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At the Heart of Blobs

This artist's concept illustrates one possible answer to the puzzle of the "giant galactic blobs." These blobs (red), first identified about five years ago, are mammoth clouds of intensely glowing material that surround distant galaxies (white). Astronomers using visible-light telescopes can see the glow of the blobs, but they didn't know what provides the energy to light them up. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope set its infrared eyes on one well-known blob located 11 billion light-years away, and discovered three tremendously bright galaxies, each shining with the light of more than one trillion Suns, headed toward each other.

Spitzer also observed three other blobs in the same galactic neighborhood and found equally bright galaxies within them. One of these blobs is also known to contain galaxies merging together. The findings suggest that galactic mergers might be the mysterious source of blobs.

If so, then one explanation for how mergers produce such large clouds of material is that they trigger intense bursts of star formation. This star formation would lead to exploding massive stars, or supernovae, which would then shoot gases outward in a phenomenon known as superwinds. Blobs produced in this fashion are illustrated in this artist's concept.