Galaxy formation and evolution

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The study of galaxy formation and evolution is concerned with the processes that formed a heterogeneous universe from a homogeneous beginning, the formation of the first galaxies, the way galaxies change over time, and the processes that have generated the variety of structures observed in nearby galaxies. It is one of the most active research areas in astrophysics.

Galaxy formation is hypothesized to occur, from structure formation theories, as a result of tiny quantum fluctuations in the aftermath of the Big Bang. The simplest model for this that is in general agreement with observed phenomena is the Λ Cold Dark Matter cosmology; that is to say that clustering and merging is how galaxies gain in mass, and can also determine their shape and structure.

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Formation of the first galaxies

After the Big Bang, the universe, for a time, was remarkably homogeneous, as can be observed in the Cosmic Microwave Background or CMB (the fluctuations of which are less than one part in one hundred thousand). There was little-to-no structure in the universe, and thus no galaxies. Thus we must ask how the smoothly distributed universe of the CMB became the clumpy universe we see today.

The most accepted theory of how these structures came to be is that all the structure we observe today was formed as a consequence of the growth of the primordial fluctuations, which are small changes in the density of the universe in a confined region. As the universe cooled clumps of dark matter began to condense, and within them gas began to condense. The primordial fluctuations gravitationally attracted gas and dark matter to the denser areas, and thus the seeds that would later become galaxies were formed. These structures constituted the first galaxies. At this point the universe was almost exclusively composed of hydrogen, helium, and dark matter. Soon after the first proto-galaxies formed the hydrogen and helium gas within them began to condense and make the first stars. Thus the first galaxies were then formed. In 2007 the Keck telescope, a team from California Institute of Technology found six star forming galaxies about 13.2 billion light years (light travel distance) away and therefore created when the universe was only 500 million years old.[1]

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