News / Science & Technology

Hubble Reveals Primitive Galaxies Near Cosmic Dawn

Hubble Space Telescope picture of primitive galaxiesHubble Space Telescope picture of primitive galaxies
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.


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."


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."


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."   


"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

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs