Mysteriously High Fraction of Dead Galaxies Found in Ancient Galactic City – Unlike All Other Known Protoclusters

Formation of a Galaxy Cluster in the Early Universe

This artist’s impression depicts the formation of a galaxy cluster in the early Universe. The galaxies are vigorously forming new stars and interacting with each other. Such a scene closely resembles the Spiderweb Galaxy (formally known as MRC 1138-262) and its surroundings, which is one of the best-studied protoclusters. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Why cluster’s galaxies are unlike those in all the other known protoclusters is a mystery, says UC Riverside-led team.

An international team of astronomers led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, has discovered an unusual massive cluster of young galaxies forming in the early universe. The newly discovered growing galactic metropolis, named MAGAZ3NE J095924+022537, is a newborn galaxy cluster, or protocluster, consisting of at least 38 member galaxies, and is about 11.8 billion light-years away from Earth.

Galaxy clusters grow over time under gravity and, in the present-day universe, can contain hundreds or even thousands of galaxies, as well as hot gas and dark matter. As time goes by, their galaxies burn through the fuel available and evolve from vigorously star-forming galaxies into red and dead galaxies.

“In the early universe, all protoclusters discovered until now are full of vigorously star-forming galaxies,” said Ian McConachie, a graduate student in the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy and the lead author of the research paper published in The Astrophysical Journal. “But incredibly, unlike all of the other protoclusters that have been found at this epoch, many galaxies in MAGAZ3NE J0959 appear to have already stopped forming stars.”

Coauthor Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCR in whose lab McConachie works, said J0959 was discovered from the “Massive Ancient Galaxies At Z > 3 NEar-infrared,” or MAGAZ3NE, survey, designed to discover and study ultramassive galaxies and their neighbors.

Protocluster MAGAZ3NE J095924+022537

In the early universe, all previously discovered distant protoclusters like, for example, “The Spiderweb” (left: artist’s impression) are full of vigorously star-forming galaxies. In contrast, the newly-discovered protocluster “MAGAZ3NE J095924+022537” contains a high fraction of red and dead galaxies like the nearby “Coma” cluster (right). The discovery of an ancient cluster containing galaxies which resemble those found in modern clusters was a huge surprise. Credit: Spiderweb: M. Kornmesser/ESO; Coma: Russ Carroll, Robert Gendler, & Bob Franke/Dan Zowada Memorial Observatory

“We are seeing this protocluster as it appeared when the universe was less than 2 billion years old,” she said. “It is as if you took a cluster like Coma, the nearest rich cluster of galaxies to Earth, and plopped it into the early universe.”

Coauthor Benjamin Forrest, a former postdoctoral researcher in Wilson’s lab who is now based at UC Davis, explained that at the heart of MAGAZ3NE J0959 is an ultramassive galaxy that has already formed a mass of more than 200 billion suns.

“Why this ultramassive galaxy and so many of its neighbors formed most of their stars and then became inactive when the universe was still so young, in contrast to other known protoclusters from the same time, is a big mystery,” he said. “Why its galaxies are so unlike those in all the other known protoclusters, and so similar to those in Coma, is a complete mystery.”

Forrest added that MAGAZ3NE J0959 was discovered from the ground, but the advent of powerful new capabilities, like the recently-launched James Webb Space Telescope, should soon reveal whether there are other protoclusters like MAGAZ3NE J0959 packed with dead galaxies waiting to be found in the early universe.

“Should such protoclusters be found in large numbers, it would mean that the current paradigm of protocluster formation would require a major revision,” Forrest said. “A new scenario of protoclusters existing in a diversity of states in the early universe would have to be adopted. With many member galaxies quenching in the first two billion years, this would almost certainly pose significant challenges for current models of galaxy simulation.”

The team used spectroscopic observations from the W. M. Keck Observatory’s Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration, or MOSFIRE, to make detailed measurements of MAGAZ3NE J0959 and precisely quantify its distances.

Closely associated to the question of how ultramassive galaxies form is the question of the environment in which they form, for example, are they always found in overdense environments like protoclusters, or can they also form in isolation? Next, the team plans to study the neighborhood of all other ultramassive galaxies in the MAGAZ3NE survey to answer this question.

Reference: “Spectroscopic Confirmation of a Protocluster at z = 3.37 with a High Fraction of Quiescent Galaxies” by Ian McConachie, Gillian Wilson, Ben Forrest, Z. Cemile Marsan, Adam Muzzin, M. C. Cooper, Marianna Annunziatella, Danilo Marchesini, Jeffrey C. C. Chan, Percy Gomez, Mohamed H. Abdullah, Paolo Saracco and Julie Nantais, 9 February 2022, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ac2b9f

Other researchers involved in the study are Cemile Marsan and Adam Muzzin of York University, Canada; Michael Cooper of UC Irvine; Marianna Annunziatella and Danilo Marchesini of Tufts University; Jeffrey Chan and Mohamed Abdullah of UCR; Percy Gomez of Keck Observatory; Paolo Saracco of Astronomical Observatory of Brera, Italy; Julie Nantais of Andrés Bello National University, Santiago, Chile.

