Mauna Kea Scope Uncovers Clues to Prolific Star-Forming Galaxies

Article excerpt

A joint effort between the Hawaii-based Keck Observatory and the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory is providing an unprecedented glimpse into what had previously been the greatest extragalactic fireworks show never seen.

Through the combined capacities of the two observatories, scientists have been collecting data on hundreds of so-called "starburst" galaxies.

These highly active galaxies give birth to hundreds of solar masses' worth of stars each year, compared to an average of "only" one new sun per year in the Milky Way.

"Starburst galaxies are the brightest galaxies in the universe and contribute significantly to cosmic star formation, so it's important to study them in detail and understand their properties," said Caitlin Casey, a Hubble Fellow at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy and lead author of a study that examines the results of the joint project. The study is published in the current edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

While starburst galaxies produce enough light to greatly outshine the Milky Way, massive amounts of dust produced by the star formations absorb much of the visible light. …