Hubble pinpoints furthest protocluster of galaxies ever seen

Jan 10, 2012
The composite image at left, taken in visible and near-infrared light, reveals the location of five galaxies clustered together just 600 million years after the Universe’s birth in the Big Bang. The circles pinpoint the galaxies. The sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3 aboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope spied the galaxies in a random sky survey. The developing cluster is the most distant ever observed. The average distance between them is comparable to that of the galaxies in the Local Group, consisting of two large spiral galaxies, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, and a few dozen small dwarf galaxies. The close-up images at right, taken in near-infrared light, show the galaxies. Simulations show that the galaxies will eventually merge and form the brightest central galaxy in the cluster, a giant elliptical similar to the Virgo cluster’s Messier 87. Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe, comprising hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. The developing cluster presumably will grow into a massive galactic city, similar in size to the nearby Virgo Cluster, a collection of more than 2000 galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Trenti (University of Cambridge, UK and University of Colorado, Boulder, USA), L. Bradley (STScI), and the BoRG team

(PhysOrg.com) -- Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have uncovered a cluster of galaxies in the initial stages of development, making it the most distant such grouping ever observed in the early Universe.

In a made in near-infrared light Hubble has spotted five clustered together. They are so distant that their light has taken 13.1 billion years to reach us. These galaxies are among the brightest galaxies at that early stage of the Universe's history. They are also very young: we are seeing them just 600 million years after the Universe's birth in the Big Bang.

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe, comprising hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. This developing , or protocluster, seen as it looked 13 billion years ago, presumably has grown into one of today's massive cities of galaxies, comparable to the nearby Virgo cluster of more than 2000 galaxies.

"These galaxies formed during the earliest stages of galaxy assembly, when galaxies had just started to cluster together," says the study's leader, Michele Trenti (University of Cambridge, UK and University of Colorado at Boulder, USA). "The result confirms our theoretical understanding of the buildup of galaxy clusters. And, Hubble is just powerful enough to find the first examples of them at this distance."

Trenti is presenting the results today at the meeting in Austin, Texas. The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the .

Most galaxies in the Universe reside in groups and clusters, and astronomers have probed many of these in detail at a range of distances. But finding clusters in the early phases of construction has been challenging because they are rare and dim.

"We need to look in many different areas because the odds of finding something this rare are very small," says Trenti who used Hubble's sharp-eyed 3 (WFC3) to pinpoint the . "It's like playing a game of Battleship: the search is hit and miss. Typically, a region has nothing, but if we hit the right spot, we can find multiple galaxies."

Because these distant, fledgling clusters are so dim, the team hunted for the systems' brightest galaxies. These brilliant galaxies act as billboards, advertising cluster construction zones. From simulations, the astronomers expect galaxies at early epochs to be clustered together. Because brightness correlates with mass, the most luminous galaxies pinpoint the location of developing clusters. These powerful light beacons are found in deep wells of dark matter, an invisible form of matter that makes up the underlying gravitational scaffolding for galaxy formation. The team expects many fainter galaxies that were not seen in these observations to inhabit the same neighbourhood.

The five bright galaxies spotted by Hubble are about one-half to one-tenth the size of our Milky Way, yet are comparable in brightness. The galaxies are bright and massive because they are being fed large amounts of gas through mergers with other galaxies. The team's simulations show that the galaxies will eventually merge and form the brightest central galaxy in the cluster, a giant elliptical similar to the Virgo Cluster's Messier 87.

These observations demonstrate the progressive buildup of galaxies and provide further support for the hierarchical model of galaxy assembly, in which small objects accrete mass, or merge, to form bigger objects over a smooth and steady, but dramatic, process of collision and collection.

The observations are part of the Brightest of Reionizing Galaxies (BoRG) survey, which uses Hubble's WFC3 to search for the brightest galaxies around 13 billion years ago, when light from the first stars burned off a fog of cold hydrogen in a process called reionisation.

The team estimated the distance to the newly found galaxies based on their colours. Astronomers now plan to follow up with spectroscopic observations, which will help them precisely calculate the cluster's distance. These observations will also yield the velocities of the galaxies and show whether they are gravitationally bound to each other.

