So Long Ago my Brain Can’t Handle It …

This is, again, courtesy of space.com. (Edited below, in italics):

The blob-shaped galaxy, called GN-108036, is about 12.9 billion light-years away and appears as it existed just 750 million years after the universe began. The universe, for comparison, is about 13.7 billion years old.

But the sheer distance to the galaxy isn’t the only thing to intrigue scientists. The galaxy is also creating stars at a furious pace, making it a rare cosmic find. NASA officials described the galaxy as shining from the “dawn of time,” with star formation inside it occurring at a “shockingly high rate.”

GN-108036 has a staggering redshift of 7.2, one of the few objects known with a redshift larger than 7. Just two other objects have been confirmed to be older and more distant than GN-108036, NASA officials said.

The newfound galaxy is so ancient that it and others like it may have played a role in the transition from the so-called “dark ages” of the universe — a period before the first stars formed when a thick hydrogen fog permeated the cosmos — into the universe we see today.

“This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today,” said Bahram Mobasher, a team member from the University of California, Riverside.

Smarter people than I would be able to answer this more easily than myself, but a galaxy so young and so active in terms of star formation would likely have very young, bright stars with very little in the way of heavy metals, right?  A place like that wouldn’t be hospitable for life as we know it because the basic building blocks would not have formed yet.  I could be wrong, but that’s my first thought.

In slightly different news, the folks at NASA also put together a comprehensive article on the 2012 Dooooooomsday predictions … from Planet X to galactic / planetary alignment, etc. I find it amusing that there’s still commentary at the end by readers who maintain that the date could still mean some “other” kind of ending … as if we need to attach some sort of significance to it at any cost.

The only way the world will be ending for me is if my roast duck ends up giving me food poisoning. Time will tell.

At some point when I’m feeling very ambitious, I’ll go over some of the observations that provide evidence for the Big Bang. Until then, enjoy your last day of the holiday break!

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One Response to So Long Ago my Brain Can’t Handle It …

  1. Richard says:

    Re: metals — yeah that’s about right. At some point in the past there had to be a first generation of large, massive stars which hadn’t even gotten round to making things like carbon and oxygen. There is still quite a bit of debate about how these stars lived and died, so objects like these super-high-redshift galaxies remain of great interest to astronomers.

    The best clues to understanding the deaths of the first stars, in my opinion (though I’m not an expert in this subfield), come not from high-redshift galaxies but from “carbon-enhanced damped Lyman-alpha systems”: see
    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/1011.0733
    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/1101.1227
    These are systems that are mostly still just blobs of gas, definitely too faint to detect as galaxies in their own right, so you have to detect them by the way they absorb gas from background objects. They’re only big enough to have had a handful of stars explode as supernovae, and the patterns of chemical abundances we infer from their absorption suggest that those first stars exploded as core-collapse supernovae. If that’s true, they must have been only a few tens of solar masses, rather than a few hundreds of solar masses as many people are given to believe (the latter either collapse directly to black holes or produce more exotic kinds of supernovae).

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