Feeds

Hot young stars baffle astronomers

Andromeda head-scratcher

Build a business case: developing custom apps

New pictures from Hubble have helped astronomers identify the source of a mysterious blue light that emanates from a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Andromeda galaxy. However, in typical space-science fashion, the discovery poses more questions than it answers.

It turns out that the blue light is coming from a disk of young, hot stars (très Hollywood) that are orbiting the black hole, much like the planets orbit the sun in our solar system. The discovery has baffled astronomers, who are at a loss to explain how the stars could have formed in such a hostile environment.

The blue light in M31 was first observed, with Hubble, in 1995. Further observations three years later suggested that a cluster of stars was responsible for the glow.

These latest observations from the Hubble Space Telescope's Imaging Spectrograph allow astronomers to say that the light is coming from more than 400 stars packed into a disc no more than one light year across. This disc is encircled by a disk of redder, cooler stars that have been seen before.

The stars are orbiting the black hole at around 3.6 million kilometres per hour, fast enough to orbit the Earth in 40 seconds, and to journey from Earth to the moon in six minutes.

But the mystery is not solved. Now astronomers have to explain how the stars came to be in this environment in the first place.

"Seeing these stars is like watching a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. You know it happened but you don't know how it happened," said Tod Lauer of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona.

Lauer goes on to explain that these young stars are so short-lived, the chances of them happening to form just in time for us to see are remote. He suggests that there must be some mechanism that has triggered other similar clusters in the past, and will do so again in the future.

"We still don't know, however, how such a disk could form in the first place. It still remains an enigma," he concludes.

Despite the continuing mystery, the researchers say that this data rules out alternative theories, and confirms that the dark mass at the core of M31 is indeed a supermassive black hole. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.