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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Galaxy blazes with new stars
HST
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

A galaxy located deep within the constellation of Ursa Major - the Great Bear - is revealing secrets of how some galaxies experience rapid pulses of star formation, called starbursts.

Most galaxies form new stars at a fairly sedate pace, but members of a rare class of galaxies known as starburst galaxies display extremely active star formation.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have developed a technique to determine the history of starburst galaxies by analysing the colours of their stars. This is possible because young stars are blue and older stars are red.

Using this technique, astronomers deduce that the galaxy Ngc 3310 is forming clusters of new stars at a prodigious rate for long periods and not just episodically.

Catastrophic events

There are several hundred star clusters visible in Ngc 3310 - seen as bright blue diffuse objects that trace the galaxy's spiral arms. Each of these clusters contains up to a million stars. In addition, hundreds of individual young, bright stars can be seen scattered throughout the galaxy.

As they develop, the star clusters become redder as the most massive and bluest stars exhaust their fuel and burn out.

It had been thought that the starbursts were triggered when a companion galaxy collided with Ngc 3310, sending a ripple of instability throughout the galaxy that stimulated the formation of stars.

But colour measurements of Ngc 3310 suggests that its star clusters have ages ranging from about one million up to more than a hundred million years, suggesting that the starburst began over 100 million years ago and continued for a long time.


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See also:

02 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
27 Mar 00 | Science/Nature
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