They may be little, but they pack a big star-forming punch. New observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show small galaxies, also known as dwarf galaxies, are responsible for forming a large proportion of the universe's stars.
Studying this early epoch of the universe's history is critical to fully understanding how these stars formed and how galaxies grew and evolved 3.5 to 6 billion years after the beginning of the universe. The result supports a decade-long investigation into whether there is a link between a galaxy's mass and its star-forming activity, and helps paint a consistent picture of events in the early universe.
Hiding among these thousands of galaxies are faint dwarf galaxies residing in the early universe, between 2 and 6 billion years after the big bang, an important time period when most of the stars in the universe were formed. Some of these galaxies are undergoing starbursts.
Image Credit: NASA and ESA
"We already suspected these kinds of galaxies would contribute to the early wave of star formation, but this is the first time we've been able to measure the effect they actually had," said Hakim Atek of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, lead author of the study published in the June 19 online issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "They appear to have had a surprisingly huge role to play."
Previous studies of star-forming galaxies were restricted to the analysis of mid- or high-mass galaxies, leaving out the numerous dwarf galaxies that existed in this era of prolific star formation. Astronomers conducted a recent study using data from Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to take a further and significant step forward in understanding this formative era by examining a sample of starburst galaxies in the young universe. Starburst galaxies form stars at a furiously fast rate, far above what is considered by experts to be a normal rate of star formation.
The infrared capabilities of WFC3 have allowed astronomers to finally calculate how much these low-mass dwarf galaxies contributed to the star population in our universe.
"These galaxies are forming stars so quickly they could actually double their entire mass of stars in only 150 million years -- an incredibly short astronomical timescale," adds co-author Jean-Paul Kneib, also of EPFL.
Researchers say such massive growth would take most “normal” galaxies 1 to 3 billion years.
In addition to adding new insight to how and where the stars in our universe formed, this latest finding may also help to unravel the secrets of galactic evolution. Galaxies evolve through a jumble of complex processes. As galaxies merge, they are consumed by newly-formed stars that feed on their combined gases, and exploding stars and supermassive black holes emit galactic material – a process that depletes the mass of a galaxy.
It is unusual to find a galaxy in a state of starburst, which suggests to researchers starburst galaxies are the result of an unusual incident in the past, such as a violent merger.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.
For images and more information about Hubble, visit:
Ray Villard | Eurek Alert!
High-Power Laser Spinoff Proves Versatility Is Strength
20.04.2015 | University of Wisconsin-Madison
STAR Heavy Flavor Tracker Detects Signs of Charm at RHIC
20.04.2015 | Department of Energy, Office of Science
Max Planck researcher Buhalqem Mamtimin determines how much nitrogen oxide is released into the atmosphere from agriculturally used oases.
In order to make statements about current and future air pollution, scientists use models which simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. A lot of information such as...
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the University of Konstanz are working on storing and processing information on the level of single molecules to create the smallest possible components that will combine autonomously to form a circuit. As recently reported in the academic journal Advanced Science, the researchers can switch on the current flow through a single molecule for the first time with the help of light.
Dr. Artur Erbe, physicist at the HZDR, is convinced that in the future molecular electronics will open the door for novel and increasingly smaller – while also...
Cells of the vascular system of vertebrates can fuse with themselves. This process, which occurs when a blood vessel is no longer necessary and pruned, has now been described on the cellular level by Prof. Markus Affolter from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. The findings of this study have been published in the journal “PLoS Biology”.
The vascular system is the supply network of the human organism and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the last corners of the body. So far, research on the...
Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy
Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a...
A team of physicists from MPQ, Caltech, and ICFO proposes the combination of nano-photonics with ultracold atoms for simulating quantum many-body systems and creating new states of matter.
Ultracold atoms in the so-called optical lattices, that are generated by crosswise superposition of laser beams, have been proven to be one of the most...
13.04.2015 | Event News
25.03.2015 | Event News
19.03.2015 | Event News
21.04.2015 | Materials Sciences
21.04.2015 | Earth Sciences
21.04.2015 | Studies and Analyses