A newfound primordial galaxy nearly 13 billion light-years away is breaking distance records and may unlock the secrets of how and when some of the most massive star factories were born in the early universe, according to a new study.
Image: An illustration of a starburst galaxy, similar to one—dubbed HFLS3—recently found by researchers. Illustration courtesy C. Carreau, ESA
Using the infrared mapping capabilities of the European Space Agency’s Herschel space telescope, a team of astronomers have spied the faraway light of a starburst galaxy—one that exhibits a high rate of star formation—from when the 14-billion-year-old universe was just 880 million years old.
Dubbed HFLS3, the galaxy—which is the farthest starburst galaxy yet found—was caught in the act of forming and pumping out new stars at unheard of rates more than a billion years earlier than expected.
“This newly discovered galaxy is pushing the extremes in virtually every aspect of its existence,” said Dominik Riechers, an astronomer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the new paper published April 17 in the journal Nature.
“It is not only the earliest we have discovered, but also one of the most intensely star-forming, even among its peers that exist at later epochs,” he said.
While its overall size is estimated to be similar to the size of our own Milky Way, scientists were stunned to find that the starburst galaxy is churning out matter with the mass equivalent of 2,900 suns every year.
“It forms stars at a rate more than 2,000 times that of our own Milky Way, and close to the limit where it can stay stable in light of the intense, plentiful, high-energy radiation emitted by the many newly formed young stars,” Riechers added.