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Star clues found in galaxy 'tail'

Pasadena, Calif. -- A distant galaxy with a tail studded with bright clumps of new stars offers clues to how such stars form, U.S. researchers say.

Galaxy IC 3418's tail was formed as it collided with the neighboring Virgo cluster of galaxies, ScienceDaily.com reported Wednesday.

"The gas in this galaxy is being blown back into a turbulent wake," said Janice Hester of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"The gas is like sand caught up by a stiff wind," she said. "However, the particular type of gas that is needed to make stars is heavier, like pebbles, and can't be blown out of the galaxy.

"Observations are teaching us that this heavier, star-forming gas can form in the wake, possibly in swirling eddies of gas."

Collisions between galaxies are a fairly common occurrence in the universe, and battered galaxies are often left with tails of material stripped off during the collisions, SPACE.com said.

"These tails are unique, exotic locations where we can probe the precise mechanisms behind star formation," Hester said.

"Understanding star formation is pivotal to understanding the life cycles of galaxies and the dramatic transformations that some galaxies undergo," she said.
"We can also study how the process affects the development of planets like our own."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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