Galaxy collision gives glimpse into infant universe

Astronomers have witnessed the birth of a galaxy cluster for the first time in history.
By Joseph Scalise | Apr 27, 2018
Astronomers from Dalhousie University have detected the early stages of a gigantic cosmic collision that could completely change the way scientists view the early universe.

The strange event -- known as the galactic mega-merger -- is the pile-up of 14 galaxies that sit 90 percent of the way across the observable universe. It occurred12.4 billion light-years from Earth and happened 1.4 billion years after the Big Bang.

 

This discovery is interesting because it is the first time astronomers have witnessed the birth of a galaxy cluster, which has 14 galaxies jammed into an area roughly four times the size of the Milky Way.

In addition, current models show that the object, which researchers named SPT2349-56, should not have existed 1.4 billion years following the birth of the universe. According to what we know, such an event could not have occurred until several billion years later.

"We were staggered by the implications," said study co-author Scott Chapman, an astrophysicist at Dalhousie University, according to Reuters. "Yes, conventional wisdom was that clusters take a lot longer to build up and assemble. SPT2349 shows us it happened much more rapidly and explosively than simulations or theory suggested."

Galaxy clusters can have thousands of galaxies inside of them, and are able to reach masses that are a quadrillion times larger than our sun. SPT2349's mass is about 10 trillion times larger than our sun, and the galaxies inside of it are creating stars at an extremely fast rate.

As a result, viewing such a strange and ancient event could allow scientists to get a better idea of the universe and more closely understand how clusters occur and operate.

"Finding the progenitors of present-day massive clusters has always been of great importance for piecing together when and how structure grows in the Universe," Amy Barger, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin who was not involved in the research, told BBC News.

The new findings are outlined in the journal Nature.

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