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Kepler's first view of planet hunting territory

...NASA's Kepler spacecraft has opened its eyes and blinked at the rich star field where it will search for extraterrestrial planets like Earth...

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Four-way cosmic

pile up

...Combining images from space- and ground-based telescopes, astronomers have revealed the first cosmic collision of four separate galaxy clusters...

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Hubble witnesses flaring in black

hole jet

...A flare of matter blasting out from a monster black hole is outshining even the core of its host galaxy, M87...

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Video archive

STS-120 day 2 highlights

Flight Day 2 of Discovery's mission focused on heat shield inspections. This movie shows the day's highlights.


STS-120 day 1 highlights

The highlights from shuttle Discovery's launch day are packaged into this movie.


STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

 Full presentation
 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.


Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

 Full coverage

Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

 Launch | Science

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Most distant starbursting galaxies discovered



Posted: 23 April, 2009

An image of one of the distant sub-millimetre galaxies. Image: Kristen Coppin/LESS Collaboration.

Galaxies have been observed undergoing furious bursts of star formation during a very early period of the Universe, long before established models of galaxy formation predict that they should. This revelation came at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in a presentation by Dr Kristen Coppin of Durham University.

Coppin led a team of astronomers from Durham and the Max Planck Institute, together known as the LESS collaboration, who used the Large Apex Bolometer Camera on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) at the European Southern Observatory. The collaboration surveyed distant galaxies observed in the so-called Extended Chandra Deep Field South, but at sub-millimetre wavelengths rather than the X-ray wavelengths of Chandra.

These galaxies, which reach back to just a billion years after the big bang (a redshift greater than four), turn out to be very dusty. Dust is a by-product of stars, and it is possible to estimate the star-formation rate by the amount of dust present. According to Coppin, the hundred or so galaxies observed were churning out several thousand new stars per year. In comparison, our Milky Way is currently only making on average ten new stars per year.

These sub-millimetre galaxies are the pre-cursors of the giant elliptical galaxies, and Coppin says that mergers with smaller galaxies may be powering the starbursts. However, the conventional picture is that this process of merging galaxies to build up larger ones took much longer to finish, yet in spite of this these observed sub-millimetre galaxies are almost complete. These latest observations add more fuel to the fire that massive galaxy formation happened much quicker than we realised, which may have implications for models of the cold dark matter haloes that were the birthing grounds for the first galaxies.