Astronomers find that galaxies in the early universe were surprisingly mature

Most galaxies were formed when the universe was still very young. For example, our galaxy began

formed 13.6 billion years ago duringThe universe. This happened at a time when the universe was only 10% of its current age (1-1.5 billion years after the Big Bang). Then not only the Milky Way, but in general the majority of galaxies experienced the so-called "growth spurt".

During this time, galaxies have created mostits stellar mass, dust, heavy elements and the shape of the spiral disks that we see today. Therefore, if we want to know how galaxies like the Milky Way formed, it is important to study this early era.

The ALPINE study (ALMA Large Program forearly universe), an international team of astronomers carefully studied 118 galaxies that experienced a "growth spurt" just in the early universe. “To our surprise, many of them turned out to be much more mature than we expected,” said Andreas Feisst of the Infrared Data Processing Center (IPAC) at the Caltech Institute of Technology.

Galaxies are considered more "mature" if theycontain a significant amount of dust and heavy elements. “We didn't expect to see so much dust and heavy elements in these distant galaxies,” Faisst admitted. Dust and heavy elements (defined by astronomers as all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) are considered a byproduct of dying stars. But galaxies in the early universe had yet to create stars, so astronomers were surprised to find a lot of dust or heavy elements there.

Artistic animation of a dusty spinning distant galaxy Credit: B. Saxton NRAO / AUI / NSF, ESO, NASA / STScI; NAOJ / Subaru

To learn more about distant galaxies,astronomers want to point ALMA to individual galaxies and observe them for a longer time. “We want to see exactly where the dust is and how the gas moves. We want to compare dusty galaxies with others at the same distance and see if we find something special in their surroundings, ”concludes Paolo Cassata from the University of Padua in Italy.

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