Space

December 12, 2012

Hubble provides first census of galaxies near cosmic dawn

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers announced Dec. 12 they have seen further back in time than ever before and have uncovered a previously unseen population of seven primitive galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 3 percent of its present age.

The deepest images to date from Hubble yield the first statistically robust sample of galaxies that tells how abundant they were close to the era when galaxies first formed.

The results are from an ambitious Hubble survey of an intensively studied patch of sky known as the Ultra Deep Field. In the 2012 campaign, called UDF12, a team of astronomers led by Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to peer deeper into space in near-infrared light than any previous Hubble observation.

The observations were made during six weeks in August and September, and the first scientific results now are appearing in a series of scientific papers. The UDF12 team is releasing these unique data to the public after preparing them for other research groups to use.

The results show a smooth decline in the number of galaxies looking back in time to about 450 million years after the theorized big bang. The observations support the idea galaxies assembled continuously over time and also may have provided enough radiation to reheat, or reionize, the universe a few hundred million years after the big bang.

Looking deeper into the universe also means peering further back in time. The universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old. The newly discovered galaxies are seen as they looked 350 to 600 millionyears after the big bang. Their light is just arriving at Earth now. Astronomers study the distant universe in near-infrared light because the expansion of space stretches ultraviolet and visible light from galaxies into infrared wavelengths, a phenomenon called “redshift.” The more distant a galaxy, the higher its redshift.

The greater depth of the new Hubble images, together with a carefully designed survey strategy, allows this work to go further than previous studies, thereby providing what researchers say is the first reliable census of this epoch. Notably, one of the galaxies may be a distance record breaker, observed 380 million years after the birth of our universe in the big bang, corresponding to a redshift of 11.9.

A major goal of the new program was to determine how rapidly the number of galaxies increases over time in the early universe. This measure is the key evidence for how quickly galaxies build up their constituent stars.

“Our study has taken the subject forward in two ways,” Ellis explained. “First, we have used Hubble to make longer exposures. The added depth is essential to reliably probe the early period of cosmic history. Second, we have used Hubble’s available color filters very effectively to more precisely measure galaxy distances.”

The team estimated the galaxy distances by studying their colors through a carefully chosen set of four filters at specific near-infrared wavelengths.

“We added one filter, and undertook much deeper exposures in some filters than in earlier work, in order to convincingly reject the possibility that some of our galaxies might be foreground objects,”

said team member James Dunlop of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Astronomers have long debated whether hot stars in such early galaxies could have provided enough radiation to warm the cold hydrogen that formed soon after the big bang. This process, called “reionization,” is thought to have occurred 200 million to 1 billion years after the birth of the universe. This process made the universe transparent to light, allowing astronomers to look far back into time. The galaxies in the new study are seen in this early epoch.

“Our data confirm reionization was a gradual process, occurring over several hundred million years, with galaxies slowly building up their stars and chemical elements,” said Brant Robertson of the University of Arizona in Tucson. “There wasn’t a single dramatic moment when galaxies formed. It was a gradual process.”

The team’s finding on the distant galaxy census has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines September 19, 2014

News: McKeon on broader military authorization: Anything can ‘fail or pass’ - Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said if Congress returns after the midterm elections to weigh a broader military authorization for the battle against Islamic State, it might not pass. Defense contractor gets 7 years for giving secrets...
 
 

News Briefs September 19, 2014

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,203 As of Sept. 16, 2014, at least 2,203 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,823 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result...
 
 

Pratt & Whitney, U.S. Air Force complete qualification for F135 engine testing

Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. , together with its U.S. Air Force partner at the F135 Heavy Maintenance Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., celebrated another significant milestone qualification for F135 engine testing at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. OC-ALC which in addition to engine testing is also qualified to perform...
 

 
Navy photograph

Triton has first cross-country flight from Palmdale

Northrop Grumman photograph The MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System takes off from Northrop Grummanís Palmdale, Calif., facility Sept. 17 for its first cross-country flight to Naval Air Station Patuxent, River, Md. PALMDALE,...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Michael J. Pausic

Future of NATO: Adapting to a new security environment

Air Force photograph by Michael J. Pausic Gen. Phillip Breedlove informs the assembled crowd about the results of the recent NATO Summit and the areas of instability that affect Europe that have regional implications. Seated in...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Scott M. Ash

AFRL commander describes Air Force’s technology vision

Air Force photograph by Scott M. Ash Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello takes a question from an audience member after discussing Air Force Research Laboratory breakthrough technologies during the 2014 Air Force Association’s Air ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>