20 August 2012
Posted in Our Planet, Our Universe
An extraordinary cluster of galaxies is continuing to shatter cosmic records! The cluster of galaxies is located nearly 7 billion light years away. It is known as SPT-CLJ2344-4243, though astronomers have given it a less formal nickname: the Phoenix Cluster. Named after the constellation it resides in, the cluster appears to contain thousands of galaxies within it, with each varying in size to that of a dwarf galaxy (a small galaxy comprised of several billion stars) to clusters of stars the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
The Phoenix Cluster is unlike anything astronomers have ever seen before; it is about 2,000 times the apparent mass of the Milky Way. Or to put things in better perspective, 2.5 quadrillion times the mass of the sun!
However, it doesn’t stop there! Not only is the mass of this galaxy record-breaking, but it is also creating new stars at an unprecedented pace. Researchers say that the Milky Way produces just one or two stars a year. So how many is the Phoenix Cluster producing? A whopping 740 stars per year! The previous record holder was Abell1835, a galaxy that forms about 100 stars per year.
Scientists are hoping that this record-breaking galaxy cluster will help them solve a decades-old puzzle about how slowly similar clusters cool. It’s known as the cooling flow problem. According to theoretical models, gases thrown out by star explosions should natural cool over time, forming a gas flow cold enough to condense and form new stars quickly. No one had ever seen this happen up until now.
In most cases, jets of material from supermassive black holes at the center of these galaxies prevent them from ever reaching temperatures at which star birth can kick into high gear. In the case of the Phoenix Cluster, however, it is not behaving like most galaxies in the cooling flows. Scientists have many ideas as to why this would be, though they are not sure which, if any, are correct.