A project of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration

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CSI: Early Universe

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For this installment of Cosmic Scene Investigation, we travel to one of the earliest collisions of large-scale structures in the known universe.

A splatter of red (denoting galaxies) lies at the center of this image, and extends toward the lower left. These are the remnants of a cosmic collision. Aeons ago, one group plunged through another at millions of miles per hour, leaving in its wake a wreckage. The galaxy cluster ‘El Gordo‘ is all that remains of this raucous event, which took place less than a billion years after the universe started.

From the deserts of Chile, the Atacama Cosmology Telescope was the first to detect this prodigious system. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, and NASA’s Spitzer Telescope have also collected forensic evidence across the energy spectrum, from the infrared to the X-ray. All put together, we see a system similar to the infamous Bullet Cluster: a pair of clumps converted to a churning, violent amalgam of hot gas, dust and light.

An extremophile in the truest sense, El Gordo is the earliest-occurring cluster of its caliber. Its hot gas is burning at 360 million degrees Fahrenheit (200 million degrees Celsius), and it weighs in at a million billion times the mass of Earth’s sun. Compare this to the Virgo cluster of galaxies, the celestial city that holds our Milky Way and its neighbors. El Gordo’s mass is about the same, but it is over a hundred times hotter.

Dark energy is the name given to that substance, that energy, that is making spacetime spread out faster and faster. In the early universe, the small chunks that make up El Gordo were able to overcome dark energy (if it even existed then) and move toward each other to produce this cosmic crash scene. How many more like it are out there? The case remains open.

To read more about the curious case of the big old cluster, see the peer-reviewed paper and the press release from Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Written by: Det. B. Nord [FNAL]

Image by: Det.’s Nikolay Kuropatkin and Martin Murphy [FNAL]

6 responses

  1. Gary Gregory

    Expansion to me means that something is multiplying and pushing everything apart. If so what does this process feed off of? How close is this to what you are studying?

    December 3, 2013 at 6:32 pm

  2. The VLT is not of the European Space Agency; but rather of the European Southern Observatory.

    December 3, 2013 at 9:11 pm

  3. Pingback: A Rare Post from The Dark Energy Survey: “CSI: Early Universe” | Science Springs

  4. Pingback: Early Universe | theonlynewsman

  5. carson

    space makes me want to cry tears of joy and simultaneously kill myself. its so incomprehensible and yet so interesting. the inability to comprehend it is probably the reason why we are so fascinated by it.

    December 16, 2013 at 7:40 am

  6. David Brown

    “Dark energy is the name given to that substance …”
    I now have 2 empirical tests of my quantum theory of gravity.
    http://vixra.org/abs/1312.0193 “Is the space roar an empirical proof that the inflaton field exists?”

    On 12/20/13 5:17 AM, David Brown wrote:
    Prof. Witten: Do you have an opinion concerning the comments posted for?

    http://quantumfrontiers.com/2013/11/05/fundamental-physics-prize-prediction-green-and-schwarz/

    — D. Brown

    On Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 3:54 AM, Edward Witten wrote:
    I am generally sympathetic with these observations
    Edward Witten

    December 26, 2013 at 12:30 am

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