Glowing Blob Is Mysterious New Discovery In The Universe

First Posted: Mar 04, 2017 04:10 AM EST

A vast, glowing nebula located at the center of a "protocluster" of early galaxies has baffled astronomers, considering that there had been no obvious source of such powerful light.

The "blob of gas" found by the researchers from Santa Cruz University was said to be the most dense ever seen in the early universe. Zheng Cai, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Cruz, said that they found the enormous nebula in the middle of a photocluster, near the peak density.

According to RT, nebulae of this sort had been named "enormous Lyman-alpha nebula" or ELAN. It is so far the brightest, and among the largest ever to be seen in the cosmos. Only a handful has ever been observed by scientists.

ELANs are known for their shining light and had previously been attributed to the intense radiation from quasars. However, the study published in the Astrophysics journal noted that this newly discovered one, which they named MAMMOTH-1, is the first not to be associated with a quasar. This makes scientists question its bright Lyman-alpha radiation.

J. Xavier Prochaska of UC Santa Cruz and a member of the team that discovered MAMMOTH-1 noted that the ELAN is extremely bright and may be larger than even the Slug Nebula, which stretches 2 million lightyears through space. "It's a terrifically energetic phenomenon without an obvious power source," Prochaska said about MAMMOTH-1.

What is known about MAMMOTH-1, however, is the fact that it has the same wavelength that is absorbed and emitted by cooling hydrogen atoms, known as the Lyman-alpha radiation (and thus, the name). As noted by Science Alert, the plausible explanation for MAMMOTH-1 is the outflow of an active galactic nucleus (AGN) hidden by dust, leaving a faint source seen and associated with the nebula. AGNs are said to be powered by a supermassive black hole actively feeding on gas and are usually an extremely bright source of light on its own.

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