Astrophysicists at the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute said up until now it was thought it had taken billions of years for stars to form and create galaxies with a high content of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium -- like carbon and oxygen -- necessary for the formation of planets and life as we know it.
But this process went surprisingly quickly in some galaxies, they said.
"We have studied 10 galaxies in the early universe and analyzed their light spectra. We are observing light from the galaxies that has been on a 10-12 billion year journey to Earth, so we see the galaxies as they were then," Johan Fynbo from the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute said.
"Our expectation was that they would be relatively primitive and poor in heavier elements, but we discovered somewhat to our surprise that the gas in some of the galaxies and thus the stars in them had a very high content of heavier elements," he said.
"The gas was just as enriched as our own sun."
The findings suggest galaxies from the very early universe had a surprisingly large quantity of heavier elements, researchers said, noting one of the galaxies studied was especially interesting.
"For one of the galaxies, we observed the outer regions and here there was also a high element content. This suggests that large parts of the galaxy are enriched with a high content of heavier elements and that means that already in the early history of the universe there was potential for planet formation and life," Fynbo said.