15 Mature Galaxies 12 Billion Light Years Away Discovered by Researchers

Image Credit: Caroline Straatman

An international team of researchers, together with astronomers from Swinburne University of Technology, has discovered the most distant galaxies in the early Universe that were already mature and massive at an early age of the universe. Researchers have discovered a group of mature galaxies about 12 billion light years away. This is a breakthrough because it shows that these galaxies grow up very quickly and the existence of these galaxies at such an early time raises new questions about what forced them to grow up so quickly. Professor Karl Glazebrook, who was part of this discovery, said in a statement “These distant and early massive galaxies are one of the Holy Grails of astronomy,” 

The team of astronomers made this discovery of 15 mature galaxies by using deep images at near-infrared wavelengths. They used near-infrared wavelengths to search for galaxies in the early universe with red colors. The typical red colors indicate the existence of old stars and an absence of active star formation. The main idea here is the team of astronomers found 15 galaxies at an average distance of about 12 billion light years, only 1.6 billion years just after the Big Bang, which is actually exciting.

           These newly found galaxies are hardly noticeable at visual wavelengths and are easily ignored, but using the new near-infrared light images they are easily measured, from which it can be concluded that they already contained about 100 billion stars on average per galaxy. This discovery raises new questions about how these galaxies made so rapidly just after 1.6 billion years of Big Bang and why they stopped creating stars so early.

"The very fact that they exist is puzzling to astronomers," says Spitler, who was involved in the discovery. "Galaxies, like people, take time to grow up. Something dramatic, like a starburst phase, might have caused galaxies to grow up or mature so quickly. You also may need something equally dramatic to cause the galaxies to retire and no longer produce new stars. We'll be examining even more distant galaxies next year to try and understand this better."

These galaxies were discovered after 40 nights of observations with the FourStar camera on the Magellan Baade Telescope in Chile and joined with data from Hubble's Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey and the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey. Using special filters to yield images, the team was able to measure accurate distances to thousands of distant galaxies at a time, also providing a 3-D map of the early universe.

The findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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