Time Traveling With Spitzer

Article written: 25 Mar , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015
by

While time travel is seemingly impossible, we can actually look back in time with our telescopes to learn about the conditions of our universe in times past. The Spitzer Space Telescope has found some very dim and distant galaxies located at the edge of our universe that have never been seen before. Approximately 12.5 billion light-years away from Earth, we’re seeing these galaxies as when our universe was just one billion years old. With Spitzer’s infrared capability, astronomers have been able to take infrared portraits and even “weigh” many of these early galaxies. “Understanding the mass and chemical makeup of the universe’s first galaxies and then taking snapshots of galaxies at different ages, gives us a better idea of how gas, dust and metals– the material that went into making our Sun, solar system, and Earth –has changed throughout the Universe’s history,” said Spitzer scientist Dr. Ranga Ram Chary.

Unlike the galaxies of today, Chary says that galaxies living in the one billion year old universe were much more pristine. They were comprised primarily of hydrogen and helium gas and contained less than 10% of the heavier elements we see in the local Universe today, and even on Earth. Astronomers have found these distant galaxies were cosmic “lightweights”, or not very massive compared to mature galaxies we see nearby.

“A few billion years after the big bang, 90 percent of the stars being born were occurring in these types of faint galaxies. By identifying this population, we hope to gain insights into the environments where the universe’s first stars formed,” said Chary.

To find these faint galaxies, astronomers followed the lingering afterglow of gamma ray bursts back to their sources. Astronomers believe gamma ray bursts appear when a very massive star dies and becomes a black hole.

The afterglow occurs when energetic electrons spiral around magnetic fields, and release light. In its explosive death, material shooting out of the massive star smashes into surrounding gas. This violent collision heats nearby gas and energizes its electrons.

Once coordinates of the faint galaxies were determined, Chary’s team then used Spitzer’s supersensitive infrared array camera to snap a picture of the faint galaxy. The amount of light from the galaxies allowed Chary to find the mass of the galaxies.

Original News Source: Spitzer Space Telescope Press Release


21 Responses

  1. g-man says

    Nancy Atkinson,

    You used the term, “Located at the “edge” of our Universe” By using the word…”edge” suggests to me that if there is an edge to our Universe, there is something Beyond our Universe? What could that be?

    There must be something! Many other Brilliant Minds such as yours, don’t want to talk about it, when I submit this question to any ot them!

    I enjoyed and learned a great deal in your article! The photo is a Baffling Display of Beauty!

  2. UNdistinguished says

    We can not “see” beyond the ever expanding event horizon of the Big Bang. So, to us there is an “edge” of a sort. Problem is, as the univers continues to expand our observation of the event horizon falls ever short of the true event horizon. Sort of like running after a departing car down a dusty road. We can see the dust left, but since the car is going faster than we can run we see the dust getting thiner over time. Eventually, all the dust will settle out of the air and we wont be able to tell a car drove off. Same with looking to the “edge” of the event horizon. Eventually, our ability to see back in time/space will fall shorter and shorter. If we are still around in the very far future all we’ll see is the collection of our local group of galaxies, which will probably have merged into one large galaxy. It’s hard to get a grip on all of this when there is no edge to grasp and hold.

  3. Ramkumar says

    Edge of the universe is edge of Obervable universe . And now this is 12.5 billion years and it can go up to 14.99 billion years, 15 billion years the time when the universe had its primary Big Bang. And to G-man there is nothing beyond the edge and every thing is inside the universe .
    (Forget the still hypothetical Sting theory & and the notion of parallel universes) .
    The question of edge come when only more than one universe exists as postulated by Micho Kaiku ,Carl sagan etc .
    And a miniatue vesion of their idea can be found out in ancient Hindu consmological concepts .

