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NASA Scientists Discover 6 Billion-Year-Old Cosmic Supermom

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Photo of Phoenix cluster. (credit: NASA)

Photo of Phoenix cluster. (credit: NASA)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists have found a cosmic supermom. It’s a galaxy that gives births to more stars in a day than ours does in a year.

Astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescope to spot this distant gigantic galaxy creating about 740 new stars a year. By comparison, our Milky Way galaxy spawns just about one new star each year.

It’s about 5.7 billion light years away in the center of a recently discovered cluster of galaxies that give the brightest X-ray glow astronomers have seen. It is by far the biggest creation of stars that astronomers have seen for this type of galaxy — massive galaxies that are in the center of clusters. But other types of galaxies, such as colliding galaxies, can produce even more stars, astronomers said.

But this is the size, type and age of galaxy that shouldn’t be producing stars at such a rapid pace, said the authors of a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“It’s very extreme,” said Harvard University astronomer Ryan Foley, co-author of the study. “It pushes the boundaries of what we understand.”

There’s another strange thing about this galaxy. It’s fairly mature, maybe 6 billion years old. Usually, this type “are kind of just there and don’t do anything new… what we call red and dead,” said study lead author Michael McDonald of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It seems to have come back to life for some reason.”

Because of that back-to-life situation, the team of 85 astronomers has nicknamed the galaxy cluster Phoenix, after the bird that rises from the ashes. The galaxy that is producing the stars at a rate of two per day is in the center of the cluster and is the biggest and most prominent of many galaxies there.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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