Trent professor of Physics and Astronomy, Dr. David Patton, is the only Canadian member of an international research team that has discovered groups of dwarf galaxies which, over time, could merge into larger galaxies.
The team's findings were published in the online journal, Nature Astronomy, on January 23, 2017, in a paper titled Direct evidence of hierarchical assembly at low masses from isolated dwarf galaxy groups.
Professor Patton was one of eight members of the research team, which was led by Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt, a scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia.
"This study is novel because we've been able to identify seven groups of dwarf galaxies that are isolated from larger galaxies and that are close enough together to be interacting with one another," Prof. Patton explains. "This is significant because interacting dwarf galaxies are rare, and they are usually found close to more massive galaxies.”
Prof. Patton's role was to identify the candidate groups of dwarf galaxies that the team looked at, and to measure how often dwarf galaxies are in close proximity to other dwarf galaxies.
"I was able to show that it is statistically rare for dwarf galaxies to have other dwarf companions as close to them as we are seeing in this study," said Prof. Patton, whose research was funded by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada.
Prof. Patton conducted most of his research on Trent's campus, noting "it demonstrates that you don't have to be at a large institution or in a particular location to be involved in high-caliber research and collaborate with top international researchers."
"This research opens up a unique window into the process of how low mass galaxies may interact with each other and merge to form massive galaxies," Prof. Patton added. "Now that we've found these groups, the next step is to study the galaxies in detail and determine if they are interacting with one another and showing signs that they are merging."