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The dusty cosmos

DustyGalaxy.jpg

Astrophysicists have a better idea of how dust obscures the light from galaxies, according to a paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

It is already well known that dust, which permeates all galaxies, attenuates the light reaching Earth from the cosmos. It absorbs light of most wavelengths and then re-emits it as a blanket of infrared radiation. Now, Simon Driver of St Andrews University in the UK and colleagues have produced the first model that accounts for this absorption.

One of the model’s implications — that dust absorbs just under half the radiation produced by stars — will not be a surprise to astronomers. They already know this, having compared the average magnitude of the infrared radiation in the sky with the magnitude of the radiation from pinpoint sources like stars and galaxies. But what might be of interest is that Driver and colleagues can show how the dust affects the light output of galaxies depending on their orientation.

I spoke with Alastair Edge of Durham University, who is familiar with Driver’s team’s work, and he was pleased that that the researchers have managed to model the dust successfully. He followed up our conversation with an email: “The authors have made an important link between the observed properties of the galaxies we see from the light coming directly from their stars to the amount of long wavelength radiation we see coming from the dust within the galaxies. Obtaining a match between the energy absorbed and that re-radiated allows us to understand the global properties of galaxies in a more holistic fashion.”

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