Ancestors of Milky Way discovered

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Washington, Jan 9 (UNI) Astronomers have discovered galaxies in the distant universe that they claim are ancestors of spiral galaxies like Milky Way.

These ancient objects, some of the first galaxies ever to be formed, are being observed as they looked when the universe was a mere two billion years old.

Today, scientists peg the universe's age at 13.7 billion years, so light from these galaxies traveled almost 12 billion years to reach Earth, the Science Daily reported.

The new galaxies discovered by the astronomers from Rutgers and Penn State universities are quite small-one-tenth the size and one-twentieth the mass of our Milky Way. They also have fewer stars - only one-fortieth as many as are in the Milky Way.

''Finding these objects and discovering that they are a step in the evolution of our galaxy is akin to finding a key fossil in the path of human evolution,'' said Eric Gawiser, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.

The researchers determined that these galaxies were fertile breeding grounds for new stars, which burned hot and bright. These stars ionized the hydrogen atoms around them, stripping them of their electrons and causing them to emit a tell-tale sharp band of ultraviolet light known as Lyman alpha.

They also noted that several of these galaxies, sometimes 10 or more, pulled together over the ensuing few billion years to form a single spiral galaxy.

The galaxies were discovered as part of a five-year-old census of galaxies in the early universe, a project called MUSYC (Multi-Wavelength Survey by Yale and Chile).

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