'Cosmic Telescopes' May Have Found Infant Galaxies

Jun 05, 2006
'Cosmic Telescopes' May Have Found Infant Galaxies
The figure shows a three-color image of the massive cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys in the Hubble Space Telescope. The distance to the cluster is approximately 2.5 billion light years. The blue arcs are star-forming galaxies that are behind the cluster approximately halfway across the universe. This is a beautiful example of a "cosmic telescope." Credit: H. Ford (JHU), W. Zheng (JHU), L. Infante (PUC), V. Motta(PUC, JHU), M. Postman (STScI), G. Illingworth (UCSC), M. Jee (JHU), R. White (STScI), N. Benitez (IAA), T. Broadhurst (Tel-Aviv Univ.), and NASA

Using massive clusters of galaxies as “cosmic telescopes,” a research team led by a Johns Hopkins University astronomer has found what may be infant galaxies born in the first billion years after the beginning of the universe.

If these findings are confirmed, the extra magnification provided by these gargantuan natural telescopes will have given astronomers their best-ever view of galaxies as they formed in the early universe, more than 12 billion years ago, said Holland Ford, a professor in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at the university’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Ford is the head of the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys Science Team, which also includes researchers from the Space Telescope Science Institute, PUC in Chile, and other universities around the world.

Ford announced the team's results this morning at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The team's spectroscopic observations were made possible, he said, by gravitational lensing, the bending of light caused by gravity's warping of space in the presence of such massive objects as clusters of galaxies.

“One of Einstein’s most startling predictions was that a gravitation field can be thought of as a distortion of space and time," Ford said. "Gravitational lensing by massive clusters of galaxies that have about 1 million billion times more mass than the sun provide one of the most striking confirmations of Einstein’s prediction.”

Our view of distant galaxies behind a cluster can be magnified by amounts that vary from barely detectable to as many as 50 or 100 times normal size, depending on the location of the galaxy and the distribution of mass within the cluster, Ford said. The clusters are, in effect, giant cosmic telescopes that allow astronomers to find and study distant galaxies that otherwise would be too faint to study.

“Astronomers want to know when the first galaxies formed, how large and how bright galaxies are at birth, and how galaxies grow into large mature galaxies like our home Milky Way galaxy,” Ford said. “Our team is searching for infant galaxies that are less than a billion years old by comparing images of strongly lensing clusters taken by the Hubble Space Telescope with images of the same clusters taken by the Magellan, the Very Large Telescopes (VLT), and Gemini telescopes. The infant galaxies are so far away their light is almost or entirely redshifted to wavelengths that cannot be detected with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, but can be detected with infrared detectors on the world’s largest telescopes.”

Using this technique, the ACS team has searched for infant galaxies behind 14 lensing clusters. If longer spectroscopic observations of the three brightest candidate galaxies confirm that they are indeed in the early universe, these galaxies will provide astronomers their clearest view yet of the youngest galaxies ever seen.

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Explore further: Kepler proves it can still find planets

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers detect possible signal from dark matter

16 hours ago

Could there finally be tangible evidence for the existence of dark matter in the Universe? After sifting through reams of X-ray data, scientists in EPFL's Laboratory of Particle Physics and Cosmology (LPPC) ...

Hunting for dark matter in a gold mine

Dec 09, 2014

"What really impressed me was the trip down," said astrophysicist James Buckley, PhD, speaking of the vertical mile he traveled to get to the site of an underground dark-matter experiment. "You can see you're ...

Hubble reveals a super-rich galactic neighborhood

Nov 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the super-rich galaxy cluster Abell 1413. Located between the constellations of Leo (The Lion) and Coma Berenices, the cluster is ...

10 facts about the Milky Way

Dec 04, 2014

The Milky Way Galaxy is an immense and very interesting place. Not only does it measure some 100,000–120,000 light-years in diameter, it is home to planet Earth, the birthplace of humanity. Our Solar System ...

Sail past Orion to the outer limits of the Milky Way

Dec 01, 2014

Several nights ago the chill of interstellar space refrigerated the countryside as temperatures fell well below zero. That didn't discourage the likes of Orion and his seasonal friends Gemini, Perseus and ...

Recommended for you

Kepler proves it can still find planets

4 hours ago

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the Kepler spacecraft's death was greatly exaggerated. Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, Kepler is still alive and working. The evidence ...

The hot blue stars of Messier 47

Dec 17, 2014

Messier 47 is located approximately 1600 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Puppis (the poop deck of the mythological ship Argo). It was first noticed some time before 1654 by Italian astronomer ...

User comments : 0

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.