Researchers find ancient city of 'modern' galaxies

May 11, 2010
A surprisingly large collections of galaxies (red dots in center) stands out at a remarkably large distance in this composite image combining infrared and visible-light observations. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope contributed to the infrared component of the observations, while shorter-wavelength infrared and visible data are provided by Japan's Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Subaru

Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, a Texas A&M University-led team of astronomers has uncovered what may be the earliest, most distant cluster of galaxies ever detected.

The group of roughly 60 galaxies, called CLG J02182-05102, is nearly 10 billion years old — born just 4 billion years after the Big Bang. However, it's not the size nor the age of the cluster that amazes the team of researchers led by Dr. Casey Papovich, an assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy and member of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy. Rather, it's the surprisingly modern appearance of CLG J02182-05102 that has them baffled — a huge, red collection of galaxies typical of only present-day galaxies.

"It's like we dug an archaeological site in Rome and found pieces of modern Rome amongst the ruins," explains Papovich, lead author of the team's study to be published in Astrophysical Journal.

While its neighboring galaxies appear vastly smaller and far fainter, Papovich says CLG J02182-05102 stands out as a densely-populated bundle of ancient galaxies. Enormous red galaxies at the center contain almost 10 times as many stars as our Milky Way, he notes, combining for a total size that rivals that of the most monstrous galaxies of our nearby universe.

Before now, Papovich says, such a finding would be considered by many astronomers to be highly unlikely, considering the time frame in which they were found.

"The predictions are that these things should be very rare when the universe was 4 billion years old, and yet, we found them," Papovich explains. "Not only did we find them, it looks for all intents and purposes like they had already formed completely and evolved into the large concentrations of galaxies that we see in clusters today."

Exactly why these particular galaxies are fully formed that early is what Papovich and his collaborators — which include astronomers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as well as Carnegie Observatories — hope to one day uncover, but for now, studying CLG J02182-05102 could help them and other researchers better understand how galaxies form and cluster in general.

The find resulted from a project initiated two years ago when Papovich and his team observed an area of the sky that could encompass 250 full moons, the largest extragalactic survey of space ever made — the Spitzer Wide-area InfraRed Extragalctic (SWIRE) survey. The team focused on a cosmic region of the survey that previously had been observed by other instruments including Japan's Subaru telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the European Space Agency's orbiting XMN-Newton telescope. This, combined with infrared data from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope — also in Hawaii — and Spitzer's Public Ultra Deep Sky survey instantly revealed a number of distant galaxies.

It wasn't until Papovich's group studied faint light from CLG J02182-05102's least-dim galaxies that they were able to determine they had found a cluster that contained about 60 galaxies full of old, red stars, at a time when the universe was only 4 billion years old — about 30 percent of the universe's current age of 13.7 billion years. At this point in time, most other galaxies would still be forming their very first stars and certainly would not have congregated with other galaxies yet.

In essence, Papovich said the in CLG J02182-05102 must have subscribed to a "rock 'n' roll" lifestyle — they lived fast and died young. It's another mystery Papovich hopes to solve through deeper observations, including spectroscopy, with the Hubble Telescope later this year.

"That's one of the reasons this is so interesting," he adds. "It seems that they somehow had a premonition they would end up in these big clusters, so that's another thing we want to find out."

Explore further: Image: Galactic wheel of life shines in infrared

More information: For more information on NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, visit www.spitzer.caltech.edu/

Provided by Texas A&M University

4.9 /5 (8 votes)

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CSharpner
5 / 5 (4) May 11, 2010
The group of roughly 60 galaxies, called CLG J02182-05102, is nearly 10 billion years old — born just 4 billion years after the Big Bang.


