March 7, 2012
Farthest Galaxy Cluster Discovered 10.5 Billion Light Years Away
Astronomers have discovered the most distant galaxy cluster every found, 10.5 billion light years away from the Milky Way galaxy.
Galaxy clusters contain thousands of galaxies and are considered important building blocks with the power to help unravel the mysteries of the early universe.
Texas A&M astronomer Dr. Kim-Vy Tran said the cluster is made up of a dense concentration of 30 galaxies that is the seed for a much bigger cluster.
"Our galaxy cluster is observed when the universe was only three billion years old," says Lee Spitler, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia and lead author of the team's study, said in a press release. "This means it is still young and should continue to grow into an extremely dense structure containing many more galaxies."
The team discovered their recent find essentially in the middle of one of the most well-studied regions in the sky.
They found the galaxy cluster near the star constellation Leo, which is an area astronomers have spent thousands of hours observing.
The team was able to make the discovery with help from a new camera built by collaborators at Carnegie Observatories.
The camera features five specially designed infrared filters that help deliver an unprecedented precise combination of wavelength resolution and low-light sensitivity, enabling them to accurately measure the distances to thousands of different galaxies at a time.
"Most other surveys were just looking at the tip of the iceberg," Tran said in a press release. "The modern technology contained in this camera enabled us to detect the faintest light possible, allowing us to see much more of the iceberg than previously revealed.
"It's like we're using a comb to sift through the very distant universe. The combination of filters and depth provided by this camera give us the equivalent of more teeth, resulting in better measurements and more accurate results."
The astronomers will publish their findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Image Caption: 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.
On the Net:
- Texas A&M University
- Swinburne University of Technology
- Carnegie Observatories
- Astrophysical Journal Letters