A galaxy 5.7 billion light years away from Earth has been having so many star babies that the Associated Press deemed it a 'cosmic supermom.' This space mom galaxy, which doesn't have an official name (commenters, do your worst), 'births' 740 stars a year, compared to the Milky Way's very prudish one a year. The rapid creation of stars has scientists baffled.
"It's very extreme," said Harvard University astronomer Ryan Foley, co-author of the study. "It pushes the boundaries of what we understand."
It also appears this supermom galaxy is a little on the bigger side ("about 3 trillion times the size of our sun") and is older ("fairly mature, maybe 6 billion years old").
You're probably asking aloud, "But how does all this work, and why?" Well, here's some science talk that explains (sort of) how stars come about and what makes this particular galaxy so unique.
There's lots of very hot hydrogen gas between galaxies. When that gas cools to below zero, the gas can form stars, McDonald said. But only 10 percent of the gas in the universe becomes stars, Donahue said.
That's because the energy from black holes in the center of galaxies counteract the cooling. There's a constant "tussle between black holes and star formation," said Sir Martin Rees, a prominent astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge in England. He was not part of the study, but commented on it during a NASA teleconference Wednesday.
In this case, the black hole in the central galaxy seems to be unusually quiet compared to other supermassive black holes, Rees said. "So it's losing the tussle," he said.
So basically, this galaxy is extra fertile because it has a weak black hole. Or something.
Alas, the rapid star birthing probably won't continue very much longer.
But this massive burst of star birth is probably only temporary because there's only so much fuel and limits to how big a galaxy can get, Foley said.
"It could be just a very short-lived phase that every galaxy cluster has and we just got lucky here" to see it, Foley said.
But until then, let's enjoy the cosmic supermom while we still can.
[Image via Chandra X-Ray Observatory]