12/09/2014 09:08 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2014

This Galaxy Is Belching Gas At 2 Million Miles An Hour

J. Geach & R. Crain

Talk about a big blowout!

For the first time ever, a galaxy has been observed blasting out cold, dense gas in vast quantities and at mind-boggling speed. This "galactic molecular outflow" from Galaxy SDSS J0905+57 has been clocked at speeds of up to 2 million miles per hour and shown to extend outward for tens of thousands of light-years.

The remarkable observation is a "new piece of evidence" in the understanding of how galaxies form, according to Dr. James Geach, a Royal Society university research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics Research in England and the leader of the international team of astronomers that made the observation.

"We know that in order to produce the observed distribution of galaxies today, galaxies must regulate their growth--otherwise too many stars would form," Geach told The Huffington Post in an email. "The mechanisms for this regulation are only just now being empirically determined. We have found new evidence for a particular mechanism whereby the sheer amount of radiation being emitted by stars is enough to drive out gas (the building blocks of stars) from the galaxy--in effect blasting it right out into space."

There's nothing unusual about outflows of warm, ionized gas from galaxies, according to a written statement released by the university. But never before had anyone observed large amounts of cold, dense gas flowing outward from the central region of a galaxy--in this case a compact starburst galaxy located roughly 6 billion light-years from Earth.

Just how much gas are we talking about? Enough to form more than a billion suns, according to New Scientist.

To make the discovery, the team used the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) Plateau de Bure Interferometer, a radio telescope in the French Alps, as well as data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

An article describing the discovery was published Dec. 4 in the journal Nature.



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