An Indian scientist and his Taiwanese colleague have discovered a blue supergiant star located far beyond our Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Virgo.
Over 55 million years ago, it emerged in an extremely wild environment, surrounded by intensely hot plasma (a million degrees Celsius) and amidst raging cyclone winds blowing at 4 million kilometers per hour.
Research using the Subaru Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT), and NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) revealed unprecedented views of the star formation process in this intergalactic context and showed the promise of future investigations of a possibly new mode of star formation, unlike that within our Milky Way.
Dr. Youichi Ohyama (Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taiwan) and Dr. Ananda Hota (UM-DAE Center for Excellence in the Basic Sciences, India) focused on the trail of IC 3418 to explore a potentially new mode of star formation.
Dr. Hota has been collecting data from multiple telescopes since 2006 to understand this galaxy, which he first spotted in the GALEX data during his Ph.D. research.
IC 3418 is a small galaxy falling into the Virgo cluster of galaxies at such a high speed (1,000 kilometers per second) that its blanket of cool gas strips off. As it passed through the cluster, its stripped-off cool gas formed a 55,500 light-years-long trail that looks very much like the water vapor condensation trail from a supersonic jet's path.
Hot plasma surrounds the trail of IC 3418, and it has not been clear whether the clouds of cool gas would vaporize like water sprinkled on a hot frying pan or condense further to form new young massive stars.
The GALEX ultraviolet image shows that new massive stars do form in the trail.
Dr. Ohyama suspected that a tiny dot of light emission in the trail of IC 3418 might be different from other blobs of ultraviolet light emissions in the trail. Spectroscopy of the little dot from Subaru Telescope's Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS) revealed something stunning.
Dr. Ohyama recalled, "When I first saw the spectrum, I was so puzzled, since it did not look like anything I had known of in extragalactic astronomy."
Unlike typical star-forming regions, the telltale signs of stellar nurseries were missing.
Intense UV-radiation usually ionizes/heats-up the surrounding gas when a star is born. Instead of any sign of heated gas, the observation showed fast winds blowing out of the stellar atmosphere at a speed of about 160 kilometers per second.
Comparison with emissions from nearby stars made it clear that this massive, hot (O-type) star had passed its youth and was now aging; it was at a stage known as a blue supergiant star and would soon face its explosive death as a supernova.
"If our interpretations are correct, this is probably the farthest star ever discovered with spectroscopic observation. Since we only observed for a fraction of the night with the 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope, there is huge potential for stellar spectroscopy with extremely large telescopes, e.g., the Thirty Meter Telescope, being planned for the future. We look forward to that exciting time," Dr. Ohyama commented on the significance of the research. (ANI)