'Catastrophic event' halted development of galaxy
Published 10/03/2010 | 05:00
Scientists have found evidence of a "catastrophic event" they believe was responsible for halting the birth of stars in a galaxy in the early universe.
The researchers, led by Durham University's Department of Physics, observed the massive galaxy as it would have appeared just three billion years after the Big Bang when the universe was a quarter of its present age.
According to their findings, the galaxy exploded in a series of blasts trillions of times more powerful than an atomic bomb. The blasts happened every second for millions of years, the scientists said.
The explosions scattered the gas needed to form new stars by helping it escape the gravitational pull of the galaxy called SMM J1237+6203.
They believe the huge surge of energy was caused by either the outflow of debris from the galaxy's black hole or from powerful winds generated by dying stars called supernovae.
The research is published in 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society'.
Observations were carried out using the Gemini Observatory's Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer.
Lead author Dr Dave Alexander of Durham University's Department of Physics, said: "We are looking into the past and seeing a catastrophic event that essentially switched off star formation and halted the growth of a typical massive galaxy in the local universe.
"Effectively the galaxy is regulating its growth by preventing new stars from being born. Theorists had predicted that huge outflows of energy were behind this activity, but it's only now that we have seen it in action.
"We believe that similar huge outflows are likely to have stopped the growth of other galaxies in the early universe by blowing away the materials needed for star formation," he added.