Hubble Space Telescope Captures the Cosmic Remnants of Milky Way's Early Construction

First Posted: Nov 06, 2015 08:08 AM EST

The Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a bit more about the early stages of our galaxy's construction. They've found the fading cinders of some of our galaxy's earliest homesteaders.

In this latest study, the researchers peered deep into the Milky Way galaxy's crowded central hub of stars. There, they found a population of ancient white dwarfs. These relics can reveal new clues as to how our galaxy was built long before Earth and our sun formed.

The white dwarfs contain the history of a bygone era. More specifically, they contain information about the stars that existed about 12 billion years ago that burned out to form the white dwarfs. As these dying embers of once-radiant stars cool, they serve as multi-billion-year-old time pieces to tell astronomers a bit more about the Milky Way's groundbreaking years.

Analysis of the new data supports the idea that the Milky Way central bulge formed first and that its stellar inhabitants were born very quickly in less than 2 billion years. The rests of the galaxy's second- and third-generation stars grew more slowly on the outside, encircling the central bulge.

"It is important to observe the Milky Way's bulge because it is the only bugle we can study in detail," said Annalisa Calamida, the lead author of the new study, in a news release. "You can see bulges in distant galaxies, but you cannot resolve the very faint stars, such as the white dwarfs. The Milky Way's bulge includes almost a quarter of the galaxy's stellar mass. Characterizing the properties of the bulge stars can then provide important information to understanding het formation of the entire Milky Way galaxy and that of similar, more distant galaxies."

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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