Mysterious ancient event 'set off 100,000 supernova explosions in our galaxy'

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Taken with the HAWK-I instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope in the Chilean Atacama Desert, this stunning image shows the Milky Way's central region (Getty)

A mysterious ancient event triggered more than 100,000 supernova explosions long, long ago in our Milky Way galaxy, researchers believe. 

Details of the violent event, which happened between eight and 13.5 billion years ago, were revealed in a startlingly clear image captured by a telescope.

The ESO's (European Southern Observatory) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Chilean Atacama Dessert allowed scientists to uncover new details about the history of star birth.

Images captured by the telescope revealed a hitherto unknown violent period in our galaxy’s history.

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Writing in the Nature Astronomy journal, researchers said about 80 percent 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 100,000 supernovae, was probably one of the most energetic events in the whole history of the Milky Way."