For the first time ever! Astronomers have spotted a round, massive, unassuming ‘dinosaur egg’ in the Milky Way.
According to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (Alma) in Chile, astronomers think that it’s getting ready to hatch, and will burst into a wonder of stars.
The globular cluster, named for its round appearance – is thought to contain gas equivalent to 50 million suns. Since most globular clusters in the universe are billions of years old and their formation involves vast volumes of gas clumping together to create millions of stars. It provides the first opportunity to examine one of these fascinating and rare regions of stellar formation, which will give birth to millions of stars within a million years.
Newborn examples of these regions are extremely rare, and the conditions necessary to create them have never been detected, until now. This object, which the astronomers referred to as the ‘Firecracker,’ is located approximately 50 million light-years away from Earth. It is nestled inside a famous pair of interacting galaxies (NGC 4038 and NGC 4039), which are collectively known as the Antennae galaxies. The tidal forces generated by their ongoing merger are triggering star formation on a colossal scale, much of it occurring inside dense clusters.
But the object in question (The Dinosaur Egg) is only a small, dense ball of gas that is devoid of stars, which in fact, makes it very unique!
We may be witnessing one of the most ancient and extreme modes of star formation in the universe. This remarkable object looks like it was plucked straight out of the very early universe. To discover something that has all the characteristics of a globular cluster, yet has not begun making stars, is like finding a dinosaur egg that’s about to hatch,” said Dr Kelsey Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and lead author on a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
Astronomers have observed that all other globular clusters are already brimming with stars. Hence, the heat and radiation from these stars have altered the surrounding environment considerably, erasing any evidence of its colder, quieter beginnings. The astronomers were able to find and study in detail a pristine example of such an object before stars forever change its unique characteristics.
This afforded astronomers had a first-ever glimpse of the conditions that may have led to the formation of many, if not all globular clusters.
Until now, clouds with this potential have only been seen as teenagers, after star formation had begun. That meant that the nursery had already been disturbed. To understand how a globular cluster forms, you need to see its true beginnings.’,’ said Dr Johnson.