A Star is Born

Oct 21, 2013

Astronomers have spotted a galaxy that is igniting new stars faster than ever seen before. And it’s doing so with a tiny supply of gas, says Aleksandar Diamond-Stanic, a fellow at the University of California’s Southern California Center for Galaxy Evolution. He and Alison Coil, a UC San Diego physics professor, were part of a team of nine astrophysicists that recently reported the discovery in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The distant galaxy, six billion light years away, initially popped out in an image from WISE, a satellite-based infrared telescope. It showed infrared light—an indication of star formation—pouring out. Additionally a telescope in the French Alps detected a paucity of hydrogen, the fuel of stars. This ferocious burst of star birth combined with scarce fuel indicates that the galaxy’s gas will be gone in just tens of millions of years, a brief episode in the course of its evolution. “We’ve caught it just before it runs out,” Diamond-Stanic says.

The astronomers think that’s why no galaxy quite like this has ever been seen before. They seem rare because they’re seldom spotted. But they may instead be common, though brief, moments in the evolution of galaxies.
—Susan Brown

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