Explore further: Image: Chandra's view of the Tycho Supernova remnant

More information: The results are reported in an article entitled "Overdensities of y-dropout galaxies from the Brightest-of-Reionizing-Galaxies Survey: a candidate protocluster at redshift z≈8", which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal. www.spacetelescope.org/static/… _papers/heic1201.pdf

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210
2.1 / 5 (14) Jan 10, 2012
WOW! Now, just HOW MUCH better is the James Webb going to be? And has anyone told the Hubble that it is obsolete, finished, doomed, and substandard?
This thing chugs along like the Eveready bunny rabbit! When the world gets destroyed this December the Hubble will be beaming pictures back to earth showing us our own destruction....like...it will be saying.."Uh, huh, shut me down will ya...cut my funding oh YEAH! Who's your Daddy now earthlings..!"
word-to-ya-muthas
Deathclock
1.3 / 5 (10) Jan 10, 2012
Maybe it's my untrained eye but it seems like, for all of the points of light in that image, every one of the circled areas is pitch black.
210
1 / 5 (4) Jan 10, 2012
Maybe it's my untrained eye but it seems like, for all of the points of light in that image, every one of the circled areas is pitch black.

You have to put on your Hubble Space Binoculars when you look at the photo...they function like that camera on Blade Runner.
word-
Telekinetic
2.2 / 5 (5) Jan 10, 2012
The galaxy enlargements to the right (a,b,c,d,&e) have a lot going on. I wonder if there are detectable black holes in the center of these galaxies. I'm also thinking about Galileo, and if there's a Moore's Law related to telescopic advancement. It's been a relatively short time since Galileo's first prototype, and in 500 years I can't even imagine what the power of future telescopes might be. One day, there may be a method of peering through space time without the antiquated use of lenses or a composite of radio waves.
jsdarkdestruction
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2012
thanks hubble and the scientists who made the find! I cant wait for jwst to get launched. what are we looking at right now, 2018 at best? Hubble will not be replaced by james webb. while james webb will allow us to see back much further hubble still has some areas of study its better at.
rawa1
1 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2012
If the universe is of finite size and age, then the remote galaxies should be younger, than these closer one. Their density should be higher at the case of more distant galaxies and their mutual distance smaller in average. Their clusters should appear more dense and their galaxies shouldn't contain heavier elements.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2012
If the universe is of finite size and age, then the remote galaxies should be younger,

No. We are not dealing with a universe that exploded but one that inflated. This means that any point can harbor galaxies of any size and age.

Galaxies that are further away from US will be APPEAR as younger (to us) since their light has taken some time to reach us (we only ever see the light emitted in the distant past. The further away they are the further in the past the light was emitted)

and in 500 years I can't even imagine what the power of future telescopes might be.

Moore's law is not really applicable since the amount of photons received from such galaxies is limited (because photons are quantized). Catching 100% of those photons over a given amount of time is the best we can hope for. After that no further increase in resolution is possible. Only larger telecopes/telescope arrays will then bring a further increase in quality.
Telekinetic
3 / 5 (7) Jan 11, 2012
Telescopic power will be hampered by the limitations of present-day technology. No one can say over what time frame the resolution and range double; it could be every half century or century, but I invoke Moore's Law figuratively, because in Galileo's day, the Hubble would have been unimaginable. In 500 hundred years, we might be seeing something the size of a dime on the surface of one of these distant planets.
Deathclock
1.4 / 5 (5) Jan 11, 2012
I don't see how... there are only ever going to be so many photons that take a trajectory through space that leads from the object of observation to the observer. The vast vast majority of the light reflecting off of a distant planet will not approach our own planet, ever, so there is no way we can collect it, regardless of technology.
Telekinetic
1.6 / 5 (5) Jan 11, 2012
Regardless of technology? If you were asked about invisibility cloaks 10 years ago, what would you have said? "What comic books have you been reading?", you would be within your rights to respond. My point is to see the trajectory of discovery and invention for what it is- limitless and ever-advancing.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2012
limitless and ever-advancing.

There are limits. You can't cheat entropy. You can't image something of which you receive no information. You can't pinpoint the exact location and momentum of a particle.
These are not things that are open to a paradigm of "when our technology gets better we might figure it out".

The number of photons we get of a galaxy of a certain distance and activity per second can be calculated. From that you can calculate optimal imaging properties.

