Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Off-Topic: Way the Heck Out There!

Ron Cowen of Wired has an article on research to locate the furthest known (and therefore the oldest known) galaxies. The article focuses on three galaxies that have a red shift of over 10. He writes:
If the researchers are correct in the preliminary determination, then Hubble is seeing light that reveals the galaxies as they first appeared just 480 million years after the birth of the universe. (That light traveled for billions of years to reach Earth.) The radiation from such early galaxies played a crucial role, theorists believe, in reionizing the universe. That process breaks apart neutral atoms into electrons and ions, a process that enabled light from the first generation of stars to stream freely into space.

The astronomers caution that because the galaxies they found with Hubble are seen at only one wavelength, it’s not certain that the bodies are extremely distant; they could just be red and faint. “We certainly don’t have smoking gun evidence,” says study coleader Rychard Bouwens of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We just have tantalizing evidence that suggests we may be identifying a few [extremely distant] galaxies.”
There is also the possibility that these three galaxies are not alone in their vast isolation:
Other teams, notably a group that includes Rogier Windhorst of Arizona State University in Tempe and Haojing Yan of Ohio State University in Columbus, reporting earlier on (, claimed to have found 20 galaxies at that same high redshift using the same data from the refurbished Hubble.

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