Herschel Discovers the Earliest Known Starburst Galaxy

Herschel Discovers the Earliest Known Galaxy Undergoing a Massive Starburst

Herschel Space Observatory
An artist’s conception of the Herschel Space Observatory. Far-infrared images from Herschel were used to discover the earliest known galaxy undergoing a massive starburst, only about 880 million years after the big bang. Credit: ESA

Using data from the Herschel Space Observatory, researchers report finding the earliest known galaxy undergoing a massive burst of star formation, existing at least as early as 880 million years after the Big Bang and making new stars at a rate 2000 times faster than Milky Way galaxy.

The universe immediately following the big bang contained mostly hydrogen and some helium. All the other elements needed to make galaxies, planets, and life were formed in stellar interiors or related processes. It is no wonder, then, that the epoch of star formation in the early universe, and the processes at work, are key cosmological questions. Astronomers think that stars started forming in earnest only a few hundred million years after the big bang, but the great bursts of star formation needed to shape the current universe have so far been detected occurring a few billion years later, in galaxies lit up at infrared wavelengths as their dust absorbs light from massive young stars. It has been proposed that similar bursts of activity might actually have happened at earlier times but just gone undetected. They are unnoticed no longer.

Writing in a recent issue of Nature, CfA astronomers Mark Gurwell and Glen Petitpas and a large team of colleagues report finding a galaxy undergoing a massive burst of star formation only about 880 million years after the big bang. The object appears to be making new stars at a rate 2000 times faster than does our Milky Way galaxy – or nearly 3000 stars per year. Moreover the temperature of its dust is about three times warmer than Milky Way gas, an additional measure of the dramatic activity underway. In fact, this galaxy seems to be comparable in its activity to most dramatic cases known anywhere, at any cosmic epoch. The scientists spotted it in infrared images from the Herschel Space Observatory, and they determined its distance and epoch by precisely measuring the redshifts of the emission in over a dozen atomic and molecular lines.

Further analysis by the team finds that the galaxy contains over one hundred million solar-masses of warm material, and confirms that the gas is indeed heated by star formation rather than by activity from a massive black hole at its nucleus. The astronomers note that although these stupendous star factories are not all that common in very early times (large numbers of them are not seen in the Herschel images), this one proves for the first time that environments suitable for producing massive starbursts do exist much earlier than had been expected.

Publication: Dominik A. Riechers, et al., “A dust-obscured massive maximum-starburst galaxy at a redshift of 6.34,” Nature 496, 329–333 (18 April 2013); doi:10.1038/nature12050

PDF Copy of the Study: A Dust-Obscured Massive Maximum-Starburst Galaxy at a Redshift of 6.34

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Image: ESA

2 Comments on "Herschel Discovers the Earliest Known Starburst Galaxy"

  1. C. Peter O'Connor | June 4, 2013 at 7:22 am | Reply

    What! No comments! Come on you lot are you afraid to, ‘Mix it!’?

    Well here’s my pennyworth!

    The basis of what is being claimed here is,in my view, ‘FUNDAMENTALLY ERRONEOUS’! There! I’ve said it!

    If, as is oft (and wrongly in my view) claimed, our universe came from a, ‘Singularity’ then it is’ Physically impossible for it to be anything but ‘EVEN and UNIFORM THROUGHOUT’…

    ‘Is the above statement not a, fair and logical one?’

    According to the dogma on the subject that has been around for the last hundred years or so, at a point of ‘Singularity’ all the forces of nature were as one and therefore must have been applying their influence equally throughout, otherwise the singularity wouldn’t have been able to reach, criticality.. Am I not right?

    Okay, assuming I am, and inflation expressed itself after the Bang in the way it is postulated to have, then all of the galaxies must have formed at the same time ergo one cannot have galaxies with such a wide rang of ages and sizes as noted here because, by all the laws that apply, (Uniformity cannot revert to Chaos without outside influence and there couldn’t have been in this case… Our universe, according to the dogmatic interpretation, has to be absolutely uniform in whichever area it is viewed. And yet, Lo and behold, the information given in this article disputes the natural order of things in every way possible. Can anyone out there explain to me how all of the rules of science can be broken so easily when the need arises? (No maths allowed.) Just simple, basic, logical explanation!

    Before closing, I would like to insert my own penny’s worth and ask; ‘Could it be, the dogma that has been, in situ for the last hundred or so years was, ‘All Wrong?’ Could it be that our universe was in situ in its entirety ‘Before the Bang’? and that all of the anomalous events that take place within it now are simply a reflection of the chaos that followed in the wake of that in-situ universe doing what it would naturally have done in such a explosive situation’?

    Just thought I’d ask because, the latter is exactly

  2. Madanagopal.V.C | June 6, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply

    Who said Dear Mr.Peter O’ Connor, that there is a dogma of uniform universe? Even our solar system is anisotropic in composition. It is good that science is disputed to bring advances like Plato’s geo-centric theory which was improved by Copernicus’ helio-centric theory.If a man can grow from single cell why can’t the universe from a singularity? For a man the embryo is fed by amino acids by mother through umbilical cord and in the same way the early single dot universe was supplied with energy which was abundant at 10^19 Gev level. Only 4% of the energy is expressed as the visible universe and yet the balance 96% of energy is hiding as Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Moreover energy need not assume only electro magnetic form such as Micrwave (as in CMB), infra red, light,X ray, Gamma-rays etc. Non-radiating energies like nuclear strong color forces and weak electromagnetic forces of W+,W- and Z Bosons are still there whose field is very very narrow. Gravitational energy is radiating but non-electromagnetic in nature and so is the Higgs force giving mass for creation. I appreciate your arguments but they seem to too shallow for scientific community to accept. Thank You.

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