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 Tuesday, June 17, 2003 | Updated at 1:00 a.m.

Discoveries change face of universe

By Danny Sanchez
Alligator Writer


Astronomy students beware - two UF researchers have some big changes for your textbook's section on galaxies.

Using images taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, UF astronomers Alister Graham and Rafael Guzmán discovered that what were once believed to be two different kinds of galaxies are actually structurally identical.

The duo published their findings in this month's edition of The Astronomical Journal, saying that the commonly found "dwarf elliptical" galaxies and the much larger "giant elliptical" galaxies should no longer be categorized differently by the research community.

"People were convinced that they were unique objects," said Graham, who is the lead author of the article. "What we have now is a model that enables us to connect these two galaxies.

It's quite an interesting revelation."
Galaxies are giant groups of stars scattered through space that are held together by gravity.

Giant elliptical galaxies can contain more than 100 billion stars, while dwarf elliptical galaxies typically contain less than one billion.

While they may differ greatly in size, Graham said they are probably born in the same way.

"There must be one unifying process which can give birth to both," Graham said. "The formation process must be simpler than we thought."

The researchers developed a new mathematical model for the distribution of stars in order to unite the two galaxy types.

Graham said the difference in size of the two types of galaxies is likely just a result of the initial size of the gas cloud from which the given galaxy is believed to have originated.

These large clouds can be several hundred thousand light years across and are believed to produce the galaxies astronomers now see.

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