Astronomers observe distant galaxy powered by primordial cosmic fuel

Astronomers have detected cold streams of primordial hydrogen, vestigial matter left over from the Big Bang, fueling a distant star-forming galaxy in the early Universe. Profuse flows of gas onto galaxies are believed to be crucial for explaining an era 10 billion years ago, when galaxies were copiously forming stars. To make this discovery, the astronomers – led by Neil Crighton of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and Swinburne University – made use of a cosmic coincidence: a bright, distant quasar acting as a “cosmic lighthouse” illuminates the gas flow from behind. The results were published October 2 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The systematic survey of absorption systems comprises observations with the Large Binocular Telescope and from data taken with the W. M. Keck Observatory’s HIRES echelle spectrograph installed on the 10 meter Keck I telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The foreground galaxy was discovered by Charles Steidel, Gwen Rudie (California Institute of Technology) and collaborators using the Keck Observatory’s LRIS spectrograph on the same telescope.

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