National Geographic Daily News
An illustration of a starburst galaxy.

An illustration of a starburst galaxy, similar to one—dubbed HFLS3—recently found by researchers.

Illustration courtesy C. Carreau, ESA

Andrew Fazekas

for National Geographic News

Published April 17, 2013

Image of the 125 Anniversary logo A newfound primordial galaxy nearly 13 billion light-years away is breaking distance records and may unlock the secrets of how and when some of the most massive star factories were born in the early universe, according to a new study.

Using the infrared mapping capabilities of the European Space Agency's Herschel space telescope, a team of astronomers have spied the faraway light of a starburst galaxy—one that exhibits a high rate of star formation—from when the 14-billion-year-old universe was just 880 million years old.

Dubbed HFLS3, the galaxy—which is the farthest starburst galaxy yet found—was caught in the act of forming and pumping out new stars at unheard of rates more than a billion years earlier than expected.

"This newly discovered galaxy is pushing the extremes in virtually every aspect of its existence," said Dominik Riechers, an astronomer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the new paper published April 17 in the journal Nature.

"It is not only the earliest we have discovered, but also one of the most intensely star-forming, even among its peers that exist at later epochs," he said.

While its overall size is estimated to be similar to the size of our own Milky Way, scientists were stunned to find that the starburst galaxy is churning out matter with the mass equivalent of 2,900 suns every year. (Read about the Milky Way in National Geographic magazine.)

"It forms stars at a rate more than 2,000 times that of our own Milky Way, and close to the limit where it can stay stable in light of the intense, plentiful, high-energy radiation emitted by the many newly formed young stars," Riechers added.

A Messy Youth

Despite being enshrouded in dust and so near the edge of the cosmos, HFLS3 appears unusually bright, radiating in infrared wavelengths that shine with a power equivalent to 30 trillion suns.

This tipped off the researchers that they must have discovered a massive starburst galaxy, because the celestial object could shine so brightly only because of unusually high star-formation activity.

Another surprise for Riechers and his team was that spectroscopic measurements, which reveal the galaxy's chemical fingerprints, indicate that it possesses a rich and diverse chemical composition, similar to present-day starburst galaxies.

Because most of the heavier elements, like carbon and iron, are thought to have formed from the ashes of the first generation of stars in the universe, astronomers have speculated these atoms should be absent in the first billion years or so after the Big Bang.

"This is an indication that the intense star formation in [HFLS3] has already been going on for a significant amount of time, long enough for the shortest-lived stars to explode and pollute their environments with all the heavy elements that we see," said Riechers.

Galactic Embryo

Until now, starburst galaxies—thought to be responsible for the rapid buildup of most of the stars that make up a lot of today's massive galaxies—were thought to form only at much later time periods than HFLS3.

"While only at later times did most larger galaxies start to form and accumulate sufficient gas to become prolific star factories, this discovery shows that, under exceptional circumstances, the most intense star-forming events in the universe can take place as early as 880 million years after the Big Bang, enabling the formation of mature, massive galaxies very early on," said Riechers.

This unexpected finding starts to explain why we currently see some of the oldest known stars residing in elliptical galaxies, said Chris Carilli, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"We now see why: They formed a long time ago," said Carilli, who was not involved with the study. "Distant starbursts likely represent the formation of elliptical galaxies in spectacular, explosive events in the early universe."

These most massive galaxies, or ellipticals, are currently found at the centers of large galaxy clusters. So HFLS3 is likely the galactic embryo of such a present-day massive, central cluster galaxy, said Carilli.

"These observations have pushed the whole process of massive galaxy formation back to the edge of 'first light' in the Universe," he added.

32 comments
john madden
john madden

this site has given me great info keep up the good work:)

Ajim Attar
Ajim Attar

GOD just opening the suprize gifts , let's see what will came to us in new form! may be scientists could find the all answers.

Tom James
Tom James

Stars were formed very soon after the Big Bang so this is not surprising to me. As an FYI the Big Crunch Big Bang is infinitely more probable than the Big Bang alone and  that our universe arose from nothing is complete nonsense, Tom James

Siddharth Singh
Siddharth Singh

I have an accurate theory for the cause and course of the universe.

guess have perfected it in last couple of years.  Though its an hypothesis with a macro perspective yet comprehensive with current understandings for further studies....anyways this for the NG to verify it with me 

Walter S.
Walter S.

You still have it wrong. But you're headed in the right direction, now! You must find out what  HFLS3 and IC1011 have in common, other than age.

Jason Shira
Jason Shira

I think that galaxies are only as old as the time it gets to cycle all the way around. 

