More evidence points to a fully-formed universe very soon after the beginning.

Using the magnifying glass of a gravitational lens, astronomers at Johns Hopkins University have located “a galaxy dating back to a mere 500 million years after the big bang,” reported Science Magazine (Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, “Warped Light Reveals Infant Galaxy on the Brink of the ‘Cosmic Dawn’,” Science 21 September 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6101 p. 1442, DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6101.1442).   The discovery was announced in the  rival journal across the pond, Nature (Wei Zheng et al., “A magnified young galaxy from about 500 million years after the Big Bang,” Nature 489, 20 September 2012, pp. 406–408, doi:10.1038/nature11446).

This is the latest of a trend to find mature structures closer and closer to the big bang – leaving cosmologists little time to go from random particles to “lumpy” structures like stars and galaxies (see links in commentary below).  This galaxy’s redshift (z = 9.6) is a record, indicating it existed close to the beginning: “Light from the primordial galaxy traveled approximately 13.2 billion light-years before reaching NASA’s telescopes,” PhysOrg stated. “In other words, the starlight snagged by Spitzer and Hubble left the galaxy when the universe was just 3.6 percent of its present age.”  Even so, the galaxy was estimated by the astronomers at 200 million years old.  This implies its formation was even earlier.  The original paper in Nature said,

We estimate that it formed less than 200 million years after the Big Bang (at the 95 per cent confidence level), implying a formation redshift of ≲14. Given the small sky area that our observations cover, faint galaxies seem to be abundant at such a young cosmic age, suggesting that they may be the dominant source for the early re-ionization of the intergalactic medium.

Modern cosmological theory places an “epoch of re-ionization” after the first generation of stars that ionized the interstellar medium.  Something with enough energy broke up the hydrogen gas into protons and electrons.  Nature’s paper was pretty straightforward, explaining how the discovery was made and the math used to determine its redshift, etc….

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