Rapid star formation spotted in 'stellar nurseries' of infant galaxies

November 10, 2009

The Universe's infant galaxies enjoyed rapid growth spurts forming stars like our sun at a rate of up to 50 stars a year, according to scientists at Durham University.

The findings show that "stellar nurseries" within the first galaxies gave birth to stars at a much more rapid rate than previously expected, the researchers from Durham's Institute for Computational Cosmology revealed.

The research looked back 12.5 billion years to one of the most distant known galaxies, about one billion years after the Big Bang.

Using a technique called gravitational lensing - where distant galaxies are magnified using the gravity of a nearby galaxy cluster - the scientists observed the rapid bursts of star formation in the galaxy called MS1358arc.

Within the star-forming regions, new stars were being created at a rate of about 50 stars per year - around 100 times faster than had been previously thought.

The researchers, who say their work represents the most detailed study of a galaxy at such a young age, believe the observed galaxy is typical of others in the early Universe.

They say the galaxy, which measures 6,000 light years across, also has all the characteristics that would allow it to eventually evolve into a galaxy such as our Milky Way, giving an insight into how our sun and galaxy formed.

The Durham researchers based their findings on observations from the Gemini North telescope, based in Hawaii, and NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. The research appears in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The research was funded by the Royal Astronomical Society.

Lead author Dr Mark Swinbank, in the Institute for Computational Cosmology, at Durham University, said: "The runaway effect in this galaxy suggests it is growing much faster than expected.

"Given the size of the star forming regions, we would expect it to be forming stars at the rate of about one sun per year, but it seems to be much more active than that.

"We think this galaxy is fairly typical of galaxies at this time and we expect that the Milky Way once looked like this as it formed its first stars.

"In effect we are seeing the first generation of stars being born in a galaxy like the Milky Way. This gives unique insight into the birth of our own galaxy."

The researchers say most of the observed stars eventually exploded as supernovae, spewing debris back into space where it formed into new stars

Dr Swinbank added: "In this respect these stars are the seeds of future star formation in the Universe."

Royal Astronomical Society President Professor Andy Fabian said: "It is exciting to see such a detailed picture of a very distant galaxy.

"This pioneering work shows what our own galaxy might have looked like when it was a tenth of its present age."

Durham University

Related Star Formation Articles from Brightsurf:

Low-metallicity globular star cluster challenges formation models
On the outskirts of the nearby Andromeda Galaxy, researchers have unexpectedly discovered a globular cluster (GC) - a massive congregation of relic stars - with a very low abundance of chemical elements heavier than hydrogen and helium (known as its metallicity), according to a new study.

Astronomers turn up the heavy metal to shed light on star formation
Astronomers from The University of Western Australia's node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have developed a new way to study star formation in galaxies from the dawn of time to today.

New observations of black hole devouring a star reveal rapid disk formation
When a star passes too close to a supermassive black hole, tidal forces tear it apart, producing a bright flare of radiation as material from the star falls into the black hole.

How galaxies die: New insights into the quenching of star formation
Astronomers studying galaxy evolution have long struggled to understand what causes star formation to shut down in massive galaxies.

The cosmic commute towards star and planet formation
Interconnected gas flows reveal how star-forming gas is assembled in galaxies.

Star formation project maps nearby interstellar clouds
Astronomers have captured new, detailed maps of three nearby interstellar gas clouds containing regions of ongoing high-mass star formation.

Scientists discover pulsating remains of a star in an eclipsing double star system
Scientists from the University of Sheffield have discovered a pulsating ancient star in a double star system, which will allow them to access important information on the history of how stars like our Sun evolve and eventually die.

Distant milky way-like galaxies reveal star formation history of the universe
Thousands of galaxies are visible in this radio image of an area in the Southern Sky, made with the MeerKAT telescope.

Cascades of gas around young star indicate early stages of planet formation
What does a gestating baby planet look like? New research in Nature by a team including Carnegie's Jaehan Bae investigated the effects of three planets in the process of forming around a young star, revealing the source of their atmospheres.

Massive exoplanet orbiting tiny star challenges planet formation theory
Astronomers have discovered a giant Jupiter-like exoplanet in an unlikely location -- orbiting a small red dwarf star.

Read More: Star Formation News and Star Formation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.