Most Luminous Known Galaxy is Ripping Itself Apart

According to new observations from the largest astronomical project in existence, the Atacama Large Millimeter Submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most luminous known galaxy in the universe is so violently turbulent that it’s in the process of expelling all of its star forming gas.

“It is like a pot of boiling water being heated up by a nuclear reactor in the center,” said Dr Tanio Diaz-Santos of the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile.


Artists impression of W2246-0526. Image credit: Dana Berry/ ALMA

The galaxy, known as WISE 2246-0526, is about 12.4 billion light years away and was discovered in 2015 using NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy is classified as an extremely luminous infrared galaxy (ELIRG). It is smaller than the Milky Way, yet emits 10,000 times more energy.

“Large amounts of interstellar material were found in an extremely turbulent and dynamic state, careening throughout the galaxy at around 2 million km per hour,” said Dr Diaz-Santos.

Scientists believe the extreme luminosity is powered by a relatively tiny, yet incredibly energetic disk of gas that is being super-heated by W2246-0526’s black hole.

“These properties make this object a beast in the infrared. The powerful infrared energy emitted by the dust then has a direct and violent impact on the entire galaxy, producing extreme turbulence throughout the interstellar medium,” explained Dr. Roberto Assef, who is co-author of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“ALMA has now shown us that the raging furnace in this galaxy is making the pot boil over,” Dr. Assef added.

Researchers conclude that if these turbulent conditions continue, the infrared radiation would boil away all of W2246-0526’s star-forming gas.

“We suspected that this galaxy is in a transformative stage of its life because of the enormous amount of infrared energy,” added co-author Dr. Peter Eisenhardt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


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