Some of the universe's earliest galaxies circle the Milky Way

Astronomy news Galaxy clusters in deep space

Astronomy news Galaxy clusters in deep space

Astronomers from Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology have uncovered two clusters of galaxies on the fringes of our own galaxy - the Milky Way - that are thought to be around 13 billion years old, Sky News reports.

The discovery belongs to a team of astronomers from Durham University in the United Kingdom and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge (CfA), U.S., who uncovered that some the faintest satellite galaxies floating around the Milky Way are among the first ones to appear after the Big Bang.

Researchers from the universities of Durham and Harvard explained that these nearby galaxies formed more than 13 billion years ago, which was just a few million years after the Big Bang, according to BBC.

This discovery is about as exciting as coming across the earliest human remains, said Professor Carlos Frenk from the U.K.'s Durham University, in a statement. "It is hugely exciting".

"Our finding supports the current model for the evolution of our Universe, the "Lambda-cold-dark-matter model" in which the elementary particles that make up the dark matter drive cosmic evolution".

As time passed, the atoms were gathering together and formed clouds that cooled gradually, setting small "halos" of dark matter that arrived from the Big Bang. At the time when the universe was roughly 380,000 years old, the atoms started to form, those being hydrogen atoms, which is the simplest element in the periodic table.

The new study suggests that the first population of dimmer Milky Way satellites are among the oldest galaxies in the universe, which, with the light of their stars, brought an end to the cosmic dark ages. "Eventually, the gas that had cooled inside the halos became unstable and began to form stars-these objects are the very first galaxies ever to have formed".

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Prior to the discovery, researchers had developed a model that predicted how the first galaxies were formed in the universe, the Daily Mail says.

The team says that a model of galaxy formation that they had formed previously fit perfectly with the data, allowing them to infer the formation times of the satellite galaxies. They found evidence of the faintest satellite galaxies that are orbiting the Milky Way galaxy.

The research team identified two populations of satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way.

How old are the oldest galaxies?

Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of billions out there in the cosmos. These were hydrogen atoms.

The second generation of galaxies came much later, as the turbulent birth of stellar clusters absorbed free hydrogen and stopped this process on hundreds of millions of years. Eventually, enough dark matter gathered that the mass allowed ionized gasses to cool again resulting in the creation of super bright galaxies, such as the Milky Way. Galaxy formation resumed, concluding in the formation of spectacular bright galaxies like our own Milky Way. "Being the first ones, they should have properties that are unique to them", said Prof Frenk.

Providing an explanation, Dr. Bose said: "One could think that maybe some of these pre-reionisation galaxies are more compact than their counterparts that formed afterwards".

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