Brightest Galaxy Is Gobbling Up Its Neighbors

Posted: Nov 16 2018, 7:48pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 16 2018, 7:50pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Brightest Galaxy is Gobbling up its Neighbors
Artist impression of W2246-0526, the most luminous known galaxy, and three companion galaxies. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello

Researchers suggest that the material that the luminous known galaxy is stealing from other galaxies is likely contributing to its extreme brightness.

The most luminous galaxy in the Universe has devoured at least three galaxies in its neighbor. The finding is important for determining whether the galaxy is glowing intensely using material from other galaxies.

Dubbed W2246-0526, the superbrilliant galaxy was discovered by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) in 2015. The galaxy is located 12.4 billion light-years away and has a voraciously feeding supermassive black hole at its center. W2246-0526 is by no means the largest or most massive galaxy in the universe but it appears 350 trillion times brighter than the Sun. Its extreme brightness has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists.

New observations using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has revealed that the galaxy's startling brightness is powered by dust pulled from at three three smaller galaxies. Researchers have found distinct trails of dust that contain about as much material as the smaller galaxies themselves. The position and shape of dust trails is also consistent with how the material should flow if it is being pulled from one galaxy into another.

"It is possible that this feeding frenzy has already been ongoing for some time, and we expect the galactic feast to continue for at least a few hundred million years.” Lead author Tanio Diaz-Santos of the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile said.

Galactic cannibalism is not a rare thing. Scientists have long known that many large galaxies contain the remnants of smaller galaxies. When galaxies drift too close to one another, the larger galaxies remain intact and retain its shape. But smaller ones will be stripped apart and become part of the larger galaxy due to its intense gravity.

"We knew from previous data that there were three companion galaxies, but there was no evidence of interactions between these neighbors and the central source," said Diaz-Santos. "We weren't looking for cannibalistic behavior and weren't expecting it, but this deep dive with the ALMA observatory makes it very clear."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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