Unusual Monster Galaxy in the Very Early Universe Discovered

This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in three wavelengths of infrared light, each represented by a different color. (Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech)
This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in three wavelengths of infrared light, each represented by a different color. (Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

An international team of astronomers led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has found an unusual monster galaxy that existed about 12 billion years ago when the universe was only 1.8 billion years old. Dubbed XMM-2599, the galaxy formed stars at a high rate and then died. Why it suddenly stopped forming stars is unclear. Benjamin Forrest, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy and the study’s lead author, said:

The team used spectroscopic observations from the W. M. Keck Observatory’s powerful Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration, or MOSFIRE, to make detailed measurements of XMM-2599 and precisely quantify its distance. Study results appear in the Astrophysical Journal. Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCR in whose lab Forrest works, said:

The three panels show, from left to right, what XMM-2599's evolutionary trajectory might be, beginning as a dusty star-forming galaxy, then becoming a dead galaxy, and perhaps ending up as a

The three panels show, from left to right, what XMM-2599’s evolutionary trajectory might be, beginning as a dusty star-forming galaxy, then becoming a dead galaxy, and perhaps ending up as a ‘brightest cluster galaxy,’ or BCG. (Image: NRAO / AUI / NSF / B. Saxton; NASA / ESA / R. Foley; NASA / StScI)

The research team found XMM-2599 formed more than 1,000 solar masses a year in stars at its peak of activity — an extremely high rate of star formation. In contrast, the Milky Way forms about one new star a year. Danilo Marchesini, an associate professor of astronomy at Tufts University and a co-author on the study, said:

The evolutionary pathway of XMM-2599 is unclear. Wilson said:

Photo shows Gillian Wilson (left) and Benjamin Forrest. (Image: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside)

Gillian Wilson (left) and Benjamin Forrest. (Image: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside)

Co-author Michael Cooper, a professor of astronomy at UC Irvine, said this outcome is a strong possibility, saying:

The team has been awarded more time at the Keck Observatory to follow up on unanswered questions prompted by XMM-2599. Co-author Marianna Annunziatella, a postdoctoral researcher at Tufts University, said:

Provided by: University of California — Riverside [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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