Some of the universe's most massive galaxies may have formed billions of years earlier than current scientific models predict, according to surprising new research led by Tufts University. The findings appear in the Astrophysical Journal published online Nov. 24 in advance of print publication on Dec. 10, 2010.
"We have found a relatively large number of very massive, highly luminous galaxies that existed almost 12 billion years ago when the universe was still very young, about 1.5 billion years old. These results appear to disagree with the latest predictions from models of galaxy formation and evolution," said Tufts astrophysicist Danilo Marchesini, lead author on the paper and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences. "Current understanding of the physical processes responsible in forming such massive galaxies has difficulty reproducing these observations."
Collaborating with Marchesini were researchers from Yale University, Carnegie Observatories, Leiden University, Princeton University, the University of Kansas and the University of California-Santa Cruz.
Redshift refers to the phenomenon of a light wave stretching and moving toward longer wavelengths (the red end of the spectrum) as the emitting object travels away from an observer (Doppler Effect). This is similar to the pitch of a siren getting lower as the siren moves away. The redshift of distant galaxies is due to the expansion of the universe. The larger the redshift, the more distant the galaxy is, or the farther back in time we are observing. The larger the redshift, the younger the universe in which the galaxy is observed.
By complementing existing data with deep images obtained through a new system of five customized near-infrared filters, the researchers were able to get a more complete view of the galaxy population at this early stage and more accurately characterize the sampled galaxies.
Massive Galaxies Ferociously Active
The researchers made another surprising discovery: More than 80 percent of these massive galaxies show very high infrared luminosities, which indicate that these galaxies are extremely active and most likely in a phase of intense growth. Massive galaxies in the local universe are instead quiescent and do not form stars at all.
The researchers note that there are two likely causes of such luminosity: New stars may be forming in dust-enshrouded bursts at rates of a few thousand solar masses per year. This would be tens to several hundreds of times greater than the rates estimated by spectral energy distribution (SED) modeling. Alternatively, the high infrared luminosity could be due to highly-obscured active galactic nuclei (AGN) ferociously accreting matter onto rapidly growing super-massive black holes at the galaxies' centers.
There might be an explanation that would at least partially reconcile observations with model-predicted densities. The redshifts of these massive galaxies, and hence their distances, were determined from the SED modeling and have not yet been confirmed spectroscopically. Redshift measurements from SED modeling are inherently less accurate than spectroscopy. Such "systemic uncertainties" in the determination of the distances of these galaxies might still allow for approximate agreement between observations and model predictions.
If half of the massive galaxies are assumed to be slightly closer, at redshift z=2.6, when the universe was a bit older (2.5 billion years old) and very dusty (with dust absorbing much of the light emitted at ultra-violet and optical wavelengths), then the disagreement between observations and model predictions becomes only marginally significant.
However, the discovery of the existence of such massive, old and very dusty galaxies at redshift z=2.6 would itself be a notable discovery. Such a galaxy population has never before been observed.
"Either way, it is clear that our understanding of how massive galaxies form is still far from satisfactory," said Marchesini.
"The existence of these galaxies so early in the history of the universe, as well as their properties, can provide very important clues on how galaxies formed and evolved shortly after the Big Bang," he added.
The National Science Foundation provided support for the research."The Most Massive Galaxies at 3.0 ¡ÜZ
Kim Thurler | EurekAlert!
One-way roads for spin currents
23.05.2018 | Singapore University of Technology and Design
Tunable diamond string may hold key to quantum memory
23.05.2018 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
23.05.2018 | Life Sciences
23.05.2018 | Life Sciences
23.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy