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Massive galaxy cluster discovered
Astronomers have discovered a massive galaxy cluster 8.5 billion light years from earth. While that might sound quite far away, it could help reveal some of the secrets of the universe.
Galaxy clusters comprise thousands of galaxies, which themselves contain hundreds of billions of stars. The Massive Overdense Object (MOO) J1142+1527, as it’s known, was spotted by astronomers analysing data harvested by the Spitzer and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) orbital telescopes. The telescopes were able to separate foreground galactic clusters from those in the background on the infrared spectrum. At first there appeared to be hundreds of millions of objects captured by the telescope between 2010-2011. But a more detailed analysis narrowed this down to around 200. (This project was called the Massive and Distant Clusters of WISE Survey, or MaDCoWS. Gotta love those scientists and their crazy naming conventions.)
After more analysis, observatories in Hawaii deduced that the galactic structure was 8.5 billion light years from earth, and had a mass a quadrillion times that of our sun. That makes it the most massive known cluster that far back in space and time, according to NASA.
It could be one of only a handful of clusters of this scale in the early universe.
“Based on our understanding of how galaxy clusters grow from the very beginning of our universe, this cluster should be one of the five most massive in existence at that time,” said co-author Peter Eisenhardt, the project scientist for WISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
So why is it useful? It effectively provides a snapshot of what our galaxy was like 8.5 billion years ago – way before the earth was formed – and so can help astronomers study how clusters like this evolve. In other words, it could reveal some secrets of how our galaxy came to be the way it is.