How serious are you about your hobby? Probably not as dedicated as Allen Lawrence, a 77-year-old retired electrical engineer, who went ahead with his astronomy hobby to discover a rare double nucleus in a distant galaxy NGC 4490, nicknamed as the Cocoon Galaxy.
Lawrence, who earned a master’s degree in astrophysics in 2018 from Iowa State University, is the first author of a paper that describes such an unusual finding. The study has been published in the Astrophysical Journal and available to view on the prepublication archive.
How did Lawrence found the double nucleus?
Lawrence was offered a chance to study one of the two galaxy systems and he picked a nearby system featuring the interaction of two galaxies — the larger NGC 4490 and the smaller NGC 4485 — which were being studied since the 1960s. The system is about 20 per cent the size of the Milky Way and it is located in the Northern Hemisphere– about 30 million light-years from Earth.
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When astronomers looked at the Cocoon Galaxy in the past, they could see only one nucleus. However, it turned out that the nucleus observed using the optical telescope and the nucleus observed using the radio telescopes were two different nuclei altogether. Lawrence identified that these the galaxy indeed carry two nuclei.
“I saw the double nucleus about seven years ago,” Lawrence said. “It had never been observed – or nobody had ever done anything with it before.”
The new paper describes “a clear double nucleus structure” and says that both nuclei are similar in size, mass and luminosity. The paper also says that the double nucleus structure could also explain why the galaxy system is surrounded by an enormous plume of hydrogen.
Lawrence’s finding has since been confirmed by astronomers at Iowa State University and the co-authors of the paper include Iowa State’s Charles Kerton, an associate professor of physics and astronomy, Curtis Struck, a professor of physics and astronomy, as well as East Tennessee State University’s Beverly Smith, a professor of physics and astronomy.
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