Research Highlights

On this page you can find a monthly updated list of short articles highlighting current MPA research topics.

Current Research Highlights

Current Research Highlights

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Simulating separate universes to study the clustering of dark matter

April 01, 2017
In the standard cosmological model, dark matter makes up roughly 25 % of the total energy budget of the Universe. However it cannot be observed directly, since it does not emit light. Understanding the way dark matter clusters together and forms structures is of crucial importance since it would help our understanding of the observed spatial distribution of galaxies (which should closely follow the dark matter distribution) and link this with early-Universe physics and the origin of initial perturbations. In this context, researchers at MPA and in other institutions worldwide came up with a new way of simulating the impact of large-scale primordial perturbations on the abundance of structures observed at late times, the so-called separate universe simulations. Using this technique, the MPA researchers recently obtained some of the most precise measurements of the local bias, confirming the known trend that more massive halos are more biased than smaller halos. [more]
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The Circum-galactic Medium of Galaxies as Probe of Gas Accretion

March 01, 2017
In collaboration with researchers from the USA, MPA scientists have mounted a series of ambitious experiments that use a combination of quasar absorption-line spectra, neutral hydrogen line data, and state-of-the-art cosmological hydrodynamical simulations to probe the interface between galaxies and their surrounding gaseous environment. The researchers found that galaxies with gas-rich disks are embedded within gas-rich halos and that the gas in these halos is distributed smoothly and relatively isotropically. [more]
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Constraining theories of gravity using the large-scale distribution of galaxies

February 01, 2017
The origin of the current accelerated expansion of the Universe remains one of the major unsolved mysteries in physics today. While this could be a sign of the mysterious “Dark Energy”, this puzzling observation might also be evidence for the inadequacy of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (GR) to describe the law of gravity on very large cosmological scales. These considerations would have strong implications on our understanding of fundamental physics, warranting dedicated studies such as the one undertaken recently by researchers at MPA and MPE. In this work, the authors created mock universes with non-GR theories of gravity to test the validity of current observational methods to determine the rate at which structures grow in the Universe. This allowed them to place bounds on how much the current data allows the Universe to depart from Einstein’s prediction. Reassuringly, current observational methods do not show evidence for a biased performance when tested on mock universes with modified gravity. [more]
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The Hydrangea project: high-resolution hydrodynamic simulations of galaxy clusters

January 01, 2017
Why do galaxies that live in the enormous structures known as galaxy clusters look different from normal, isolated galaxies, such as our Milky Way? To answer this question, an international research team led by MPA has created the Hydrangea simulations, a suite of 24 high-resolution cosmological hydrodynamic simulations of galaxy clusters. Containing over 20,000 cluster galaxies in unprecedented detail and accuracy, these simulations provide astrophysicists with a powerful tool to understand how galaxies have formed and evolved in one of the most extreme environments of our Universe. [more]
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The embarrassment of false predictions -
How to best communicate probabilities?

December 01, 2016
Complex predictions such as election forecasts or the weather reports often have to be simplified before communication. But how should one best simplify these predictions without facing embarrassment? In astronomical data analysis, researchers are also confronted with the problem of simplifying probabilities. Two researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics now show that there is only one mathematically correct way to measure how embarrassing a simplified prediction can be. According to this, the recipient of a prediction should be deprived of the smallest possible amount of information. [more]
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Studying diffuse, warm gas in the outskirts of galaxies

November 01, 2016
The diffuse gas around galaxies is hard to detect, but shows properties which are quite different to the star-forming gas inside a galaxy. Scientists at MPA have used observations from the recent MaNGA survey to study how the ionized gas changes with distance from the center of the galaxy. They have demonstrated the usefulness of adding spectra from multiple galaxies in order to analyze the gas in the outskirts of galaxies. Their study shows that the brightness of the gas decreases, while its temperature increases the further the gas is located from the center of the galaxy. The differences between star-forming and circumgalactic gas also seem to correlate with the star-formation rate and stellar mass of the galaxies. [more]
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Warps and waves in fully cosmological models of galactic discs

October 01, 2016
The stellar discs of nearby spiral galaxies are generally not flat and often show waves and warps. Even our own Galactic disc seems to be corrugated. It is still not clear what causes these structures. A research team at MPA, together with external collaborators, have revisited this question by analyzing new simulations of spiral galaxy formation. Their study shows that close encounters with satellite galaxies and more distant flybys of massive companions are the most common drivers. However, in some cases, bending patterns in discs can also be driven by the accretion of cold gas. The vertical motions produced by these patterns can be as large as 60 km/s. Such perturbations should be easily detectable in line-of-sight velocity fields of nearly face-on galaxies. This provides a new way to study the structure of galactic stellar discs, allowing us to understand how and how often such corrugation patterns arise in the nearby universe. [more]
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