• Researchers detected clouds of carbon growing outside young galaxies
  • Carbon atoms were only known to exist within stars
  • Carbon cocoons may have been created after supernova events

For the first time, a team of researchers was able to detect traces of huge clouds of carbon outside young galaxies. Prior to the discovery, carbon atoms that produce these massive cocoons were only known to exist within stars.

The researchers were able to spot the carbon cocoons using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a series of 66 radio telescopes in Chile that’s capable of detecting electromagnetic radiation.

According to the study drafted by the researchers, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal, the radius of these cocoons are over 30,000 light-years and can be seen around young galaxies.

The researchers explained that during the time of the Big Bang, elements such as carbon and oxygen did not yet exist in the universe. These were later formed through the nuclear fusion process that stars go through. Although previous studies have already reported on the presence of carbon within stars, it is not yet clear how this element formed clouds beyond galaxies.

“We examined the ALMA Science Archive thoroughly and collected all the data that contain radio signals from carbon ions in galaxies in the early Universe, only one billion years after the Big Bang,” lead researcher Seiji Fujimoto of the University of Copenhagen said in a statement.

“By combining all the data, we achieved unprecedented sensitivity,” he continued. “To obtain a dataset of the same quality with one observation would take 20 times longer than typical ALMA observations, which is almost impossible to achieve.”

For the research team, one possible explanation behind the spread of carbon cocoons outside galaxies is related to supernova events as well as black holes.

According to Rob Ivision, the director for science at the European Southern Observatory, as stars reach the end of their life cycle, they explode violently. During these explosions, their elements are expelled into space. In some cases, the black holes of galaxies help in propelling these elements outward.

Based on Ivision’s explanation, these expelled carbon atoms from stars may have accumulated outside galaxies, forming into massive cocoons or clouds.

“Energetic jets and radiation from supermassive black holes in the centers of the galaxies could also help transport carbon outside of the galaxies and finally to throughout the universe,” he explained.

The researchers noted that further observations are yet to be conducted to understand why these carbon cocoons appear around young galaxies. They believe that these young galaxies might be going through a new physical process that’s yet to be discovered.

Spiral galaxy NGC 1365 observed from Chile in 2012 -- a new method gauges how to measure the universe's accelerating growth
Spiral galaxy NGC 1365 observed from Chile in 2012 -- a new method gauges how to measure the universe's accelerating growth FERMILAB / HO