Heavyweight galaxies puzzle astronomers

April 2, 2009
An infrared image of the cluster XMMU J2235.3-2557 taken with Subaru, seen at a distance corresponding to 65% of the way back to the big bang. The image shows the central 1.5 x 1.5 arc min of the cluster corresponding to 0.75 Mpc at this distance. The clusters X-ray emission is used to pinpoint the location of the brightest galaxy in the cluster as shown by the green contours which represent the X-ray intensity as measured by the XMM-Newton X-ray satellite.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers have discovered large galaxies some two thirds of the way back in time to the big bang. This surprising find casts doubt on theories of how the biggest galaxies form.

The conventional view is that the heaviest in the started out very small and light and have gained most of their weight relatively recently by cannibalising other galaxies that came too close. However, these new findings, to be published in Nature on 2nd April 2009, suggest that rather than being svelte, some galaxies in the distant past weighed just as much as the monsters we see in the universe today.

The discovery was made using one of the largest optical telescopes in the World, called Subaru (named after the Japanese word for the Pleiades star cluster), located on the Island of Hawaii and owned by the National Observatory of Japan.

Analysing the light from these remote galaxies, the astronomers at Liverpool John Moores University’s (LJMU) Astrophysics Research Institute have effectively weighed them and found that despite feeding on a constant diet of small galaxies, the heaviest galaxies have not increased their weight over the last nine billion years. In a universe whose age is 13.7 billion years old, these results spark a debate as to how these galaxies put on so much weight in the first few billion years after the .

LJMU’s Professor Chris Collins and leader of the international team of astrophysicists who made the breakthrough said: “Current predictions using simulations run on super computers suggest that at such a young age these galaxies should be only 20% of their final weight, so to find galaxies so large suggests that galaxy formation is a much more rapid process than we previously thought and perhaps the theories are missing some important physics.”

Dr John Stott who carried out the analysis said: "We were surprised to find that the largest and brightest galaxies in the Universe have remained essentially unchanged for the last nine billion years, having grown rapidly soon after the Big Bang."

One possibility being considered is that the galaxies formed by the collapse of an already massive cloud at the dawn of the universe.

Provided by Science and Technology Facilities Council

Explore further: A Cosmic Baby-Boom

Related Stories

A Cosmic Baby-Boom

September 21, 2005

The Universe was a more fertile place soon after it was formed than has previously been suspected. A team of French and Italian astronomers made indeed the surprising discovery of a large and unknown population of distant ...

'Cosmic Telescopes' May Have Found Infant Galaxies

June 5, 2006

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 ...

Stellar birth control in the early universe

October 1, 2006

An international team of astronomers based at Yale and Leiden University in The Netherlands found that "old stars" dominated many large galaxies in the early universe, raising the new question of why these galaxies progressed ...

Survey Reveals Building Block Process For Biggest Galaxies

April 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 ...

Recommended for you

In search of the ninth planet

October 17, 2017

A University of Michigan doctoral student has logged two pieces of evidence that may support the existence of a planet that could be part of our solar system, beyond Neptune.

Webcam on Mars Express surveys high-altitude clouds

October 17, 2017

An unprecedented catalogue of more than 21 000 images taken by a webcam on ESA's Mars Express is proving its worth as a science instrument, providing a global survey of unusual high-altitude cloud features on the Red Planet.

Microbes leave 'fingerprints' on Martian rocks

October 17, 2017

Scientists around Tetyana Milojevic from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna are in search of unique biosignatures, which are left on synthetic extraterrestrial minerals by microbial activity. The biochemist ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.5 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2009
Maybe there was no big bang (it's only a theory requiring epicycle upon epicycle to keep it working).
3 / 5 (3) Apr 02, 2009
pretty obvious that large galaxies form around large black holes and that large black holes formed early in the universe.
1 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2009
Galaxy aggregation requires orbiting objects to lose kinetic energy. AGM drag has that effect. However why have they stayed the same maximum size since then?

2 / 5 (3) Apr 03, 2009
All recent astronomical results consistently remind us that our physics is incomplete so both the estimated age of the Universe and the model of galaxy formation are probably wrong.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2009
However why have they stayed the same maximum size since then?

It could be way too early in the morning for me, but what is to say that they haven't enlarged. If we are looking 'back in time' because of the extreme distances and the finite speed of light, we can't simply look again the next night and see said galaxy as it is today. Am I missing something?
3 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2009
Merkk I believe they are comparing the heaviest galaxies then with the heaviest galaxies now.
3.5 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2009
But again, you can't see how big a galaxy is right now. Even to look at the other side of ours, we can only imagine what could have happened in 100000 years. Guess work gets better the closer you are, but ultimately, we are still looking to some point in the very distant past and attempting to determine what things are like in the present. And then comparing it to what we've so far seen which is also in the very distant past.

