for National Geographic News
A giant space blob discovered in the far reaches of the universe has scientists puzzling over what exactly the bizarre object might be, according to a new study.
At 12.9 billion light-years away, the blob—dubbed Himiko after a legendary Japanese queen—is the fourth most distant object ever discovered, said lead study author Masami Ouchi, a Carnegie Institution fellow.
Because of the time it takes light from so far away to reach Earth, astronomers are seeing the blob as it was when the universe was just 800 million years old, about 6 percent of its current age.
But "the most significant feature of this object is the size," said Ouchi, who describes the find in the May 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
Himiko is about 55 thousand light-years across, or roughly the size of a mature present-day galaxy, making the young blob the earliest known object of its size.
(Related: "Giant 'Blob' Is Largest Thing in Universe.")
In addition, the blob has an unusual structure: A large mass of stars sits its center, while the whole thing is shrouded by a mysterious cloud of electrically charged hydrogen.
According to Ouchi, Himiko could be some sort of primordial galaxy, but one that does not resemble other galaxies found during the so-called cosmic dawn.
Big Blobby Galaxy
Chris Carilli, chief scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, said the study's science is solid and extremely careful.
The find challenges prevailing theories that say very young galaxies should be much smaller, and that over time small galaxies merged to form the large ones we see today, he suggests.
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