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Four small galaxies orbiting the Milky Way could be the oldest in the universe.
Astronomers say the galaxies date back more than 13 billion years and came into existence shortly after the Big Bang.
Dwarf - Satellite - Galaxies - Milky - Way
The dwarf, or satellite, galaxies are bound to the Milky Way by gravity similar to how the moon is to Earth – but on a much bigger scale.
Researchers who made the discovery likened it to 'finding the remains of the first humans that inhabited the Earth.'
Discovery - Light - Evolution - Universe - Researchers
The discovery sheds fresh light on the evolution of the universe, according to researchers from the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.
The galaxies, which are called Segue-1, Bootes I, Tucana II and Ursa Major I, are incredibly faint and believed to be among the first that ever formed.
Professor - Carlos - Frenk - Director - Durham
Professor Carlos Frenk, director of Durham's Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC), said: 'Finding some of the very first galaxies that formed in our universe orbiting in the Milky Way's own backyard is the astronomical equivalent of finding the remains of the first humans that inhabited the Earth. It is hugely exciting.'
Dr Alis Deason, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the ICC, said: 'This is a wonderful example of how observations of the tiniest dwarf galaxies residing in our own Milky Way can be used to learn about the early universe.'
Universe - Years - Atoms
When the universe was about 380,000 years old the very first atoms were born.
These were tiny particles of hydrogen which are the simplest element in the periodic table.
Clouds - Clumps - Matter - Big - Bang
As they collected into clouds and began to cool they gradually settled into the small clumps or 'halos' of dark matter that emerged from the Big Bang.
This cooling phase – dubbed the 'Cosmic dark ages' – lasted about 100 million years.
Gas - Halos
Eventually, the gas that had cooled inside the halos became unstable...
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