The earliest known galaxy smashup happened less than a billion years after the Big Bang, a study affirms.
Mergers have helped build galaxies up from smaller clumps of stars to the elegant spirals seen in the modern universe. Our own Milky Way galaxy has eaten some of its smaller neighbors (SN: 11/24/18, p. 8), and is expected to collide with the giant Andromeda galaxy in some 4 billion years (SN: 7/14/12, p. 10).
Astronomers didnt know when these galaxy pileups started — until a team spotted galaxy B14-65666, nearly 13 billion light-years away. Images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope showed that the galaxys stars cluster in two distinct blobs, astronomer Rebecca Bowler of the University of Oxford and colleagues reported in 2016. The lobed shape suggested that the galaxy, one of the earliest ever observed, was actually two galaxies mid-merge.
That assessment was supported by recent observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile, which showed the objects gas split into two blobs that overlap with the stars clumps. The new data also revealed that the blobs were moving at different speeds with respect to each other, another hint they were merging galaxies, Takuya Hashimoto of Waseda University in Tokyo and colleagues report June 17 in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.
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