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Starlyte

Stars born in distant cosmic hurricane

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A shower of hot gas from a distant star-forming galaxy has opened up a window into the violent life of the early universe for scientists.

user posted image

A color-enhanced image of the galaxy M82 showing its supergalactic wind and the nearly vertical disk of stars.

The rapid-fire star birth in galaxy M82 was triggered by a collision with another galaxy. The tremendous activity fueled a "cosmic hurricane" traveling at more than a million miles an hour [447 kilometers per second] into intergalactic space, said Linda Smith of the University College London.

The gas travels in two opposite directions and extends for thousands of light-years. Traced back to their sources, the two plumes originate in many separate clumps that show quick, explosive deaths of massive stars and the formation of new ones.

"Our goal here is to understand the structure of the wind's plumes, which are key factors in the evolution of this galaxy and the eventual pollution of nearby intergalactic space with new chemical elements," Smith said.

An image of the scene was released Friday. It was created by combining Hubble Space Telescope observations that detail the inner part of the galaxy with a view from the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona, which showed the extended winds, explained Mark Westmoquette, also of the University College London.

It is not unusual to see jets or plumes of material escaping along the rotation axis of stars, a black hole or an entire galaxy. But M82 is noted for its "superwinds," as astronomers call the bipolar outflows.

"The M82 wind is made up of gas jets from multiple chimneys, each of which is relatively distinct," said Jay Gallagher of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, another member of the study team. "We hypothesize that these originate from individual star-forming clumps within M82."

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