A vast luminous nebula spotted in a distant universe has baffled astronomers as there is no obvious source for the powerful light being emitted. The glowing ‘blob of gas’ was spotted by researchers at Santa Cruz University as they searched for the most dense galaxy environments in the early universe.
“Our survey was not trying to find nebulae…We found this enormous nebula in the middle of the protocluster, near the peak density,” Zheng Cai, a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz said of the research, published in the Astrophysics Journal.
The nebulae called the ‘Enormous Lyman-alpha nebula’ (ELAN) is the brightest and among the largest of these rare objects ever detected. Only a handful have been observed.
ELANs are thought to be part of the fiber connecting galaxies in a vast cosmic web. Their remarkable shining light has previously been attributed to intense radiation from quasars. However this newly-discovered ELAN, named MAMMOTH-1 is the first not to be associated with a visible quasar. Scientists say it’s not clear what is causing the hydrogen gas to emit Lyman-alpha radiation.