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Tadpole galaxy erupts with the birth of stars

A rare, nearby galaxy is exploding with newborn stars, as seen in a newly released image captured by Hubble.

NASA, ESA, and D. Elmegreen (Vassar College), B. Elmegreen (IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center), J. Sánchez Almeida, C. Munoz-Tunon, and M. Filho (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias), J. Mendez-Abreu (University of St. Andrews), J. Gallagher (University of Wisconsin-Madison), M. Rafelski (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and D. Ceverino (Center for Astronomy at Heidelberg University)

A frenzy of starburst has been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in a tiny galaxy relatively close to the Milky Way.

Kiso 5639, located roughly 82 million light-years away, is what is known as a tadpole galaxy. It's just 8,800 light-years wide (compared to the Milky Way's 100,000 light-years), and appears side-on, so it looks like a streak in the sky led by a bright, star-forming "head."

Kiso 5639 is a rarity, and a wonderful one. Around 10 percent of all galaxies are tadpole galaxies, according to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, and this one is close enough to reveal what causes the intense starburst activity at one end of galaxy head.

When they were discovered in the 1990s, it was thought that the heads of tadpole galaxies were caused by collisions with other galaxies. Now, based on simulations, a team of researchers at New York's Vassar College believes the galaxy's leading edge encountered a large filament of gas as it drifted through relatively empty space. This filament deposited a large amount of gas into the galaxy, triggering intense star formation.