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ALMA Telescope Captures Monstrous Galaxy at the Edge of the Charted Universe

First Posted: Jun 08, 2015 04:25 PM EDT

Scientists have managed to depict a monstrous galaxy near the edge of the charted universe. Using the Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the researchers revealed a distribution of huge, stellar cradles in the massive galaxy.

The new findings were only possible with the help of a gravitational lens. During its high resolution test observation campaign in October 2014, ALMA imaged the monstrous galaxy SDP.81, located 11.7 billion light-years away from Earth in the constellation Hydra.

The gravitational lens created by a massive foreground galaxy that's 3.4 billion light-years away from us actually acts as a natural telescope, magnifying the image of SDP.81. The image itself is bright, but smears into a ring shape. Because of this, it's been difficult to understand the details of its complicated structure. That's why the scientists constructed the best model to date for the gravitational lens; this allowed them to correct for lensing effects.

The new model shows that the fine structures in the ring reflect the inner structure of SDP.81. Researchers found that several dust clouds are distributed within an elliptical region 5,000 light-years across. The dust clouds are thought to be giant molecular clouds, the birthplaces of stars and planets. The clouds in SDP.81 have sizes similar to those found in our Milky Way and nearby galaxies. In fact, this is the first time that astronomers have been able to reveal the inner structure of such a distant galaxy.

The findings are published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.

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