Surprising Discovery of Two Ancient Galaxies Exposes Our Cloudy View of the Cosmos

Home Technology Surprising Discovery of Two Ancient Galaxies Exposes Our Cloudy View of the Cosmos
Surprising Discovery of Two Ancient Galaxies Exposes Our Cloudy View of the Cosmos
Artist’s impression of an ancient galaxy.
Artist’s impression of an ancient galaxy.
Image: University of Copenhagen/NASA

The presence of two previously undetected galaxies some 29 billion light years away suggests our understanding of the early universe is upsettingly deficient.

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Introducing REBELS-12-2 and REBELS-29-2—two galaxies that, until very recently, we didn’t even know existed. The light from these galaxies took 13 billion years to get here, as these objects formed shortly after the Big Bang. The ongoing expansion of the universe places these ancient galaxies at roughly 29 billion light years from Earth.

New research published in Nature suggests REBELS-12-2 and REBELS-29-2 had escaped detection up until this point because our view of these galaxies is clouded by thick layers of cosmic dust. The Hubble Space Telescope, as mighty as it is, could not peer through the celestial haze. It took the ultra-sensitive ALMA radio telescope in Chile to spot the galaxies, in what turned out to be a fortuitous accident.

“We were looking at a sample of very distant galaxies, which we already knew existed from the Hubble Space Telescope. And then we noticed that two of them had a neighbor that we didn’t expect to be there at all,” Pascal Oesch, an astronomer from the Cosmic Dawn Center at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, explained in a statement. “As both of these neighboring galaxies are surrounded by dust, some of their light is blocked, making them invisible to Hubble.”

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