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Strange Space Blobs Get More Mysterious

Strange Space Blobs Get More Mysterious
Blob B6 is seen in red in the optical image at left. Inside the blob, seen in the infrared image at right, are three hyper-luminous galaxies. Image (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/H. Teplitz (SSC/Caltech))

SAN DIEGO -- Strange objects in faraway space known to astronomers only as Giant Galactic Blobs have, upon close inspection, become a lot weirder.

The blobs are huge clouds of glowing gas. They've been puzzling astronomers since their discovery five years ago. Researchers discussed new observations of the object here today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which works like night-vision goggles to detect infrared radiation, peeked inside the blobs to reveal galaxies lurking within. Turns out there are typically two or more galaxies inside a given blob.

Take Blob B6, for example (yes, that's what astronomers call it). B6 contains a trio of galaxies, said James Colbert of Caltech's Spitzer Science Center. The galaxies are likely to merge, and that could have something to do with creation and illumination of the blobs. But merger activity alone isn't a sufficient explanation for the cosmic lightbulbs.

Three things might cause the blobs hydrogen to glow, Colbert said.

  • Radiation from matter being superheated as it swirls into black holes at the galaxies' centers
  • Superwinds of material from mass quantities of exploding stars
  • Energy released by gas that cools as it falls into the center of a galaxy

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Robert Roy Britt

Rob has been producing internet content since the mid-1990s. He was a writer, editor and Director of Site Operations at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as Managing Editor of LiveScience since its launch in 2004. He then oversaw news operations for the Space.com's then-parent company TechMediaNetwork's growing suite of technology, science and business news sites. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California, is an author and also writes for Medium.