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Picture of the Day

Early opaque universe linked to galaxy scarcity

A team of astronomers led by the University of California, Riverside, has made a surprising discovery: 12.5 billion years ago, the most opaque place in the universe contained relatively little matter. Over a decade ago, astronomers noticed that in the very distant past -- roughly 12.5 billion years ago, or about 1 billion years after the Big Bang -- the gas in deep space was not only highly opaque to ultraviolet light, but its transparency varied widely from place to place, obscuring much of the light emitted by distant galaxies. Then a few years ago, a team of scientists found that these differences in opacity were so large that either the amount of gas itself, or more likely the radiation in which it is immersed, must vary substantially from place to place. To find out what created these differences, the team from University of California, Riverside, turned to one of the largest telescopes in the world: the Subaru telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Using its powerful camera, the team looked for galaxies in a vast region, roughly 300 million light-years in size, where they knew the intergalactic gas was extremely opaque. Shown here: A computer simulation of a region of the universe wherein a low-density "void" (dark blue region at top center) is surrounded by denser structures containing numerous galaxies (orange/white). The University of California, Riverside, team's research suggests that early in cosmic history, these void regions would have been the murkiest places in the universe even though they contained the least amount of dark matter and gas.

Visit Website | Image credit: TNG Collaboration