Ekta Patel is a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Here’s our interview with Ekta.
Question: You are an astronomer. What methods do you use to look into space?
EP: It sounds a bit odd but I use computers to look into space. The types of galaxies I am interested in are called satellite galaxies and they orbit bigger galaxies just like the Earth orbits the Sun. To understand how those satellite orbits look, I have to use computer models to study these kinds of systems because the amount of time it takes a satellite galaxy to orbit a bigger host galaxy one time could be 5 billion years (compared to 365 days for the Earth to go around the Sun once)! That’s 5,000,000,000 years written out in numbers and 25,000 times longer than humans have lived on the Earth.
EP: Some of my friends use telescopes to look at these galaxies instead, which produce very beautiful pictures like the ones you may have seen in books and on TV. The images that come from telescopes, however, only show you what that galaxy looks like at one specific point in time, so the computer models help me understand how the galaxies change over a period of time that is too long to wait for in a human lifetime.
Question: What’s a Dwarf Galaxy? Do lots of dwarves live there? Do most of the dwarves have really long beards?
EP: Dwarf galaxies are small galaxies that have anywhere from a few million to a few billion stars in them. For comparison, our Milky Way galaxy has a few hundred billion stars in it and there are galaxies that are even more massive than that. Scientists aren’t quite sure who or what lives in dwarf galaxies but I think it would be a good fit for dwarves with really, really long beards. It’s really cold in space after all. Currently, people are searching for life on other planets outside of our Solar System so maybe we can find out if anyone lives in dwarves galaxies one day. It will probably be a long time before that happens though.
Question: One of the things you study are the Magellanic Cloud galaxies. How can there be clouds in space?
EP: The Magellanic Clouds are actually galaxies and not clouds like the white, puffy (and sometimes gray) ones we see in the sky on Earth. I think they were named the Magellanic Clouds in particular because at the time that they were discovered, it was unknown that they were actually galaxies outside of our Milky Way galaxy. The Magellanic Clouds are so bright in the night sky that you can see them easily from a dark place in the Southern Hemisphere, so it might have been easy to confuse them for weather clouds.
Question: Do galaxies randomly wander around the universe?
EP: Actually, some do! Most galaxies can be found in galaxy groups or clusters though. Galaxy groups contain about 50 galaxies or less located close to each other. The Milky Way is a part of a galaxy group called the Local Group.
EP: There are a few types of galaxy clusters and they range from containing 50 to a few hundred galaxies up to thousands of galaxies within a specific volume of space. To answer you question, the galaxies in groups and clusters feel the push and pull of the galaxies nearby, so they don’t wander around very much. However, galaxies that don’t belong to a group or cluster have nothing to interact with nearby so they could be considered “wandering” galaxies, but I bet they don’t get very far.
Question: Electrons are one of the smallest things we know of. Electrons orbit other subatomic particles.
Galaxies are one of the largest things we know of. Satellite galaxies orbit other larger galaxies.
So the common element of everything in the universe is orbiting. Does this mean you are good with a Hula hoop?
EP: Yes, many things in the universe orbit each other whether you are talking about planets, moons, stars, or galaxies! I am very good with a Hula hoop but you don’t have to be to become an astronomer. It’s just a fun hobby I picked up as a kid.
Question: What’s the oddest named galaxy you’ve ever heard of?
EP: The oddest galaxy name I have ever heard of is the Sombrero galaxy. It really looks like a Sombrero hat!
First galaxy by Zotya Docs http://bezo97.deviantart.com
Dwarves by Ilana http://GosterMonster.deviantart.com
Clouds by Ethan Theisen http://alekseyborisovich.deviantart.com
Backpack by Karen http://chu0403.deviantart.com
Subatomic Particles/Galaxies by Josh Busch
Ekta hula hoop by Josh Busch
Sombrero Galaxy by Hideo Kojima http://hubblewise.deviantart.com