(ORDO NEWS) — Not so long ago, tens of thousands of stars exploded in the center of our galaxy, which was a stunning sight, accompanied by the release of a huge amount of energy.
Thanks to the Chilean telescope, scientists managed to see something incredible: in the center of the Milky Way, just one billion years ago (which by cosmic standards is quite recent), about 100,000 stars exploded, turning into supernovae.
This blinding death “was probably one of the most spectacular events in the entire history of the Milky Way,” said astronomer Francisco Nogueras-Lara at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
The findings suggest that the Milky Way, which formed about 13 billion years ago, had periods of supernova activity and periods of stellar lull when stars form and die much less frequently.
Although this intense period of star formation occurred many years ago, before complex life forms arose on Earth, it still “left a visible imprint” at the center of the Milky Way, Nogueras-Lara and colleagues say in a published study.
The team was able to detect this imprint using the HAWK-I instrument at the Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Near-infrared wavelengths were used to peer through the dust into the core of the Milky Way, revealing periods of stellar activity.
In the course of their observations, Nogueras-Lara and his colleagues managed to piece together some of the early histories of the Milky Way. Scientists believe that about 80% of our galaxy’s stars were formed during the first five billion years of its life.
Once this early phase of star formation ended, our galaxy went silent for several billion years, until suddenly tens of thousands of stars flared up in the later period of star formation.
It is not clear what caused this. It is possible that the core of the galaxy attracted gas from a nearby dwarf galaxy, which led to the influx of new material.
Massive stars have a much shorter lifespan than sun-like stars. They explode about 100 million years after birth. This explains why about 100,000 stars exploded in such a short period of time.
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