A new study identifies the farthest discovery of the element needed for life as we know it in an ordinary star-forming galaxy.
Water has been detected in the largest supermassive galaxy of the early universe, according to new observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/ Submillimeter Cluster.Alma). Scientists who studied SPT0311-58 found H20, along with carbon monoxide, in the galaxy, which is located about 12.88 billion light-years from Earth. The discovery of these two particles in abundance indicates that the molecular universe was robust shortly after the formation of elements in early stars. The new research includes the most detailed study of the molecular gas content of a galaxy in the early universe to date and the most distant discovery of H20 in a regular star-forming galaxy. The search was published in Astrophysical Journal.
SPT0311-58 actually consists of two galaxies, and was first seen by ALMA scientists in 2017 at its location or time in the era of reionization. This era occurred at a time when the universe was only 780 million years old – about 5 percent of its current age – and the first stars and galaxies were being born. Scientists believe the two galaxies may merge, and that their rapid star formation not only consumes their own gas or star-forming fuel, but may eventually evolve into massive elliptical galaxies like those seen in the local universe.
“Using ALMA high-resolution observations of molecular gas in a pair of galaxies known collectively as SPT0311-58, we detected both water and carbon monoxide molecules in the two largest galaxies. Srivani Garugula, an astronomer at the University of Illinois and principal investigator on the new research said. This galaxy is the most massive galaxy currently known at a high redshift, or a time when the universe was still very young. It contains more gas and dust than other galaxies in the early universe, giving us many potential opportunities to observe abundant particles and to better understand how these life-creating elements influenced the evolution of the early universe.”
Water, in particular, is the third most abundant molecule in the universe after molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Previous studies of galaxies in the local universe and early universe have linked the emission of water and the emission of far-infrared radiation from dust. “Dust absorbs ultraviolet rays from stars in the galaxy and re-emits them as far-infrared photons,” Garogola said. This further excites the water molecules, resulting in an emission of water that scientists can spot. In this case, help us detect water emission in this huge galaxy. This correlation can be used to develop water as a tracer for star formation, which can then be applied to galaxies on a cosmic scale.”
Studying the first galaxies that formed in the universe helps scientists to better understand the birth, growth, evolution and everything in the universe, including the solar system and Earth. “Early galaxies form stars at a rate thousands of times faster than Milky WayGargola said. “Studying the gas and dust content of these early galaxies teaches us their characteristics, such as the number of stars they form, the rate at which gas is converted into stars, how galaxies interact with each other and with the interstellar medium, and more. “
According to Jarugula, there is a lot to learn about SPT0311-58 and the galaxies of the early universe. “Not only does this study provide answers about where and how far water is in the universe, but it also raises a big question: How did so much gas and dust collect to form stars and galaxies so early in the universe? The answer requires further study of these and similar star-forming galaxies to gain a better understanding of the formation and structural evolution of the early universe.”
“This exciting result, which shows the power of ALMA, adds to a growing body of early universe observations,” said Joe Pesci, an astrophysicist and director of the ALMA program at the National Science Foundation. “These particles, which are important for life on Earth, are forming as quickly as possible, and observing them gives us insight into the fundamental processes of a universe very different from today.”
Reference: “Molecular line observations in two galaxies formed of dusty stars at z = 6.9” Nov 3, 2021, Astrophysical Journal.
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