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Peering deep into space—an astounding 90 percent of the way across the observable universe—astronomers have witnessed the beginnings of a gargantuan cosmic pileup, the impending collision of 14 young, starbursting galaxies.
This ancient megamerger is destined to evolve into one of the most massive structures in the known universe: a cluster of galaxies, gravitationally bound by dark matter and swimming in a sea of hot, ionized gas.
Atacama - Large - Millimeter/submillimeter - Array - ALMA
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international team of scientists has uncovered a startlingly dense concentration of 14 galaxies that are poised to merge, forming the core of what will eventually become a colossal galaxy cluster.
This tightly bound galactic smashup, known as a protocluster, is located approximately 12.4 billion light-years away, meaning its light started traveling to us when the universe was only 1.4 billion years old, or about a tenth of its present age. Its individual galaxies are forming stars as much as 1,000 times faster than our home galaxy and are crammed inside a region of space only about three times the size of the Milky Way. The resulting galaxy cluster will eventually rival some of the most massive clusters we see in the universe today.
Results - Nature
The results are published in the journal Nature.
"Having caught a massive galaxy cluster in throes of formation is spectacular in and of itself," said Scott Chapman, an astrophysicist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, who specializes in observational cosmology and studies the origins of structure in the universe and the evolution of galaxies.
Fact - History - Challenge - Understanding - Way
"But, the fact that this is happening so early in the history of the universe poses a formidable challenge to our present-day understanding of the way structures form in the universe," he said.
During the first few million years of cosmic history, normal matter and dark matter began to aggregate into larger and larger concentrations,...
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