All these things are math and not engineering problems. You can't cheat math. No matter how much you try to be clever 1 plus 1 will never be 3.
RealScience
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2012
@antialias - Telekinetic was just wondering if we'd be able to pick up a vastly greater amount of information in total, not necessarily per area.
A space-based telescope with a membrane mirror 25 kilometers across would have 10^8 times the light gathering power of the HST and have 10^4 times the resolution, and it is not unthinkable that we would build one in a few decades.
A ring of 100 such telescopes out at the asteroid belt (each in the shade of an asteroid) linked into a synthetic aperture would have 10^10 times the HST's light gathering ability and 3x10^10 times the resolution, and is not unthinkable a hundred years from now. That could resolve a dime at 10^12 kilometers. Scale that up to the Kupier belt in a few hundred years, and we could just about see a dime on an exoplanet.
You are right that there is no density analog to Moore's law in telescopes, but a more general vast increase in capability is possible.
One can't cheat physics, but in telescopes size matters.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2012
@RealScience:
Bravissimo! Grazie!
The membrane mirror is a very practical solution, but into the coming century, I can imagine a new amplification technology that will make telescopes as we know them obsolete.

But into the coming century, I can imagine a new amplification technology that will make telescopes as we know them obsolete.
Telekinetic
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2012
I pressed the redundancy key by mistake.
Henrik
1.3 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2012
The observations always fit the model, because the model is so nice and flexible. Things can fly apart or collide together whenever necessary. The only sold conclusion one can make is that normal looking galaxies have formed within arms length of the singularity. There is no real evidence for a long formation process, rather just mundane galaxies pretty much everywhere.
Telekinetic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2012
The observations always fit the model, because the model is so nice and flexible. Things can fly apart or collide together whenever necessary. The only sold conclusion one can make is that normal looking galaxies have formed within arms length of the singularity. There is no real evidence for a long formation process, rather just mundane galaxies pretty much everywhere.

You best put on your rain suit, Henrik, because what's about to come your way doesn't have a very nice aroma.
RealScience
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2012
... but into the coming century, I can imagine a new amplification technology that will make telescopes as we know them obsolete.


I am skeptical on that one.
Amplification technology still has to have photons to start with, and to zero in on a source requires selecting photons based on a precise direction.
Telescopes provide both of these attributes, and membrane mirrors in space will bring the cost per area way down (even with chemical-rocket launch costs).
What I do see is really good image processing technology that can extract information from less-than-perfect mirrors.
(We already saw a taste of that when the original Hubble images were sharpened once the cause of the distortion was known).
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2012
Even image processing technology cannot beat basic math. If the information isn't there then it cannot be generated - no matter how good your image reconstruction algorithm is. And the photons are the carriers of the information.

The wavelengths and number of photons gathered put a hard upper limit on the quality of the picture you can get. Information theory is like entropy in this respect: you can't outsmart it.
Telekinetic
1.7 / 5 (7) Jan 14, 2012
When I was in grade school, let's just say more than a few decades ago, we had the mimeograph machine. Now we have WiFi laser printers. I'm no Jules Verne, but in my mind's eye, the problem of distant imaging in the future will have come a long way. I can't say how it will be solved, but the limits of the
photon's magnitude will be overcome. Today, there are ideas seriously considered viable like a spaceship whose propulsion system manipulates space time to travel farther and faster. In my lifetime? Doubtful. But a whole new concept of light collection allowing us to peer through to the outer edges of the universe? If I take care of myself- very possible.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2012
Here's an incredible present-day technology, unfortunately dropped because of budget cuts, that would have been light years ahead of everything in existence-
"SIM Lite, when completed, will be the most powerful extrasolar planet hunting space telescope ever built.[5] Through the technique of interferometry the spacecraft would be able to detect Earth-sized planets.[5] SIM Lite will perform its search for nearby, Earth-like planets by looking for the "wobble" in the parent star's apparent motion as the planet orbits. The spacecraft will accomplish this task to an accuracy of one millionth of an arcsecond, or the thickness of a nickel viewed at the distance from Earth to the Moon.
yyz
5 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2012
"...a whole new concept of light collection allowing us to peer through to the outer edges of the universe?"

One new concept introduced in the last 20 years already IS allowing us to see galaxies and supernovae at much higher redshifts than would normally be possible: gravitational lensing by galaxy clusters.