The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA.

3 Comments on "Mysteriously High Fraction of Dead Galaxies Found in Ancient Galactic City – Unlike All Other Known Protoclusters"

  1. Babu G. Ranganathan | February 15, 2022 at 8:35 am | Reply

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    JUST BECAUSE SCIENCE CAN EXPLAIN how an airplane works doesn’t mean that no one designed or made the airplane. And just because science can explain how life or the universe works doesn’t mean there was no Designer and Maker behind them.

    Natural laws may explain how the order in the universe works and operates, but mere undirected natural laws cannot explain the origin of that order. Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells from raw materials such as amino acids and other chemicals, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

    WHAT IS SCIENCE? Science simply is knowledge based on observation. No human observed the universe coming by chance or by design, by creation or by evolution. These are positions of faith. The issue is which faith the scientific evidence best supports.

    SCIENCE SHOWS THAT THE UNIVERSE CANNOT BE ETERNAL because it could not have sustained itself eternally due to the law of entropy (increasing and irreversible net energy decay, even in an open system). Even a hypothetical oscillating universe could not continue to oscillate eternally! Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity shows that space, matter, and time all are physical and all had a beginning. Space even produces particles because it’s actually something, not nothing. What about the Higgs boson (the so-called “God Particle”)? The Higgs boson, even if it existed, would not have created mass from nothing, but rather it would have converted energy into mass. Einstein showed that all matter is some form of energy. Even time had a beginning! Time is not eternal.

    The law of entropy doesn’t allow the universe to be eternal. If the universe were eternal, everything, including time and space (which modern science has shown are as physical as mass or matter), would have become totally entropied by now and the entire universe would have ended in a uniform heat death a long, long time ago. The fact that this hasn’t happened already is powerful evidence for a beginning to the universe.

    Popular atheistic scientist Stephen Hawking admits that the universe had a beginning and came from nothing but he believes that nothing became something by a natural process yet to be discovered. That’s not rational thinking at all, and it also would be making the effect greater than its cause to say that nothing created something. The beginning had to be of supernatural origin because science teaches us from the First Law of Thermodynamics that natural laws and processes do not have the ability to bring something into existence from nothing.

    The supernatural origin of the universe cannot be proved by science but science points to a supernatural intelligence and power for the origin and order of the universe. Where did God come from? Obviously, unlike the universe, God’s nature doesn’t require a beginning.

    The disorder in the universe can be explained because of chance and random processes, but the order can be explained only because of intelligence and design.

    Gravity may explain how the order found in the precise and orderly courses of thousands of billions of stars is maintained, but gravity cannot explain the origin of that order.

    Some evolutionary astronomers believe that trillions of stars crashed into each other leaving surviving stars to find precise orderly orbits in space. Not only is this irrational, but if there was such a mass collision of stars then there would be a super mass residue of gas clouds in space to support this hypothesis. The present level of residue of gas clouds in space doesn’t support the magnitude of star deaths required for such a hypothesis. And, as already stated, the origin of stars cannot be explained by the Big Bang because of the reasons mentioned above. It’s one thing to say that stars may decay and die into random gas clouds, but it is totally different to say that gas clouds form into stars.

    Even the father of Chaos theory admitted that the “mechanisms” existing in the non-living world allow for only very rudimentary levels of order to arise spontaneously (by chance), but not the kind or level of order we find in the structures of DNA, RNA, and proteins. Yes, individual amino acids have been shown to come into existence by chance but not protein molecules which require that the various amino acids be in a precise sequence just like the letters found in a sentence.

    Some things don’t need experiment or scientific proof. In law there is a dictum called prima facie evidence. It means “evidence that speaks for itself.”

    An example of a true prima facie would be if you discovered an elaborate sand castle on the beach. You don’t have to experiment to know that it came by design and not by the chance forces of wind and water.

    If you discovered a romantic letter or message written in the sand, you don’t have to experiment to know that it was by design and not because a stick randomly carried by wind put it there. You naturally assume that an intelligent and rational being was responsible.

    It’s interesting that Carl Sagan would have acknowledged sequential radio signals in space as evidence of intelligent life sending them, but he wouldn’t acknowledge the sequential structure of molecules in DNA (the genetic code) as evidence of an intelligent Cause. Read my popular Internet article, HOW DID MY DNA MAKE ME.

    I encourage all to read my popular Internet articles:


    Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION (This site answers many arguments, both old and new, that have been used by evolutionists to support their theory)


    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East” for my writings on religion and science.

  2. This is great! Cant wait to read, thanks for leaving comment🙂.

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