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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid