New look at Messier 82 reveals superwind source, young star clusters

Mar 08, 2011 By Anne Minard, Universe Today
False color mosaic showing the Subaru COMICS image (red), a Hubble near-infrared image of stars (green) and a Chandra X-ray image (blue) dominated by extremely hot gas and black holes. Credit: JAXA

Messier 82′s galactic windstorms emanate from many young star clusters, rather than any single source, say astronomers who released this new image today.

The international team of scientists, led by Poshak Gandhi of the Japan Aerospace Exporation Agency (JAXA), has used the Subaru Telescope to produce a new view of M 82 at infrared wavelengths that are 20 times longer than those visible to the human eye.

M 82 (09h 55m 52.2s, +69° 40′ 47″) is located close to the ladle of the Big Dipper in the constellation Ursa Major and is the nearest starburst galaxy, at a distance of about 11 million light years from Earth.

The combination of Subaru Telescope’s large 8.2 m primary mirror and its Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer (COMICS) allowed the team to obtain a sharp, magnified view of the inner area of the galaxy.

Previous observations of M 82 with infrared telescopes, including the middle and bottom image in the three-part series, have found a very strong wind emanating from it — a ‘superwind’ that is composed of dusty gas and extends over many hundreds of thousands of light years. This high-powered windstorm ejects material from the galaxy at a speed of about a half a million miles per hour, sweeping it up from the central regions and depositing it far and wide over the galaxy and beyond. The contents of this material are seeds for solar systems like our own, and perhaps for life itself. The dusty superwind glows brightly in the infrared, because billions of bright, newly-formed stars heat it up.

With the new Subaru image, scientists have gained insight about the sources of the superwind.

“The wind is found to originate from multiple ejection sites spread over hundreds of light years rather than emanating from any single cluster of new stars. We can now distinguish ‘pillars’ of fast gas, and even a structure resembling the surface of a ‘bubble’ about 450 light years wide,” Gandhi explained.

COMICS has detectors particularly adept at indicating the presence of warm dust, which it found was more than 100 degrees hotter than the bulk of material filling the rest of the galaxy. The widespread, continuous flow of energy from young stars into the galactic expanse keeps the dust hot.

Images of M 82. The bottom image from Subaru shows the superwind crossing the disk structure. Courtesy of JAXA.

Further insights from the Subaru image emerge when it’s combined with previous images from Hubble and Chandra. Their integration produces a beautiful mosaic, represented in the lead image, that provides the first opportunity to isolate M 82′s infrared properties. Supported by these data, scientists can study the broad spectrum of radiation of different kinds of objects spread over the galaxy’s plane, including supernovae, , and black holes.

Many questions remain, such as how many more stars the galaxy contains — many could still be obscured by the dust of star formation — and whether or not M 82 hosts an actively growing supermassive black hole.

The results are reported in the article “Diffraction-limited Subaru imaging of M82: sharp mid-infrared view of the starburst core” by P. Gandhi, N. Isobe, M. Birkinshaw, D.M. Worrall, I. Sakon, K. Iwasawa & A. Bamba, in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan, v. 63 (2011), in press.

Explore further: Transiting exoplanet with longest known year

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Happy sweet sixteen, Hubble Space Telescope

Apr 24, 2006

To celebrate the NASA-ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s 16 years of success, the two space agencies are releasing this mosaic image of the magnificent starburst galaxy, Messier 82 (M82). It is the sharpest wide-angle ...

Image: Where stars are born

Dec 23, 2010

( -- This mosaic image is the sharpest wide-angle view ever obtained of the starburst galaxy, Messier 82 (M82). The galaxy is remarkable for its bright blue disk, webs of shredded clouds and fiery-looking ...

The two-faced whirlpool galaxy

Jan 14, 2011

( -- These images by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show off two dramatically different face-on views of the spiral galaxy M51, dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy.

The many infrared 'personalities' of the Sculptor galaxy

Oct 14, 2010

( -- The Sculptor galaxy is shown in different infrared hues, in this new mosaic from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The main picture is a composite of infrared light captured ...

The superwind galaxy NGC 4666 (w/ Video)

Sep 01, 2010

( -- The galaxy NGC 4666 takes pride of place at the centre of this new image, made in visible light with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in ...

Hubble Eyes Star Birth in the Extreme

Jun 13, 2006

Staring into the crowded, dusty core of two merging galaxies, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a region where star formation has gone wild.

Recommended for you

Transiting exoplanet with longest known year

13 hours ago

Astronomers have discovered a transiting exoplanet with the longest known year. Kepler-421b circles its star once every 704 days. In comparison, Mars orbits our Sun once every 780 days. Most of the 1,800-plus ...

Mysterious dance of dwarfs may force a cosmic rethink

20 hours ago

( —The discovery that many small galaxies throughout the universe do not 'swarm' around larger ones like bees do but 'dance' in orderly disc-shaped orbits is a challenge to our understanding of ...

Is our solar system weird?

Jul 18, 2014

Is our Solar System normal? Or is it weird? How does the Solar System fit within the strange star systems we've discovered in the Milky Way so far?

Upgraded telescope opens window to universe

Jul 18, 2014

An international team of astrophysicists including University of Adelaide researchers have announced the successful detection of pulsed gamma rays from the neutron star, the Vela pulsar, using their newly upgraded telescope ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 08, 2011
Consider that if a central supermassive core star periodically becomes unstable, ejecting newly nucleated matter therein which then condenses into new stars, and that if this local region of higher mass density thereby augments this auto-matter-generating process, such that more massive stars would thereby grow more quickly within this local region, eventually becoming very massive and unstable themselves, and thus ejecting new matter themselves into the surrounding region. Would not this scenario help explain what is observed?
1 / 5 (6) Mar 08, 2011
Yes of course, Tuxford, but it would violate the dogma that interstellar clouds collapse gravitationally to form stars.

So do a lot of other observations [1-3] that NASA has ignored since 1976:

1. "Strange xenon, extinct superheavy elements and the solar neutrino puzzle", Science 195, 208-209 (1977).

2. "Isotopes of tellurium, xenon and krypton in the Allende meteorite retain record of nucleosynthesis", Nature 277, 615-620 (1979).

3. "Neutron Repulsion," The APEIRON Journal in press (2011), 19 pages

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 09, 2011
Some recent M82 observations, which, I believe, support this unlikely auto-generation model:

Dec 23rd: Superwinds producing millions of new stars? Self-limiting, as accretion mechanism is assumed?

And from April 14th: New micro-quasar offset from the center, and on the superluminal move. Can it drag along the accretion material fuel at that speed? Or is it a very massive ejected core star generation new energy and matter therein from an unrecognized physics mechanism?