The Chandra X-ray Observatory finds one for the cosmic record books. Located 5.7 billion light years from Earth, the Phoenix cluster may not only be the most massive galaxy cluster ever discovered, but also holds the record in several other categories as well. The galaxy cluster was originally named for the constellation it resides in, but now it’s looking like it was more aptly named than astronomers first thought.
While the “most massive” title still remains up for debate with a mass 2,000 times that of our own Milky Way, the Phoenix cluster sports the brightest emissions of X-rays of any galaxy cluster yet discovered. Not only is it an X-ray powerhouse, but the incredible amount of X-rays it is producing points to it being the fastest cooling galaxy cluster yet discovered as well. As reported by the Huffington Post, it is believed that the cooling of hot gas can produce large amounts of X-ray radiation.
This all leads to the next big record for the Phoenix cluster, star formation. The rapidly cooling gas points to an environment ripe for star formation. In an amazing twist, the central galaxy of the Phoenix cluster is pumping out about 740 new stars a year. In most galaxy clusters, the central galaxy is the oldest by billions of years and as such, produces fewer stars, normally at a rate of about one a year. This means that what was once a dead old galaxy has amazingly sprung back to life and is forming stars like it is young again, just like the cluster’s namesake. Astronomers hope that they can find similar systems that could help them figure out the cooling process of galaxy clusters in general, but so far the Phoenix remains unique.