Astroboffins spy the most ancient protocluster of galaxies yet found post Big Bang

The giant group of 12 galaxies formed when the universe was just 800 million years old

The oldest protocluster of galaxies found to date began clumping together some 13 billion years ago, when the universe was just 6 per cent of its current age.

A global team of 36 astrophysicists led by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) studying data taken from the Keck and Gemini Observatory and the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and Chile respectively, have discovered twelve galaxies gravitating towards one another. The collection, codenamed z66OD, has been classified as a protocluster, a type of cosmic structure describing the initial stages of a larger system that can attract over hundreds of galaxies.

It’s the oldest protocluster spotted yet; the finding confirms that these complex structures began forming when the universe was a mere 800 million years old.

“A protocluster is a rare and special system with an extremely high density, and not easy to find,” said Yuichi Harikane, a research fellow at the NAOJ who led the study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal (here’s the free preprint).

The protocluster is a whopping 13 billion light years away after all. “To overcome this problem, we used the wide field of view of the Subaru Telescope to map a large area of the sky and look for protoclusters," he added.


Black holes are like buses: You wait for one – and three turn up at once in galaxy merger


Z66OD was spotted when the team found an area where galaxies were 15 times more dense than normal. Further observations revealed that the location contained an unusually high number of young stars - five times larger than other galaxies of similar size - spread out across 12 galaxies.

One was identified as Himiko, a giant galaxy swelling with gas discovered a decade ago. “It is reasonable to find a protocluster near a massive object, such as Himiko,” said Masami Ouchi, co-author of the paper and a researcher at the NAOJ. “However, we're surprised to see that Himiko was located not in the center of the protocluster, but on the edge 500 million light-years away from the center."

The group dynamics of a galaxy cluster are still a mystery, it’s not clear how they evolve and form over time. “Tracing the formation of the largest structures in the universe, and the galaxies inside them, is the new frontier in extragalactic astronomy,” said Dave Clements, co-author of the paper and a senior lecturer at Imperial College London.

“This result pushes that frontier back still further, and provides some hints as to the processes behind protocluster galaxy formation.” ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022