June 13 (UPI) -- Most galaxies are organized into clusters, forming large-scale, recognizable structural patterns -- their largest members neatly aligned. But until now, researchers weren't sure when galactic alignments first formed.
New research suggests the universe's earliest galaxies aligned with their neighbors nearly 10 billion years ago -- when the cosmos was just a third of its current age.
Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to study the structural relations among 65 of the most distant galaxy clusters. Light from the clusters took billions of years to reach Earth.
"Our results show that galaxy alignments were established very early in the universe's history," Roberto De Propris, a researcher at the University of Turku in Finland, said in a news release. "It's an important new piece to the puzzle because it says that whatever caused the alignments, it acted quickly."
Galactic clusters are perfectly structured. Dozens of smaller galaxies appear strewn haphazardly. But the largest galaxies are neatly aligned.
Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy. In the future, the paper's authors hope to analyze the large-scale alignments of more isolated galactic clusters.
But imaging the most distant galactic structures in the universe isn't easy.
"We're trying to measure the shapes and orientations of galaxies that appear very faint and very small because of their great distances, which is challenging," said De Propris.