Supermassive Galaxy Cluster Spewing Massive Number of Stars

BY Noreen Nasir  August 16, 2012 at 5:34 PM EST

This artist’s impression shows the Phoenix galaxy cluster, with hot gas shown in red, cooler gas in blue, the gas flows shown by the ribbon-like features, and the newly formed stars also in blue, in the outer part of the galaxy. Photo by NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.

Astronomers have discovered a galaxy structure 5.7 billion light years from Earth that spews out new stars at an unprecedented pace — more than 740 stars a year. By comparison, our galaxy — the Milky Way — forms only about one to two stars every year. This is according to a study published online in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The galaxy is called the Phoenix cluster; it is located in the constellation Phoenix. It is 2.5 quadrillion times more massive than our sun and contains some 3 trillion stars, Space.com reports. That’s compared to about 200 billion in our solar system.

This NASA animation shows the stars forming in action:

The cluster contains hundreds of thousands of galaxies the size of the Milky Way, along with dark matter and hot gas, Michael McDonald, a Hubble Fellow at MIT and lead author of the study, explained in a news conference on Wednesday. Data on Phoenix comes from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the National Science Foundation’s South Pole Telescope, and eight other telescopes on Earth and in orbit.

The central galaxy in this cluster, McDonald said, seems to have lain dormant for billions of years, but then surged back to life with a new burst of star formation. Hence the name Phoenix.

“The mythology of the Phoenix, a bird rising from the dead, is a great way to describe this revived object,” he said.