Hubble imaging of a protocluster of galaxies


Image credit: NASA, ESA, George Miley and Roderik Overzier (Leiden Observatory)

The nature of this distinctly unusual-looking object seems confirmed by the discovery of a vast surrounding envelope of molecular hydrogen, the raw material of the star-forming process:

In one project published in MNRAS, astronomer Dr Bjorn Emonts (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science) and his colleagues used the Compact Array to study a massive, distant conglomerate of star-forming ‘clumps’ or ‘proto-galaxies’ that are in the process of coming together as a single massive galaxy. This structure, called the Spiderweb, lies more than ten thousand million light-years away [at a redshift of 2.16].

Dr Emonts’ team found that the Spiderweb contains at least sixty thousand million times the mass of the Sun in molecular hydrogen gas, spread over a distance of almost a quarter of a million light-years. This must be the fuel for the star-formation that has been seen across the Spiderweb. “Indeed, it is enough to keep stars forming for at least another 40 million years,” says Emonts.

Similar massive conglomerations, seen using carbon monoxide mapping to trace molecular hydrogen, have only been previously observed at high redshift and coincident with such an extragalactic source – the central galaxy is catalogued as MRC 1138-262 – when the weak radio emission is gravitationally lensed. The redshift of one previously observed extragalactic structure is around ~ 2.7. The paper, made using data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array, at Narrabri, is CO(1-0) detection of molecular gas in the massive Spiderweb Galaxy (z = 2), authored by Emonts et al., accepted at MNRAS, arXiv preprint here.

Update: ESO’s Very Large Telescope probes growth of galaxies eso1330 science release


2 Responses to “Hubble imaging of a protocluster of galaxies”

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