The central Milky Way as imaged by the Very Large Telescope and the HAWK-I infrared camera. Image: ESO/Nogueras-Lara et al.
Peering into the heart of the Milky Way, astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the HAWK-I infrared camera have found evidence for a relatively recent burst of star formation so intense it likely cooked up more than 100,000 massive, fast-burning suns that then exploded in supernova blasts.
The researchers found that about 80 percent of the stars in the galaxies central region formed between eight and 13.5 billion years ago. That was followed by about six billion years during which star formation was very low. Then, about one billion years ago, an intense burst of star formation occurred over a relatively brief 100 million years or so.
The combined mass of those stars was possibly as high as a few tens of millions of Suns. The Milky Way currently produces stars at a rate of one or two solar masses per year.
The VLT/HAWK-I image of the Milky Way’s heart includes the Nuclear Star Cluster (NCS) at center of the galactic core and the Arches Cluster, the densest cluster in the galaxy. Image: ESO/Nogueras-Lara et al.