Tuesday 27 September 2016

Study reveals secrets from distant corner of the Universe

Published 22/09/2016 | 19:26

A close-up image reveals a galaxy rich in carbon monoxide, showing it is primed for star formation (B Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA Hubble/PA)
A close-up image reveals a galaxy rich in carbon monoxide, showing it is primed for star formation (B Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA Hubble/PA)

New "significantly deeper and sharper" studies of a distant corner of the universe have been unveiled.

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They show how the rate of star formation in young galaxies is closely related to their total mass in stars. They also trace the previously unknown abundance of star-forming gas at different points in time, providing new insights into the "Golden Age" of galaxy formation approximately 10 billion years ago.

The studies, which appear in the Astrophysical Journal and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, are being hailed as the deepest ever millimetre observations of the early universe.

Teams of international astronomers used a powerful telescope called the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) to explore Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) images from the Hubble telescope showing more than 10,000 galaxies in one tiny portion of the night sky.

Astronomers using ALMA - which has 66 high precision antennae - surveyed this area for the first time in the millimetre range of wavelengths, allowing them to see the faint glow from gas clouds and the emission from warm dust in galaxies in the early Universe.

ALMA also observed the HUDF for a total of around 50 hours.

Lead author Jim Dunlop, of Edinburgh University, described it as a "breakthrough result".

He said: "For the first time, we are properly connecting the visible and ultraviolet light view of the distant universe from Hubble and far-infrared/millimetre views of the universe from ALMA."

Researcher Chris Carilli, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in New Mexico, USA, said: "Through this, we discovered a population of galaxies that is not clearly evident in any other deep surveys of the sky."

Researcher Manuel Aravena, of the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile, said: "The new ALMA results imply a rapidly rising gas content in galaxies as we look back further in time ... This increasing gas content is likely the root cause for the remarkable increase in star formation rates during the peak epoch of galaxy formation, some 10 billion years ago."

The international team of astronomers suggest this may be just the start of enlightening insights from ALMA.

There is a planned 150-hour observation of the HUDF in the future.

Press Association

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