Astronomers Spot a Mysterious "Space Blob" From the Universe's Early Days

By Eliza Strickland | April 23, 2009 5:12 pm

space blobWhen the universe was young, it somehow produced a giant space blob that has astronomers completely puzzled. Researchers have caught sight of an enormous patch of hot hydrogen gas officially known as a Lyman-alpha blob, named for a particular wavelength of light released when an electron loses energy in a hydrogen atom. It spans some 55,000 light years, about half the width of the Milky Way, and it sits some 12.9 billion light years from Earth. That means we are seeing it as it was 12.9 billion years ago, when the universe was just 800 million years old [New Scientist].

The blob poses a cosmological conundrum because astronomers didn’t think such a big cloud could form so early in the history of the universe. Current models hold that between 200 million and one billion years after the Big Bang, the first colossal stars formed, emitting radiation that stripped light elements of their electrons and turned the Universe into a soup of charged particles. Only after this “re-ionisation epoch” did matter as we now know it really start to clump together [BBC News]. Astronomers thought that objects as big as the newly discovered blob would take a great deal of time to gradually grow from the mergers of smaller chunks of matter.

The blob has been named “Himiko” after a legendary Japanese queen. But now that astronomers have discovered and named the gas cloud, they have to get down to figuring out what it is. As researchers describe in their study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, the blob could conceal a galaxy lit either by a ravenous supermassive black hole at its centre or by the heat of an intense burst of star formation. But it could also be two merging galaxies, or a developing galaxy that is gobbling up a large amount of gas [New Scientist].

Regardless of what the blob may turn out to be, its size means that researchers don’t yet know everything about the behavior of matter in the universe’s early days, says study coauthor Masami Ouchi. “There are two possibilities: the standard scenario of galaxy formation is wrong, or this particular object is showing something unique”  [BBC News], he says.

Related Content:
80beats: Just After the Big Bang, a Star Factory Went Gangbusters
80beats: Scientists May Have Detected the Death Throes of the Universe’s First Stars
80beats: The First Stars Started Small, Grew Fast, and Died Young
DISCOVER: The Man Who Made Stars and Planets
DISCOVER: In the Nursery of the Stars

Image: M Ouichi et al

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • http://slk@fmuyahoo.comm michael murphy

    and how many of us have been beyond the moon/earths?????????wy not biuld 10 20 hubble tellys and send them from the moon 2 pluto/i think the world as a whole can afford it/on the other hand can we as a speices not????????

  • http://slk@fmuyahoo.comm michael murphy

    why cant we buil a simpler computer

  • Pete

    Why can’t humans as a whole learn how to spell?

  • http://www.myspace.com/hurricane2watch John

    This is an amazing find! What it implies is that we still don’t understand the physics of massive plasmas. But I still have the burning question that just never seems to get a rational answer: How can we all have started from a single point if we are just now able to peer into matter from 12.9 Billion years ago? I recognize that universal expansion says that what an outside observer may see as 1 inch of distance in the young universe is a relative billion miles, for example, to the inside observer. I still just don’t buy it. I am more inclined to believe in the Big “Rip” rather than the Big Bang, where our Universe and a parallel Universe exchanged energies in a way we have as yet to explain. This phenomenon would allow for the vast distances to the ancient Universe to have real relativity.
    But for those of you who are still on the Bing (sic) Bang theory, perhaps you should consider adding the element of Time into your equation as a real mass. Then consider that in the core of the Super Massive Black Hole, Time is finally fused with Mass to form an even more infetesimally smaller particle which I like to define as the real (Time) Warp particle. This allows that when all time and matter have fused back into the Singularity, the Big Bang could reoccur as a pulsating object. And after all, isn’t the Pulse, or Oscillation as it is otherwise called, the most common phenomenon of all particles which are measurable to our Universe?
    Ponder, my friends, that at the Big Bang event, if it did happen, that when the singularity exploded that the first energy/mass released all of the Time the Universe contained and that is what makes our Universe both Finite and Infinite? Finite because we can only see one “Pulse” of our Universe in our physical existence (even though it is by conjecture; Infinite because this Pulse can recur beyond any length of existence that our meager imaginations can grasp.
    I hope this is at least food for thought!

  • joseph

    we should have already been back to the moon and started to colonize it. why are we being so slow about it? what is the hold up?

  • max

    This is amazing and that is right we do not fully understand the physics of massive plasmas. I believe this just further solidifies my belief in the plasma universe/electric universe theory and not in the big bang! More and more scientific finds seem to conflict with the mainstream school of thought, i.e: the big bang. Our universe seems to be much much older than the big bang predicts. Check out electric universe/plasma universe theory. Eric Lerner’s book the big bang never happened and Big Bang Blasted by Lyndon Ashmore offer some very interesting information. I believe that the universe may or may not be infinite in time and possibly space. Although it would make perfect sense if it were. At the very least the universe seems to be much older then current popular models predict. The plasma/electric universe theory which doesnt make that prediction. So far it’s the only theory that seems to make sense. Unfortunately it’s not the one that is currently taught. What if the vast majority of scientists are wrong! What if we are hindering further progress because the vast majority of scientists support the wrong theory! I beleive that they do. We tend to believe what the majority tells us, the majority is not always right. The Earth is not flat. The Earth is not the center of the universe. The universe is probably not 13.7 billion years old. The Big Bang probably never happened! Keep an open mind and check it out… It could eye opening!

  • max

    …be…

  • mharratsc

    Well, if you don’t believe that redshift = distance and that magnetic fields need electrical currents to exit, then maybe that big blob is simply a nebula heating up and getting ready to start forming a galaxy.

    I’m sure they’ll come up with some bizarre anti-dark matter reverse blackhole ‘cosmic blowhole’ theory to explain it tho… >.<

  • Ryan #2

    @Pete

    It’s hard to spell English words because their spellings are based on pronunciation from before “the great vowel shift.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

    Back in 1200 AD you could sound our the spelling of words in English almost every time. Today, not so much.

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