the face of astronomy or affect the average person's view of the universe, Martinez said.
"It just helps the global picture of galaxy evolution," he said.