Parsing photons in the infrared led UCI astronomers to uncover signs of the earliest galaxies. Photo courtesy of UCI
Parsing photons in the infrared led UCI astronomers to uncover signs of the earliest galaxies. Photo courtesy of UCI

Using new method involving statistics, UC Irvine astronomers got a more focused image of the formation of the earliest galaxies 500 million years after the Big Bang, according to a doctoral student’s paper published Tuesday.

Student Ketron Mitchell-Wynne was the lead author on the paper published by Nature Communications.

Astronomers from Baltimore’s Space Telescope Science Institute also contributed to the study, which used about 10 years of data from the Hubble Space Telescope, Mitchell-Wynne said.

What the scientists were able to do was use all of the available data to create “one mosaic image of the sky,” and then they removed all of the stars and galaxies.

Using statistics with the new image they were able to get a better image of the more feint galaxies from the universe’s earliest days, Mitchell-Wynne said.

In essence, the scientists were taking a look back in time to the “epoch of reionization,” a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, Mitchell-Wynne said.

The most significant finding from the new data was that there are early galaxies that are “much more different” than the ones we’re familiar with such as the Milky Way.

“They’re progenitors of our whole environment,” Mitchell-Wynne said.

“The questions a lot of people have is, ‘Where do we come from and how did we get here?’ Observing these first galaxies play a big role in answering those questions.”

The astronomers are excited about how the new data will help them get a better picture of what they’re seeing when they launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. That will provide greater resolution with its images, Mitchell-Wynne said.

“It could be possible that we’ll see those galaxies individually,” he said.

— City News Service

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