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Massive Galaxy Clusters Feed Off Neighboring Gas-Rich Galaxies

Sep 15, 2015 05:36 PM EDT
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Astronomers recently discovered a distant, massive galaxy cluster that has a core thick with stars. How did the clusters grow to be so large? According to researchers, they fed off stolen gases from other galaxies.  

"It is very exciting to have discovered such an interesting object," Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Riverside, said in a news release. "Understanding its nature proved to be a real scientific challenge which required the combined efforts of an international team of astronomers and many of the world's best telescopes to solve."

The researchers made this discovery using the MOSFIRE instrument in the W. M. Keck Observatory, along with observations from the Hubble, Spitzer and Herschel Space Telescopes.

According to the release, clusters of galaxies are rare regions of the universe that consist of galaxies containing trillions of stars, hot gas and dark matter. At the center of the clusters are the Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCGs). The cluster the researchers observed is known as 1049+56, which was first identified during the Spitzer Adaptation of the Red-sequence Cluster Survey (SpARCS). This survey has discovered about 200 new distant galaxy clusters.

"What is so unusual about this cluster, SpARCS1049+56, is that it is forming stars at a prodigious rate, more than 800 solar masses per year," Wilson explained in the release. "To put that in perspective, our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is forming stars at the rate of only about one solar mass per year."

According to their study, this galaxy is so distant that it took 9.8 billion years for its light to reach us. This massive cluster contains at least 27 galaxies and its total mass is about 400 trillion times larger than the Sun's.

Using the Spitzer and Herschel Space Telescopes also showed the full extent to which the stars are forming.

Their findings were recently published in The Astrophysical Journal

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