NASA telescopes help identify most distant galaxy cluster

A team of astronomers has uncovered a burgeoning galactic metropolis, the most distant known in the early universe. This ancient collection of galaxies presumably grew into a modern galaxy cluster similar to the massive ones seen today.

The developing cluster, named COSMOS-AzTEC3, was discovered and characterized by multiwavelength telescopes, including NASA’s Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes, and the ground-based W.M. Keck Observatory and Japan’s Subaru Telescope.

Johannes Staguhn, an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Astrophysical Sciences in the Krieger School’s Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy, contributed data to uncover the nature of a main cluster member.

“This exciting discovery showcases the exceptional science made possible through collaboration among NASA projects and our international partners,” said Jon Morse, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Scientists refer to this growing lump of galaxies as a proto-cluster. COSMOS-AzTEC3 is the most distant massive proto-cluster known and also one of the youngest, because it is being seen when the universe itself was young. The cluster is roughly 12.6 billion light-years away from Earth. Our universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old. Previously, more mature versions of these clusters had been spotted at 10 billion light-years away.