Sure I understand that the article is looking at these groups of galaxies that are larger than similar aged galaxies. All that says to me is that the current model does not yet explain everything that we have yet to discover.
5 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2009
The paper published in Nature along with much supplementary info and pics were posted on the arXiv site here: http://arxiv.org/...06v1.pdf . This study looks at a special type of galaxy found in most galaxy clusters and is referred to as the Brightest Cluster Galaxy (or BCG, for obvious reasons). These galaxies are enormous, highly luminous galaxies much larger than the run-of-the-mill galaxies found in galaxy clusters (think M 87 in the Virgo Cluster or NGC 1275 in Abell 426). The paper%u2019s authors looked at several BCGs in galaxy clusters at different distances (and hence at earlier times) and found distant BCGs are as massive as nearby BCGs. Considering their enormous sizes, current models of smaller galaxies merging to become a BCG just doesn%u2019t work. They propose that BCGs started out massive even in the early universe, over 9 billion years ago. This makes sense because accretion of smaller galaxies to form a BCG would take too long in this very early epoch. If corroborated, these findings show that not all galaxies were formed or created equal. Note, however, that the vast majority of galaxies in the universe were indeed formed from smaller stellar systems that coalesced into the regular cluster galaxies we see today (the so-called %u2018bottom-up%u2019 theory). Some great additional galaxy cluster pics by the Subaru observatory are included in the supplemental material!
1 / 5 (3) Apr 08, 2009
On Energy, Mass, Gravity, And Galaxies Clusters -
A Commonsensible Recapitulation

A. "Heavyweight galaxies in the young universe"
New observations of full-grown galaxies in the young universe may force astrophysicists to revise their leading theory of galaxy formation, at least as it applies to regions where galaxies congregate into clusters.

B. Some brief notes in "Light On Dark Matter?", at

- "Galaxy Clusters Evolved By Dispersion, Not By Conglomeration"
- Introduction of E=Total[m(1 D)]
- "Dark Energy And Matter And The Emperor's New Clothes"
- "Evolutionary Cosmology: Ordained Or Random"
- "%u201CMovie%u201D Of Microwave Pulse Transitioning From Quantum To Classical Physics"
- "Broken Symmetry" Is Physics' Term Of Biology's "Evolution"
- "A Glimpse Of Forces-Matter-Life Unified Theory"

C. Commonsensible conception of gravity

1. According to the standard model, which describes all the forces in nature except gravity, all elementary particles were born massless. Interactions with the proposed Higgs field would slow down some of the particles and endow them with mass. Finding the Higgs %u2014 or proving it does not exist %u2014 has therefore become one of the most important quests in particle physics.

However, for a commonsensible primitive mind with a commonsensible universe represented by
E=Total[m(1 D)], this conceptual equation describes gravity. It does not explain gravity. It describes it. It applies to the whole universe and to every and all specific cases, regardless of size.

2. Thus gravity is simply another face of the total cosmic energy. Thus gravity is THE cosmic parent of phenomena such as black holes and life. It is the display of THE all-pervasive-embracive strained space texture, laid down by the expanding galactic clusters, also noticed in the expanding energy backlashes into various constructs of temporary constrained energy packages.

3. "Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time to the early hot dense "Big Bang" phase, using general relativity, yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past.
At age 10^-35 seconds the Universe begins with a cataclysm that generates space and time, as well as all the matter and energy the Universe will ever hold."

At D=0, E was = m and both E and m were, together, all the energy and matter the Universe will ever hold. Since the onset of the cataclysm E remains constant and m diminishes as D increases.
The increase of D is the inflation, followed by expansion, of what became the galactic clusters.

At 10^-35 seconds, D in E=Total[m(1 D)] was already a fraction of a second above zero. This is when gravity started. This is what started gravity. At this instance starts the space texture, starts the straining of the space texture, and starts the "space texture memory", gravity, that will eventually overcome expansion and initiate re-impansion back to singularity.

D. Commonsensible conception of the forces other than gravity

The forces other than gravity are, commonsensibly, forces involved in conjunction with evolution:

The farthest we go in reductionism in Everything, including in Life, we shall still end up with wholism, until we arrive at energy. Energy is the base element of everything and of all in the universe. At the beginning was the energy singularity, at the end will be near zero mass and an infinite dispersion of the beginning energy, and in-between, the universe undergoes continuous evolution consisting of myriad energy-to-energy and energy-to-mass-to-energy transformations.

The universe, and everything in it, are continuously evolving, and all the evolutions are intertwined.

Dov Henis
(Comments From The 22nd Century)
Life's Manifest
EVOLUTION Beyond Darwin 200
not rated yet Apr 08, 2009
Interested readers may want to see Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCG) studied in the above story close up. The recent HST image of NGC 7049 is one such image. This nearby example is approximately the same mass as some galaxies that formed very early in the history of the universe.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2009
E. PS: On Evolution of Cosmic Energy And Mass

As mass is just another face of energy it is commonsensible to regard not only life, but mass in general, as a format of temporarily constrained energy.

It therefore ensues that whereas the expanding cosmic constructs, the galaxies clusters, are - overall - continuously converting "their" original pre-inflation mass back to energy, the overall evolution within them, within the clusters, is in the opposite direction, temporarily constrained
energy packages are precariuosly forming and "doing best" to survive as long as "possible"...

Dov Henis
(Comments From The 22nd Century)
1 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2009
Hello yyz

Heavyweight galaxies at long distances is a very interesting observation. I appreciate your posting of the arxiv information. Facts like these will surely lead to the conclusion that the Big Bang is not the correct model.

The big bang model fixed the initial creation of the universe into a single point in time and therefore causes the universe to have an age.

The heavyweight galaxies at long distance would not be surprising at all, if the commencement of the universe was not fixed by a big bang. In the case where the universe is a continuum of destruction and recreation of matter, It would be expected that such galaxies will indeed exist well beyond a distance of 14 billion light years which would put its existence before the big bang.

Would you have a problem explaining the existence of heavyweight galaxies at the observed distances, if the universe was a continuum, which limits the size of super-massive black holes to the size of galaxies you are comparing?

Would it be difficult to simulate the calculations based on a non expanding universe where red shift is the result of photon interaction with dark energy as proposed by Einstein s cosmological constant?

Cheers Zwei Stein

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.