Astronomers Giddy Over What They Call A Cosmic ‘Dinosaur Egg’ About To Hatch

cosmic dinosaur egg

A dense cloud of gas 50 million light-years away has astronomers buzzing, and they’re using all sorts of strange metaphors to get the rest of us to pay attention.

They’ve discovered what they think may be a globular cluster — a big ball of up to one million stars — on the verge of being born.

“This remarkable object looks like it was plucked straight out of the very early universe,” Dr. Kelsey Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and lead author on a paper about the research, said in a written statement. “To discover something that has all the characteristics of a globular cluster, yet has not begun making stars, is like finding a dinosaur egg that’s about to hatch.”

(Story continues below images.)

The Antennae galaxies, shown in visible light in a Hubble image (upper image), were studied with ALMA, revealing extensive clouds of molecular gas (center right image). One cloud (bottom image) is incredibly dense and massive, yet apparently star free, suggesting it is the first example of a prenatal globular cluster ever identified.

cosmic egg
ALMA image of dense cores of molecular gas in the Antennae galaxies. The round yellow object near the center may be the first prenatal example of a globular cluster ever identified. It is surrounded by a giant molecular cloud.

Johnson and her colleagues spotted the bizarre object, which they call the “Firecracker,” using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Atacama desert in Chile. It’s located inside a pair of interacting galaxies known to scientists as NGC 4038/NGC 4039, or The Antennae Galaxies.

The Firecracker has a mass that’s 50 times that of our sun, and is under an enormous amount of pressure — roughly 10,000 times greater than the average pressure in interstellar space. According to —> Read More