Galaxy clusters, the rarest of galaxy groupings, can be difficult for astronomers to find. NASA‘s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope, however, has just found a gigantic galaxy cluster, and is expected to uncover thousands more. The new findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.
“One of the key questions in cosmology is how did the first bumps and wiggles in the distribution of matter in our universe rapidly evolve into the massive structures of galaxies we see today,” said Anthony Gonzalez, leader of the research program at the University of Florida. “By uncovering the most massive of galaxy clusters billions of light-years away with WISE, we can test theories of the universe’s early inflation period.”
WISE has completed two all-sky surveys at infrared wavelengths, looking for near-Earth asteroids for a project dubbed NEOWISE. Now, the WISE team is combining all of its data and making it publicly available late next year for a project called AIIWISE. Using the AIIWISE data, astronomers should be able to spot large galaxy clusters, as well as hidden cool stars nearby
The first galaxy cluster found is called MOO J2342.0+1301 and located over 7 billion light-years from Earth. It is hundreds of times the mass of our Milky Way galaxy. Galaxy clusters are difficult to spot because their distance means not many we can observe have had sufficient time to form since the big bang.
“I had pretty much written off using WISE to find distant galaxy clusters because we had to reduce the telescope diameter to only 16 inches [40 centimeters] to stay within our cost guidelines, so I am thrilled that we can find them after all,” said Peter Eisenhardt, co-author of the paper on the findings and a WISE project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The longer exposures from AllWISE open the door wide to see the most massive structures forming in the distant universe.”
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/WIYN/Subaru)