Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mysteriously mature young galaxies

A composite image from the Hubble Telescope showing
two of the distant galaxies discovered in the new study.
Credit: Caroline Straatman.  Image source.
Yesterday, the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia reported on the results of a study that searched for distant galaxies emitting primarily red and infrared radiation.  Red light is associated with mature stars, so it is assumed that galaxies emitting light toward the red end of the spectrum consist mostly of old, red stars rather than newly-forming and young bluer stars.  The scientists were quite surprised, however, to find red galaxies 12 billion light years away, placing them only 1.6 billion years after the Big Bang.  Such mature galaxies were thought to have taken much longer to form, however.  According to one of the study's authors, "Fifteen years ago they were predicted not to even exist within the cosmological model favored at the time."  Yet, each of these newly-discovered galaxies appears to contain an average of 100 billion stars.

The immediate conclusion drawn by the scientists is that these galaxies must have formed all of their stars extremely rapidly and then stopped the star-forming process early.  Ironically, creationists are frequently criticized for drawing the same conclusion about radioactivity.  Nevertheless, this find is not at all surprising to creationists, who believe that stars were supernaturally created in a very short amount of time.  Creationists generally believe that the original creation was mature, or fully formed, but not "aged."  For example, I suspect that the originally created trees, though tall and thick, likely did not have rings in their trunks, aside from those necessary for transport of water and nutrients (I should note that this also means I am of the opinion that Adam did not have a belly button, which is merely a scar from a former event).  Likewise, these galaxies may have been created with red stars, but that does not necessarily demand that they are "older" than the bluer galaxies because no actual history is implied.  On the other hand, Dr. Humphrey's creationist cosmological model would allow the galaxies to have aged great spans of time even while they were being created on Day 4 of Creation Week due to time relativity.

To clarify, these are not the farthest/"oldest" galaxies ever found.  Numerous galaxies and object have been measured further than these out to 13.37 billion lightyears, but apparently such bodies are not considered to be "mature."  Such distant heavenly bodies are frequently cited as proof that the young-earth model is incorrect, but as I have discussed previously, the case is not as clear-cut as it might initially seem.

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