574 huge and ancient galaxies have recently been revealed by researchers. The galaxies are so old, in fact, that they don’t even have a defined shape. Researchers have dated the galaxies to be from around the same time as the Big Bang, and a video released on November 18th from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) reveals the galaxies’ locations.
“We are talking about massive galaxies, twice as massive as the Milky Way today,” stated Karina Caputi, who is the lead author on the work, as well as an astronomer at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “Currently, even the most up-to-date galaxy formation models cannot predict such massive galaxies [before] almost two billion years after the Big Bang,” she told Space.com–a website about technology, spaceflight, science and astronomy.
When we look at stars lighting up the night sky, we’re actually looking back in time; because of their distance and the time of travel of light, the stars we’re seeing don’t actually look that way anymore. This is the same as when researchers look at distant galaxies. They’re looking back in time, and when they’re looking at such old, distant, and faint star systems, they’re learning about the earliest years of the universe.
In order to determine these galaxies’ ages, the researchers used data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, an orbiting infrared telescope, and the European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) in Chile.
UltaVISTA is able to see extremely hard-to-see things, including distant galaxies, which Henry McCracken–a researcher at Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris in France and co-author on the work–attributes to both deep scrutiny as well as the world’s most efficient infrared camera.
“The obvious question, then, was to say: When was the first time in which these very massive galaxies appeared?” stated Caputi.
The researchers, who reported their work in the Astrophysical Journal in September, found that many galaxies formed between 1.1 billion and 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, which is a lot sooner than many models can account for.
“The predominant theory for galaxy formation is a hierarchical model. You basically assemble galaxies by merging lots of small, little bits,” said McCracken. “There’s basically not enough time for these kinds of objects to form.”
The team of researchers published their data so that it could be carried on by others who are interested. “The data’s there,” stated McCracken. “Other people can see if they agree with us or not.”