Astronomers believe they have uncovered evidence of a dramatic event in the life of the Milky Way.
The ESO’s (European Southern Observatory) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Chilean Atacama Desert has revealed the clearest picture of the galaxy, and allowed scientists to uncover new details about the history of star birth.
Writing in the Nature Astronomy journal, researchers say about 80% of the stars in the Milky Way central region were formed in the earliest years of our galaxy, some time between eight and 13.5 billion years ago.
For about six billion years after this few stars were born, but this quiet period was brought to an end by an intense burst of star formation about one billion years ago, it is claimed.
“Contrary to what had been accepted up to now, we found that the formation of stars has not been continuous,” said Francisco Nogueras-Lara, who led two new studies of the Milky Way central region while at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Granada, Spain.
“The conditions in the studied region during this burst of activity must have resembled those in ‘starburst’ galaxies, which form stars at rates of more than 100 solar masses per year.
“This burst of activity, which must have resulted in the explosion of more than a hundred thousand supernovae, was probably one of the most energetic events in the whole history of the Milky Way.”