Washington, August 6 (ANI): Looking almost 11 billion years into the past, astronomers have measured the motions of stars for the first time in a very distant galaxy and clocked speeds upwards of one million miles per hour, about twice the speed of our Sun through the Milky Way.
The fast-moving stars shed new light on how these distant galaxies, which are a fraction the size of our Milky Way, may have evolved into the full-grown galaxies seen around us today.
"This galaxy is very small, but the stars are whizzing around as if they were in a giant galaxy that we would find closer to us and not so far back in time," said Pieter van Dokkum, professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who led the study.
It is still not understood how galaxies like these, with so much mass in such a small volume, can form in the early universe and then evolve into the galaxies we see in the more contemporary, nearby universe, which is about 13.7 billion years old.
The work, by the international team, combined data collected using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope with observations taken by the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile.
According to van Dokkum, "The Hubble data, taken in 2007, confirmed that this galaxy was a fraction the size of most galaxies we see today in the more evolved, older universe."
"By looking at this galaxy, we are able to look back in time and see what galaxies looked like in the distant past when the universe was very young," said team member Mariska Kriek of Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.
Known by the designation 1255-0, the galaxy is so far away that the universe was only about 3 billion years old when its light was emitted.
Astronomers confess that it is a difficult riddle to explain how such compact, massive galaxies form, and why they are not seen in the current, local universe.
"One possibility is that we are looking at what will eventually be the dense central region of a very large galaxy," explained team member Marijn Franx of Leiden University in the Netherlands.
To witness the formation of these extreme galaxies astronomers plan to observe galaxies even farther back in time in great detail.
"The ancestors of these extreme galaxies should have quite spectacular properties as they probably formed a huge amount of stars, in addition to a massive black hole, in a relatively short amount of time," said van Dokkum. (ANI)