New pics of nearby starburst galaxy M82 may help reveal why stars form where they do
Washington – Astronomers using the new, high-frequency capabilities of the National Science Foundation’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomers have captured never-before-seen details of the nearby starburst galaxy M82.
The new data highlight streamers of material fleeing the disk of the galaxy as well as concentrations of dense molecular gas surrounding pockets of intense star formation.
M82, which is located approximately 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major, is a classic example of a starburst galaxy — one that is producing new stars tens- to hundreds-of-times faster than our own Milky Way.
Its relatively nearby location made it an ideal target for the GBT’s newly equipped “W-Band” receiver, which is capable of detecting the millimeter wavelength light that is emitted by molecular gas. This new capability makes the GBT the world’s largest single-dish, millimeter-wave telescope.
Lead author Amanda Kepley, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia, said that with this new vision, we were able to look at M82 to explore how the distribution of molecular gas in the galaxy corresponded to areas of intense star formation.
She said that having this new capability may help them understand why stars form where they do.
Kepley said that the GBT data clearly show billowing concentrations of dense molecular gas huddled around areas that are undergoing bursts of intense star formation, asserting that they also reveal giant outflows of ionized gas fleeing the disk of the galaxy.
She said that these outflows are driven by star formation deep within the galaxy.
The study is set to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.