Our Milky Way galaxy is, without any doubt, a bigger cradle of space wonders than we can ever imagine. Having 100,000 light-years in diameter and around two billion stars, our galaxy is always a suited place where we can unfold our space exploration. But with trillions of other galaxies out there and maybe a lot more universes, we should expand our attention at least a bit because who knows what we can miss.
Scientists led by Junzhi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences did just that, and the results are overwhelming. For the first time in history, molecular oxygen has been discovered in another galaxy: Markarian 231.
Over half a billion light-years away
The Markarian 231 galaxy is located at a staggering distance from us, even judging by astronomical scales: 561 million light-years. The galaxy is powered by a quasar, and in the galactic core there’s also another monster lurking: an active supermassive black hole.
But what’s the most interesting about Markarian 231 is that it became the only known galaxy besides Milky Way that contains molecular oxygen. After hydrogen and helium, oxygen is the most abundant element from the Universe, and it’s important to understand its chemistry and abundance in other systems.
The researchers involved had been taking observations of the galaxy for four days using the IRAM 30-metre radio telescope in Spain. The outcome was the spectral signature of oxygen.
In their study paper, the scientists wrote:
With deep observations toward Markarian 231 using the IRAM 30 meter telescope and NOEMA, we detected [molecular oxygen] emission in [an] external galaxy for the first time,
However, the possible source of the molecular oxygen was explained:
The detected O2 emission is located in regions about 10 kpc (32,615 light-years) away from the center of Markarian 231 and may be caused by the interaction between the active galactic nucleus-driven molecular outflow and the outer disc molecular clouds.
Therefore, don’t be afraid to explore the Universe beyond our cosmic neighborhood because who knows what you can discover. Guzzling information is never a bad thing.