Is Our Galaxy a Rebel?

We are particularly fond of the Milky Way because it is the home of the Sun and the Earth (as well as another 100 billion other stars and still more planets).

The Milky Way forms the cornerstone against which we base our understanding of how other galaxies might work in detail. The question is: can the Milky Way be described as a typical spiral galaxy?

There are a few signs that the Milky Way may be a bit different from its neighbors. One clue comes from looking at the galaxy centers. All massive spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are found to harbor giant black holes, except that for the Milky Way this central supermassive black hole is smaller.

Another clue comes from an investigation of the surroundings of spiral galaxies. The Milky Way has dozens of very small galaxies in its immediate vicinity which we call satellites. Many of these satellites have been discovered only very recently as they are very faint owing to there being very few new stars being formed in them. At the same time, other nearby spiral galaxies have satellites that sustain much higher rates of star formation.

A new investigation is underway to increase our understanding of these differences, called the Satellites Around Galactic Analogs (SAGA) Survey led by a team at Yale University.

Learning about the differences between the Milky Way and other galaxies, if any, may help us to better understand our place in the universe.

Dr. Brenda Frye

About Dr. Brenda Frye

Brenda L. Frye is an observational cosmologist at the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory, University of Arizona. She earned her Ph. D. in Astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, assisted by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Her thesis work involved measuring the concentration of the total mass of visible plus dark matter in the fields of massive galaxy clusters, a program requiring the use of some of the largest telescopes in the world.

Moving a mile from her Ph. D. institution, she assumed a postdoctoral position with the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under the direction of Professor Saul Permutter.

She then treked across the country to take a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Princeton Council on Sciences and Technology Fellowship both at Princeton University.

Moving further east, she became a Lecturer in Physics at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, where a number of European collaborations were formed.

From there she crossed back across the pond to the west coast of the U. S. to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco.

Her travels have now landed her at her Alma Mater in Tucson, where she teaches and does research. The aims of her research continue to be to use gravitational telescopes in space as 'lenses' to study the properties of dark matter and those of distant galaxies back to when the universe was <900 million years old.

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