Trio of galaxies discovered 13 billion light years away

The galaxies, formed when the universe was 800 million years old, could help astronomers study the earliest stages of galaxy formation.
By Ananth Baliga  |  Nov. 22, 2013 at 3:32 PM
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Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers have identified a trio of galaxies hidden in a cloud of dust nearly 13 billion light years from Earth, placing them close to the beginning of the universe.

The galaxies were first detected in 2009 but were assumed to be a giant ball of hot ionized gas. But after astronomers turned NASA's Hubble telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array to study the cosmic body were they able to ascertain what it exactly was.

"This exceedingly rare triple system, seen when the Universe was only 800 million years old, provides important insights into the earliest stages of galaxy formation during a period known as 'Cosmic Dawn,' when the Universe was first bathed in starlight," Richard Ellis, an astronomy professor at the California Institute of Technology.

What makes this discovery exciting for astronomers is the possibility that the three galaxies will most likely merge and could form something similar to our galaxy.

Astronomers studying signals received by ALMA have failed to find the presence of a carbon signature as is expected of this kind of cosmic formation. This omission leads them to believe that the galaxies are composed of helium and hydrogen, both of which were created during the Big Bang.

"Astronomers are usually excited when a signal from an object is detected," Ellis said. "But, in this case, it's the absence of a signal from heavy elements that is the most exciting result!"

[Nature World News] [NASA]

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