Washington, July 11 : Astronomers have uncovered an extreme stellar machine - a galaxy in the very remote universe pumping out stars at a surprising rate of up to 4,000 per year.
The discovery, made possible by several telescopes including NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, goes against the most common theory of galaxy formation.
According to the theory, called the Hierarchical Model, galaxies slowly bulk up their stars over time by absorbing tiny pieces of galaxies, and not in one big burst as observed in the newfound "Baby Boom" galaxy.
"This galaxy is undergoing a major baby boom, producing most of its stars all at once," said Peter Capak of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
The Baby Boom galaxy, which belongs to a class of galaxies called starbursts, is the new record holder for the brightest starburst galaxy in the very distant universe, with brightness being a measure of its extreme star-formation rate.
It was discovered and characterized using a suite of telescopes operating at different wavelengths.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Japan's Subaru Telescope, atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, first spotted the galaxy in visible-light images, where it appeared as an inconspicuous smudge due to is great distance.
It wasn't until Spitzer and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, also on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, observed the galaxy at infrared and submillimeter wavelengths, respectively, that the galaxy stood out as the brightest of the bunch.
This is because it has a huge number of youthful stars.
When stars are born, they shine with a lot of ultraviolet light and produce a lot of dust.
The dust absorbs the ultraviolet light but, it warms up and re-emits light at infrared and submillimeter wavelengths, making the galaxy unusually bright to Spitzer and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope.
To learn more about this galaxy's unique youthful glow, Capak and his team followed up with a number of telescopes. They used optical measurements from Keck to determine the exact distance to the galaxy - a whopping 12.3 billion light-years.
These observations allowed the astronomers to calculate a star-forming rate of about 1,000 to 4,000 stars per year.
At that rate, the galaxy needs only 50 million years, not very long on cosmic timescales, to grow into a galaxy equivalent to the most massive ones we see today.
"Before now, we had only seen galaxies form stars like this in the teenaged universe, but this galaxy is forming when the universe was only a child," said Capak.
According to Nick Scoville of Caltech, "The incredible star-formation activity we have observed suggests that we may be witnessing, for the first time, the formation of one of the most massive elliptical galaxies in the universe."