Science Current Events | Science News |

Baby galaxies grew up quickly

May 17, 2012
Baby galaxies from the young Universe more than 12 billion years ago evolved faster than previously thought, shows new research from the Niels Bohr Institute. This means that already in the early history of the Universe, there was potential for planet formation and life. The research results have been published in the scientific journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

For several thousand years after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, the Universe consisted of a hot, dense primordial soup of gases and particles. But the Universe was expanding rapidly and the primordial soup became less dense and cooled. However, the primordial soup was not evenly distributed, but was denser in some areas than others. The density in some of the densest areas increased due to gravity and began to contract, forming the first stars and galaxies. This took place approximately 500 million years after the Big Bang.

The earliest galaxies were probably comprised of primitive, giant stars that consisted of only hydrogen and helium. There were no heavier elements. They first appeared later in the evolution of the Universe, created by nuclear processes in the stars.

Cosmic cycle

A star is a giant ball of glowing gas that produces energy by fusing hydrogen and helium into heavier and heavier elements. When no more energy can be extracted the star dies and massive clouds of dust and gas are flung out into space. These large clouds are condensed and recycled into new stars in a gigantic cosmic cycle. The new stars that are formed will have a higher content of heavier elements than the previous and for each generation of star formation there are more and more of the heavy elements and metals. And heavy elements (especially carbon and oxygen) are necessary for the formation of planets and life, as we know it.

Up until now, researchers thought that it had taken billions of years for stars to form and with that, galaxies with a high content of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. But new research from the Niels Bohr Institute shows that this process went surprisingly quickly in some galaxies.

"We have studied 10 galaxies in the early Universe and analysed their light spectra. We are observing light from the galaxies that has been on a 10-12 billion year journey to Earth, so we see the galaxies as they were then. Our expectation was that they would be relatively primitive and poor in heavier elements, but we discovered somewhat to our surprise that the gas in some of the galaxies and thus the stars in them had a very high content of heavier elements. The gas was just as enriched as our own Sun," explains Professor Johan Fynbo from the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

Lighthouses of the Universe

The galaxies are so far away that you normally do not have the opportunity to observe them directly, but the researchers have used a special method.

"There are some extreme objects in the Universe called quasars. Quasars are gigantic black holes that are active and when matter falls into them, they emit light that is as strong as thousands of galaxies. They are like a kind of lighthouse that lights up in the Universe and can be seen very far away," explains Jens-Kristian Krogager, PhD student at the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute, University Copenhagen. He explains that in order to use quasars as light sources the quasar must lie behind the galaxy you want to observe.

"We then look at the light from the quasar and can see that some light is missing. The missing quasar light in the image has been absorbed by the chemical elements in the galaxy in front of it. By analysing the spectral lines we can see which elements there are and by measuring the strength of each line we can see the amount of the elements," explains Jens-Kristian Krogager.

Life in the early Universe

They discovered not only that the galaxies from the very early Universe had a surprisingly large quantity of heavier elements, but also that one of the galaxies in particular was especially interesting.

"For one of the galaxies, we observed the outer regions and here there was also a high element content. This suggests that large parts of the galaxy are enriched with a high content of heavier elements and that means that already in the early history of the Universe there was potential for planet formation and life," says Johan Fynbo.


University of Copenhagen

Related Galaxies Current Events and Galaxies News Articles

OU astrophysicist and collaborators find supermassive black holes in quasar nearest Earth
A University of Oklahoma astrophysicist and his Chinese collaborator have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth, using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

Discovering dust-obscured active galaxies as they grow
A group of researchers from Ehime University, Princeton University, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) among others has performed an extensive search for Dust Obscured Galaxies (DOGs) using data obtained from the Subaru Strategic Program with Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC).

Astronomers unravel the history of galaxies for the first time
A team of international scientists, led by astronomers from Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy, has shown for the first time that galaxies can change their structure over the course of their lifetime.

New data from Antarctic detector firms up cosmic neutrino sighting
Researchers using the IceCube Neutrino Observatory have sorted through the billions of subatomic particles that zip through its frozen cubic-kilometer-sized detector each year to gather powerful new evidence in support of 2013 observations confirming the existence of cosmic neutrinos.

UCLA physicist tests theories of dark energy by mimicking the vacuum of space
Besides the atoms that make up our bodies and all of the objects we encounter in everyday life, the universe also contains mysterious dark matter and dark energy. The latter, which causes galaxies to accelerate away from one another, constitutes the majority of the universe's energy and mass.

Mystery of exploding stars yields to astrophysicists
A longstanding mystery about the tiny stars that let loose powerful explosions known as Type Ia supernovae might finally be solved.

Detection of gamma rays from a newly discovered dwarf galaxy may point to dark matter
A newly discovered dwarf galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way has offered up a surprise -- it appears to be radiating gamma rays, according to an analysis by physicists at Carnegie Mellon, Brown, and Cambridge universities.

Dark Energy Survey finds more celestial neighbors
Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey, using one of the world's most powerful digital cameras, have discovered eight more faint celestial objects hovering near our Milky Way galaxy.

Rogue supernovas likely flung into space by black hole slingshots
Rogue supernovas that explode all alone in deep space present an astronomical mystery. Where did they come from? How did they get there? The likely answer: a binary black hole slingshot, according to a new study by Ryan Foley, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Illinois.

