Previously unknown extreme star formation Eye of Medusa observed 100 million light years away

Jun 17, 2015 14:29 IST

A team of astronomers on 16 June 2015 observed a previously unknown extreme star formation Eye of Medusa in Medusa merger, a luminous collision of two galaxies at more than 100 million light years away from Earth.

The observations were conducted by Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) using the NOEMA (Northern Extended Millimeter Array), the most powerful millimeter radio telescope of the Northern Hemisphere. NOEMA unveiled the astronomical image showing a unique and spectacular view the Medusa merger.

The observations reveal a giant region (about 500 light years across) of recently formed massive stars at the center of the Eye of Medusa, the central gas-rich region of the Medusa merger. The IRAM team, led by Sabine Koenig, tried a new way by tuning the NOEMA antennas to detect hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and formylium (HCO+) molecules.

The discovery demonstrates that star development can be probed in stages of formation, which are currently undetectable by tracing carbon monoxide. The extreme star formation observed in the Eye demonstrates the existence of more complex chemical formulations than previously thought.

Previous observatories have mapped the Medusa merger but none had detected the existence of this region of high-density gas in the Eye until now. This new discovery has not only proven its existence, but also has implications for our understanding of the origins of the Universe.

The Medusa (NGC 4194) is a well-studied nearby galaxy with the disturbed appearance of a merger and evidence for ongoing star formation. It is an ideal object to study the merger-induced star formation contribution from the small galaxy of a minor merger.

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