Astrophysicists Just Saw an Ancient Dormant “Monster Galaxy” Dating Back to Big Bang That's Floating Dead in the Universe

Friday, 07 February 2020 - 12:37PM
Astrophysics
Astronomy
Friday, 07 February 2020 - 12:37PM
Astrophysicists Just Saw an Ancient Dormant “Monster Galaxy” Dating Back to Big Bang That's Floating Dead in the Universe
< >
Image: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team – CC BY 4.0
An ancient ultra-massive "monster galaxy" has been discovered floating dead in the universe. According to the report from CNN, astronomers have just released their findings from their study of this galaxy in this week's Astrophysical Journal Letters.


Galaxy XMM-2599 bloomed to life 12 billion years ago. The Big BangNASA estimates, occurred anywhere from 12-14 billion years ago, so this galaxy is one of the oldest in existence.


"Even before the universe was 2 billion years old, XMM-2599 had already formed a mass of more than 300 billion suns, making it an ultramassive galaxy," explained Benjamin Forrest, a postdoctoral scholar of astronomy and physics at the University of California, Riverside, and the lead author on the study in an official release from the university.


XMM-2599 grew quickly, sprawling into this ultramassive galaxy that churned out stars in a rush during its explosive infancy – then, suddenly and inexplicably, the lights went out.


"More remarkably, we show that XMM-2599 formed most of its stars in a huge frenzy when the universe was less than 1 billion years old, and then became inactive by the time the universe was only 1.8 billion years old," Forrest continued.


The galaxy generated stars at a rate of over 1,000 solar masses per Earth year – the Milky Way, on the other hand, makes approximately one (yes, one) star per year. However, galaxy XMM-2599 stopped making any stars at all.


But it should be. According to Gillian Wilson, an astronomy and physics professor at the university, "What makes XMM-2599 so interesting, unusual and surprising is that it is no longer forming stars, perhaps because it stopped getting fuel or its black hole began to turn on."


Researchers believe it could be a type of "massive, dusty star-forming galaxy." The team analyzed spectroscopic data from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and took measurements in infrared, a wavelength that "sees" these galaxies exceptionally well.


Scientists are still learning about this galaxy and are uncertain what it will do next. As Wilson said, "We do not know what it will turn into by the present day. We know it cannot lose mass. An interesting question is what happens around it. As time goes by, could it gravitationally attract nearby star-forming galaxies and become a bright city of galaxies?"


Another study co-author, Michael Cooper, who is a professor at the University of California, Irvine, chimed in. "Perhaps during the following 11.7 billion years of cosmic history, XMM-2599 will become the central member of one of the brightest and most massive clusters of galaxies in the local universe…Alternatively, it could continue to exist in isolation. Or we could have a scenario that lies between these two outcomes."


The team will be allowed to make a follow-up observation at Keck to learn more about this mysterious new dormant "monster galaxy."





Image CreditNASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage TeamCC BY 4.0
Science
Space
Astrophysics
Astronomy
No