  4. Chris says

    g-man,
    You begin to answer your own more general question, and highlight the flaw in your specific version with the statement “There must be something!”. This statement is true for pretty much everything BUT this case, when discussing the ‘edge’ of the Universe one is discussing the ‘boundaries’ of space-time, no-thing and no-event can exist outwith space-time simply because things and events are *necessarily* dependent upon space-time. In the same way as a 3 dimensional cube cannot exist within a 2 dimensional computer screen, or an temporal event cannot exist within a photograph, so, no*thing* and no*event can exist ‘outside’ space-time.

    And in answer to the other popular mis-conception “well everything has an edge”, think of a person living inside a sphere – now ask them to find the edge. The question, or challenge, is meaningless to this person because an ‘edge’ is not a characteristic that a sphere possesses.

  5. Sagarika says

    I thought Spitzer will be able to look beyond Hubble’s. It’s also limiting itself to 12.5 BLY. What’s more?

  6. Chris says

    Another thing people seem to fail to realize is that when we look to something 12 billion LY away is that that object was 12 B LY away TWELVE BILLION YEARS AGO…so it is likely MUCH farther away now…which may place them, what, possibly 20 billion LY away now…

  7. ambuj says

    Its amazing to be able to see something that is so far far away (12.5 B LY) and, as Chris pointed out, that galaxy would have drifted further away.

    Well according to me, Big Bang theory creates more baffling questions that it tries to answer. Like, what was there before the BB? Is universe all about the expanding mass contained at the time of BB? Or is there more?
    Maybe one day we’ll have technology that can see further into the space. What if we can find something that is more that 15 B LY away. Wouldn’t that contradict the BB theory?
    Maybe universe is just an endless space with infinite mass scattered around.
    Lets leave it to science, technology and of course time.

  8. LLDIAZ says

    just an idea!
    if what we see from those far distances is really just light from that time, can we assume that at the present time it has traveled the same amount of space and time and so is double the amount of what we are seeing now.

  9. g-man-

    I think Rumkumar and Chris have already answered very well your question about the observable “edge” of the universe.

    Thanks for your compliment, but the real “Brilliant Minds” are the astronomers and scientists making these exciting observations and discoveries. I just have the opportunity to write about them!

  10. Meate says

    Ok, that comment from Chris “Another thing people seem to fail to realize is that when we look to something 12 billion LY away is that that object was 12 B LY away TWELVE BILLION YEARS AGO” has me wondering.

    12 billion years ago, the universe would have only been 3 billion years old. How could two objects be 12 billion light years away from each other during a time span of only 3 billion years?

    I’ve always been confused about how we can see things so close to the Big Bang. How is it that light from when the universe was only 3 billions year old is taking 12 billion years to reach us when the universe was so much smaller back then?

    Pardon me for my ignorance on this.

  11. Chris says

    I have a theory about that…I am not a physicist so I dont know if it’s even possible….but here goes…there is evidence that after the Big Bang, the Universe was expanding faster than the speed of light…what if there was a whole lot more “stuff” than anybody has even imagined, and it was thrown out fast enough that it took a long time to fall below light speed (perhaps some is still moving faster…though like I said, I am not a physicist) and there is still a lot out there that we havent detected yet….that could also explain the speeding up of the expansion of the Universe (the gravity from all the stuff thrown out is pulling on all the stuff we can see)….could that be possible?

  12. rob says

    Great discussion. Re: the “edge” of the universe, these days I find myself more and more pondering whether there is something/anything outside the observable universe. It’s seemingly unknowable but interesting to kick around.

    I am often struck by the idea that perhaps there is no such thing as time outside our universe. Time is the only reason the universe could have evolved as it has with stars coalescling over enormous lengths of time and galaxies forming and drifting ever further apart. Time was necessary for the supernovas that helped form heavier elements eventually enabling the existence of brief life forms like ourselves.

    And much speculation exists as to what happens when all the stars are spread so far from one another that the view from any planet in the universe will be darkness. And then for all those stars to die out never to be replaced? A dark end in a stretched out empty universe?

    Will our questions be answered when we each die? Does intelligence live on, perhaps even outside the universe we know?

