Recently, scientists have taken a closer look at a distant part of our universe and learned that spiral galaxies began to form a billion years earlier than previously thought. Although the photo is blurry, it told the scientists everything they needed to know.
The photo was taken by a team of Japanese astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The light from this photo shows a galaxy that is 1
While this may not sound like a big deal, scientists think the early universe was largely filled with smaller protogalaxies that lacked an identifiable structure. Current beliefs – at least the ones held before the data was seen – argue that these protogalaxies were just nuggets of matter colliding and occasionally even fusing together. We didn’t think at that point they had begun to assume the iconic shape of a spiral galaxy (see below).
Scientists still don’t know how the spiral arms and bulging centers are formed in certain galaxies. One of the leading theories suggests that the arms become detached from the central central mass due to tidal interactions with other nearby galaxies. Another theory holds that the arms are made of matter pulled from other nearby galaxies. Both theories seem plausible, and hopefully these new data can shed some more light as they continue to be studied.
“When and how the galaxies were formed is an everlasting mystery that is being explored in astronomy,” said Satoru Iguchi, study co-author and astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and SOKENDAI. “We discovered a spiral morphology in the galaxy BRI1335-0417 … and demonstrated for the first time the most distant spiral galaxy long before the peak of cosmic star formation.”
Federico Lelli, an astronomer at the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory in Italy, said: “This study is consistent with recent discoveries of surprisingly ‘adult’ galaxies in the primordial universe. Previous observations with the ALMA telescope showed that regularly rotating gas disks and massive star protrusions are present just 1 billion years after the Big Bang. This work provides evidence for another sign of ‘maturity’: spiral arms. “
Lelli led a similar study earlier this year looking at a galaxy called ALESS 073.1. This galaxy, as studied by the Japanese team, was also formed shortly after the Big Bang. His team also discovered a central bulge and a rotating gas disc around it. With newer telescopes such as ALMA available for use, it becomes easier for astronomers to get more accurate information about early galaxies and other elements. It is so exciting!