Distant galaxy opens door to `uncharted period of cosmic history´

Astronomers are inching ever closer to discovering details behind the

The study, published today in the journal Nature, was an worldwide and collaborative effort.

An worldwide team of astronomers used ALMA to observe a distant galaxy called MACS1149-JD1. For this reason, the presence of distant oxygen is a sign there were earlier generations of stars in this galaxy, an emailed press release on the study reported. The model indicates that the star formation became inactive once after the first ignition, and then revived at the epoch of the ALMA observations; 500 million years after the Big Bang.

The galaxy, MACS1149-JD1, is 13.28 billion light years away and contains the most distant detected source of oxygen.

"ALMA is now clearly the most powerful instrument for securing distances to galaxies in the early Universe ahead of the expected launch of the James Webb Space Telescope", commented Professor Richard Ellis, a co-author also at UCL. The massive newborn stars in the second burst ionize oxygen, and it's those emissions that have been detected with ALMA. When ALMA's antennas (which range from 7 to 12 meters in diameter) are configured in different ways, the array is capable of zooming in on some of the most distant cosmic objects in the universe, as well as capturing images that are clearer than those produced by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Based on the wavelength of the light, stretched from infrared to microwave by the expansion of the Universe, the team ascertained that the galaxy is 13.28 billion light-years away.

Their research, published on Wednesday, provides insight into star formation in perhaps the most distant galaxy ever observed.

"This galaxy is seen at a time when the Universe was only 500 million years old and yet it already has a population of mature stars", explains Nicolas Laporte, a researcher at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom and second author of the new paper.

The researchers confirmed the distance of the galaxy with observations from ground-based telescopes in Chile and reconstructed the earlier history of MACS1149-JD1 using infrared data from orbiting telescopes. In order for oxygen to be producing infrared radiation in MACS1149-JD1, the galaxy would have to already have produced a generation of stars that lived and died.

"Prior to our study, there were only theoretical predictions of the earliest star formation". The researchers report in Nature today that they then observed the galaxy in optical frequencies using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to understand its star formation, concluding that it must have begun 300 million years earlier.

"This has very exciting implications for finding "cosmic dawn" when the first galaxies emerged", he added.

'With MACS1149-JD1, we have managed to probe history beyond the limits of when we can actually detect galaxies with current facilities. With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1 we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight!

'Since we are all made of processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins'.

[1] ALMA has set the record for detecting the most distant oxygen several times. In 2016, Akio Inoue at Osaka Sangyo University and his colleagues found the signal of oxygen at 13.1 billion light-years away with ALMA. Several months later, Nicolas Laporte of University College London used ALMA to detect oxygen 13.2 billion years ago.

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