Emirati researcher makes discovery on evolution of galaxies

Aisha Al Yazeedi, 25, has published her first paper analysing a galaxy called MaNGA 1-166919

Aisha Al Yazeedi, an Emirati astrophysics researcher at NYU Abu Dhabi who has recently published a scientific paper about a galaxy.
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An Emirati astrophysics researcher has published a paper describing the light and radio signals emanating from a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at the centre.

The findings by Aisha Al Yazeedi, 25, of NYU Abu Dhabi, may prove useful to researchers as they try to understand how such enormous black holes influence changes in their galaxies.

Ms Al Yazeedi likes to share a picture that illustrates space through the lens of Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope.

A composite produced from hundreds of photos, the remarkable image shows about 5,500 galaxies.

This is a tiny portion of the known universe, so tiny that another 30million similar images would be required to show the universe in full.

“This by itself is something that I contemplate all the time,” Ms Al Yazeedi said.

“We’re so lucky to be here. I will always be a student learning about space. This is something phenomenal to me.”

This passion for understanding space and mankind’s place in it led Ms Al Yazeedi and a team of co-researchers to analyse the galaxy, called MaNGA 1-166919, in her first scientific paper.

MaNGA 1-166919, one of an estimated two trillion galaxies in the universe, is characterised by having a particularly active supermassive black hole, a huge type of black hole that draws material into itself.

When a supermassive black hole is particularly active it forms an “accretion disk”, described by one author as a “rotating queue” of material such as gases and stars waiting to be drawn into it.

This accretion disk forms part of what is called the galaxy’s Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN). As the material moves ever faster, it heats up and emits signals of the kind analysed in the paper.

The radio signals were found to consist of two jets emanating from the galaxy’s centre and these signals corresponded well with the optical signals from the galaxy.

“This is the goal: to understand the physics of the SMBH (supermassive black hole) at the centre of the galaxy, and how it influences the galaxy’s evolution,” Ms Al Yazeedi said.

“I picked this galaxy because it has very interesting radio morphology. Simply by looking at the radio morphology, you could tell that this galaxy has an AGN, which tells you that the SMBH at the centre of the galaxy is active and therefore it has an effect on the galaxy.”

Radio morphology is a function of optical identification for the sources for which there are radio images.

The analysis employed specialist software to process vast amounts of data on the galaxy collected by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico, US.

In carrying out this work, the results of which were recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, the researchers hope to gain insights that could lead to a better understanding of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

“We need to work on a long list of galaxies to see if the same physics applies,” Ms Al Yazeedi said. “We want to take this further with other galaxies.”

The Milky Way does not have an AGN, but research has indicated it may have had one as recently as within the last few million years. When, as predicted, the Milky Way collides with another galaxy called Andromeda in 4.5 billion years, another AGN could form.

Ms Al Yazeedi, who is supported by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, has been conducting research at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Centre for Astro, Particle and Planetary Physics under the supervision of Dr Joseph Gelfand, an associate professor of physics and co-author of the paper, through the university’s Kawader programme.

Aimed at well-qualified graduates and post-doctoral researchers, the scheme aims to build capability within the UAE by offering a three-year salaried programme tailored to the interests of each researcher.

The UAE has become a key player in space exploration, launching the Mars orbiter, Hope, a year after sending one of its own astronauts to the International Space Station.

Next year the country aims to send a rover called Rashid to the Moon.

“It’s like we’re making history with all the milestones we’re taking in space science and the space industry,” Ms Al Yazeedi said.

“It makes me very, very proud and very lucky to be an Emirati in this era.”

A 2017 graduate of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, Ms Al Yazeedi hopes to continue her research by going on to study for a PhD.

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Updated: August 18, 2021, 9:48 AM