Galaxy from distant past is very fertile

The farther away you look, the farther back in time you see. So, GN-108036, a galaxy spotted by NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble scopes, is 12.9 billion light-years away, and thus, about 12.9 billion years ago (not counting adjustments for cosmic expansion). It turns out that GN-108036 is producing stars at the rate of about 100 per year. In contract, the Mikly Way (our galaxy), even though it is 100 times bigger in mass than GN-108036, produces about 30 new stars per year.

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This image shows one of the most distant galaxies known, called GN-108036, dating back to 750 million years after the Big Bang that created our universe. The galaxy’s light took 12.9 billion years to reach us. Click here for a context shot and more information about the photo.

GN-108036 is an unexpected find because we previously thought that a that early stage in the universe’s history, about 750 million years after the Big Bang, galaxies this massive and bright did not exist yet.

From the NASA press release:

Astronomers were surprised to see such a large burst of star formation because the galaxy is so small and from such an early cosmic era. Back when galaxies were first forming, in the first few hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang, they were much smaller than they are today, having yet to bulk up in mass.

During this epoch, as the universe expanded and cooled after its explosive start, hydrogen atoms permeating the cosmos formed a thick fog that was opaque to ultraviolet light. This period, before the first stars and galaxies had formed and illuminated the universe, is referred to as the “dark ages.” The era came to an end when light from the earliest galaxies burned through, or “ionized,” the opaque gas, causing it to become transparent. Galaxies similar to GN-108036 may have played an important role in this event.

“The high rate of star formation found for GN-108036 implies that it was rapidly building up its mass some 750 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about five percent of its present age,” said Bahram Mobasher, a team member from the University of California, Riverside. “This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today.”

Comments

  1. #1 can atasever
    December 26, 2011

    Space is an amazing mystery for a human being; it has always been and always will be.

  2. #2 bomoore
    December 29, 2011

    Have been hearing lately that the current speed of light may not be constant for the history of the universe; the speed limit mary vary through time. Also another idea that the speed of light may vary depending on location. Does info from these way-old early galaxies shed any ‘light’ on these proposals?

  3. #3 dexadog
    December 29, 2011

    Have been hearing lately that the current speed of light may not be constant for the history of the universe; the speed limit mary vary through time. Also another idea that the speed of light may vary depending on location. Does info from these way-old early galaxies shed any ‘light’ on these proposals?

  4. #4 tytower
    December 31, 2011

    There are a lot of assumptions in this and who knows which are right.
    Light can be slowed . A light emitting object moving away causes the light we see to slow. One coming towards us speeds it up . Stationary it would be at our accepted speed of light. OK I know this is all relative to the observer but what if some other process ,or situation actually did slow light . How would we distinguish it from normal light?

    What if that distant galaxy sent this light out 20 Billion years ago and we can’t tell yet? What if it left 5 Billion years ago only.

    How would the viewer tell if the light passed through an interface ,like air to water , and is bent at that or more interfaces ? How would we know?

    There’s no God but feel free to fool yourself . I’m not listening to the BS though.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    December 31, 2011

    The speed of light does not change relative to the observer. The speed of a baseball does. That these two things are true led to some of the most important reformulations of what we think about the universe, by Albert Einstein.

    This is a science blog. We should avoid the pre-relativity physics.

  6. #6 michael hammerschlag
    January 2, 2012

    Interesting, but all this talk of opaque fog before there was light is so much speculative jibber-jabber. Opaque to ultraviolet! – there was NO LIGHT YET! How would anyone know? Nobody can know this stuff- once you get that close to the Big Bang (if that even happened, since now they say the Universe is expanding! Maybe the steady state theorists were right), it’s not science, but guesstimates or religion. You can make up almost any theory, and make it “explain” the facts.