News / Science & Technology

Hubble Reveals Primitive Galaxies Near Cosmic Dawn

Hubble Space Telescope picture of primitive galaxiesHubble Space Telescope picture of primitive galaxies
x
Hubble Space Telescope picture of primitive galaxies
Hubble Space Telescope picture of primitive galaxies
Suzanne Presto
Astronomers have used NASA's Earth orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to reveal primitive galaxies -- vast clusters of stars -- that are more than 13 billion years old.  One of them might be the oldest ever observed.

DIGGING INTO THE PAST

Here on Earth, when researchers study the dawn of civilization, they often rely on findings from archeological digs.  Astronomers describe a different kind of dig when they study the dawn of the cosmos.

A team of scientists used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for a cosmic "dig" of sorts, peering even deeper into the universe, looking, in effect, even further back in time.  They discovered seven previously unseen galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, not that long in cosmic time, after the birth of the universe.

Hubble's new images show a dense scattering of bright specks, slashes and swirls of reds, yellows and violets against the backdrop of black space.      

"These are baby pictures of the universe," John Grunsfeld of NASA's Science Mission Directorate told reporters during a NASA teleconference Wednesday.  "It's back to the fundamental origin story.  We're always wondering, 'Where did we come from and where are we going?' And Hubble is providing answers to both those questions."

ORIGINS OF THE UNIVERSE

To understand where we came from requires a brief review of the generally accepted theory about the evolution of the cosmos.  Nearly 14 billion years ago, the universe began with the so-called Big Bang, and about 400,000 years after that, the element hydrogen formed.  

California Institute of Technology astrophysicist Richard Ellis, who led the team that discovered these oldest-ever-seen galaxies, describes the timeline from there.

"The universe was, at that time, very dark.  There were no stars or galaxies.  Those hydrogen clouds eventually clumped under gravity and collapsed and cooled and ignited the very first generation of stars and galaxies, and it's this moment we call 'cosmic dawn,'" explained Ellis.  "We think it happened 200 million years after the Big Bang, and it was a very important moment in cosmic history."

COSMIC DAWN

Ellis' team used Hubble to take the first census of galaxies born during that so-called "cosmic dawn."  

The astronomers studied a patch of sky for more than 100 hours during a six-week period in August and September.  They were looking for galaxies that formed 350 million to 600 million years after the Big Bang.  They took the first census of this era in cosmic history and found a galaxy that is potentially the oldest ever observed.  

Ellis' team says the cosmic dawn was likely not a dramatic event, but a gradual process.

NASA's Grunsfeld describes the cosmic dawn as the period when "the universe emerged from the dark ages."   

'THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING'

"This is the time where the universe, filled with hydrogen, started to make stars and galaxies that made the chemical elements that we are literally made out of.  You know, the oxygen that we breathe, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones," said Grunsfeld.  "This is the beginning of everything, and these pictures are starting to give us the picture that emerges from that early period in the universe."  
   
Ellis, along with other astronomers involved in this study, says older galaxies exist, but they are beyond the range of the 23-year-old Hubble telescope.  They say they are eager to use Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, to see what wonders the universe still has in store, looking even farther back in space and time.  

The James Webb telescope is set for launch in 2018.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid