"Missing-Link" Galaxy Discovered --10 Times Size of Milky Way
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May 29, 2013

"Missing-Link" Galaxy Discovered --10 Times Size of Milky Way

 

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Two young galaxies that collided 11 billion years ago are rapidly forming a massive galaxy about 10 times the size of the Milky Way, according to UC Irvine-led research published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Capturing the creation of this type of large, short-lived star body is extremely rare – the equivalent of discovering a missing link between winged dinosaurs and early birds, said the scientists, who relied on the once-powerful Herschel space telescope and observatories around the world. The new mega-galaxy, dubbed HXMM01, is the brightest, most luminous and most gas-rich submillimeter-bright galaxy merger known.

The discovery solves a riddle in understanding how giant elliptical galaxies developed quickly in the early universe and why they stopped producing stars soon after. Other astronomers have theorized that giant black holes in the heart of the galaxies blew strong winds that expelled the gas. But cosmologist Asantha Cooray, the UC Irvine team's leader, said that they and colleagues across the globe found definitive proof that cosmic mergers and the resulting highly efficient consumption of gas for stars are causing the quick burnout.

HXMM01 is fading away as fast as it forms, a victim of its own cataclysmic birth. As the two parent galaxies smashed together, they gobbled up huge amounts of hydrogen, emptying that corner of the universe of the star-making gas.

"These galaxies entered a feeding frenzy that would quickly exhaust the food supply in the following hundreds of million years and lead to the new galaxy's slow starvation for the rest of its life," said lead author Hai Fu, a UC Irvine postdoctoral scholar.

"Finding this type of galaxy is as important as the discovery of the archaeopteryx was in understanding dinosaurs' evolution into birds, because they were both caught at a critical transitional phase," Fu said.

The new galaxy was initially spotted by UC Irvine postdoctoral scholar Julie Wardlow, also with Cooray's group. She noticed "an amazing, bright blob" in images of the so-called cold cosmos – areas where gas and dust come together to form stars – recorded by the European Space Agency's Herschel telescope with important contributions from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Herschel captured carpets of galaxies, and this one really stood out."

Follow-up views at a variety of wavelengths were obtained at more than a dozen ground-based observatories, particularly the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

The image at the top of the page shows a close-up of the colliding galaxies in red and green. The red data show dust-enshrouded regions of star formation. The green data show gas in the merging galaxies. The blue spots are visible-light observations of galaxies located much closer to us.

Image Credit: JPL-Caltech/UC Irvine/Keck Observatory/STScI/NRAO/SAO/ESA/NASA.

Comments

11 billon years ago? These galaxies are no more.

In an attempt to be more "here - now", the Andromeda Galaxy which will collide with the Milky Galaxy, is right now almost one light year closer than it appears due to it being 2.5 million light years away and a closing speed of 70 miles/sec.. Rather insignificant but it might be interesting to mathematically estimate where other celestial bodies actually are right now.

It's really magnificent, so to say but there is also some certain things yet to discover from it.

The discovery of the earliest galaxies is vital to the understanding of the evolution of this universe, and it is, also, important in the understanding of the evolution of our own galaxy. As we look back in time can we see the creation of our galaxy? We are learning more and more of our evolution as a species, but what of the evolution of a galaxy? These primal galaxies is what lead us to where we are today; it may tell us where we may be a billion years from now when the universe is 20 years old (cosmic years not human years).


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