Categories: Astronomygalaxies

Keck Spots A Galaxy Fueled With Ancient Gas

“Primordial hydrogen” sounds like a great name for a band. It’s also a great thing to find when you’re looking at a galaxy. This ancient gas is a leftover of the Big Bang, and astronomers discovered it in a faraway star-forming galaxy that was created when the universe was young.

A continuous stream of gas was likely responsible for a cornucopia of star formation that took place about 10 billion years ago, when galaxies were churning out starbirths at a furious rate.

The astronomers spotted the gas by using a quasar that lit up the fuel from behind. Quasars a handy tool to use if you want to illuminate something, because even though quasars don’t live for very long in cosmic terms — they occur when matter falls into a ginormous black hole — they are extremely bright. Since the gas absorbs the light at certain frequencies, the absorption lines that show up in spectrometers reveal information about the composition, temperature and density of the gas.

“This is not the first time astronomers have found a galaxy with nearby gas, revealed by a quasar. But it is the first time that everything fits together,” stated Neil Crighton, who is with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and Swinburne University and led the research. His team found the galaxy using the Keck I telescope in Hawaii.

“The galaxy is vigorously forming stars,” added Crighton, “and the gas properties clearly show that this is pristine material, left over from the early universe shortly after the Big Bang.”

Q1442-MD50 (as the galaxy is called) is 11 billion light years away from us — pretty close to the start of the universe about 13.8 billion years ago. The quasar that lit it up is called QSO J1444535+291905.

“Since this discovery is the result of a systematic search, we can now deduce that such cold flows are quite common,” stated Joseph Hennawi, the leader of the ENIGMA research group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. “We only had to search 12 quasar-galaxy pairs to discover this example. This rate is in rough agreement with the predictions of supercomputer simulations, which provides a vote of confidence for our current theories of how galaxies formed.”

You can read more details in the article (which is in Astrophysical Letters) or in this preprint version on Arxiv.

Source: Keck Observatory

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Recent Posts

Scientists in Antarctica Have Access to Starlink Now. It’s Available on 7 Continents

SpaceX’s Starlink service is now available in Antarctica, according to a tweet from the National…

6 hours ago

Jupiter at Opposition 2022, Closest in 59 Years

Be sure to observe Jupiter this week, during its finest apparition of a lifetime.

22 hours ago

Chinese Companies are Planning to Offer Space Tourism Flights by 2025

China hopes to send passengers to space by 2025 as part of their plan to…

2 days ago

Gravity Really Tangled up the Light From a Distant Quasar

Way back in 1979, astronomers spotted two nearly identical quasars that seemed close to each…

2 days ago

Life can Thrive Around Even the Smallest Stars

By simulating the light of small stars, we now know life can survive on planets…

2 days ago

NASA’s Juno To Skim the Surface of Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa

This next week will mark a scientifically valuable achievement for NASA’s Juno mission, as the…

3 days ago