Institute of Astronomy

Starbursts in the Distant Universe

Published on 16/12/2010 

A team of Cambridge and international astronomers has presented the first conclusive evidence for a dramatic surge in star birth in a recently discovered population of massive galaxies in the early Universe.

These galaxies are very faint in visible light, as the newly-formed stars are still cocooned in the clouds of of gas and dust within which they were born. The scientists used the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, an infrared telescope with a mirror 3.5 m in diameter, launched in 2009. They studied the distant objects in detail with the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) camera, obtaining direct evidence that the galaxies are forming stars at a tremendous rate and have large reservoirs of gas that will power the star formation for hundreds of millions of years.

With the Herschel observations, focused on around 70 galaxies in the constellation of Ursa Major the scientists acquired the missing piece of evidence to confirm that these galaxies represent a crucial episode in the build up of large galaxies around us today, such as our own Milky Way.

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Page last updated: 9 May 2013 at 19:50