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Space telescope sees 'starburst' galaxies

Dec. 4, 2012 at 7:23 PM   |   Comments

PARIS, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- European astronomers say observations of hundreds of previously unseen galaxies show extraordinary high star-formation rates across the history of the universe.

The European Space Agency's infrared Herschel space observatory has provided images of hundreds of so-called starburst galaxies that give birth to hundreds of solar masses' worth of stars each year in short-lived but intense events, they said.

In comparison, they said, our own Milky Way Galaxy on average produces the equivalent of only one sun-like star per year.

"The Herschel data tell us how fiercely and prolifically these galaxies are producing stars," Seb Oliver from the University of Sussex in Britain said in a release from ESA's Paris headquarters.

Observations from Herschel were combined with subsequent data from the Keck telescopes in Hawaii.

"Combining this information with the distances provided by the Keck data, we can uncover the contribution of the starburst galaxies to the total amount of stars produced across the history of the Universe," Oliver said.

The infrared light in the Herschel observations of some of these starburst galaxies began the journey toward Earth when the universe was only 1 billion to 3 billion years old, astronomers said.

"Before Herschel, the largest similar survey of distant starbursts involved only 73 galaxies -- we've improved on that by over a factor of ten in this combined survey with Keck to determine the characteristics of this important galaxy population," Herschel project scientist Goran Pilbratt said.

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