Most distant massive galaxy cluster identified

January 7, 2016 by Jennifer Chu
Astronomers have detected a massive, sprawling, churning galaxy cluster that formed only 3.8 billion years after the Big Bang. The cluster, shown here, is the most massive cluster of galaxies yet discovered in the first 4 billion years after the Big Bang. Credit: NASA, European Space Agency, University of Florida, University of Missouri, and University of California

The early universe was a chaotic mess of gas and matter that only began to coalesce into distinct galaxies hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. It would take several billion more years for such galaxies to assemble into massive galaxy clusters—or so scientists had thought.

Now astronomers at MIT, the University of Missouri, the University of Florida, and elsewhere, have detected a massive, sprawling, churning galaxy cluster that formed only 3.8 billion years after the Big Bang. Located 10 billion light years from Earth and potentially comprising thousands of individual galaxies, the megastructure is about 250 trillion times more massive than the sun, or 1,000 times more massive than the Milky Way galaxy.

The cluster, named IDCS J1426.5+3508 (or IDCS 1426), is the most massive cluster of galaxies yet discovered in the first 4 billion years after the Big Bang.

IDCS 1426 appears to be undergoing a substantial amount of upheaval: The researchers observed a bright knot of X-rays, slightly off-center in the cluster, indicating that the cluster's core may have shifted some hundred thousand light years from its center. The scientists surmise that the core may have been dislodged from a violent collision with another massive galaxy cluster, causing the gas within the cluster to slosh around, like wine in a glass that has been suddenly moved.

Michael McDonald, assistant professor of physics and a member of MIT's Kavli Center for Astrophysics and Space Research, says such a collision may explain how IDCS 1426 formed so quickly in the early universe, at a time when individual galaxies were only beginning to take shape.

"In the grand scheme of things, galaxies probably didn't start forming until the universe was relatively cool, and yet this thing has popped up very shortly after that," McDonald says. "Our guess is that another similarly massive cluster came in and sort of wrecked the place up a bit. That would explain why this is so massive and growing so quickly. It's the first one to the gate, basically."

McDonald and his colleagues presented their results this week at the 227th American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida. Their findings will also be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

"Cities in space"

Galaxy clusters are conglomerations of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. They are the most massive structures in the universe, and those located relatively nearby, such as the Virgo cluster, are extremely bright and easy to spot in the sky.

"They are sort of like cities in space, where all these galaxies live very closely together," McDonald says. "In the nearby universe, if you look at one galaxy cluster, you've basically seen them all—they all look pretty uniform. The further back you look, the more different they start to appear."

Astronomers have made the most detailed study yet of an extremely massive young galaxy cluster using three of NASA's Great Observatories. Credit: NASA/CXC/Univ of Missouri/M.Brodwin et al; NASA/STScI; JPL/CalTech

However, finding galaxy clusters that are farther away in space—and further back in time—is a difficult and uncertain exercise.

In 2012, scientists using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope first detected signs of IDCS 1426 and made some initial estimates of its mass.

"We had some sense of how massive and distant it was, but we weren't fully convinced," McDonald says. "These new results are the nail in the coffin that proves that it is what we initially thought."

"Tip of the iceberg"

To get a more precise estimate of the galaxy cluster's mass, McDonald and his colleagues used data from several of NASA's Great Observatories: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Keck Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

"We were basically using three completely different methods to weigh this cluster," McDonald explains.

Both the Hubble and Keck Observatories recorded optical data from the cluster, which the researchers analyzed to determine the amount of light that was bending around the cluster as a result of gravity—a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. The more massive the cluster, the more gravitational force it exerts, and the more light it bends.

They also examined X-ray data from the Chandra Observatory to get a sense of the temperature of the cluster. High-temperature objects give off X-rays, and the hotter a , the more the gas within that cluster has been compressed, making the cluster more massive.

From the X-ray data, McDonald and his colleagues also calculated the amount of gas in the cluster, which can be an indication of the amount of matter—and mass—in the cluster.

Using all three methods, the group calculated roughly the same mass—about 250 trillion times the mass of the sun. Now, the team is looking for individual galaxies within the cluster to get a sense for how such megastructures can form in the .

"This cluster is sort of like a construction site—it's messy, loud, and dirty, and there's a lot that's incomplete," McDonald says. "By seeing that incompleteness, we can get a sense for how [clusters] grow. So far, we've confirmed about a dozen or so galaxies, but we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, really."

He hopes that scientists may get an even better view of IDCS 1426 in 2018, with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope—an infrared telescope that is hundreds of times more sensitive than the Spitzer Telescope that first detected the .

"People had kind of put away this idea of finding clusters in the optical and infrared, in favor of X-ray and radio signatures," McDonald says. "We're now re-emerging and saying it's actually a fantastic way of finding clusters. It suggests that maybe we need to branch out a little more in how we find these things."

