Galaxy cluster hidden in plain view

Mar 06, 2012
An infared image of the cluster. Three narrow slices of the infrared spectrum are represented in this color composite. The colors have been balanced to accentuate the red galaxies at a distance of 10.5 billion light years.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of astronomers has discovered the most distant cluster of red galaxies ever observed using FourStar, a new and powerful near-infrared camera on the 6.5m Magellan Baade Telescope. The galaxy cluster is located 10.5 billion light years away in the direction of the constellation Leo. It is made up of 30 galaxies packed closely together, forming the earliest known "galaxy city" in the universe. The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Remarkably, the cluster was completely missed by previous surveys, which searched this region of the sky for thousands of hours and were conducted by all the major ground- and space-based observing facilities, including the . Despite these intense observations, accurate distances for such faint and distant galaxies were missing until the advent of FourStar.

Eric Persson of the Carnegie Observatories* led the development of the new camera that enabled these observations. Persson and his team--which includes Carnegie's David Murphy, Andy Monson, Dan Kelson, Pat McCarthy, and Ryan Quadri--equipped FourStar with five special filters to collect images that are sensitive to narrow slices of the near-infrared spectrum. This powerful approach allows them to measure accurate distances between Earth and thousands of distant galaxies at one time, providing a 3-D map of the early universe.

The 3-D map revealed the conspicuous concentration of galaxies that existed when the universe was only three billion years old.

"This means the is still young and should continue to grow into an extremely dense structure possibly containing thousands of galaxies," explained lead author Lee Spitler of Australia's Swinburne University of Technology.

Studying this system will help astronomers understand how galaxies are influenced by their environment, evolve, and assemble into larger structures.

The finding is part of a larger survey, the FourStar Survey ("Z-FOURGE"), led by Dr. Ivo Labbé, a former Carnegie postdoctoral fellow, now at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. The focus of the survey is to address a classical problem in observational astronomy: determining distances. Only then do you know if a point of light is a star in our Milky Way, a small nearby galaxy, or a large one very far away.

The Z-FOURGE observations are being conducted using the Magellan 6.5- meter telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. From the first six months of the survey, the team obtained accurate distances for faint galaxies over a region roughly one-fifth the apparent size of the Moon. Though the area is relatively small, they found about a thousand galaxies at even greater distances than the new cluster.

"The excellent image quality and sensitivity of Magellan and FourStar really make the difference,"Labbé said. "We look forward to many more exciting and unexpected discoveries!"

Explore further: Astronomer confirms a new "Super-Earth" planet

More information: For more information about this project, visit: z-fourge.obs.carnegiescience.edu/

Related Stories

'Big baby' galaxy found in newborn Universe

Sep 28, 2005

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have teamed up to 'weigh' the stars in distant galaxies. One of these galaxies is not only one of the most distant ever seen, but it appears to be unusually ...

The most distant mature galaxy cluster

Mar 09, 2011

Astronomers have used an armada of telescopes on the ground and in space, including the Very Large Telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile to discover and measure the distance to the most remote mature ...

Survey Reveals Building Block Process For Biggest Galaxies

Apr 12, 2006

A new study of the universe's most massive galaxy clusters shows how mergers play a critical role in their evolution. Astronomers used the twin Gemini Observatory instruments in Hawaii and Chile, and the Hubble Space Telescope ...

The most massive distant object known

Apr 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Galaxies often occur in groups. Our own Milky Way galaxy, for example, and its local neighborhood with about fifty galaxies are at the edge of the Virgo Cluster, a collection of somewhere ...

Recommended for you

Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

2 hours ago

Most celestial events unfold over thousands of years or more, making it impossible to follow their evolution on human timescales. Supernovas are notable exceptions, the powerful stellar explosions that make ...

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources in starburst galaxies

2 hours ago

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. ULXs are rare. Most galaxies (including ...

When a bright light fades

2 hours ago

Astronomer Charles Telesco is primarily interested in the creation of planets and stars. So, when the University of Florida's giant telescope was pointed at a star undergoing a magnificent and explosive death, ...

Image: Horsehead nebula viewed in infrared

3 hours ago

Sometimes a horse of a different color hardly seems to be a horse at all, as, for example, in this newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The famous Horsehead nebula makes a ghostly appearance ...

The Milky Way's new neighbour

3 hours ago

The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, is part of a cluster of more than 50 galaxies that make up the 'Local Group', a collection that includes the famous Andromeda galaxy and many other far smaller objects. ...

Image: Hubble sweeps a messy star factory

3 hours ago

This sprinkle of cosmic glitter is a blue compact dwarf galaxy known as Markarian 209. Galaxies of this type are blue-hued, compact in size, gas-rich, and low in heavy elements. They are often used by astronomers ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jsdarkdestruction
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 06, 2012
cool. i too look forward to the future discoveries. I suspect this article is going to be a launching off point for the crazies. kevin.tuxford.kinedryl.callippo.(is kinedryl another callippo?). and the few electric universe people.oh and lurker.
Graeme
not rated yet Mar 06, 2012
If galaxies this far away can be measured, this means the capability is there to find about half of the clusters in the visible universe.
rah
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2012
Keep in mind that these images are 10 billion years old! What actually exists there now would be unrecognizable.
CardacianNeverid
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 07, 2012
Keep in mind that these images are 10 billion years old! What actually exists there now would be unrecognizable -rahrah

I don't reckon it would look very much different than our local cluster does 'now'.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2012
I notice none of those people showed up. Your welcome.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.