Gigantic alpha blob glow comes from galaxies hidden within.
The astronomers used ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to study Lyman-alpha blob. These huge and very luminous rare structures are normally seen in regions of the early Universe where matter is concentrated. The team found that the light coming from one of these blobs is polarised. In everyday life, for example, polarised light is used to create 3D effects in cinemas.
"We have shown for the first time that the glow of this enigmatic object is scattered light from brilliant galaxies hidden within, rather than the gas throughout the cloud itself shining." Said Matthew Hayes (University of Toulouse, France), lead author of the paper.
Lyman-alpha blobs are some of the biggest objects in the Universe: gigantic clouds of hydrogen gas that can reach diameters of a few hundred thousand light-years (a few times larger than the size of the Milky Way), and which are as powerful as the brightest galaxies. They are typically found at large distances, so we see them, as they were when the Universe was only a few billion years old.
They are therefore important in our understanding of how galaxies formed and evolved when the Universe was younger. But the power source for their extreme luminosity, and the precise nature of the blobs, has remained unclear.
The team studied one of the first and brightest of these blobs to be found. Known as LAB-1, it was discovered in 2000, and it is so far away that its light has taken about 11.5 billion years to reach us (redshift 3.1). With a diameter of about 300 000 light-years it is also one of the largest known, and has several primordial galaxies inside it, including an active galaxy.
There are several competing theories to explain Lyman-alpha blobs. One idea is that they shine when cool gas is pulled in by the blob's powerful gravity, and heats up. Another is that they are shining because of brilliant objects inside them: galaxies undergoing vigorous star formation, or containing voracious black holes engulfing matter. The new observations have showed that it is embedded galaxies, and not gas being pulled in, that power LAB-1.
The team tested the two theories by measuring whether the light from the blob was polarised.
By observing their target for about 15 hours with the Very Large Telescope, the team found that the light from the Lyman-alpha blob LAB-1 was polarised in a ring around the central region, and that there was no polarisation in the centre. This effect is almost impossible to produce if light simply comes from the gas falling into the blob under gravity, but it is just what is expected if the light originally comes from galaxies embedded in the central region, before being scattered by the gas.(ANI)
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