Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ALERT! The Galactic Equivalent of Octomom Found

Astronomers working on the Chandra X-Ray Observatory have discovered something remarkable:
Stars are forming in the Phoenix cluster at the highest rate ever observed for the middle of a galaxy cluster. The object also is the most powerful producer of X-rays of any known cluster and among the most massive. The data also suggest the rate of hot gas cooling in the central regions of the cluster is the largest ever observed.
The Washington Post, in a brilliantly insightful and not at all condescending article, translates this for us reality TV-addicted slobber-monkeys:
Scientists have found a cosmic supermom.  

Ah! Okay, now I get it! But say I want some more detailed information? From the Chandra press release:
With its black hole not producing powerful enough jets, the center of the Phoenix cluster is buzzing with stars that are forming about 20 times faster than in the Perseus cluster. This rate is the highest seen in the center of a galaxy cluster but not the highest seen anywhere in the universe. However, other areas with the highest rates of star formation, located outside clusters, have rates only about twice as high.

The frenetic pace of star birth and cooling of gas in the Phoenix cluster are causing the galaxy and the black hole to add mass very quickly -- an important phase the researchers predict will be relatively short-lived.

"The galaxy and its black hole are undergoing unsustainable growth," said co-author Bradford Benson, of the University of Chicago. "This growth spurt can't last longer than about a hundred million years. Otherwise, the galaxy and black hole would become much bigger than their counterparts in the nearby universe."
Translation from WaPo:
It’s a galaxy that gives births to more stars in a day than ours does in a year.
Or, as one Stone Temple Pilots/base jumping enthusiast at Harvard they interviewed put it:
It’s very extreme.
Can you hear the sub-Soundgarden voice yet?
But enough about all that. Here's an actually awesome pair of photos of our galactic TLC star to be:

[If you want to watch a totally awesome video podcast in HD, made by the good people at Chandra and featuring lots of cool visuals, check this [download] out.]