The discovery makes the fiery environment within a typical spiral or starburst galaxy look almost pastoral. Cornell researchers using the Spitzer Space Telescope say distant galaxies contain an inferno of very young, massive and violently evolving stars, packed together in tiny but extremely powerful cosmic globs.
Spectral lines from distant ultra-luminous infrared galaxies, as recorded by the Spitzer Space Telescopes infrared spectrograph, show the telltale bumps (in green) indicating the presence of crystalline silicates.
This image illustrates how two galaxies could be torn apart by their mutual attraction, causing whole strains of stars to be catapulted out to form something like antennae. The galaxies nuclei would dance around each other and eventually merge to form a single nucleus.
The key to the discovery, paradoxically, is in the presence of delicate, glittery crystalline silicates called Forsterite. These are glassy particles that exist in the debris disks of young stars and in the stellar wind of very old stars, but which have never before been observed in the mass of gas and dust known as the interstellar medium, or ISM, in the Milky Way or in any other galaxy.
The research, led by Cornell astronomer and Spitzer Fellow Henrik Spoon, will appear in the Feb. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
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