Washington: Astronomers have discovered that one of the most distant galaxies known is churning out stars at a shockingly high rate.
Astronomers, including the University of California, Riverside’s Bahram Mobasher and his graduate student Hooshang Nayyeri, made the discovery using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes.
The blob-shaped galaxy, called GN-108036, is the brightest galaxy found to date at such great distances.
The galaxy, which was discovered and confirmed using ground-based telescopes, is 12.9 billion light-years away.
Data from Spitzer and Hubble were used to measure the galaxy’s high star production rate, equivalent to about 100 suns per year. For reference, our Milky Way galaxy is about five times larger and 100 times more massive than GN-108036, but makes roughly 30 times fewer stars per year.
The international team of astronomers, led by Masami Ouchi of the University of Tokyo, Japan, first identified the remote galaxy after scanning a large patch of sky with the Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Its great distance was then carefully confirmed with the W.M. Keck Observatory, also on Mauna Kea.
GN-108036 lies near the very beginning of time itself, a mere 750 million years after our universe was created 13.7 billion years ago in an explosive “Big Bang.”
Its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, so we are seeing it as it existed in the very distant past.
“The high rate of star formation found for GN-108036 implies that it was rapidly building up its mass some 750 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about five percent of its present age,” said Mobasher, a professor of physics and astronomy.
“This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today,” he stated.
The findings were reported in the Astrophysical Journal.
First Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011, 10:40