Using data from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, astronomers have created a new record for the most distant galaxy cluster ever seen while growing.
The galaxy cluster is called CL J1001+0220 (CL J1001 for short) and is located about 11.1 billion light years from Earth.
The discovery of this object pushes back the formation time of galaxy clusters — the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity — by about 700 million years.
“This galaxy cluster isn’t just remarkable for its distance, it’s also going through an amazing growth spurt unlike any we’ve ever seen,” said Tao Wang of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) who led the study.
The core of CL J1001 contains eleven massive galaxies – nine of which are experiencing an impressive baby boom of stars.
Specifically, stars are forming in the cluster’s core at a rate that is equivalent to over 3,000 Suns forming per year – a remarkably high value for a galaxy cluster, including those that are almost as distant and as young as CL J1001.
“It appears that we have captured this galaxy cluster at a critical stage just as it has shifted from a loose collection of galaxies into a young, but fully formed galaxy cluster,” said co-author David Elbaz from CEA in a paper appeared in The Astrophysical Journal.
Previously, only these loose collections of galaxies, known as protoclusters, had been seen at greater distances than CL J1001.
The results suggest that elliptical galaxies in galaxy clusters like CL J1001 may form their stars during shorter and more violent outbursts than elliptical galaxies that are outside clusters.
“We think we’re going to learn a lot about the formation of clusters and the galaxies they contain by studying this object,” said co-author Alexis Finoguenov of the University of Helsinki in Finland.