For the first time, a powerful "wind" of molecules has been detected in a galaxy located 12 billion light years away.
According to the scientists, the wind stops the first galaxies that disintegrate during their formation.
Until now, astronomers were unable to directly observe these powerful mechanisms in the early universe that prevent galaxies from growing too large, too fast.
The galaxy, known as SPT2319-55, was discovered by the South Pole Telescope of the National Science Foundation.
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For the first time, a powerful "wind" of molecules has been detected in a galaxy located 12 billion light years away. This is an artistic impression of a molecular gas outlet of an active galaxy that forms a star
Justin Spilker, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, made the finding by observing the universe when he was less than ten percent of his current age.
The finding sheds light on how the first galaxies regulated the birth of stars to prevent them from bursting.
"Galaxies are complicated and disordered beasts, and we believe that outflows and winds are critical pieces of how they form and evolve, regulating their capacity for growth," said Dr. Spilker.
Some galaxies such as the Milky Way and Andromeda have relatively slow rates and star birth rates, with approximately one new star going on each year.
Other galaxies, known as Starburst galaxies, forge hundreds or even thousands of stars each year.
This furious pace, however, can not be sustained indefinitely.
To avoid burning in a brief glimmer of glory, some galaxies delay their runaway star birth by expelling vast gas reserves into their expansive halos.
This is where the gas completely escapes or slowly returns to the galaxy, triggering future explosions of star formation.
Dr. Spilker's observations were made with the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA).
They show for the first time that a powerful galactic wind of molecules in a galaxy is seen when the universe was only a billion years old.
This shows how certain galaxies in the early universe were able to self-regulate their growth so that they could continue to form stars through cosmic time.
Astronomers have observed winds with the same size, velocity and mass in nearby star galaxies.
However, the new observation of ALMA is the most ambiguous outflow ever seen in the early universe.
However, the new observation of ALMA (in a circle) is the most ambiguous outflow ever seen in the early universe. The galaxy, known as SPT2319-55, is more than 12 billion light-years away and was discovered by the South Pole Telescope of the National Science Foundation
WHAT IS ALMA?
Deep in the Chilean desert, Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, is located in one of the driest places on Earth.
At a height of 16,400 feet, about half the height of a jumbo jet cruiser and almost four times the height of Ben Nevis, workers had to carry oxygen tanks to complete their construction.
Started in March 2013, it is the most powerful ground telescope in the world.
It is also the highest on the planet and, at almost £ 1 billion ($ 1.2 billion), one of the most expensive of its kind.
Deep in the Chilean desert, Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, is located in one of the driest places on Earth. Started in March 2013, it is the most powerful ground telescope in the world
ALMA was able to observe the object using gravitational lenses from a different galaxy that is located almost exactly along the line of sight between Earth and SPT2319-55.
Gravitational lenses (the bending of light due to gravity) magnify the background galaxy to make it look brighter, allowing astronomers to observe it in more detail than they would otherwise be able to.
Astronomers use specialized software to decipher the effects of gravitational lenses to reconstruct an accurate image of the most distant object.
This view, aided by lenses, revealed a powerful gas wind that forms stars that leave the galaxy at almost 800 kilometers per second.
Instead of a constant and gentle breeze, the wind is dispersing in discrete groups, eliminating the gas that forms the star as fast as the galaxy can turn that gas into new stars.
Molecular winds are an efficient way for galaxies to self-regulate their growth, the researchers point out.
These winds are likely to be triggered either by the combined effects of all the supernova explosions that accompany the rapid and massive formation of stars, or by a powerful release of energy when part of the gas in the galaxy falls on the supermassive black hole in its center .
"Until now, we have only observed one galaxy at such a remarkable cosmic distance, but we would like to know if winds like these are also present in other galaxies to see how common they are," Dr. Spilker concluded.
"If they occur in virtually all galaxies, we know that molecular winds are ubiquitous and also a very common way for galaxies to self-regulate their growth."