UMKC Professor Unveils New Details On Distant, Massive Galaxy Cluster

Jan 8, 2016

A team of astronomers led by a UMKC professor have nailed down more particulars about the most distant massive galaxy cluster ever discovered.

Galaxy cluster IDCS J1426.5+3508 was first formally discovered in 2012, though UMKC associate professor Dr. Mark Brodwin and astronomers from around the country have worked on projects since 2007 that led up to it.

Galaxy clusters contain anywhere from 50 to 1,000 galaxies held in relatively close proximity by their sheer gravitational strength. They can take billions of years to form.

IDCS 1426 contains around 1,000 galaxies, and its mass is 500 trillion times that of the sun. It sits about 10 billion light years away from Earth, which means images of it show the universe as it looked just 3.8 billion years after the Big Bang. 

Brodwin says the cluster's mass is unusual for that time period in the universe's history.

"By the time we see [the cluster], which is about 4 billion years after the Big Bang, it's the most massive cluster anyone has ever seen," Brodwin said. "Normally clusters only look like this at much later times in the Universe's history."

Brodwin's team used radio observations from the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy, or CARMA, and X-ray readings from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to confirm the cluster's mass.

Brodwin presented his team's findings to astronomers at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting yesterday. He says the 2020 launch of the European Space Agency's Euclid mission, which will study mysterious dark energy, could shed light on even more massive clusters.

"We'll be able to find these things a little more routinely, but even then, we only expect a few of them over the whole extragalactic sky," Brodwin said. "So finding one now is both lucky and exciting."

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org.

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