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Our view: Plenty to learn about this galaxy

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Updated: September 25, 2012 6:05AM



Maybe we’re overstating it, but it seems that the more we learn about the universe — and we are learning a lot — it seems the less we know.

Astronomers have discovered a distant galaxy — 5.7 billion light-years fitting anybody’s definition of “distant” — that spits out new stars at, well, an astronomical rate.

The galaxy’s name is so long that the Associated Press didn’t use it. (OK, it’s SPT-CLJ2344-4243, if you must know, but it’s not going to be on the test.) The galaxy is creating about 740 new stars a year, compared to about one a year for our Milky Way.

Astronomers are nicknaming the galaxy Phoenix — they don’t really use all those numbers and letters in everyday conversation — because, at 6 billion years old, it was thought to be dead, but it came back to life in a way that gave scientists new mysteries to ponder.

Phoenix, actually a part of a cluster of galaxies, was discovered by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory telescope, and led astronomers to an uncommon use of superlatives.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a release: “Stars are forming in the Phoenix cluster at the highest rate ever observed for the middle of a galaxy cluster.

“The object also is the most powerful producer of X-rays of any known cluster and among the most massive. The data also suggest the rate of hot gas cooling in the central regions of the cluster are the largest ever observed.”

Unless prevented by a black hole, stars are formed when hydrogen gas cools below zero, but, for whatever reason — another mystery for the astronomers — the super-massive black hole in the center of the galaxy seems unusually quiet.

Shakespeare famously had Hamlet tell his close friend, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Almost daily, it seems, we find that Hamlet didn’t know the half of it.

Scripps Howard News Service



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