Astronomers have discovered a new kind of galaxy in the early universe, less than a billion years after the Big Bang. These galaxies are forming stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way. The discovery could explain an earlier finding: a population of surprisingly massive galaxies at a time 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, which would require such hyper-productive precursors to grow their hundreds of billions of stars.
International teams of astronomers have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to explore the distant corner of the universe first revealed in the iconic images of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). These new ALMA observations are significantly deeper and sharper than previous surveys at millimetre wavelengths.
Astronomers have uncovered the strongest evidence yet that an enormous X-shaped structure made of stars lies within the central bulge of the Milky Way. Previous computer models, observations of other galaxies, and observations of our own Galaxy have suggested that the X-shaped structure existed, but no one had observed it directly.
Space bears witness to a constant stream of star births. Whole star clusters are often formed at the same time — and within a comparatively short period. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg have proposed a new mechanism that relies on the interplay between magnetic fields and gravitation to explain this quick formation, investigating a filament of gas and dust which also includes the well-known Orion Nebula.
Astronomers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst report that they have observed the most luminous galaxies ever seen in the universe, objects so bright that established descriptors such as “ultra-” and “hyper-luminous” used to describe previously brightest known galaxies don’t even come close.
New images of a young star called HL Tauri made with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) reveal what scientists think may be the very earliest stages in the formation of planets. The scientists used the VLA to see unprecedented detail of the inner portion of a dusty disc surrounding the star, some 450 light-years from Earth.
Zooming in on black holes is the main mission for the newly installed GRAVITY instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. During its first observations, GRAVITY successfully combined starlight using all four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes. The first observations using GRAVITY with the four 8-metre VLT Unit Telescopes are planned for later in 2016.
Astronomers have created the first large-scale map that shows stellar ages in the Milky Way by determining the ages of nearly 100,000 red giant stars, at distances of up to 50,000 light-years from the galactic centre. Notably, the map confirms that our home galaxy has grown inside out: in the present epoch, most old stars can be found in the middle, more recently formed ones in the outskirts.
Hitting the jackpot is one thing, but if you hit the jackpot four times in a row you might wonder if the odds were somehow stacked in your favour. A group of astronomers led by Joseph Hennawi of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have found themselves in exactly this situation. They discovered the first known quasar quartet: four quasars, each one a rare object in its own right, in close physical proximity to each other.