The SCUBA images. These images show massive galaxies caught in the throes of formation. The stars are forming so rapidly that an entire galaxy can be built in a short timescale (cosmologically speaking, so a billion years or so). The star formation in these galaxies is thought to be driven by mergers of older galaxies in a filamentary structure spanning millions of light years. In billions of years time, this structure is predicted to become a cluster of giant elliptical galaxies similar to those we see today in the local Universe.
From left to right and top to bottom the images are centred on the following radio galaxies: 4C41.17, 4C60.07, 8C1435+635, 8C1909+722, B3J2330+3927 and PKS1138-262.
Revealing images produced by one of the world’s most sophisticated telescopes are enabling a team of Edinburgh astronomers to see clearly for the first time how distant galaxies were formed 12 billion years ago. Scientists from the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) and the University of Edinburgh have been targeting the biggest and most distant galaxies in the Universe with the world’s most sensitive submillimetre camera, SCUBA. The camera, built in Edinburgh, is operated on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The images, published in Nature tomorrow (18 September), reveal prodigious amounts of dust-enshrouded star formation which could ultimately tell scientists more about the formation of our own galaxy.
It is thought these distant galaxies in the early Universe will evolve into the most massive elliptical galaxies seen at the present day. These giant galaxies consist of 1000 billion stars like our Sun and are found in large groups or clusters.
Dr Jason Stevens, astronomer at the UK ATC in Edinburgh explained why understanding the evolution of these galaxies is so important. "The distant, youthful Universe was a very different place to the one we inhabit today. Billions of years ago, massive galaxies are thought to have formed in spectacular bursts of star formation. These massive elliptical galaxies have relatively simple properties. We hope that by understanding how simple galaxies form we will be one step closer to understanding how our own, spiral, Milky Way galaxy formed".
Julia Maddock | alfa
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