This is a highly misleading statement. After reading the entire article, I was able to deduce that the cluster is 10 billion light years away. We're seeing them as they were about 4 billion years after the big bang. So, to say they're "10 billion years old" doesn't make sense. If you're talking about their age as "seen", they're no more than 4 billion years old. If you're talking about how old they are now (which we won't see here for another 10 billion years, plus however much space expands between here and there during the light transit) then they're 10 billion years plus however old they were when they produced the visible images that are just now reaching Earth, which I'd imagine is measurably more than 10B years.
hard2grep
not rated yet May 11, 2010
I wander what the sizes of these stars are. Our sun will have quite a while before it swells up. I know that a smaller mass means that a star will burn slower, so a guess at the mass of these stars would be great if it were even possible to find.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (4) May 11, 2010
What they meant by "10 billion years old", is that the images we're seeing today, were emitted toward us 10 billion years ago. So in effect, we're seeing 10 billion year old motion pictures.
jonnyboy
1 / 5 (2) May 11, 2010
leftover galaxies from the previous collapse of our universe ?
Caliban
1 / 5 (2) May 11, 2010
Would have to represent some sort of massive eddy in the density fluctuations of the very early universe. Maybe it represents the very ultimate core of the singularity that inflated to become the universe.
frajo
not rated yet May 12, 2010
Maybe it represents the very ultimate core of the singularity that inflated to become the universe.
How do you separate a singularity into a (very ultimate) core and into the rest?
Caliban
not rated yet May 12, 2010
Maybe it represents the very ultimate core of the singularity that inflated to become the universe.
How do you separate a singularity into a (very ultimate) core and into the rest?


Maybe like the event horizon, in reverse...
Speculation... Got a better theory?
rwinners
not rated yet May 12, 2010
The more we see, the more we find we don't know. I'm waiting hungrily for the Web Telescope to open its eyes!
frajo
not rated yet May 12, 2010
Maybe it represents the very ultimate core of the singularity that inflated to become the universe.
How do you separate a singularity into a (very ultimate) core and into the rest?
Maybe like the event horizon, in reverse...
Speculation... Got a better theory?
The event horizon is not part of a singularity; it is separated from it by a distance.
No, I don't own a better theory. But I refrain from using the word "singularity" in a physics context.
I'm not ashamed to admit that we simply don't know what happens when gravitation becomes stronger than anything else known.
But I'd be ashamed to imply a physical state of infinite density, infinite temperature, and infinite space-time curvature.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (2) May 14, 2010
Rather, it's the surprisingly modern appearance of CLG J02182-05102 that has them baffled - a huge, red collection of galaxies typical of only present-day galaxies.

It's a pity the author isn't quoted on saying what exactly he was expecting to find. One can only piece it together from the other bit
At this point in time, most other galaxies would still be forming their very first stars and certainly would not have congregated with other galaxies yet.


So what are the implications? Here you have a fully formed and mature cluster of galaxies at 4 Billion years from the start of the big bang. Is that possible? Can galaxies form so quickly and advance to the state seen here in only 4B years?

Given this very surprising find, I suspect that with the latest telescopes it will probably emerge that ALL clusters and ALL galaxies found in the deepest reaches in space will be fully formed and mature. If true, this will have really serious implications for the Big Bang model.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet May 14, 2010
So what are the implications? Here you have a fully formed and mature cluster of galaxies at 4 Billion years from the start of the big bang. Is that possible? Can galaxies form so quickly and advance to the state seen here in only 4B years?
Yes they can.
Given this very surprising find, I suspect that with the latest telescopes it will probably emerge that ALL clusters and ALL galaxies found in the deepest reaches in space will be fully formed and mature. If true, this will have really serious implications for the Big Bang model.
No it won't. You should learn what the Big Bang model actually is.
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2010

No, I don't own a better theory. But I refrain from using the word "singularity" in a physics context.
I'm not ashamed to admit that we simply don't know what happens when gravitation becomes stronger than anything else known.
But I'd be ashamed to imply a physical state of infinite density, infinite temperature, and infinite space-time curvature.


OK- I use the term "singularity" as cognate for that primordial state in existence immediately prior to "Big Bang" not because it necessarily accurately and uniquely describes that state/condition, but because it is common usage that I think all here, including you, understand.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (2) May 17, 2010
OK Skeptic,
No it won't. You should learn what the Big Bang model actually is.

