NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory has discovered rich deposits of neon, magnesium, and silicon in a pair of colliding galaxies known as The Antennae. When the clouds in which these elements are present cool, an exceptionally high number of stars with planets should form. These results may foreshadow the fate of the Milky Way and its future collision with the Andromeda Galaxy.
Chandra image of the Antennae galaxies (NASA/CXC/SAO/G. Fabbiano et al.)
"The amount of enrichment of elements in The Antennae is phenomenal," said Giuseppina Fabbiano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge , Mass. at a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Atlanta , Ga. "This must be due to a very high rate of supernova explosions in these colliding galaxies." Fabbiano is lead author of a paper on this discovery by a team of U.S. and U.K. scientists that will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
When galaxies collide, direct hits between stars are extremely rare, but collisions between huge gas clouds in the galaxies can trigger a stellar baby boom. The most massive of these stars race through their evolution in a few million years and explode as supernovas. Heavy elements manufactured inside these stars are blown away by the explosions and enrich the surrounding gas for thousands of light years.
Steve Roy | MSFC
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