See for example this study using the Bullet Cluster: http://arxiv.org/...77v3.pdf
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2012
Right, you've helped me prove my point. Let's fast forward to the year 2062. Wouldn't you agree that this technology will become dated and replaced by something even more astounding in its power?
Telekinetic
2.2 / 5 (5) Jan 15, 2012
I seem to be consistently rated one star by an "orac" who, according to his profile, has yet to make a comment. Is this what's known as a sock puppet? I thought for a moment that it was an anagram of the poster named "aroc91", but then no one would be that stupid or obvious.
RealScience
4 / 5 (4) Jan 15, 2012
@Telekinetic - I like your confidence in the future, and I agree that fantastic progress will be made.
I agree with anti_alias that it won't be based on extracting massive amounts of additional information per photon. There is only so much information in each photon (wavelength, direction, polarization, time-of-arrival), and all the amplification in the universe can't extract more than that.
While we use all of these in different measurements, we don't yet extract all of these from each individual photon. That leaves considerable room for improvement, but not a vast Moore's law type of improvement.

However there IS room for vast improvement in our ability to gather photons, which is why I agree with your basic premise that we can have vast overall improvements.
Collector area is the most obvious, and has been in progress since the telescope was invented.

-continued -
RealScience
3.8 / 5 (4) Jan 15, 2012
Collector area increases the number of photons proportionately, and in space I see no hard limit that can't be overcome with time, money and clever engineering, and can see a fairly straight-forward path to at least out to 10^10 times the HST's light-gathering area.

Effective aperture exceeding individual aperture is newer but in space is even easier that area. While it doesn't increase the number of photons, it does increase the resolution dramatically.

Gravitational lensing requires something massive right between us and the object to be viewed. This is easier to find for distant objects than for near objects, so while it (plus improved image processing) will help dramatically for gathering photons to study distant galaxies, I don't see it as helping for seeing a dime on an exoplanet.

- continued -
RealScience
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 15, 2012
Might there be some way to work around our understanding of the laws?
Yes, there are potential loopholes in our understanding of the effects of these laws.
For example, quantum computing can be described as running calculations simultaneously in parallel universes rather than just in our universe. An analogous 'quantum light gathering' could exploit the same principles to extract information from more photons than a given light gathering area can see in this universe.
I am skeptical that this is possible, but if the total information we extract is no more than the information classically available in this universe, it might not be impossible. It would require quantum computing for image processing integrated with the quantum sensing so that our universe never has extra information (but image processing is a natural fit for quantum computing anyway).
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 15, 2012
Might there be some way to work around our understanding of the laws?
Yes, there are potential loopholes in our understanding of the effects of these laws.
For example, quantum computing can be described as running calculations simultaneously in parallel universes rather than just in our universe. An analogous 'quantum light gathering' could exploit the same principles to extract information from more photons than a given light gathering area can see in this universe.

NOW we're getting somewhere. It feels good to think outside the box, doesn't it?
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 15, 2012
And if I may add, RealScience, you're living up to your moniker.
RealScience
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 15, 2012
@Telekinetic - thanks.
But please understand that while area and effective aperture are easy from a science point of view (and not ridiculous from an engineering point of view), quantum light gathering is something that might not actually be possible. It doesn't violate the known rules of physics and it is in the same spirit as quantum computing in using vast inaccessible information to produce a small amount of accessible information, but that doesn't mean that it would actually work...

Normally I wouldn't put an idea like that out without a lot more work on it, but it was the only example I could think of to support your idea that there might be some vast per-area improvement possible.
Thanks for asking good questions!
Telekinetic
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 15, 2012
Dang! Someone beat us to it.
http://nextbigfut...ing.html
RealScience
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2012
@Telekinetic - thanks for the link to the good article.

The article is about bringing the information from the widely-spaced light gathering areas while keeping it in the quantum domain. This is a necessary step for the resolving power of the large effective aperture.

