Astronomers: Images shows rare galaxy formed just after the Big Bang

Sunday, December 25th 2011. | Science News

A team of scientists using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes announced Wednesday they have discovered that one of the most distant galaxies known is churning out stars at a shockingly high rate.

Images shows rare galaxy formed just after the Big BangA pair of images released by the space agency, working in conjunction with the team of astronomers, finds the galaxy is one of the oldest ever photographed.

“The discovery is surprising because previous surveys had not found galaxies this bright so early in the history of the universe,” said Mark Dickinson from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, who was part of the star-gazing team. “It may be a special, rare object that we just happened to catch during an extreme burst of star formation.”

The team of astronomers announced the discovery, saying the latest photo show one of the most distant galaxies known churning out stars at the rate of 100 per year. Data from Spitzer and Hubble were used to measure the galaxy’s high star production rate, equivalent to about 100 suns per year. By comparison, the Milky Way galaxy is about five times larger and 100 times more massive than GN-108036, however, it creates roughly 30 times fewer stars per year.

Astronomers noted that it is difficult to precisely assess the age of the galaxy, however, it is likely considered the second older galaxy ever captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The ancient galaxy, which formed just after the birth of the universe, has been photographed by telescopes on Earth and in space, and is the brightest galaxy ever seen at such remote distances, astronomers say.

Scientists say GN-108036 lies near the very beginning of time itself, a mere 750 million years after our universe was created 13.7 billion years ago in an explosive “Big Bang.” The image shows the early universe as is looked 12.9 billion years ago — the same time it has taken light to reach Earth.

The team of astronomers said the discovery was as much luck as it was science. The team noted that previous stargazing did not yield the discover due, in part, to the galaxy’s high rate of producing stars. Scientists say until the latest photo was capture, that it was not thought that the earliest galaxies in the history of the Universe were so active.

It still remains unclear exactly why the galaxy’s rate of producing stars remains so high. Scientists involved with the project say future experiments are likely to focus on explaining why so many stars were formed in the early days of the Universe, and why this process occurs almost exclusively in galaxies. Speaking Thursday, Bahram Mobasher, of the University of California, Riverside said the discovery likely represents a timeline of how galaxies in today’s universe evolved.

“This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today,” said Mr. Mobasher.

The image is likely to assist scientists in better understanding the earlier stages of star development. The NASA team said they were surprised to know that such a vigorous galaxy existed at a time when the universe was only five percent of its present age, adding that further experiments could confirm whether early galaxies were just as vigorous.

Other authors include: Kyle Penner and Benjamin J. Weiner of the University of Arizona, Tucson; Kazuhiro Shimasaku and Kimihiko Nakajima of the University of Tokyo; Jeyhan S. Kartaltepe of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory; Hooshang Nayyeri of the University of California, Riverside.

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