Giant stellar factory identified in early galaxy

February 5th, 2009 - 3:16 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 5 (ANI): Astronomers have identified a giant star producing region in a galaxy in the very early universe, which is millions of times larger than anything comparable in the Milky Way.

According to a report in New Scientist, the work bolsters the case that massive galaxies formed very quickly, in spectacular bursts of star formation, soon after the big bang.

Regions of intense star formation, called starbursts, span a few light years at most in the Milky Way, and less than a few hundred light years in nearby, bright galaxies such as Arp 220.

But, it has not been clear how large the stellar nurseries were in the early universe.

To find out, researchers led by Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, carefully scrutinized a distant galaxy whose light has taken so long to reach Earth that it appears as it was just 870 million years after the big bang.

It is visible at such distances because it hosts a beacon-like quasar, a bright region created by superheated gas falling towards a colossal black hole at the galaxys core.

The quasar, called J114816.64+525150.3, is so bright that it overwhelms the surrounding galaxys light at visible and near-infrared wavelengths.

But, the galaxys gas and warm dust can be detected at radio and far-infrared wavelengths.

Using an array of telescopes in the French Alps, the team measured the galaxys ionised carbon, which emits a strong signal at far-infrared wavelengths.

Far-infrared radiation is thought to be a signature of dust that has been heated up by nearby star formation.

The ionised carbon spanned a region at the heart of the galaxy about 5000 light years across. Based on the galaxys brightness at far-infrared wavelengths, this starburst region is thought to produce an astounding 1000 Sun-like stars every year.

That is about 1000 times higher than the star-formation rate of the Milky Way, said team member Chris Carilli, chief scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico.

Its forming stars at the maximal rate allowed, on scales that are 106 or 108 times larger in volume than similar regions in the Milky Way. Thats remarkable, he added.

The immense scale of the stellar factory is probably due to the fact that there was a lot more gas around in the early universe, Carilli said.

Matter in the universe was indeed much denser soon after the big bang, since space itself has expanded over time. (ANI)

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