Astronomers see stars bursting from dusty cocoons in distant galaxy

January 22nd, 2009 - 1:18 pm ICT by ANI  

Munich, Jan 22 (ANI): Astronomers have uncovered a host of new young, massive and dusty stellar nurseries in nearby galaxy NGC 253, which are, in a way, bursting from their cocoons.

Astronomers from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Spain) used NACO, a sharp-eyed adaptive optics instrument on ESOs Very Large Telescope (VLT), to study the fine detail in NGC 253, one of the brightest and dustiest spiral galaxies in the sky.

Adaptive Optics (AO) corrects for the blurring effect introduced by the Earths atmosphere.

This turbulence causes the stars to twinkle in a way that delights poets, but frustrates astronomers, since it smears out the images.

With AO in action, the telescope can produce images that are as sharp as is theoretically possible, as if the telescope were in space.

NACO revealed features in the galaxy that were only 11 light-years across.

Our observations provide us with so much spatially resolved detail that we can, for the first time, compare them with the finest radio maps for this galaxy maps that have existed for more than a decade, said Juan Antonio Fernandez-Ontiveros, the lead author of the paper reporting the results.

Astronomers identified 37 distinct bright regions, a threefold increase on previous results, packed into a tiny region at the core of the galaxy, comprising just one percent of the galaxys total size.

The astronomers combined their NACO images with data from another VLT instrument, VISIR, as well as with images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and radio observations made by the Very Large Array and the Very Large Baseline Interferometer.

Combining these observations, taken in different wavelength regimes, provided a clue to the nature of these regions.

We now think that these are probably very active nurseries that contain many stars bursting from their dusty cocoons, said Jose Antonio Acosta-Pulido, a member of the team.

NGC 253 is known as a starburst galaxy, after its very intense star formation activity. Each bright region could contain as many as one hundred thousand young, massive stars.

This comprehensive set of data also leads astronomers to conclude that the centre of NGC 253 hosts a scaled-up version of Sagittarius A, the bright radio source that lies at the core of the Milky Way which harbours a massive black hole.

We have thus discovered what could be a twin of our Galaxys Centre, said co-author Almudena Prieto. (ANI)

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