A super-massive galaxy 12.8 billion light years from Earth has been discovered giving birth to the equivalent of an astonishing 3000 Suns every year. It contains stars with a total mass nearly 40 billion times the mass of our Sun, and is shrouded in a dust cloud 100 billion times the mass of Sun.
This ancient giant was formed when the Universe was just 880 million years old, making it one of the youngest galaxies known. The fact that it is producing stars at this stupendous rate has come as a surprise to astronomers because theory predicts a more steady and slower rate so early in the life of our Universe, created after a Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
The findings are reported by a team of 64 astronomers in today's issue of the scientific journal Nature. The astronomers used 12 orbiting and ground-based telescopes to home in on what appeared to be a bright blur in deep space.
The galaxy, dubbed HFLS3, is being described as a "maximum star-burst" galaxy because of its prodigious star formation rate.
"This galaxy is proof that very intense bursts of star formation existed only 880 million years after the Big Bang," Dominik Riechers, of Cornell University said, according to a statement by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, US. Reichers was at Caltech when he conducted the research.
"We've gotten a valuable look at a very important epoch in the development of the first galaxies," he added.
The 12 international telescope facilities ranged from visible-light telescopes, to instruments working at infrared, millimeter-wave, and radio wavelengths.
Last month, a Caltech-led team of astronomers -- a few of whom are also authors on this newer work -- discovered dozens of similar galaxies that were producing stars as early as 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang. But none of them existed as early as HFLS3, which has been studied in much greater detail.
The fact that it was detectable without the help of lensing means that it is intrinsically a bright galaxy in far-infrared light.
Because the galaxy is enshrouded in dust, it's very faint in visible light. The galaxy's stars, however, heat up the dust, causing it to radiate in infrared wavelengths. This makes it appear very bright - nearly 30 trillion times as luminous as the sun and 2,000 times more luminous than the Milky Way - when infrared telescopes are used to observe it.
The astronomers were able to find HFLS3 as they sifted through data taken by the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, which studies the infrared universe. The data was part of the Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey ( HerMES), an effort to observe a large patch of the sky (roughly 1,300 times the size of the moon) with Herschel.
Other telescopes were used to decipher its composition and other characteristics.