    Science can’t answer these questions so it only gets you so far. The rest of life and how to live comes down to the cioices we make and what’d we do or don’t believe. A philosophy of life is really required for any living being able to grasp its own finite nature. Live long and prosper 🙂

  13. Greg says

    The actual estimated age of the universe is 13.7 billion years so these galaxies being seen by spitzer are very young. Not surprisingly the concentration of heavy elements is very low. The key to understanding distances is to understand the concept of red shift. The further away the light of the object being looked at, the more it is stretched by the expansion of the universe into the “red” spectrum. When you receive this light you know it has been shifted since you find hydrogen has absorbed some of it at the wrong wavelength, which we all know is a constant. By determining the amound of shift you determine how long it took the light to reach us. You are really seeing a snapshot of an object as it appeared when the light was emitted and the amount of redshift tells how old that light is.

  14. alokmohan says

    rob,science is not supposed to answer why.It is the field of philosophy.

  15. tontotoo says

    Is it just me or is M82 the gayest galaxy ever?

    I mean, it’s just BURSTING with bright colors!

  16. Kai Hansen says

    What was there before the BB?
    Who created the the universe?
    I find it confusing..

  17. Chris says

    I’m the original Chris, author of the first Chris post, but not of the second (or later posts) – there are obviously multiple Chris’ partaking in this discussion.

    @OtherChris – These galaxies weren’t 12B LY away from us 12 billion years ago because the Universe is expanding (literally ‘creating’ new space and time as it goes).

    @Kai Hansen – There’s been some speculation (I’m not sure who came up with it but I read it in Michio Kaku) that *before* the Big Bang was a another multi-dimensional Universe within which each of the fundamental forces (EM, Gravity, Strong & Weak Nuclear) were ‘in synch’, but that that Universe had a inherent instability causing this ‘perfect’ ten-dimensional Universe to ‘fracture’ thus causing the Big Bang – at which point began the rapid expansion of this four-dimensional universe and the other 6 dimensions ‘curled up’ and are still present but only relevant at the quantum scale. Obviously this is all *very* conjectural, and there are a number of variations on it – but there are some interesting extensions from this theory, one being that the reason Gravity is so weak compared with the other fundamental forces is that most of it’s energy ‘leaks’ out into the other 6 dimensions thus massively diluting the effect it has in our (observable) 4 dimensions.

  18. Lloyd Croad says

    Nobody seems to have mentioned that the illustration is of the galaxy M82, which is only 12 million light-years away. I checked because I couldnt imagine we could resolve such detail at 12.5 billion light-years.

  19. ambuj says

    As Chris said “‘creating’ new space and time as it goes”, now this sounds pretty un-practical or un-physical so to say that space can be created. I’m not an astrophysicist, however from my practical understanding of the physical world around me, what I believe is that space can only be occupied by matter and not created about of something. Just like darkness is just the absence of light, or visible light so to say, so empty space is just the absence of physical matter in that region.

    Now, regarding Big-Bang & Multiple Universes, I’m having to think that it’s just a mathematical conjecture.
    Plz do correct me if i’m wrong.

  20. Chris says

    Space and time are dimensions, not some pre-existing objective Newtonian ‘framework’ within which exists matter-energy.

    Space and time are two aspects of the same thing, space-time, and if you don’t think time can expand just sit for one minute – and then think about what just happened – you moved through the temporal dimension, but moved *into* what? the future wasn’t sitting there pre-determined and waiting for your consciousness to catch up with it, no it was *created* by the same process of Universe expansion that began with the Big Bang. In the same way as *new* time was just created (and is happening now) so new *space* is also created by the expansion of the Universe. It is a wrong way of thinking about the Universe to consider it a pre-exisiting ‘area’ in which the Big Bang event occurred, rather the Big Bang includes the creation of the very notions of time and space.

  21. Ignoramus says

    Nice picture!
    What Galaxy?
    M82?

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