Explore further: Fifteen years of NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory

More information: "IDCS J1426.5+3508: The Most Massive Galaxy Cluster at z>1.5," Mark Brodwin, Michael McDonald et al., 2016, to appear in the Astrophysical Journal On Arxiv: arxiv.org/abs/1504.01397

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24 comments

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Tenstats
4 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2016
Wow
wduckss
1.7 / 5 (11) Jan 08, 2016
McDonald's says. "These new results are the nail in the coffin that proves that it is what we initially thought."

When will be bury Big Bang teory which is neither should live.
A lot it was the nail in the coffin, but the dead man still walk on superstitious heads.
my2cts
4.6 / 5 (9) Jan 08, 2016
A lot it was the nail in the coffin, but the dead man still walk on superstitious heads.

You take the quote out of context. Is that on purpose or did you misread the article?

In 2012, scientists using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope first detected signs of IDCS 1426 and made some initial estimates of its mass.
"We had some sense of how massive and distant it was, but we weren't fully convinced," McDonald says. "These new results are the nail in the coffin that proves that it is what we initially thought."
my2cts
3.5 / 5 (8) Jan 08, 2016
@wduckss
You say they have it all wrong, but how do we know it is not you instead who's mistaken?
You have not advanced a theory of yourself, not here let alone in a published, reviewed paper.
Why should anyone even read your posts?
my2cts
4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 08, 2016
@ wduckss
Actually I rate the chance that the big bang theory will turn out to be wrong much much larger that the chance that you advance a valid alternative.
DaMe
5 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2016
I don't understand. If the cluster was 10 bilion years old (formed 3.8 bilion years after the big bang) it shouldn't be at 10 bilion light years from earth, but much much further. Due to the expansion of space, things that were 13.7 bilion light years away are now 46 light years away. So how can the cluster be 10 bilion years old and 10 bilion light years away?
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2016
"Our guess is that another similarly massive cluster came in and sort of wrecked the place up a bit.

A BIT? The man has a flair for understatement.
FredJose
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 08, 2016
One thing is absolutely for sure: The scientists have completely no idea how the universe came into being, nor exactly how old it is and more particularly, how that cluster was created.
This is simply because up to this point, no human being has been able to go back into the past, record what s/he saw and come back to report on the findings.
Therefore, even though all kinds of sophisticated physical and mathematical analysis has been thrown at it, the description of the birth and "development" of the universe is simply pure speculation.
Just to make sure, one can simply take the standard assumptions about star-birth and tear it apart. It doesn't cut it from a pure and exact scientific point of view. There is currently NO satisfactory explanation for how stars can form all by themselves with no outside help. No stars means no galaxies and planets, hence the rest is pure speculation too.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (10) Jan 08, 2016
This is simply because up to this point, no human being has been able to go back into the past, record what s/he saw and come back to report on the findings.

You are aware that looking at these galaxies through a telescope is exactly that? Looking at faraway (or even near) objects is always looking into the past.

Therefore your 'therefore..' (and the beginning and rest of your post) is completely nonsensical.

There is currently NO satisfactory explanation for how stars can form all by themselves with no outside help.

Gravity? Ever heard about it? Works a charm. Pretty testable, too.
Mike_Massen
3.3 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2016
antialias_physorg right on the money again, observed
Gravity? Ever heard about it? Works a charm. Pretty testable, too.
Damn right... :-)

Amazing though, what is up with the general education out there, seems a palpable direction down last few decades, sigh...

Sorry though - slipped on the vote, meant to give you a 5 but, the "what the frack" spammer sariphuntley44 and his kind littering the post next to yours got in the way, ugh, apologies :-(

antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2016
Amazing though, what is up with the general education out there, seems a palpable direction down last few decades,


You know, I think education is fine. It's just that there are a growing number of people out there who don't want to have anything to do with it (possibly because they failed at it early on - and then decided instead of putting in a bit of work it would be easier to just flat out deny anything that it offers).

Sorry though - slipped on the vote, meant to give you a 5 but

Don't worry. Happens from time to time. I'm not here for the votes in any case ;-)
Tuxford
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2016
....There is currently NO satisfactory explanation for how stars can form all by themselves with no outside help. No stars means no galaxies and planets, hence the rest is pure speculation too.


There is no satisfactory explanation that the technically-limited mind of the otherwise-trained physical scientist can understand. A completely satisfactory explanation for the systems engineering trained mind exists: SQK from LaViolette. Requires a complete rethink beyond the capacity that which I have ever found in a physicist, much less an astronomer. They are already far too technically biased by their religion, and lost within a minor barrio and trapped within a maze within the larger city of general comprehension.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (8) Jan 08, 2016
SQK from LaViolette. Requires a complete rethink beyond the capacity that which I have ever found in a physicist, much less an astronomer.

The fact that tired light doesn't mesh with observation doesn't seem to faze you, does it?