Jason Shira
Jason Shira

they are more like nebulatic  estuaries where they breed and nest like those of life here on Earth. Life is relative to life, so planetary systems can also be thought of as living organisms that depend on each different galactic cycle to bring them to maturity. Elements are the DNA in which dust and gas will form a planet type.  I say it like this THE SUN THE FATHER AND (The Hole The Egg and the host) that means that elemental binding in the first shell represents the life in which that particular nebula will embrace. A fluid like a woman has with eggs but in space the eggs are the opposite, the semen is the Nebula and the Ovary is the process after the element binds to the fluid like substance as the sperm are objects hurling into the nebula like debris from outer rim planetary systems that have gone novatic. SO If  our milky way has a father I would say it closely represents the same type of system element bound to it as well. I would say the closest Super Nova that represents 14,000,000,000, Earth years in distance converted to light years in a direction either North or South from our star, following the tilt of our galaxy we can track where we most likely RE- Evolved from. A place that had more gold deposits than we do though. I use the ancient relics to track time and space in accordance with space that is in a different time. I like stonehenge for example. a ancient galactical time piece that correlates our ancestors positioning and the door ways that match up with the time as a cycle that when rewound can give clues to which direction the gate will allow to cross through. In other words it is a replica of the central disc star and its hidden doorways to skip laws of travel in secutorial glimmings of time as we know it here. The ancients have left us strong and weathered clues all over the Earth, but it is only those who see it as tools to recap the past and open their minds wide enough to succeed from our Earthly bindary that will receive the knowledge to act as an un-chained free thinker and place the pieces back together in your minds and rewind so you can move forward. Egypt is full of the clues, they also like to leave them behind in music and riddles as in such of our own children's songs." Ring around the Rosie pocket full of posies ashes ashes we all fall down",  I wont tell you the exact take i get from it but you can imagine it something like planets around a sun pockets full of gas, ashes ashes or dust to dust we all fall down into the black hole but first one planet must take the suns place at center  so then we go to chain them together 1/2=*3 buckle my shoe meaning one will skip the other and balance  three 34=7 =(3.5)=*(8=*4=2=11), four shut the door (Habitatal Zone) Earth goes to  Mars to survive reach Ceres who has come to claim the sticks , 5/6 Jupiter= Neon NE PPM  =11=*2 pick up sticks sATURN=Samarium=PPM%62 =8=4=2=*11(7^)  Pluto, (plutonium) flies off the last ring and crosses vector back through the center (0) of the sun causing a super nova. build the new ecosystem from the rubble of the buckling shoes of (one and two) Venus/ Mercury 7/8=15=*6=3=(1.5)* lay them straight=Gamma Ray Burst= , 9/10=10=1=0 do it again pluto flies off the last ring and crosses back through the center of the sun causing a super nova, /Gamma Ray Burst=straight line = pick up sticks, 78 7/8=15=*PPM6=Uranus=Uranium%3=(1.5) PPM ^ %pluto buckle mercury, Iron, Hydrogen, Helium= Hell=gate shut the door, the gas from Hades will kill but it will feed the new sun with hell or helium lol  the answer is Jupiter and the Neon will be a suited replacement for the sun, and it will probably lock onto it if  it gets low on fuel. 9 lives cats eyes .... Saturn and Jupiter pick up sticks with a thousand needles in its eye,    cross your heart and hope to die stick a thousand needles in your eye. well that is it for now, it has been fun. I have to get something to eat.... 7 ate 9  written by Jason Shira 4/21/2013 


Simon Gorbunkov
Simon Gorbunkov

W W

We would be able to do so if our galaxy would be moving faster than light.

W W
W W

Maybe someone here can answer this:

When we look at this galaxy we are seeing information from 12.8 billion years ago (statement). Would we be able to measure out how far back (or out) to look in order to see our own galaxy's formation?

Michael Flaherty
Michael Flaherty

This is very cool, and a little surprising.  This rate of star formation so early!  Wow!  The guy who asks the confusing questions is funny.  Hey dude, the article states that the light we are seeing began its journey to us 13 billion years ago.  Of course time and space are relative to the observer, but this does not at all negate that observation (not a theory, sorry).  When was this galaxy born to begin with?  Is that what you're asking?  The article explains some of the evidence they have that the galaxy was not brand new at 13 billion years ago.  But it was not much older believe me.  Massive stars can form and explode over quite short timescales.  If your point is that you think the Big Bang did not happen, just say so.  But you're ignoring very powerful evidence from a variety of different directions.

Naiem Sleiman
Naiem Sleiman

As a human I am incapable of understanding those numbers, the world is too heavy to to deal with so what about the beautiful universe! But def in love with the Starbust Galaxy...

Stephen Perino
Stephen Perino

who is to say when the HFLS3, the galaxy—which is the farthest starburst galaxy began to emit the primordial light?

Unless there is a date stamp on the photons? It is all conjecture as to when the HFLS3 galaxy came into existance. Perhaps it was 14 trillion years ago?

We can only speculate..next year there will another "discovery" of even an older galaxy. But who is to say when the next discovery began emitting primordial light?

Just because it is observed then does not mean the next older galaxy has always been emitting "primodrial light".

C. Cyr
C. Cyr

"...pollute(?) their environments with all the heavy elements..." - I would prefer "enrich", otherwise your saying all planets and life are stellar pollution.