Please enlighten me since no amount of web-searching seems to help:

If they were to locate an object /galaxy/cluster out in deep space at say 13.6B light years away, what would you expect to find? What state would said object be in and what would you expect it to be?

Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (1) May 17, 2010
Please enlighten me since no amount of web-searching seems to help:

If they were to locate an object /galaxy/cluster out in deep space at say 13.6B light years away, what would you expect to find? What state would said object be in and what would you expect it to be?

You haven't provided enough information to answer your question. This is why you can't find it online.

If I was to look out in deep space and see a galaxy at 13.6 BLY away I am seeing that galaxy as it was 13.6 billion years ago. Light travels at a fixed speed in space-time, this is how we developed the term "light year"(a measure of distanct equal to the distance traveled by a photon of light over the course of a year, or approximately 5865696000000 miles. So any EM radiation that I use to detect something at that distance would have been emitted 13.6 BYA. So if you want me to determine the age of that galaxy I can't as I don't know what it looks like, you haven't told me.
FredJose
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2010
Skeptic,
So if you want me to determine the age of that galaxy I can't as I don't know what it looks like, you haven't told me.

You seemed to be the informed person, that's why I'm asking you. Given that the current estimates of the furtherest point of the universe is expected to be 13.9BLY, what kind of objects do you expect to find at a distance of 13.6 Billion light years away? And what state do you expect them to be in?
Can you tell me what objects the big bang theory predicts should be at that distance? And what kind of state should we expect those objects to be in? Does big bang predict fully formed galaxies, stars, clusters, just vapour, gas clouds, WHAT?

Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2010
You seemed to be the informed person, that's why I'm asking you. Given that the current estimates of the furtherest point of the universe is expected to be 13.9BLY
According to who?

Again your view of what the big bang and how the exapnsion of space-time works is wrong. All of the Universe existed at the time of the bang and has persisted ever since. Space isn't being created at the edge of the universe, it's stretching.

Think of an inflated balloon vs a deflated balloon. The balloon never changes in composition, it simply stretches to occupy a larger volume. As the universe expands, it cools. The CMB is the artifact from when the Universe became sparse enough for light/energy to travel unimpeded and as such is our earliest snapshot of the Universe. Anything after that should appear to us as a standard galaxy within one of the various forms of accretion or existence, as the above does.

frajo
not rated yet May 17, 2010
The CMB is the artifact from when the Universe became sparse enough for light/energy to travel unimpeded and as such is our earliest snapshot of the Universe.
The CMB is defining the surface of last scattering (of EM radiation) where EM radiation and matter decoupled about 380000 years after the BB. The CMB is quite smooth with very little fluctuation.
Anything after that should appear to us as a standard galaxy within one of the various forms of accretion or existence, as the above does.
And here the standard model weakens a little bit as it has to assume some "primordial fluctuations" as seeds for the galaxies we see which somehow made it through the LSS.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) May 17, 2010
@Skeptic_Heretic, kevinrtrs,

The Big Bang model predicts that the early universe (from CMB emission onward) was dominated by small clusters of super-massive (100+ solar mass), short-lived hydrogen stars. These would be very poor in heavy elements, and there'd be many more such clusters than there are galaxies in nearby "modern" space. Over billions of years, these clusters and dwarf galaxies then undergo a series of mergers, building up ever larger galaxies.

The early galaxies should look small, structurally disorganized, chock-full of young, hot blue giant stars, ravaged by frequent super- and hyper-novae, and sporting active galactic nuclei with vigorous jets. They should not feature a lot of old, small, red stars; they should not be large in size; they should not be abundant in heavy elements (so no big interstellar dust clouds, either); and they should not look structurally 'neat' -- i.e. no nice, clean spirals.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (1) May 18, 2010
@PinkElephant,
Thanks for an excellent and clear answer. We'll wait and see what develops with regards to new object sightings. It should be interesting to compare predictions.