Monday, August 22, 2011

De blob, it glows! 08.19.11

Lyman-alpha blob 1 (LAB-1) is a blob. Not only that, but it is a giant, intergalactic green blob—a giant, intergalactic, green blob that can only be studied with extremely large telescopes, like the (aptly named) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the mountains of Chile. This is what LAB-1 looks like through the VLT:
Very green, isn’t it? Believe it or not, but it is actually glowing green. That is no filter, no infrared exposure, no x-ray…nothing special done to the photograph. The thing is a glowing, green blob. That is only part of what makes it so fascinating, though.
According to the astronomers who have been studying it with the VLT, the LAB-1 is polarized in a very odd way. That polarization indicates something about what is inside of the blob: “We have shown for the first time that the glow of this enigmatic object is scattered light from brilliant galaxies hidden within, rather than the gas throughout the cloud itself shining,” said lead author Matthew Hayes at the University of Toulouse.
So, LAB-1 is full of galaxies. In case you don’t realize just how huge this blob is, astronomers calculate it is at least 300,000 light years across. That is more than 11 times the distance of our solar system from the center of just our own Milky Way galaxy. This blob is a monster… a creepy, glowing, green monster.
Astronomers are also very interested in LAB-1 because it may literally shed some light on how galaxies are formed. “For a long time now, astronomers have watched stars being born in places like the Great Orion Nebula. Now, it looks like we’ll be able to see where galaxies are born, an exciting prospect,” says Jim Friese of Thronateeska Heritage Center.
 Credit and image credit: NASA.

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