Astronomers unravel mystery behind a giant space blob

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Late in the 1990s, astronomers spotted a number of glowing, "...big blotchy things" in the very distant universe, but have since struggled to explain the light they emit.

At the time, they determined the mysterious formations, which they named Lyman-alpha Blobs, had a diameter about 10 times that of the Milky Way and were comprised of hydrogen gas.

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Using the ALMA telescope in Chile and others, an international team of researchers was recently able to get a closer look into one of those blobs.

According to a release from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the illumination source, "...appears to be two galaxies at the heart of the blob undergoing furious star formation..."

RELATED: See gorgeous pictures of the Milky Way

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Gorgeous new Milky Way image maps our galaxy's dust
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Gorgeous new Milky Way image maps our galaxy's dust

A spectacular new image of the Milky Way has been released to mark the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). The APEX telescope in Chile has mapped the full area of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere for the first time at submillimetre wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves — and in finer detail than recent space-based surveys. The pioneering 12-metre APEX telescope allows astronomers to study the cold Universe: gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

The southern plane of the Milky Way from the ATLASGAL survey.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

The southern plane of the Milky Way from the ATLASGAL survey (annotated).

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

Comparison of the central part of the Milky Way at different wavelengths.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

Comparison of the central part of the Milky Way at different wavelengths (annotated).

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

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Jim Geach, one of the researchers, further explains, "Think of a streetlight on a foggy night — you see the diffuse glow because light is scattering off the tiny water droplets. A similar thing is happening here, except the streetlight is an intensely star-forming galaxy and the fog is a huge cloud of intergalactic gas."

He also notes, "...we are getting a rare glimpse of what's happening around these young, growing galaxies...Lyman-alpha Blob-1 is the site of formation of a massive elliptical galaxy that will one day be the heart of a giant cluster. We are seeing a snapshot of the assembly of that galaxy 11.5 billion years ago."

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