Scientist have discovered a host of new galaxies, hidden from view until now. Described as a treasure trove of a set of galaxies which could solve some of the most important questions about the universe, supermassive black holes and dark matter.

Some thirty years ago when the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, it opened up a whole new world for astronomers with the information it sent back but it just could not see far and deep enough. All that changed with new research allowed scientists to link different observatories to look deeper into space than ever. With the discovery of these new galaxies scientists will have to modify their understanding of the universe.

The newly discovered galaxies can’t be seen in Hubble Space Telescope images but are visible to the ALMA instrument.

Dr Tao Wang, from the University of Tokyo explains: “This is the first time that such a large population of massive galaxies was confirmed during the first two billion years of the 13.7-billion-year life of the universe. These were previously invisible to us.’’

“This finding contravenes current models for that period of cosmic evolution and will help to add some details, which have been missing until now.

‘’If you were able to see the galaxies themselves, they would be far more of a spectacle even than our own Milky Way. For one thing, the night sky would appear far more majestic. The greater density of stars means there would be many more stars close by appearing larger and brighter.’’

“But conversely, the large amount of dust means farther-away stars would be far less visible, so the background to these bright close stars might be a vast dark void.”

‘’But from Earth, the 39 galaxies are so difficult to see because they are so faint. Though they are the largest of their kind to be found, the light that reaches Earth is reduced and has been stretched because it has taken so long to travel to us.’’

An artist’s depiction of some of the newly discovered galaxies.(Image: © NAOJ)

Professor Kotaro Kohno, who worked on the new study published in Nature elaborated: “The light from these galaxies is very faint with long wavelengths invisible to our eyes and undetectable by Hubble. So we turned to the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), which is ideal for viewing these kinds of things.

“I have a long history with that facility and so knew it would deliver good results.”

The stretching of the light is a useful way for researchers to understand how far it has traveled and calculate how old the galaxies are.

Dr Wang continued: “It was tough to convince our peers these galaxies were as old as we suspected them to be.Our initial suspicions about their existence came from the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared data.’’

“But ALMA has sharp eyes and revealed details at submillimetre wavelengths, the best wavelength to peer through dust present in the early universe.’’

“Even so, it took further data from the imaginatively named Very Large Telescope in Chile to really prove we were seeing ancient massive galaxies where none had been seen before.”

The ALMA array includes 66 individual telescope antennas deployed in Chile.

‘’In the future, we might even learn that the galaxies are more shocking than we realised. I’m eager for upcoming observatories like the space-based James Webb Space Telescope to show us what these primordial beasts are really made of.’’

Researchers anticipate using the newly discovered galaxies to learn more about the universe itself to understand the supermassive black hole at their middle how they form.

Professor Kohno concluded: “Massive galaxies are also intimately connected with the distribution of invisible dark matter. This plays a role in shaping the structure and distribution of galaxies. Theoretical researchers will need to update their theories now.”

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