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A “monster” galaxy 12.4 billion light years away has been observed from earth

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A team of astronomers announced that they managed to see in detail a “monster” galaxy which lies 12.4 billion light years away from earth.   Thought to be the ancestors of large modern galaxies, these monster galaxies could now tell us a little more about how they form and evolve.  Nature journal reported the details of the astronomers’ study.

Some galaxies in the primitive universe – also called monster galaxies – can form stars at rapid pace, 1000 times faster that the Milky Way several hundred million years after the Big Bang.  The majority of stars form in the central region of the galaxy.  Due to the age of the nucleus of the galaxy, little is known about it’s physical properties.  So that they can see clearer images of the galaxy, the astronomers have to use equipment which can give an extremely defined resolution.  This is when the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) based in Chile comes into play.

The team of researchers led by Ken-ichi Tadaki from the National Astronomy Observatory in Japan, is looking into the galaxy named COSMOS-AzTEC-1 which is found around 12.4 billion light years from earth. Using ALMA the researchers have managed to create a detailed map of the distribution and movement of gases inside the galaxy.  Tadaki explained that, “We found that there are two distinct large clouds several thousand light-years away from the center.”  He continued, “In most distant starburst galaxies, stars are actively formed in the center. So it is surprising to find off-center clouds.

monster galaxies
The distribution of molecular gas (left) and dust particles (right) was revealed by ALMA. The research team found two thick clouds several thousand light-years away from the centre as well as the thick mass at the centre of the galaxy. These dense clouds are very unstable and so researchers believe they may be sites of intense star formation.
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Tadaki et al.

ALMA also revealed that as well as being far from the centre, these gas clouds are very unstable. Normally, after an initial starburst, gravity and pressure balance themselves out and star formation continues at a moderate pace. However in COSMOS-AzTEC-1 the pressure is much lower than the gravity. As a result, the first generation of stars continues at a frantic pace without slowing down.  At this rate,  in 100 million years time the gas in the galaxy will be already used up, 10 times faster than expected, explain the researchers.

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