In a breakthrough discovery, astronomers have discovered an enormously bright galaxy cluster in a region of space close to the Milky Way. Galaxy clusters are formed when hundreds to thousands of galaxies get pulled together by gravity. Virgo cluster is the nearest galaxy cluster to the Milky Way. Located about 65 million light-years away from Earth, the Virgo cluster holds about 2,000 galaxies.
In 2012, astronomers discovered the Phoenix cluster which is by far the brightest galaxy cluster found in the X-ray range. Located about 7 billion light-years away from Earth, Phoenix cluster’s central galaxy is estimated to have 3 trillion stars and is actively forming 740 newborn stars every year. It has been named after the constellation where it resides.
Now, a group of astrophysicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has discovered a Phoenix-like cluster located about 2.4 billion light-years from Earth around a quasar named PKS1353-341. It is estimated that the newly discovered cluster has a mass equal to about 690 trillion times that of Earth’s sun. The discovery is the first result of the Clusters Hiding in Plain Sight or the CHiPS survey. The CHiPS survey analyzes data obtained from a wide range of all-sky surveys including the ROSAT, 2MASS, WISE, SUMSS and NVSS surveys to spot bright sources of infrared, radio and X-ray light.
According to the researchers, the central galaxy of the yet-to-be-named cluster is about 46 billion times brighter than Earth’s sun. It is believed that the light comes from an extraordinarily hot disk of matter whirling into a supermassive black hole.
“There might be many of these missing clusters in our local universe,” said Taweewat Somboonpanyakul, the study lead author. “We should have an answer of whether or not Phoenix represents the most extreme central cluster region in the universe within the next year or two.”
The research results have appeared online in a paper that will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal.