(ESO.ORG)An international team of astronomers studying more than 200 000 galaxies has measured the energy generated within a large portion of space more precisely than ever before. This represents the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe. They confirm that the energy produced in a section of the Universe today is only about half what it was two billion years ago and find that this fading is occurring across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. The Universe is slowly dying.

The study involves many of the world’s most powerful telescopes, including ESO’s VISTA and VST survey telescopes at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Supporting observations were made by two orbiting space telescopes operated by NASA (GALEX and WISE) and another belonging to the European Space Agency (Herschel) [1].

The research is part of the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, the largest multi-wavelength survey ever put together.

“We used as many space and ground-based telescopes as we could get our hands on to measure the energy output of over 200 000 galaxies across as broad a wavelength range as possible,” says Simon Driver (ICRAR, The University of Western Australia), who heads the large GAMA team.

The survey data, released to astronomers around the world today, includes measurements of the energy output of each galaxy at 21 wavelengths, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. This dataset will help scientists to better understand how different types of galaxies form and evolve.

All the energy in the Universe was created in the Big Bang, with some portion locked up as mass. Stars shine by converting mass back into energy, as described by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 [2]. The GAMA study sets out to map and model all of the energy generated within a large volume of space today and at different times in the past.

“While most of the energy sloshing around in the Universe arose in the aftermath of the Big Bang, additional energy is constantly being generated by stars as they fuse elements like hydrogen and helium together,” Simon Driver says. “This new energy is either absorbed by dust as it travels through the host galaxy, or escapes into intergalactic space and travels until it hits something, such as another star, a planet, or, very occasionally, a telescope mirror.”

The fact that the Universe is slowly fading has been known since the late 1990s, but this work shows that it is happening across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared, representing the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.

“The Universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The Universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze,” concludes Simon Driver.

The team of researchers hope to expand the work to map energy production over the entire history of the Universe, using a swathe of new facilities, including the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, which is due to be built in Australia and South Africa over the next decade.

The team will present this work at the International Astronomical Union XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Monday 10 August 2015.

[1] The telescopes and survey data used, in order of increasing wavelength, were: GALEX, SDSS, VST (KiDS survey), AAT, VISTA (VIKING survey)/UKIRT, WISE, Herschel (PACS/SPIRE).

[2] Much of the Universe’s energy output comes from nuclear fusion in stars, when mass is slowly converted into energy. Another major source is the very hot discs around black holes at the centres of galaxies, where gravitational energy is converted to electromagnetic radiation in quasars and other active galactic nuclei. Much longer wavelength radiation comes from huge dust clouds that are re-radiating the energy from stars within them.

More information
This research will be presented in a paper entitled “Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA): Panchromatic Data Release (far-UV—far-IR) and the low-z energy budget”, by S. Driver et al., submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It will also be the subject of a talk and press event at the IAU General Assembly in Hawaii on 10 August 2015.

The team is composed of Simon P. Driver (ICRAR, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia [ICRAR]; University of St Andrews, United Kingdom), Angus H. Wright (ICRAR), Stephen K. Andrews (ICRAR), Luke J. Davies (ICRAR) , Prajwal R. Kafle (ICRAR), Rebecca Lange (ICRAR), Amanda J. Moffett (ICRAR) , Elizabeth Mannering (ICRAR), Aaron S. G. Robotham (ICRAR), Kevin Vinsen (ICRAR), Mehmet Alpaslan (NASA Ames Research Centre, Mountain View, California, United States), Ellen Andrae (Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg, Germany [MPIK]), Ivan K. Baldry (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom), Amanda E. Bauer (Australian Astronomical Observatory, North Ryde, NSW, Australia [AAO]), Steve Bamford (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom), Joss Bland-Hawthorn (University of Sydney, NSW, Australia), Nathan Bourne (Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, United Kingdom), Sarah Brough (AAO), Michael J. I. Brown (Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia), Michelle E. Cluver (The University of Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa), Scott Croom (University of Sydney, NSW, Australia), Matthew Colless (Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia), Christopher J. Conselice (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom), Elisabete da Cunha (Macquarie University, Sydney NSW, Australia), Roberto De Propris (University of Turku, Piikkiö, Finland), Michael Drinkwater (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), Loretta Dunne (Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom), Steve Eales (Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom), Alastair Edge (Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom), Carlos Frenk (Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom), Alister W. Graham (Macquarie University, Sydney NSW, Australia), Meiert Grootes (MPIK), Benne W. Holwerda (Leiden Observatory, University of Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands), Andrew M. Hopkins (AAO) , Edo Ibar (Universidad de Valparaso, Valparaiso, Chile), Eelco van Kampen (ESO, Garching, Germany), Lee S. Kelvin (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom), Tom Jarrett (University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa), D. Heath Jones (Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia), Maritza A. Lara-Lopez (Universidad Nacional Automana de México, México), Angel R. Lopez-Sanchez (AAO), Joe Liske (Hamburger Sternwarte, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany), Jon Loveday (University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, United Kingdom), Steve J. Maddox (Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom), Barry Madore (Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Pasadena, California, United States [OCIW]), Martin Meyer (ICRAR) , Peder Norberg (Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom), Samantha J. Penny (University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, United Kingdom), Stephen Phillipps (University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom), Cristina Popescu (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire), Richard J. Tuffs (MPIK), John A. Peacock (Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, United Kingdom), Kevin A.Pimbblet (Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia; University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom), Kate Rowlands (University of St Andrews, United Kingdom), Anne E. Sansom (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire), Mark Seibert (OCIW), Matthew W.L. Smith (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), Will J. Sutherland (Queen Mary University London, London, United Kingdom), Edward N. Taylor (The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia), Elisabetta Valiante (Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom), Lingyu Wang (Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom; SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Groningen, The Netherlands), Stephen M. Wilkins (University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, United Kingdom) and Richard Williams (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom).

The Galaxy and Mass Assembly Survey, or GAMA, is a collaboration involving nearly 100 scientists from more than 30 universities located in Australia, Europe and the United States.

ICRAR is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

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