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2009: A space oddity; big blob in early universe

WASHINGTON – A strange giant space “blob” spotted when the universe was relatively young has got astronomers puzzled.

Using space and ground telescopes, astronomers looked back to when the universe was only 800 million years old and found something that was out of proportion and out of time. It was gaseous, big, and emitted a certain type of radiation, said study lead author Masami Ouchi, an astronomer at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, Calif.

Scientists don’t even know what to call it. So they just called it a radiation-emitting “blob.” They used that horror-film staple 34 times in their peer-reviewed study, which will be published in next month’s edition of Astrophysical Journal. More formally, they named it Himiko, after a legendary ancient Japanese queen.

The photo of it is beyond fuzzy.

“The puzzle is — what is it?” said California Institute of Technology astronomer Richard Ellis, who wasn’t on the research team but praised the find. “Often a puzzle leads to a breakthrough. My nose tells me that this object is rather special.”

Ouchi and Ellis said one possibility is that by chance, astronomers captured the moment a galaxy was forming in the early universe — something that never has been seen before.

As astronomers gaze deeper into space, they are looking farther back in time. What Ouchi found was from 12.9 billion years ago. Only three other objects have been seen that are from deeper in time and space.

But what’s most remarkable about this blob is its size, about as big as the disk-shaped Milky Way. According to many theories of the universe, nothing was supposed to be that big at that time in the universe. The other objects from that period are far smaller, Ouchi said.

Ouchi said it also could be two colliding galaxies, or might have something to do with a black hole.



Carnegie Institution for Science paper: www.ciw.edu/news/mysterious—space—blob—discovered—cosmic—dawn

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