Katie Lou
Katie Lou

I see a face in this galaxy picture.

Stephen Perino
Stephen Perino

There entire theory makes only when you can accept the timeline of human evolution.

The observable light from this particular event is said to be *just now arriving to the earth*.  And that theory can be postulated this very day because we can observe the primordial light now as we have the technology to do so.

However I can postulate that- the primordial light began arriving on to Earth 1 billion years ago or 5 billion years ago..and who could prove me wrong?

Simply because humans lacked the technology to observe the primordial light 1 billion years ago does not invalidate my theory.

Attempts to invalidate my theory will be based upon another theory that hmans did not exist 1 billion years ago. Although there isn't any shred of proof human did or did not exist 1 billion years ago...only a theory.

Mark Moser
Mark Moser

"from when the14-billion-year-old universe was just 880 million years old."  I just read that they have re-evaluated the age of the galaxy and said it was only 13.2 billion years old.  if thats true then hoe can this one be older than that?

Jason Shira
Jason Shira

@Michael Flaherty i am saying that it happens in a cycle when a rouge planet usually the cold one at the end of the system drifts off track and crosses the center in a locked magnetic loop considering that super magnetic conductivity is expressed at absolute zero. It fuels the sun to explode with a super nova or a Gamma ray burst, especially if the entanglement collides with the Neon in Jupiter and Uranium in Uranus, and considering the plutonium on the downgraded rouge planet Pluto that is frozen and super conductive and could eventually  loop inwards towards the pull of the black hole in the center of the system towards our sun. but just a guess I imagine that galaxies have a set expiration on them due to the fact that we orbit. And with the chaos of the random and not so random,  beautiful and destructive yet life giving laws of space and the repetitions of history in an in ex capable calculation of mathematics I would say that life feeds on life and if we only new the revolution of the first beginning and end of our galaxy then we would be able to jump over the problem and ride the wave out again......

Katie Perkovich
Katie Perkovich

@Michael Flaherty what you said there about it began its journey 13 billion years ago just really struck a chord with me and made me understand "light years", it is hard to fathom. how can i compare light years to something i can recognize in time?

Artemas Richardson
Artemas Richardson

@Stephen Perino At school, you had a lot of trouble on that math problem with the trains, didn't you?

"If a train leaves station A traveling at 1 light year per year, how long will it take to reach station B 13 billion light years away?"

Human evolution may only be a theory. Gravity may only be a theory. Chess strategy may only be theory but the speed of light through a vacuum is *not* a theory, it is an observed, measured and recorded fact and one of the constants of our universe. If the galaxy is 13 billion light years away, then the light reaching us now is 13 billion years old. QED

faux shizle
faux shizle

@Stephen PerinoPoor little fellow, all confused with the observable universe...well sonny, you go right ahead and make up one that makes you feel good.

faux shizle
faux shizle

@Mark Moser The last re-evaluation was published a few weeks ago, it was changed from 13.7 to 13.8 billion.

Jane Lee
Jane Lee expert

@Mark Moser Hi Mark - I edited this piece. Although estimates for the age of the universe range between 12 and 14 billion years, recent calculations have narrowed that down to 13.77 billion years. So we rounded up for this article. If you scroll down the page on this website (http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_age.html), you can read more about this.

Katie Lou
Katie Lou

@George Russert @Katie Lou  

.......well, I don't know about the laughing part, but it is rather beautiful and mystical.  Sometimes clouds are interesting that way, too.

Stephen Perino
Stephen Perino

@Artemas Richardson @Stephen Perino 

The only math involoved is the speed of light and the moment in time when the light is observed, and the moment in time is subjective and relative to the observer.

To say that the primodrial light  can be dated to 13.8 billion years past  simply because the primordial light was just observed today based upon  today's available technology does nothing to prove the theory that the primordial light was generated 13.8 billion years ago.

It is called the Big Bang Theory not the Big Bang fact.

The primordial light just as easily been traveling past us for trillions of years not billions..unless there is a date stamp on the photons that give the birth date?

Matt McMahon
Matt McMahon

@Artemas Richardson@Stephen Perino It's actually pretty elegant. Astrophysics is far from my area of expertise, so I'll leave it to someone better able to explain it:

http://bit.ly/ZzzRFC

The link is to a book excerpt. In the second paragraph, Neil DeGrasse Tyson begins explaining the process. It's elegant, to say the least.

(I'll admit I haven't read the book the quote is from, but the explanation matches other talks I've seen Dr. Tyson give.)

Artemas Richardson
Artemas Richardson

@Stephen Perino We don't know how old the light is because of the light's properties, we know how old the light is because we know how far away the galaxy is. The galaxy is 13.8 billion light years away. Light travels at the speed of light, so divide 13.8 billion by 1 and you will get the number of years the light has been traveling. It has nothing to do with "our current level of technology" just simple division. If you want to take a completely solipsistic view, we know that the galaxy we're looking at is no younger than 13.8 billion years old. How do they know it's older than that? You got me, I'll have to do my research.

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