Astronomers discover vast ancient galaxies, which could shed light on dark matter
Date: August 7, 2019
University of Tokyo
Astronomers used the combined power of multiple astronomical observatories around the world and in space to discover a treasure-trove of previously unknown ancient massive galaxies. This is the first multiple discovery of its kind and such an abundance of this type of galaxy defies current models of the universe. These galaxies are also intimately connected with supermassive black holes and the distribution of dark matter.
A dominant population of optically invisible massive galaxies in the early Universe
Published: 07 August 2019
Our current knowledge of cosmic star-formation history during the first two billion years (corresponding to redshift z > 3) is mainly based on galaxies identified in rest-frame ultraviolet light. However, this population of galaxies is known to under-represent the most massive galaxies, which have rich dust content and/or old stellar populations. This raises the questions of the true abundance of massive galaxies and the star-formation-rate density in the early Universe. Although several massive galaxies that are invisible in the ultraviolet have recently been confirmed at early epochs, most of them are extreme starburst galaxies with star-formation rates exceeding 1,000 solar masses per year, suggesting that they are unlikely to represent the bulk population of massive galaxies. Here we report submillimetre (wavelength 870 micrometres) detections of 39 massive star-forming galaxies at z > 3, which are unseen in the spectral region from the deepest ultraviolet to the near-infrared. With a space density of about 2 × 10^−5 per cubic megaparsec (two orders of magnitude higher than extreme starbursts) and star-formation rates of 200 solar masses per year, these galaxies represent the bulk population of massive galaxies that has been missed from previous surveys. They contribute a total star-formation-rate density ten times larger than that of equivalently massive ultraviolet-bright galaxies at z > 3. Residing in the most massive dark matter haloes at their redshifts, they are probably the progenitors of the largest present-day galaxies in massive groups and clusters. Such a high abundance of massive and dusty galaxies in the early Universe challenges our understanding of massive-galaxy formation.