VISTA's infrared telescope discovers treasure of 574 new massive galaxies

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Nov 24, 2015, 12:32 PM EST (Updated)

The universe continues to offer stargazers and scientists remarkable surprises with every passsing day, and here's a stunning discovery revealing a new batch of 574 previously unrecorded massive galaxies by the European Southern Observatory's VISTA telescope.

Playing in the infrared spectrum's vast interstellar sandbox, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile has found some of the youngest galaxies ever discovered, starry swirls that were born a billion years after the infamous Big Bang.  

Only powerful telescopes equipped with infrared detectors to locate red-shifted light emanating from ancient galaxies are capable of peering into the darkest depths of our cosmos. Staring nonstop at the same stretch of sky since 2009 as part of the ESO's UltraVISTA survey, then combining those findings with longer wavelength infrared data captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have detected the feeble signals of hundreds of previously uncharted galaxies.

“We uncovered 574 new massive galaxies — the largest sample of such hidden galaxies in the early Universe ever assembled,” said team leader Karina Caputi, of the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen. “Studying them allows us to answer a simple but important question: when did the first massive galaxies appear?”

These new discoveries fly directly in the face of scientists' most advanced galaxy formation models and existing timetables on the basis of the high degrees of interstellar dust present, and the theory that these humongous galaxies formed between 1.1 and 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, a region of space-time thought to be the sole domain of small galaxies.  The birth of these monster galaxies could potentially provide a new window into solving more mysteries of the complex universe at its moment of infancy.

“We found no evidence of these massive galaxies earlier than around one billion years after the Big Bang, so we’re confident that this is when the first massive galaxies must have formed,” said co-author Henry Joy McCracken, of the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris.

(Via Discovery)