Young Universe Was A Massive Factory For Star Formation
April 17, 2013

Young Universe Was A Massive Factory For Star Formation

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Astronomers say they have discovered a star factory in a galaxy so distant that they see it when the Universe was only six percent of its current age of about 13.7 billion years old.

The team wrote in the journal Nature that HFLS3 sits at about 12.8 billion light-years from Earth. They said the distant galaxy is producing about 3,000 Suns per year, which is more than 2,000 times that of our own Milky Way galaxy.

"This is the most detailed look into the physical properties of such a distant galaxy ever made," said Dominik Riechers, of Cornell University. "Getting detailed information on galaxies like this is vitally important to understanding how galaxies, as well as groups and clusters of galaxies, formed in the early Universe."

During the study, the team used 12 international telescope facilities, including both orbiting and ground-based telescopes. This group of telescopes ranged from visible-light telescopes to infrared, milimeter-wave and radio wavelengths. These instruments helped scientists find that the galaxy has a mass of stars 40 billion times the mass of the Sun, along with gas and dust totaling 100 billion times the mass of the Sun.

"This galaxy is proof that very intense bursts of star formation existed only 880 million years after the Big Bang," Riechers said. "We've gotten a valuable look at a very important epoch in the development of the first galaxies," he added.

Chris Carilli, Chief Scientist of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) who was not part of the research team, said key information about the massive amount of gas in this galaxy came from observations made by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) of radio emission from carbon monoxide.

"The techniques used by this team, along with improved technical capabilities available now and coming in the future, will allow the study of more such galaxies, and provide a much better understanding of how the first galaxies formed during the Universe's youth," Carilli added.

Riechers said VLA helped provide information about cold gas and radio emission in this distant galaxy, while the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) told them about warmer gas and dust.

Even though HFLS3 sits at a great distance from Earth, it is not the most distant galaxy ever observed. Astronomers reported the discovery of galaxy MACS0647-JD last year, which is nearly 13.7 billion light years away. The galaxy is so old that it was observed at 420 million years after the Big Bang.

Image Below: Needle in a Haystack - Background image is Herschel/SPIRE image of the portion of sky in which HFLS3 was found, with zoom. Upper-left inset is combined radio/millimeter/submillimeter image of the distant galaxy. Top right is VLA spectrum showing radio emission from Carbon Monoxide molecules. Credit: Riechers et al., ESA/Herschel/HerMES/IRAM/, NRAO/AUI/NSF.