Infant galaxy producing stars at high rates

February 7th, 2009 - 3:06 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Feb 7 (IANS) Star-forming regions in infant galaxies are small yet hyperactive, producing stars at astonishingly high rates, according to the latest evidence unearthed by astronomers.Galaxies, including the Milky Way, consist of hundreds of billions of stars. How did such gigantic galactic systems come into being? Did a central region with stars first form then with time grow? Or did the stars form at the same time throughout the entire galaxy?

An international team led by researchers from Max Planck Institute for Astronomy is now much closer to being able to answer these questions.

They studied one of the most distant known galaxies, a so-called quasar with the designation J1148+5251. Light from this galaxy takes 12.8 billion years to reach earth; in turn, astronomical observations show the galaxy as it appeared 12.8 billion years ago, providing a glimpse of the very early stages of galactic evolution - less than a billion years after the Big Bang.

With the IRAM Interferometer, a German-French-Spanish radio telescope, researchers were able to obtain images of a very special kind: they recorded the infrared radiation emitted by J1148+5251 at a specific frequency associated with ionized carbon atoms, which is a reliable indicator of ongoing star formation, said a Max Planck release.

The resulting images show sufficient detail to allow, for the first time, the measurement of the size of a very early star-forming region. With this information, the researchers were able to conclude that, at that time, stars were forming in the core region of J1148+5251 at record rates - any faster and star formation would have been in conflict with the laws of physics.

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