During the 13.78 billion years of existence, the Universe had been through countless changes, and it will keep continuing that way. Its expansion due to the Big Bang seems endless. But we humans have the privilege to live at the right time in order to be able to witness the entire history of the Cosmos unfolding.
When we look through our telescopes in the depths of the Universe, we are also looking back in time. This phenomenon happens because we see a celestial object the way it was when the light left it. And you can quickly realize by yourself that it takes a lot of time even for the speed of light (around 300.000 km/s) to travel across solar systems or galaxies.
The galaxy cluster z66OD, almost as old as the Universe itself
Using the Subaru, Keck, and Gemini telescopes, astronomers have discovered z66OD, a cluster of 12 galaxies 13 billion light-years away. This means the cluster was there 13 billion years ago when the Universe was very young, which makes it qualify as a protocluster. The Greek word “protos” means “the first”.
“A protocluster is a rare and special system with an extremely high density, and not easy to find,” said lead author Dr. Yuichi Harikane, an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
“To overcome this problem, we used the wide field of view of the Subaru Telescope to map a large area of the sky and look for protoclusters.”
z66OD was hyper-active
The protocluster shocked astronomers not even for its age, but also for the hyperactivity regarding star formation. Astronomers calculated that in those very early stages of the Universe, the number of stars forming inside the z66OD protocluster was five times larger than other galaxies with similar masses. The discovery of z66OD and its properties has been reported in a paper from the Astrophysical Journal.
Of course, there could be some extreme skeptics claiming that we don’t have any guarantee that the protocluster z66OD is still out there. After all, we’re seeing it just the way it was 13 billion years ago. But if it does exist in the present, which is very likely, it’s almost as old as the Universe itself.
Jennifer MacBride a graduate of Imperial College Business School. Jennifer is based in London but travels much of the year. Jennifer has written for BBC, Motherboard, Apple Insider, and the Huffington Post UK. Jennifer is a Tech reporter, focusing on technology, national security and social media.