After years of searching, scientists have observed one such turbulent, starbursting galactic core in the young universe using the
The research appears in the journal Nature.
Galaxy formation theories have suggested that the universe's heaviest galaxies develop from the inside out, forming their star-studded, central cores during early cosmic epochs. But scientists had never been able to observe this core construction until now.
"It's a formation process that can't happen anymore," said
Marshaling the world's premier telescopes, an international research team led by Yale saw this formation process underway in a massive galaxy in the early universe. They found a candidate galaxy with an infrared camera on the Hubble Space Telescope that was installed in 2009.
After finding this candidate, team members flew to
Informally, the scientists began calling the galaxy "Sparky." Using archival, far-infrared images from
"Just like the hot oxygen-rich early Earth could produce dinosaurs, the hot, dense early universe could produce these galaxies," said
Sparky's rapid gas movement was the big tip-off to core formation. Yet the same gas required to fuel star formation, along with swirling traces of metals, comes with thick dust. This dust enshrouds the galaxy, hiding it in visible light much the way the Sun can appear red and faint behind the smoke of a forest fire. Astronomers think this barely visible galaxy may be representative of a much larger population of similar objects that are even more obscured by dust.
It was only by using infrared analysis and the most powerful telescopes in existence that the Yale team could confirm Sparky's exact nature. The galaxy formed 11 billion years ago.
"I think our discovery settles the question of whether this mode of building galaxies actually happened or not," van Dokkum said. "The question now is, 'How often did this occur?' We suspect there are other galaxies like this that are even fainter in near-infrared wavelengths."
In fact, Sparky may have a lot of company. "We suspect there are 100 times more and we're just missing them," Nelson said.
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