‘Cosmic Yeti’ Galaxy Seen Hiding in a Gigantic Stellar Dust Cloud is 'Missing Link' to the Ancient Universe
Astronomers caught a glimpse of a massive, ancient galaxy that billowed into formation just after the Big Bang – a behemoth that's churning out new stars 100 times faster than the Milky Way according to initial reports from Space.Com. The discovery was just published in the October 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
Scientists were reviewing data from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (or ALMA, a fleet of finely tuned telescopes in the Chilean desert) when they noticed something strange: cosmic dust clouds in a particular area of the sky were glowing – but only when you viewed them through radio wavelengths.
Christina Williams, the lead study author from the University of Arizona's Department of Astronomy, explained in a statement: "The light seemed not to be linked to any known galaxy at all… When I saw this galaxy was invisible at any other wavelength, I got really excited because it meant that it was probably really far away."
And really far away it is: radio wavelengths are the only electromagnetic signal that can travel over vast distances, and scientists believe that this signal took 12.5 billion years to reach Earth. This means we are looking at an ancient galactic structure that formed approximately "just" 1 billion years after the Big Bang.
This discovery provides remarkable insight into what the early universe looked like in its infancy. According to Smithsonian Magazine, most of the "mature" galaxies that astronomers have studied in the past were born from these "monster precursor galaxies" like the Cosmic Yeti. "Our hidden monster galaxy has precisely the right ingredients to be that missing link," Williams said.
Scientists are gearing up for a closer look when the James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2021. According to Williams, "JWST will be able to look through the dust veil so we can learn how big these galaxies really are and how fast they are growing, to better understand why models fail in explaining them."
(Image Credit: YouTube – James Josephides/Christina Williams/Ivo Labbe)