Charting the slow death of the Universe
An international team of astronomers studying more than 200 000 galaxies has measured the energy generated within a large portion of space more precisely than ever before.
More Galaxies Current Events and Galaxies News Articles

Galaxy: Mapping the Cosmos

Galaxy: Mapping the Cosmos
by James Geach (Author)

Each night, we are able to gaze up at the night sky and look at the thousands of stars that stretch to the end of our individual horizons. But the stars we see are only those that make up our own Milky Way galaxy—but one of hundreds of billions in the whole of the universe, each separated  by inconceivably huge tracts of empty space. In this book, astronomer James Geach tells the rich stories of both the evolution of galaxies and our ability to observe them, offering a fascinating history of how we’ve come to realize humanity’s tiny place in the vast universe.
Taking us on a compelling tour of the state-of-the-art science involved in mapping the infinite, Geach offers a first-hand account of both the science itself and how it is done, describing what...


by Seymour Simon (Author)

This close-up look at our own Milky Way and other enormous clusters of stars describes the many different types of galaxies, how they were formed, and how they got their different shapes. "A dazzling photo-essay."--School Library Journal.

Galaxies (True Books: Space)

Galaxies (True Books: Space)
by Howard K. Trammel (Author)

Book annotation not available for this title.
Title: Galaxies
Author: Trammel, Howard K.
Publisher: Scholastic Library Pub
Publication Date: 2010/03/01
Number of Pages: 48
Binding Type: PAPERBACK
Library of Congress: 2008051268

Galaxy Formation and Evolution

Galaxy Formation and Evolution
by Houjun Mo (Author), Frank van den Bosch (Author), Simon White (Author)

The rapidly expanding field of galaxy formation lies at the interface between astronomy, particle physics, and cosmology. Covering diverse topics from these disciplines, all of which are needed to understand how galaxies form and evolve, this book is ideal for researchers entering the field. Individual chapters explore the evolution of the Universe as a whole and its particle and radiation content; linear and nonlinear growth of cosmic structure; processes affecting the gaseous and dark matter components of galaxies and their stellar populations; the formation of spiral and elliptical galaxies; central supermassive black holes and the activity associated with them; galaxy interactions; and the intergalactic medium. Emphasizing both observational and theoretical aspects, this book provides...

Galaxies: A Very Short Introduction

Galaxies: A Very Short Introduction
by John Gribbin (Author)

In this fascinating Very Short Introduction, popular science writer John Gribben tells the story of our growing understanding of galaxies, from the days before Galileo to our present-day observations of our many hundreds of millions of galactic neighbors. Not only are galaxies fascinating astronomical structures in themselves, but their study has revealed much of what we know today about the cosmos, providing a window on the Big Bang and the origins of the Universe. Gribben looks at our own "Milky Way" Galaxy in detail, from the different kinds of stars that are born within it, to the origins of its magnificent spiral structure. Perhaps most interesting, Gribben describes the many exciting discoveries have been made about our own galaxy and about those beyond: how a supermassive black...

Planets, Stars, and Galaxies: A Visual Encyclopedia of Our Universe

Planets, Stars, and Galaxies: A Visual Encyclopedia of Our Universe
by David A. Aguilar (Author)

Finally, it's here! The farthest reaches of our universe captured in atlas form for young readers. Planets, Stars, and Galaxies is the space book that pushes the boundaries of man's ultimate frontier. The engaging, educational text, written in collaboration with National Geographic experts, includes the latest discoveries about our universe; while specially commissioned artwork by the author illuminates page after page.

Exciting as well as enlightening, Planets, Stars, and Galaxies belongs on every family bookshelf, providing easy reference for school reports and compelling reading on the myriad mysteries beyond our world. With vivid illustrations and superb photography, this beautiful book puts the wonders of space into every child's hands. This engaging, provocative reference...

Galaxies, Galaxies!

Galaxies, Galaxies!
by Gail Gibbons (Author)

Planet Earth is in the Milky Way Galaxy, the cloudy band of light that stretches clear across the night sky. How many galaxies are there in the universe? For years astronomers thought that the Milky Way was the universe. Now we know that there are billions of them. Gail Gibbons takes the reader on a journey light-years away.

Galaxies in the Universe: An Introduction

Galaxies in the Universe: An Introduction
by Linda S. Sparke (Author), John S. Gallagher III (Author)

This extensively illustrated book presents the astrophysics of galaxies since their beginnings in the early Universe. It has been thoroughly revised to take into account the most recent observational data, and recent discoveries such as dark energy. There are new sections on galaxy clusters, gamma ray bursts and supermassive black holes. The authors explore the basic properties of stars and the Milky Way before working out towards nearby galaxies and the distant Universe. They discuss the structures of galaxies and how galaxies have developed, and relate this to the evolution of the Universe. The book also examines ways of observing galaxies across the whole electromagnetic spectrum, and explores dark matter and its gravitational pull on matter and light. This book is self-contained and...


by Timothy Ferris (Author)

Beyond the Milky Way and toward infinity, Timothy Ferris navigates an exploration of the universe, guided by stars and galaxies that have been photographed through telescopes at the greatest observatories in the world. The book celebrates the wonder and the power of the cosmos in these photographs, which take you through silvery star clusters and vast red, exploding nebulae toward blue quasars 15 billion light years away. Revealing not only the ingredients of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, Ferris' vivid text also visits local galaxies, such as the Magellanic Clouds, the Andromeda, and the Sculptor and Fornax dwarves. The author then proceeds to discuss the elliptical, spiral and even violent aspects of galaxies, concluding with an examination of cosmology, which adresses such subjects as...

Star Wars: Ships of the Galaxy (Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: the Force Awakens)

Star Wars: Ships of the Galaxy (Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: the Force Awakens)
by Benjamin Harper (Author)

Discover the essential details of the best-loved ships from the Star Wars universe in this ultra-cool book that features a giant foldout with new ships from Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

From the Jedi starfighters to the one and only Millennium Falcon and more, learn all about the best and fastest ships in the Star Wars galaxy. Each page of this clever book uncovers amazing info and little-known facts about your favorite Star Wars ships. Open up the pages of the foldout to reveal even more Star Wars spacecraft!


© 2015