Astronomers in the United States and Australia claim to have discovered a "space yeti" galaxy that has hidden in the far corner of the universe. It is estimated that light from this galaxy took 12.5 billion years to reach us.
Christina Williams spotted the elusive galaxy "missing link" when observed at the large millimeter Atacama massif in Chile (ALMA). A university-produced preview shows the warm glow of dust particles heated by stars forming deep in a young galaxy.
"It was very mysterious because the light did not seem to be related to any known galaxy," says Williams, a PhD student at the National Science Foundation at the Steward Observatory. "When I saw that this galaxy was invisible at any other wavelength, I was really excited because it meant that it was probably really far away and hidden by dust clouds."
Like a large leg or yeti, such massive galaxies have long been worn by the scientific community, but have proven difficult to anchor, photograph and measure in all their glory. In this particular case, the giant dust clouds, which hid the light from the stars inside, made it almost invisible to those looking for it.
"Like the cosmic Yeti, the scientific community usually views these galaxies as folklore, given the lack of evidence of their existence," a university statement said.
This particular nefarious astronomical hippo boasts as many stars as our own Milky Way galaxy, but it produces new stars at about a hundred times faster speed, according to study co-author Ivo Labbe of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
The team published their findings Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal.
Observations of such a massive galaxy help to better understand the galactic formation in the early days of the universe, though more research and analysis is needed to determine if this is really a massive hermit galaxy or instead a package of "yeti galaxies". James Webb's long-awaited and highly entertaining Space Telescope will help answer such questions when it finally comes online in March 2021.
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