This purple blob is the most distant galaxy cluster ever found

31 Aug 201635 Shares

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Galaxy Cluster CL J1001 is the most distant of its kind ever recorded. Image via NASA/CXC/CEA/T. Wang et al (X-ray); ESO/UltraVISTA (Infrared); ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/ALMA (Radio)

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A galaxy cluster 11.1bn light years from Earth called CL J1001 has been captured by NASA scientists, breaking the record for the most distant galaxy ever recorded.

With 11 “massive galaxies” at its core, CL J1001’s discovery shows it in an early-stage growth spurt. Nine of the 11 are growing at such a rate that star birth is at around the rate of 3,000 suns a year.

This makes it a high-value cluster, according to NASA, with its Chandra X-ray Observatory partnering with ESA’s XMM-Newton Observatory on the project.

This discovery pushes back the formation time of galaxy clusters – the largest structures in the universe held together by gravity – by about 700m years.

Galaxy cluster

“This galaxy cluster isn’t just remarkable for its distance, it’s also going through an amazing growth spurt unlike any we’ve ever seen,” said Tao Wang of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), who led the study, which was published in The Astrophysics Journal.

Galaxies beyond CL J1001 have been found before, though they’re only ever part of loose collections. Those within CL J1001, therefore, are today’s celebrities.

“It appears that we have captured this galaxy cluster at a critical stage just as it has shifted from a loose collection of galaxies into a young, but fully-formed, galaxy cluster,” said co-author David Elbaz from CEA.

Galaxy Cluster CL J1001 is the most distant of its kind ever recorded. Image via NASA/CXC/CEA/T. Wang et al (X-ray); ESO/UltraVISTA (Infrared); ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/ALMA (Radio)

Galaxy Cluster CL J1001 is the most distant of its kind ever recorded. Image via NASA/CXC/CEA/T. Wang et al (X-ray); ESO/UltraVISTA (Infrared); ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/ALMA (Radio)

The results suggest that elliptical galaxies in galaxy clusters like CL J1001 may form their stars during shorter and more violent outbursts than elliptical galaxies that are outside clusters.

Also, space is perhaps even more of a lonely place than we already thought, with this discovery suggesting much of the star formation in these galaxies happens after the galaxies fall onto the cluster, not before.

Back in March, NASA’s Hubble Telescope beat the cosmic distance record, successfully measuring the farthest-away galaxy ever seen in the universe.

GN-z11 was spotted so far away that astronomers think it may have been mapped just 400m years after the Big Bang.

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com