Using a super-sensitive camera/spectrometer on the Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers have mapped the skies as they appeared 10 billion years ago, giving them a better look at the bright galaxies in the distant universe that appear to be forming stars at phenomenal rates.

They found that these glistening galaxies preferentially occupy regions of the universe containing more dark matter and that collisions probably caused the abundant star production. Results of the research were published in Astronomy&Astrophysics.

"Thanks to the superb resolution and sensitivity of the SPIRE [Spectral&Photometric Imaging Receiver] instrument on Herschel, we managed to map in detail the spatial distribution of massively star-forming galaxies in the early universe," said Asantha Cooray, UC Irvine associate professor of astronomy. "All indications are that these galaxies are... crashing, merging and possibly settling down at centers of large dark-matter halos."

This information will enable scientists to adapt conventional theories of galaxy formation to accommodate the strange, star-filled versions.

The European Space Agency's Herschel observatory carries the largest astronomical telescope operating in space today; it collects data at far-infrared wavelengths invisible to the naked eye.
One of three cameras on Herschel, SPIRE has let Cooray and colleagues survey large areas of the sky – about 60 times the size of the full moon – in the constellations of Ursa Major and Draco.

The data analyzed in this study was among the first to come from the Herschel Multi-Tiered Extragalactic Survey, the space observatory's largest project. UCI is one of only four U.S. educational institutions involved in Herschel using the SPIRE instrument.