ESO scientists discover 'early stage galaxy'

July 7, 2006

Brussels, 06 Jul 2006

Scientists at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have come across what they think is the early stage formation of a galaxy.

The 'galaxy' refers to a large clump of hydrogen gas-filled dark matter, known as a 'blob'. The blob was discovered 11.6 billion light years away by a group of international scientists using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). At this distance, scientists believe the blob appears as it was when the Universe was only two billion years old, less than 15 per cent of its present age.

With a diameter of 200,000 light years, the blob is twice as big as our Milky Way and its total energy is equivalent to that of about two billion suns. This is not the first time that a 'blob' has been seen in space. For some years now scientists have identified these hydrogen clouds - each several times wider than our galaxy - that glow brightly in ultraviolet light. However their exact nature is still unclear and scientists have offered several scenarios to account for their existence.

'We have tried to explain this blob using the most common explanations, such as the illumination by a galaxy with an active nucleus or a galaxy that produces stars at a frantic rate, but none of them apply,' says Kim Nilsson (ESO), first author of the paper relaying the result.

'Instead, we are led to the conclusion that the observed hydrogen emission comes from primordial gas falling onto a clump of dark matter. We could thus be literally seeing the building up of a massive galaxy, like our own, the Milky Way.'

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2006
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