Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Johns Hopkins astrophysicist spies ultra-distant galaxy amidst cosmic 'dark ages'

20.09.2012
With the combined power of NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes as well as a cosmic magnification effect, a team of astronomers led by Wei Zheng of The Johns Hopkins University has spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever detected.

Light from the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories shone forth when the 13.7-billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old.

The far-off galaxy existed within an important era when the universe began to transit from the so-called "Dark Ages." During this period, the universe went from a dark, starless expanse to a recognizable cosmos full of galaxies. The discovery of the faint, small galaxy accordingly opens up a window into the deepest, remotest epochs of cosmic history.

"This galaxy is the most distant object we have ever observed with high confidence," said Zheng, a principal research scientist in The Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins' Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and lead author of a paper appearing in Nature on Sept. 20. "Future work involving this galaxy -- as well as others like it that we hope to find -- will allow us to study the universe's earliest objects and how the Dark Ages ended."

Light from the primordial galaxy traveled approximately 13.2 billion light-years before reaching NASA's telescopes. In other words, the starlight snagged by Spitzer and Hubble left the galaxy when the universe was just 3.6 percent of its present age. Technically speaking, the galaxy has a redshift, or "z," of 9.6. The term "redshift" refers to how much an object's light has shifted into longer wavelengths as a result of the expansion of the universe. Astronomers use "redshift" to describe cosmic distances.

Unlike previous detections of galaxy candidates in this age range, which were only glimpsed in a single color, or waveband, this newfound galaxy has been seen in five different wavebands. As part of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble program (CLASH), the Hubble Space Telescope registered the newly described far-flung galaxy in four wavelength bands. Spitzer located it in a fifth band with its Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), placing the discovery on firmer ground.

Objects at these extreme distances are mostly beyond the detection sensitivity of today's largest telescopes. To catch sight of these early, distant galaxies, astronomers rely on "gravitational lensing." In this phenomenon -- predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago -- the gravity of foreground objects warps and magnifies the light from background objects. A massive galaxy cluster situated between our galaxy and the early galaxy magnified the latter's light, brightening the remote object some 15 times and bringing it into view.

Based on the Spitzer and Hubble observations, astronomers think the distant galaxy was spied at a time when it was less than 200 million years old. It also is small and compact, containing only about 1 percent of the Milky Way's mass. According to leading cosmological theories, the first galaxies should indeed have started out tiny. They then progressively merged, eventually accumulating into the sizable galaxies of the more modern universe.

These first galaxies likely played the dominant role in the epoch of reionization, the event that signaled the demise of the universe's Dark Ages. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, neutral hydrogen gas formed from cooling particles. The first luminous stars and their host galaxies, however, did not emerge until a few hundred million years later. The energy released by these earliest galaxies is thought to have caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the universe to ionize, or lose an electron, the state in which the gas has remained since that time.

"In essence, during the epoch of reionization, the lights came on in the universe," said paper co-author Leonidas Moustakas, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers plan to study the rise of the first stars and galaxies and the epoch of reionization with the successor to both Spitzer and Hubble -- NASA's James Webb Telescope, slated for launch in 2018. The newly described distant galaxy will likely be a prime target.

Holland Ford, one of Zheng's colleagues and a co-author on the paper, commented on the findings.

"Science is very exciting when we explore the frontiers of knowledge," said Ford, a physics and astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins. "One of these frontiers is the first few hundred million years after the birth of our universe. Dr. Zheng's many years of searching for quasars and galaxies in the dawn of the universe has paid off with his discovery of a galaxy that we see as it was when the universe was less than 500 million years old.

"With his discovery, we are seeing a galaxy when it was not even a toddler," Ford said. "But this infant galaxy will in its future grow to be a galaxy like our own, hopefully hosting planetary systems with astronomers who will look back in time and see our galaxy in its infancy."

More information about Zheng:
http://physics-astronomy.jhu.edu/people/res_staff/zheng_wei.html
More information about Spitzer and Hubble:
http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
JOHNS HOPKINS MEDIA CONTACT: Lisa De Nike
(443) 287-9960 (office); (443) 845-3148 (cell); Lde@jhu.edu
NASA MEDIA CONTACT: J.D. Harrington
(202) 358-5241 (office); j.d.harrington@nasa.gov
JPL MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Clavin
(818) 354-4673 (office); whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

Lisa DeNike | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.jhu.edu

Further reports about: Big Bang Dark Quencher Hubble Milky Way NASA Telescope distant galaxy planetary system

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>