You know you're the person on here who most admantly believes in stuff that isn't observed. I wonder what you call someone like that? Oh...right: religious.
wduckss
1 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2016
@wduckss
You say they have it all wrong, but how do we know it is not you instead who's mistaken?
You have not advanced a theory of yourself, not here let alone in a published, reviewed paper.
Why should anyone even read your posts?


You do not mind the age of the universe is constantly increasing from 8 to 13.8 billion. It's OK for you. Now you do not mind the statement that the galaxies in the early universe formed expressly modeled Bibles. You do not mind the statement that the first galaxies formed and then the stars ... Who Uses Big A miss in basically work and did not deserve mentioned quote. Sory.
my2cts
4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 08, 2016
@wduckss
You say they have it all wrong, but how do we know it is not you instead who's mistaken?
You have not advanced a theory of yourself, not here let alone in a published, reviewed paper.
Why should anyone even read your posts?


You do not mind the age of the universe is constantly increasing from 8 to 13.8 billion. It's OK for you. Now you do not mind the statement that the galaxies in the early universe formed expressly modeled Bibles. You do not mind the statement that the first galaxies formed and then the stars ... Who Uses Big A miss in basically work and did not deserve mentioned quote. Sory.

Dude, how many strawmen is that ?
"You do not mind etc." is a multilevel strawman. Nice, I had never encountered this fallacy before. Will extend the wiki page. "They" did not say this and I never said I did not mind what they did not say.
my2cts
5 / 5 (6) Jan 08, 2016
One thing is absolutely for sure: The scientists have completely no idea how the universe came into being, nor exactly how old it is and more particularly, how that cluster was created.
This is simply because up to this point, no human being has been able to go back into the past, record what s/he saw and come back to report on the findings.
Therefore, even though all kinds of sophisticated physical and mathematical analysis has been thrown at it, the description of the birth and "development" of the universe is simply pure speculation.
Just to make sure, one can simply take the standard assumptions about star-birth and tear it apart. It doesn't cut it from a pure and exact scientific point of view. There is currently NO satisfactory explanation for how stars can form all by themselves with no outside help. No stars means no galaxies and planets, hence the rest is pure speculation too.

This one is easy: everything you say is wrong.
24volts
5 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2016
I have a question. The article stated one of the ways they measured it's size was with gravitational lensing. Wouldn't that mean there was some galaxy or something even farther away past it that would be even older for them to use that light?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Jan 08, 2016
The article stated one of the ways they measured it's size was with gravitational lensing. Wouldn't that mean there was some galaxy or something even farther away past it that would be even older for them to use that light?

According to the paper (link at the bottom) there is a galaxy that is further away (presumably not part of the cluster. They also use weak lensing measurements which also require some background objects.

McDonald and his colleagues presented their results this week at the 227th American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida.

Conference at Disneyland? Nice.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2016
IMP-9
5 / 5 (5) Jan 09, 2016
So how can the cluster be 10 bilion years old and 10 bilion light years away?


It cannot. Somewhere in the chain of researcher-press officer-physorg there's been a misunderstanding (likely someone assumed years=lightyears. It is at redshift 1.75 which means the lookback time is about 10 billion years. So images of it are as it was 10 billion years ago. This also means the comoving distance to it is about 16 billion light years.
EnsignFlandry
not rated yet Jan 12, 2016
I don't understand. If the cluster was 10 bilion years old (formed 3.8 bilion years after the big bang) it shouldn't be at 10 bilion light years from earth, but much much further. Due to the expansion of space, things that were 13.7 bilion light years away are now 46 light years away. So how can the cluster be 10 bilion years old and 10 bilion light years away?


It is not. More like 15-17 billion years old due to expansion of the universe. Somebody goofed.
PhotonX
5 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2016
You are aware that looking at these galaxies through a telescope is exactly that? Looking at faraway (or even near) objects is always looking into the past.
Of course he doesn't realize it, AP, he didn't read it in the Bible. He's probably not even sure he wasn't adopted, since he can't go back in time to see himself actually being born.
.
.
viko_mx
1 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2016
"You are aware that looking at these galaxies through a telescope is exactly that? Looking at faraway (or even near) objects is always looking into the past."

This would be true if the big bang theory was correct. But one theory that is abundant source of paradoxes can not be correct.
The Bible says that the Heaven, the Earth and everything in it was created by the almighty Creator in just six Earth days and no more. And on the seventh day - saturday He is rested to give us a personal example. The reason why we have 7 day week is biblical and is directly connected with creation event. The number seven has special significance for the Creator.
Tuxford
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2016
"In the grand scheme of things, galaxies probably didn't start forming until the universe was relatively cool, and yet this thing has popped up very shortly after that," McDonald says. "Our guess is that another similarly massive cluster came in and sort of wrecked the place up a bit. That would explain why this is so massive and growing so quickly. It's the first one to the gate, basically."


So much guessing nonsense that it is embarrassing. Just admit that it does not make sense with the fantasy model already.

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