However it does not access more photons than are classically available, which is what the proposed quantum light gathering would do. Since one cannot extract more information than the classically available photons would have (without violating our current understanding of our universe), one would have to also process photons in the quantum 'multiverse' domain to distill a fraction of the information from many photons (more than our universe sees) into information limited in a different way, and bring that information to our universe (the classical domain).
It is the sort of thing that David Deutsch might see how to do (or might dismiss due to some hidden flaw).
Deathclock
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2012
My point stands, there are only so many photons reaching earth that have reflected off of distant planets, the best you can do is collect 100% of them, you cannot do better. There is an upper limit regardless of technology.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2012
I'm a big fan of Deutsch, and I think he'd be optimistic about a quantum telescope, especially if it allowed him to see into his Many Worlds! The progress in applying theory to the practical is making leaps and bounds. Not long ago, most people thought the vacuum was devoid of anything- now that's changed. A handful, including myself, believe the vacuum has vast, tappable stores of energy. I'm also an adherent of Tesla, who was an authority on the subject. I also appreciate verification, so I'm discerning about what I believe, but I think there are others presently on the cusp of some exciting breakthroughs.
RealScience
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2012
@Deathclock - I agree with your point that there are only so many photons reaching a given collector area in a given universe.
But in support of Telekinetic's enthusiasm I will point out that a good explanation for how quantum computing gains its parallelism is that it exploits other universes in the multiverse (Deutsch himself favors this explanation), and that an analogous extension is plausible for photon gathering.
Even if it is possible one would still have to distill the information from the photons of many universes down to the amount of information classically permitted in our one universe, but quantum computing already does that.
I'm not saying that it is easy or even possible, but just that it doesn't violate our current knowledge of quantum mechanics.
RealScience
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2012
@Telekinetic - tapping ZPE is a lot more remote than even quantum light gathering.
Using ZPE in its broadest sense:
It may be that ZPE and dark energy are related, and the universe could then be described as taping ZPE (but at an energy density so low as to not be useful to us).
It may also be that the big bang or inflation tapped ZPE in a more dramatic way.
And to some extent the Casamir effect is related to ZPE, but I don't see how to gain useful amounts of energy from it (atoms are just too large and fluffy to permit plates close enough for useful amounts of energy, although reducing friction on the nano scale is another matter).

I keep an open mind on tapping ZPE, but so far everything I've seen goes against it.
Deathclock
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2012
I don't subscribe to the "many worlds" interpretation of QM so you'll have to excuse my lack of enthusiasm here.
RealScience
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2012
In all experiments we have done so far, the math of the many worlds interpretation and the math of the other popular interpretations works out the same.
Therefore I chose to visualize QM in what is for me the least counter-intuitive way, with considerable confidence that those subscribing to other interpretations will arrive at the same results.

Thus even if you don't subscribe to the many worlds interpretation, since the math is the same and since quantum computing appears to work and quantum light gathering would work by similar principles in the many worlds interpretation, if you work out the details mathematically you should come to the same result: doesn't violate QM, but requires the information processing to be done in the same quantum domain as the information gathering.

If you mathematically get a different result, the we could conceivable have found a way to mathematically distinguish between the QM interpretations, which would be an important finding.
Deathclock
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2012
I'm with EPR in that I don't believe Quantum Mechanics is complete and I believe in local realism. I don't think Bells experiments were sufficient to rule out hidden variables. There must be a medium and mechanism of exchange that we are unaware of to explain the so called "spooky action at a distance".

Regardless of who is right and who is wrong it is obvious that there is a lot we don't know and speculation about any possible practical use of QM is just that.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2012
I don't subscribe to the "many worlds" interpretation of QM so you'll have to excuse my lack of enthusiasm here.
- Deathclock

That's okay, maybe your counterpart in a parallel universe is more astute.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2012
Thanks, RealScience, for bringing up the verboten ZPE. You're entitled to your doubts, but the mere mentioning of it on this forum used to elicit paroxysms of hysteria, possibly worse than God.
Deathclock
2.2 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2012
I don't subscribe to the "many worlds" interpretation of QM so you'll have to excuse my lack of enthusiasm here.
- Deathclock

That's okay, maybe your counterpart in a parallel universe is more astute.


Parallel universes, Zero-Point energy, cold fusion, time travel... these are the religions of science. None of them have any basis in reality or any real evidence.
RealScience
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2012
@Deathclock - QM has lots of practical uses in semiconductors, lasers, nuclear physics, etc.
(Or did you mean Quantum Computing?)

Parallel universes are the simplest explanation for WHY in QM, and also eliminate the fine tuning problem, so Occam's razor favors them. (And spooky action at a distance is not spooky (nor is it action at a distance) in my favored parallel universes variant.)

ZPE is a well-established prediction of QM, and its Casimir effect has been experimentally demonstrated.
What has NOT been shown (and I, too, am skeptical of) is extracting energy from the ZPE.

Regarding backward time travel, I am highly skeptical but work hard to keep an open mind.

Muon-catalyzed cold fusion has been demonstrated by mainstream physicists (http://en.wikiped...fusion). But muons currently take orders of magnitude too much energy to produce to make that useful...

I agree that there is a lot that we don't know - that's why I keep an open mind.