The Milky Way Enters A New Era


PureInsight | August 19, 2002

At the June 200th Conference of the American Astronomy Society, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dr. Chris Martin presented results of a new study that reveals that our Milky Way is entering a new era.

A huge dense ring of interstellar gas is gathering near the galactic center. Its density is big enough to generate a starburst in about 200 million years. At that time, stars will be born 100 times more frequently than today, which will make our galaxy appear more spectacular.

Many of the new stars will be massive and short-lived. When they die, they will release heavy elements into the galaxy at high speed, which could be the "seeds" for a generation of longer-lived stars like our Sun in the galaxy. Another researcher, Anthony Stark of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said, 'They'll quickly use up their fuel and explode as supernova. Right now, we see one supernova in our galaxy about every 100 years. When the starburst happens, we'll see one supernova per year.'

A supernova is the end of a star's life, with a mass ten times larger than our Sun. These massive stars will quickly burn up their [nuclear] fuel within 15 million years, collapse in one second and then rebound and explode as supernova.

Stark and his colleague, Chris Martin, used a telescope in Antarctica to map sub-millimeter wavelength radiation of carbon monoxide in the ring of gas and used this data to estimate the density of the ring. Martin said, "We can combine our map with the x-ray map of the galactic center taken by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, as well as with observations at other wavelengths of light. Together, the data allows us to build a complete picture of the environment near the center of our galaxy." The gas ring contains the diffused mass of millions of suns. The new study shows that when this gas ring reaches critical density, it will form one or two clouds that will collapse into the center of the galaxy, triggering the star formation.

Such similar events happened every 500 million years or so. Different researchers have observed comparable starburst activity in other galaxies. Starbursts are believed to have happened 20 times or so in Milky Way since its birth. When a starburst happened, as material spiraled into a Black Hole, some matter that was converted to radiation on the way in will be ejected in two intense, electromagnetic radiation jets that travel in opposite directions along the axis of the galaxy's rotation. "A large starburst could transform the Milky Way from its present state to a galaxy that looks more like 'M82,'" Stark said, "We're lucky that the energy from these jets is directed out, away from the plane of the Milky Way; if it weren't, the Earth might be periodically sterilized of all life."

The work by Stark and Martin predicts future supernovae. Stark even suggested that humans might get a close-up view of the fireworks.

These astonishing new discoveries in astronomy indicate that tremendous changes in our universe are on their way. Frequent gamma ray bursts, supernova, collisions, re-combinations of the galaxies, the great number of starbursts and other phenomena show that our universe is undergoing dramatic changes and, as this latest research shows, our Milky Way is no exception.

Ancient Chinese believe human society and the heaven are a unity; changes in human society can be predicted by observing the changes in the cosmic climate, leading to speculation that these phenomena are perhaps a predictor that our human society is facing a great change.



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