MIT Researchers Observes the Oldest Galaxy in the Universe

MIT Researchers Observes the Oldest Galaxy in the Universe

Astronomers working with the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) have observed the second most distant star-forming galaxy in the Universe. Astronomers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst claim that the most distant galaxy could have been born during the first one billion years after the Big Bang. The galaxy was first detected by astronomers working with the Herschel space telescope. However, the Herschel space telescope was only capable of generating blurry images with little details. Using LMT, astronomers from UMass Amherst have evaluated many factors about the distant galaxy.

LMT is jointly operated by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica. The discovery of galaxy named G09 83808 was also helped by gravitational lensing. The research team informed that the distant galaxy is among the earliest forming galaxies in the Universe. Amherst astrophysicist Min Yun informed, "Seeing an object within the first billion years is remarkable because the universe was fully ionized, that is, it was too hot and too uniform to form anything for the first 400 million years."

The redshift among the spectral lines of carbon monoxide helped astronomers spot the ancient galaxy, named by astronomers as G09 83808. Scientists confirmed their discovery and improved the accuracy of their observations with a follow up survey of the galaxy using the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array telescope located on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

"The Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago, and now we are seeing this galaxy from 12.8 billion years ago, so it was forming within the first billion years after the Big Bang," Yun points out. "Seeing an object within the first billion years is remarkable because the universe was fully ionized, that is, it was too hot and too uniform to form anything for the first 400 million years. So our best guess is that the first stars and galaxies and black holes all formed within the first half a billion to one billion years. This new object is very close to being one of the first galaxies ever to form."

This result is not a surprise, because this is what the LMT was built to do, but we are very excited. These high redshift, very distant objects are a class of mythical beasts in astrophysics. We always knew there were some out there that are enormously large and bright, but they are invisible in visible light spectrum because they are so obscured by the thick dust clouds that surround their young stars. Paradoxically, the most prolific star-forming galaxies and thus the most luminous are also the most difficult to study using traditional optical telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope because they are also the most obscured by dust.

The LMT, located on the summit of a 15,000-foot extinct volcano in Mexico's central state of Puebla, began collecting its first light in 2011 as a 32-meter millimeter-wavelength radio telescope. It has since been built out to its full 50-meter (164-foot) diameter and when fully operational this winter it will be the largest, most sensitive single-aperture instrument of its kind in the world.

The findings of research team have been reported in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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