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Teenage Galaxy Creates New Stars in Growth Spurt

Astronomers have spotted a teenage galaxy going through anincredible growth spurt, creating new stars 100 times faster than our staid oldMilky Way.

This busy galaxy is in the distant universe, so its lighthas taken eons to reach Earth. Scientists are seeing it as it would haveappeared about 10 billion years ago — just three billion years after the BigBang.

Baby stars aren't forming uniformly throughout the galaxy,called SMM J2135-0102. Instead, star formation appears to be concentrated infour main areas — each about 100 times brighter than any star-forming regionsin the Milky Way. This galaxy is birthing about 250 sun-like stars a year.

The new discovery adds to growing evidence that many younggalaxies went through periods of vigorous starcreation in the early universe, a sort of cosmic puberty, the researcherssay.

"We don't fully understand why the stars are forming sorapidly but our results suggest that stars formed much more efficiently in theearly universe than they do today," said lead researcher Mark Swinbank ofthe Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University in England."Galaxies in the early universe appear to have gone through rapid growthand stars like our sun formed much more quickly than they do today."

The researchers observed SMM J2135-0102 with the AtacamaPathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, which is operated in Chile by the EuropeanSouthern Observatory (ESO).

The researchers hope to compare this galaxy with nearbygalaxies to learn more about how star formation was different in the younguniverse.

"The star formation in this galaxy's large dust cloudsis unlike that in the nearby universe," said co-researcher Carlos DeBreuck of ESO. "However, our observations suggest that we should be ableto use underlying physics from the densest cores in nearby galaxies tounderstand star birth in these more distant galaxies."

The study is detailed in the March 21 issue of the journalNature. The research was funded by the Royal Astronomical Society and theScience and Technology Facilities Council in the U.K.

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Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.