Unusual Monster Galaxy in the Very Early Universe Discovered

The Tarantula Nebula.

This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in three wavelengths of infrared light, each represented by a different color. (Image: JPL-Caltech via NASA)

An international team of astronomers led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has found an unusual monster galaxy that existed about 12 billion years ago when the universe was only 1.8 billion years old. Dubbed XMM-2599, the galaxy formed stars at a high rate and then died. Why it suddenly stopped forming stars is unclear. Benjamin Forrest, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy and the study’s lead author, said:

The team used spectroscopic observations from the W. M. Keck Observatory’s powerful Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration, or MOSFIRE, to make detailed measurements of the XMM-2599 galaxy and precisely quantify its distance. Study results appear in the Astrophysical Journal. Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCR in whose lab Forrest works, said:

The three panels show, from left to right, what the XMM-2599 galaxy's evolutionary trajectory might be, beginning as a dusty star-forming galaxy, then becoming a dead galaxy, and perhaps ending up as a 'brightest cluster galaxy,' or BCG.
The three panels show, from left to right, what the XMM-2599 galaxy’s evolutionary trajectory might be, beginning as a dusty star-forming galaxy, then becoming a dead galaxy, and perhaps ending up as a ‘brightest cluster galaxy,’ or BCG. (Image: B. Saxton via NRAO / AUI / NSF; R. Foley via NASA / ESA; via NASA / StScI)

The XMM-2599 galaxy formed more than 1,000 solar masses a year

The research team found the XMM-2599 galaxy formed more than 1,000 solar masses a year in stars at its peak of activity — an extremely high rate of star formation. In contrast, the Milky Way forms about one new star a year. Danilo Marchesini, an associate professor of astronomy at Tufts University and a co-author of the study, said:

The evolutionary pathway of the XMM-2599 galaxy is unclear. Wilson said:

Photo shows Gillian Wilson (left) and Benjamin Forrest.
Gillian Wilson (left) and Benjamin Forrest. (Image: I. Pittalwala via UC Riverside)

Co-author Michael Cooper, a professor of astronomy at UC Irvine, said this outcome is a strong possibility, saying:

The team has been awarded more time at the Keck Observatory to follow up on unanswered questions prompted by the XMM-2599 galaxy. Co-author Marianna Annunziatella, a postdoctoral researcher at Tufts University, said:

Provided by: University of California — Riverside [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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