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IDCS J1426.5+3508: NASA's Great Observatories Weigh Massive Young Galaxy Cluster

  • An extremely distant massive cluster, IDCS J1426.5+3508, has been studied in great detail by three of NASA's Great Observatories.

  • This image of IDCS J1426.5+3508 contains X-rays from Chandra (blue), visible light from Hubble (green), and infrared data from Spitzer (red).

  • This is the most massive galaxy cluster detected at such an early epoch in the Universe.

  • X-rays from Chandra confirmed the cluster's mass and showed that about 90% of that mass is in the form of dark matter.

Astronomers have made the most detailed study yet of an extremely massive young galaxy cluster using three of NASA's Great Observatories, as described in our latest press release . This multi-wavelength image shows this galaxy cluster, called IDCS J1426.5+3508 (IDCS J1426 for short), in X-rays from the Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, visible light from the Hubble Space Telescope in green, and infrared light from the Spitzer Space Telescope in red.

This rare galaxy cluster, which is located 10 billion light years from Earth, weighs almost 500 trillion Suns. This object has important implications for understanding how these mega-structures formed and evolved early in the Universe. Astronomers have observed IDCS J1426 when the Universe was less than a third of its current age. It is the most massive galaxy cluster detected at such an early age.

First discovered by the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2012, IDCS J1426 was then observed using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Observatory to determine its distance. Observations from the Combined Array for Millimeter Wave Astronomy indicated it was extremely massive. New data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory confirm the galaxy cluster mass and show that about 90% of the mass of the cluster is in the form of dark matter, the mysterious substance that has so far been detected only through its gravitational pull on normal matter composed of atoms.

There is a region of bright X-ray emission (seen as blue-white) near the middle of the cluster, but not exactly at the center. The location of this "core" of gas suggests that the cluster has had a collision or interaction with another massive system of galaxies relatively recently, perhaps within about the last 500 million years. This would cause the core to "slosh" around like wine in a moving glass and become offset as it appears to be in the Chandra data. Such a merger would not be surprising, given that astronomers are observing IDCS J1426 when the Universe was only 3.8 billion years old. So that an enormous structure can form so rapidly, scientists think mergers with smaller clusters would likely play a role in a large cluster's growth.

This core, while still extremely hot, contains cooler gas than its surroundings. This is the most distant galaxy cluster where such a "cool core" of gas has been observed. Astronomers think these cool cores are important in understanding how quickly hot gas cools off in clusters, influencing the rate of stars at which stars are born. This cooling rate can be slowed down by outbursts from a supermassive black hole in the center of the cluster. Apart from the cool core, the hot gas in the cluster is remarkably symmetrical and smooth. This is another piece of evidence that IDCS J1426 formed very rapidly and quickly in the early Universe. Despite the high mass and rapid evolution of this cluster, its existence does not pose a threat to the standard model of cosmology.

These results were presented at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting being held in Kissimmee, Florida. A paper describing these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.


Fast Facts for IDCS J1426.5+3508:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/University of Missouri-Kansas City/M.Brodwin et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: JPL/CalTech
Release Date  January 7, 2016
Scale  Image is 1.9 arcmin across (about 3 million light years)
Category  Groups & Clusters of Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 14h 26m 28.80s | Dec +35° 07' 48.00"
Constellation  Boötes
Observation Date  05 and 23 March 2014
Observation Time  27 hours 47 min (1 day 3 hours 47 min)
Obs. ID  15168, 16321
Instrument  ACIS
References Brodwin, M. et al. 2015, ApJ (accepted); arXiv:1504.01397
Color Code  X-ray: Blue, Optical: Green, Infrared: Red
Distance Estimate  About 10 billion light years (z=1.75)
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