Posts Tagged ‘early universe’

Four New Galaxy Clusters Take Researchers Further Back In Time

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

pia17934-640_smFour unknown galaxy clusters each potentially containing thousands of individual galaxies have been discovered some 10 billion light years from Earth.

An international team of astronomers, led by Imperial College London, used a new way of combining data from the two European Space Agency satellites, Planck and Herschel, to identify more distant galaxy clusters than has previously been possible. The researchers believe up to 2000 further clusters could be identified using this technique, helping to build a more detailed timeline of how clusters are formed.

Galaxy clusters are the most massive objects in the universe, containing hundreds to thousands of galaxies, bound together by gravity. While astronomers have identified many nearby clusters, they need to go further back in time to understand how these structures are formed. This means finding clusters at greater distances from the Earth.

The light from the most distant of the four new clusters identified by the team has taken over 10 billion years to reach us. This means the researchers are seeing what the cluster looked like when the universe was just three billion years old.

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First Detailed Look At A Normal Galaxy In The Very Early Universe

January 10, 2014 Leave a comment

University of Hawaii at Manoa astronomer Regina Jorgenson has obtained the first image that shows the structure of a normal galaxy in the early universe as captured by the W. M. Keck Observatory. The results were presented at the winter American Astronomical Society meeting being held this week near Washington, DC.

The galaxy, called DLA2222-0946, is so faint that it is virtually invisible at all but a few specific wavelengths. It is a member of a class of galaxies thought to be the progenitors of spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way.

These galaxies are known to contain most of the neutral gas that is the fuel for star formation, so they are an important tool for understanding star and galaxy formation and evolution. Discovered and classified over 30 years ago, they have been notoriously difficult to see directly.

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Last Command Sent To ESA’s Planck Space Telescope

October 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration - D. Ducros

Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration – D. Ducros

ESA’s Planck space telescope has been turned off after nearly 4.5 years soaking up the relic radiation from the Big Bang and studying the evolution of stars and galaxies throughout the Universe’s history.

Project scientist Jan Tauber sent the final command to the Planck satellite this afternoon at 12:10:27 UT, marking the end of operations for ESA’s ‘time machine’.

Launched in 2009, Planck was designed to tease out the faintest relic radiation from the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The CMB preserves a picture of the Universe as it was about 380 000 years after the Big Bang, and provides details of the initial conditions that led to the Universe we live in today.

“Planck has provided us with more insight into the evolution of the Universe than any mission has before,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

“Planck’s picture of the CMB is the most accurate ‘baby photo’ of the Universe yet, but the wealth of data still being scrutinised by our cosmologists will provide us with even more details.”

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Hubble Explores The Origins Of Modern Galaxies

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Astronomers have used observations from Hubble’s CANDELS survey to explore the sizes, shapes, and colours of distant galaxies over the last 80% of the Universe’s history. In the Universe today galaxies come in a variety of different forms, and are classified via a system known as the Hubble Sequence — and it turns out that this sequence was already in place as early as 11 billion years ago.

The Hubble Sequence classifies galaxies according to their morphology and star-forming activity, organising them into a cosmic zoo of spiral, elliptical, and irregular shapes with whirling arms, fuzzy haloes and bright central bulges. Two main types of galaxy are identified in this sequence: elliptical and spiral, with a third type, lenticular, settling somewhere between the two.

This accurately describes what we see in the region of space around us, but how does galaxy morphology change as we look further back in time, to when the Universe was very young?

“This is a key question: when and over what timescale did the Hubble Sequence form?” says BoMee Lee of the University of Massachusetts, USA, lead author of a new paper exploring the sequence. “To do this you need to peer at distant galaxies and compare them to their closer relatives, to see if they too can be described in the same way.”

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Constructing A 3D Map Of The Large-Scale Structure Of The Universe

An international team led by astronomers from Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo and the University of Oxford has released its first version of a 3D map of the Universe from its FastSound project, which is surveying galaxies in the Universe over nine billion light years away. Using the Subaru Telescope’s new Fiber Multi-Object Spectrograph, the team’s 3D map includes 1,100 galaxies and shows the large-scale structure of the Universe nine billion years ago.

The FastSound project, one of Subaru Telescope’s Strategic Programs, began its observations in March 2012 and will continue them into the spring of 2014. Although surveys with 3D maps of the Universe have been conducted on the nearby Universe (e.g., the Sloan Digital Sky Survey with coverage up to five billion light years away), the FastSound project distinguishes itself by developing a 3D map of the far-distant Universe, covering the largest volume of the Universe farther than ten billion light years away (in comoving distance).

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SKA Organisation Appoints New Director General For World’s Largest Telescope Project

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

The SKA (The Square Kilometre Array) Organisation Board of Directors is very pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Philip Diamond as Director General of the SKA Organisation.

Professor Diamond will provide overall leadership for the SKA Organisation, the international coordinating body for the SKA telescope. The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built; it will enable astronomers to glimpse the formation and evolution of the very first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, investigate the nature of gravity, and possibly even discover life beyond Earth.

“The SKA telescope is now moving from technology concept to the final detailed design. I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead the SKA Organisation during this exciting time and to work with colleagues around the world to realise the science vision of the SKA.” said Professor Diamond, commenting on his appointment.

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A Planetary System from the Early Universe

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: Timotheos Samartzidis

Image credit: Timotheos Samartzidis

A group of European astronomers has discovered an ancient planetary system that is likely to be a survivor from one of the earliest cosmic eras, 13 billion years ago. The system consists of the star HIP 11952 and two planets, which have orbital periods of 290 and 7 days, respectively. Whereas planets usually form within clouds that include heavier chemical elements, the star HIP 11952 contains very little other than hydrogen and helium. The system promises to shed light on planet formation in the early universe – under conditions quite different from those of later planetary systems, such as our own.

It is widely accepted that planets are formed in disks of gas and dust that swirl around young stars. But look into the details, and many open questions remain – including the question of what it actually takes to make a planet. With a sample of, by now, more than 750 confirmed planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, astronomers have some idea of the diversity among planetary systems. But also, certain trends have emerged: Statistically, a star that contains more “metals” – in astronomical parlance, the term includes all chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium – is more likely to have planets.

This suggests a key question: Originally, the universe contained almost no chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium. Almost all heavier elements have been produced, over time inside stars, and then flung into space as massive stars end their lives in giant explosions (supernovae). So what about planet formation under conditions like those of the very early universe, say: 13 billion years ago? If metal-rich stars are more likely to form planets, are there, conversely, stars with a metal content so low that they cannot form planets at all? And if the answer is yes, then when, throughout cosmic history, should we expect the very first planets to form?

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