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Researchers discover galaxy cluster

Researchers discover galaxy cluster

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A team of researchers that includes two Texas A&M faculty members has discovered a new galaxy cluster 10.5 billion light years away.

Kim-Vy Tran and Casey Papovich, both assistant professors in A&M's physics and astronomy department, are among 15 scientists that participated in the FourStar Galaxy Evolution Survey. The group announced recently that it found the concentration of 30 galaxies near the Leo constellation.

Their findings were published Monday on the website for Astrophysical Journal Letters and will appear in the journal's April edition. According to A&M officials, the cluster is the most distant galaxy cluster ever found.

The group made the discovery after inspecting an area in the sky that from earth looks one-fifth the size of the moon. To do so, they used a camera specially designed for their project that they attached to Magellan Telescope in Chile. The new camera allowed the researchers to see galaxies that were previously invisible with older technology.

"Most other surveys were just looking at the tip of the iceberg," Tran said. "The modern technology contained in this camera enabled us to detect the faintest light possible, allowing us to see much more of the iceberg than previously revealed. It's like we're using a fine comb to sift through the distant universe."

The team, led by Austrailian researcher Lee Spitler, reviewed the data and images northwest of Houston at the Cook's Branch Conservatory, which is owned by A&M physics benefactor George P. Mitchell and often made available to Aggie physics researchers and their collaborators.

The galaxy cluster described in the group's paper was found in June. The scientists said it was young at the time it was observed -- due to the speed at which light travels, viewing something 10.5 billion light years away is like looking back in time -- and will likely grow into a more dense collection of galaxies.

"These are the first steps of accurately measuring the rate at which these large [clusters] formed in a dark-matter dominated universe," Papovich said. "The rate at which they come together tests our understanding of how structures in the universe formed."

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