How do amateur images help professional astronomers?

These fluxes cannot be resolved into individual stars and therefore appear as elongated, diffuse light features with an angular extent of several minutes of arc. Their detection requires long-exposure, wide-field images encompassing the periphery of host galaxies. Working with amateur astroimagers over the past decade, we have imaged nearby spiral galaxies as part of the Stellar Tidal Stream Survey.

This observational effort discovered nearly 50 previously undetected tidal currents around our targets. The extraordinary variety of faint structures is compelling evidence supporting the hierarchical nature of galaxy formation predicted by the standard cosmological model.

In addition to circular features similar to the Sagittarius flow surrounding the Milky Way, our data revealed huge structures resembling open umbrellas with long, narrow shafts. These end in a giant shell of debris spanning several thousand light-years into space, often on both sides of the host galaxy.
We also found isolated shells, giant clouds of debris floating in halos, jet-like spikes emerging from galactic disks, giant plumes, and large-scale diffuse structures. All of these are possibly related to remnants of ancient satellites which are now completely disrupted.

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