The Italian Almanac

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galaxy cluster

Furthest Galaxy

Italian-led team of international scientists has identified the furthest known galaxy cluster from earth. The cluster, known as JKC2041, lies some 10.2 billion light years from Earth, beating the previous record-holder by around a billion light years.

Led by Stefano Andreon of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Milan, the team is studying the cluster of hundreds of galaxies as they appeared when the Earth was just a quarter of its present age. ''Successfully identifying an object so distant confirms that our methods work,'' said Andreon. ''This is an important incentive for future missions devoted to studying remote galaxy clusters''.

JKCS041 was first detected in 2006 but scientists were not initially sure if it was a true galaxy cluster. Since then, the team has analyzed extensive information from optical and infrared telescopes, combining it with data sent back from NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory, in orbit since 1999. Further investigation could provide scientists with more details about how the universe evolved. ''JKCS041 provides us with an entire population of galaxies dating back to ancient eras,'' said Andreon. ''The simple existence of JKCS041 is the clearest demonstration of the fact we have not yet reached the confines of the knowable universe,'' he said.

Galaxy clusters are the universe's largest objects bound by gravity. According to Andreon, JKCS041 is at the farthest point at which scientists think galaxy clusters can exist in the early universe. ''This object is close to the distance limit expected for a galaxy cluster,'' he said. ''We don't think gravity can work fast enough to make galaxy clusters much earlier''.

Andreon conducted the research with INAF colleague Ginevra Trinchieri, Ben Maughan of Bristol University in the UK and Jaron Kurk of Germany's Max Plank Institute. Details of their conclusions will be published in the upcoming edition of the international journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. photo: a galaxy pictured by the Hubble Space Telescope earlier this year