VANCOUVER – A discovery by a team of astrophysicists including UBC researchers promises to have major implications for the understanding of how structures in the universe formed 10 billion years ago. Hidden within images of some of the oldest light in the universe, the team identified what they believe are galaxies clumping together into the larger galaxy clusters we know today.
Data for the study came from the observations of two European Space Telescope missions, Planck and Herschel, and the work of an international team of astrophysicists including researchers from the University of British Columbia. The Planck telescope catches light from the early days of the universe, known as the cosmic microwave background, while the Herschel telescope allowed researchers to zero in on some of the objects they saw in the Planck telescope data.
“The objects found by Planck appear to be clumps of young galaxies, seen early in the history of the universe,” said Douglas Scott, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UBC. “By studying them we may be able to learn how clusters of galaxies form and evolve.”
The universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old. In the early days, stars and galaxies formed quickly and assembled into large clusters. Today’s universe is full of these clusters of galaxies but researchers don’t understand how they formed.
In the study, the Planck telescope captured 10 billion year-old light and researchers identified the interesting objects they now believe are galaxy clusters. The results also offer researchers a unique opportunity to see galaxies when they were young; today’s nearby galaxies are quite old.
Scott and UBC graduate student Todd MacKenzie are now working to understand the Planck objects better by studying them at a range of other wavelengths.
“What’s exciting is that we don’t know if we’re looking at something really bizarre or if these clumps are what would be expected. It will change our view of how these structures form,” said Scott.
The Canadian contributions to both the Planck and Herschel satellite are supported by the Canadian Space Agency.