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Dakota Student

The student news site of University of North Dakota

Dakota Student

The student news site of University of North Dakota

Dakota Student


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Wayne Barkhouse’s “Ancient Relics of Galaxy Formation”

Aspen Jewkes

Monday, November 20th, on a frigid day after autumn seized its wet grasp, I decided to attend a lecture on astronomy. It was not something that I would find myself doing. Usually, I would just take the time to rest after a long day, but I was curious about the premise of learning about the greater universe and the special ways in which nature fiddles about with creation and the chance to see the beauty of what is in our night sky using a telescope. So, on that night at 8:00 pm, I took a chance and attended a talk on globular clusters “Ancient Relics of Galaxy Formation” 

The talk had a decent attendance, but we were unable to use the telescopes with autumn’s fickle nature blocking out the night sky. Instead, Wayne Barkhouse, professor of physics and astrophysics at UND, introduced us to Globular Cluster, densely packed, spherical collections of stars, ranging from 100,000 stars to some harboring over a million stars, and often considered among the oldest structures in the universe.  

These clusters on average formed over 10 billion years ago. For reference, it is believed our universe is only 13.8 billion years old; this age makes globular clusters invaluable in understanding the early stages of galaxy formation and evolution, making these clusters deserving of their “ancient” status.  

With the advent of powerful telescopes, we began to discover them, and scientists were able to expand and redefine our understanding of cosmology, “a specific theory or model of this structure and these dynamics” of the universe. But how are we able to discover how many stars are within a singular dense space? If you believe detecting how bright an area is, you would be on the right track.

Scientists must resort to indirect methods in getting this information. One such method is using luminosity, the total energy a star emits per unit time. Light is a form of energy, and as stated in Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc², detecting the mass of a star is near impossible with how far these clusters are apart. Still this at least gives scientists a starting point and aids in estimation. This along with light bending around a cluster and the emerging study of dark matter helped build a point where the study of globular clusters aids in understanding the way our universe functions.  

Still as science is an ever-developing venture, work had to be done to shine a light on an expanding field of study.

Professor Barkhouse explained his work into this pursuit and emphasized the dynamic nature of scientific inquiry. He explained his methodical approach to selecting the right clusters for study, using advanced mathematical models and software to analyze and interpret the data. Although the talk was outside my field of study, he explained it in a way where I began to see his thought process for his work, how to accurately pick out the right cluster to measure while subtracting clusters or other bodies of space that was not necessary and focus on data that was recoverable.

At the very least it seemed to help me understand the ingenuity of scientists and the creative ways they can pick an object, or cluster in this case, beyond the night sky. Unraveling mysteries and continuously expanding our understanding of the universe’s intricate mechanisms that shape reality.

Though we could not peer into the night sky, as the lecture ended, I found myself mapping a new piece in the cosmic puzzle of creation and left with new questions to uncover. 


Davíd Moreno is a Dakota Student General Reporter. He can be reached at daví[email protected]. 

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