AI News, 'Face recognition' for galaxies: Artificial intelligence brings new tools to astronomy

'Face recognition' for galaxies: Artificial intelligence brings new tools to astronomy

In a new study, accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal and available online, researchers used computer simulations of galaxy formation to train a deep learning algorithm, which then proved surprisingly good at analyzing images of galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomers can look deeper into the universe and thereby 'back in time' to see earlier galaxies (because of the time it takes light to travel cosmic distances), but following the evolution of an individual galaxy over time is only possible in simulations.

In the new study, the researchers were particularly interested in a phenomenon seen in the simulations early in the evolution of gas-rich galaxies, when big flows of gas into the center of a galaxy fuel formation of a small, dense, star-forming region called a 'blue nugget.'

(Young, hot stars emit short 'blue' wavelengths of light, so blue indicates a galaxy with active star formation, whereas older, cooler stars emit more 'red' light.) In both simulated and observational data, the computer program found that the 'blue nugget' phase only occurs in galaxies with masses within a certain range.

The consistency of the mass range was an exciting finding, because it suggests the deep learning algorithm is identifying on its own a pattern that results from a key physical process happening in real galaxies.

The researchers used state-of-the-art galaxy simulations (the VELA simulations) developed by Primack and an international team of collaborators, including Daniel Ceverino (University of Heidelberg), who ran the simulations, and Avishai Dekel (Hebrew University), who led analysis and interpretation of them and developed new physical concepts based on them.

In particular, the simulations used in this study did not include feedback from active galactic nuclei (injection of energy from radiation as gas is accreted by a central supermassive black hole).

Google has provided support for their work on deep learning in astronomy through gifts of research funds to Koo and Primack, allowing Huertas-Company to spend the past two summers in Santa Cruz, with plans for another visit in the summer of 2018.

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