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A surprising number of dead galaxies were discovered in the old cosmic metropolis


In the early cosmos, astronomers detected an extraordinary huge cluster of nascent galaxies developing. MAGAZ3NE J095924+022537 is a recently found expanding galactic metropolis that is roughly 11.8 billion light-years distant from Earth. It is a newborn galaxy cluster, or protocluster, with at least 38 component galaxies.

A large cluster of newborn galaxies emerging in the early cosmos has been found by an international team of astronomers lead by researchers from the University of California, Riverside. MAGAZ3NE J095924+022537 is a recently found expanding galactic metropolis that is roughly 11.8 billion light-years distant from Earth. It is a newborn galaxy cluster, or protocluster, with at least 38 component galaxies.

Galaxy clusters expand throughout time due to gravity and may include hundreds or even thousands of galaxies, as well as hot gas and dark matter, in today’s universe. Their galaxies burn up the available fuel and transform from actively star-forming galaxies to red and lifeless galaxies as time passes.

“All protoclusters identified till now are full with aggressively star-forming galaxies in the early universe,” said Ian McConachie, a doctoral student in the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy and the primary author of the Astrophysical Journal publication. “However, in contrast to all other protoclusters discovered at this time, many galaxies in MAGAZ3NE J0959 seem to have already ceased generating stars.”

J0959 was found by the “Massive Ancient Galaxies At Z > 3 NEar-infrared,” or MAGAZ3NE, survey, which was meant to locate and study ultramassive galaxies and their neighbors, according to coauthor Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCR in whose lab McConachie works.

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“We’re witnessing this protocluster as it was when the cosmos was just a few billion years old,” she said. “It’s as if you dropped a cluster like Coma, the closest rich galaxy cluster to Earth, into the early universe.”

The heart of MAGAZ3NE J0959, according to coauthor Benjamin Forrest, a former postdoctoral researcher in Wilson’s lab who is now based at UC Davis, is an ultramassive galaxy that has already formed a mass of more than 200 billion suns.

“It’s a great mystery why this ultramassive galaxy and so many of its neighbors generated most of its stars and then went dormant while the universe was still so young, in contrast to other known protoclusters from the same period,” he added. “It’s a total mystery why its galaxies are so different from those in all other known protoclusters and so similar to those in Coma.”

Forrest went on to say that while MAGAZ3NE J0959 was discovered from the ground, powerful new capabilities, such as the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, should soon reveal whether there are other protoclusters like MAGAZ3NE J0959 packed with dead galaxies waiting to be discovered in the early universe.

“Should such protoclusters be found in large numbers, it would mean that the current paradigm of protocluster formation would require a major revision,” Forrest said. “It would be necessary to accept a novel scenario in which protoclusters exist in a variety of states in the early cosmos. With many member galaxies quenching in the first two billion years, conventional galaxy simulation models would virtually definitely face substantial hurdles.”

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To conduct thorough measurements of MAGAZ3NE J0959 and accurately estimate its distances, the researchers employed spectroscopic data from the W. M. Keck Observatory’s Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration, or MOSFIRE.

The environment in which ultramassive galaxies originate is closely linked to the topic of how they arise; for example, are they usually found in dense settings like protoclusters, or may they form in isolation? To address this issue, the team wants to investigate the surroundings of all other ultramassive galaxies in the MAGAZ3NE survey.

Cemile Marsan and Adam Muzzin of York University in Canada; Michael Cooper of UC Irvine; Marianna Annunziatella and Danilo Marchesini of Tufts University; Jeffrey Chan and Mohamed Abdullah of UCR; Percy Gomez of Keck Observatory; Paolo Saracco of Astronomical Observatory of Brera, Italy; Julie Nantais of Andrés Bello National University in Santiago, Chile are among the other researchers involved in the study.

The National Science Foundation and NASA provided funding for the research.

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