Feeds

Hot young stars baffle astronomers

Andromeda head-scratcher

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.