Feeds

Undead galaxy cluster spews 700 zombie baby stars A YEAR

IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Astroboffins have spotted a galaxy cluster that's breaking all the cosmic rules, including coming back to life to spawn stars at an enormous rate.

The Phoenix cluster is spewing out the celestial bodies at the highest rate ever observed for the middle of a galaxy cluster; it's the most powerful producer of X-rays of any known cluster; it's one of the most massive of its kind; and the rate of hot gas cooling in the central regions is the largest ever observed.

According to the scientists, the cluster is "experiencing a massive starburst" that's forming the equivalent of 740 Suns every year.

“Central galaxies have typically been referred to as ‘red and dead’ - just a bunch of old stars orbiting a massive black hole, and there’s nothing new happening,” said Michael McDonald of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), lead author of a study of the cluster. “But the central galaxy in this cluster has somehow come to life, and is giving birth to prodigious numbers of new stars.”

While these "red and dead" central galaxies are effectively space graveyards, boffins have often thought they shouldn't be. That's because the hot gas in a cluster core, gathered from nearby galaxies and supernova explosions, should cool over time and condense to form new stars.

But scientists have never before spotted a cluster that's cooling at a rate to achieve star birth. In typical stellar formations, something prevents the gas from chilling, and one explanation suggests there is a supermassive black hole emitting enough particles to reheat the core.

“What’s interesting about the Phoenix cluster is that we see almost all the cooling that was predicted,” McDonald said. “It could be that this is earlier in the evolution where there’s nothing stopping it, so it cools and becomes a starburst. In fact, there are few things forming stars in the universe faster than this galaxy.”

The starburst at the centre of the Phoenix galaxy cluster

Phoenix cluster starburst

The Phoenix cluster was first spied in 2010 by the South Pole Telescope (SPT), but the boffins have now used NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory - a space telescope - to look at all the large clusters the SPT had found to measure their X-ray strength. Once they saw that the Phoenix was by far the brightest cluster, the researchers used ten different telescopes on Earth and in space to figure out its features.

Although the Phoenix also has a black hole at its centre, the gas is still cooling to form stars.

"The supermassive black hole lurking in the galaxy's nucleus seems to be asleep at the switch,” Brian McNamara, professor of astrophysics at the University of Waterloo, said. “But once the black hole gets going and begins to push the hot atmosphere aside, perhaps in another 100 million years or so, it should shut down cooling and reduce the star formation rate in a feedback process that is active in most galaxy clusters.”

He added that the Phoenix could be an example of how the most massive primeval galaxies formed.

The study was published in Nature. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
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
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
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.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.