Astronomers spot first evidence of dark galaxies

Astronomers in Chile using a powerful telescope have observed what appears to be evidence of the existence of dark galaxies, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced Wednesday.

Dark galaxies are small, gas-rich galaxies from the early universe that are believed to be the building blocks of today's bright, star-filled galaxies, said the ESO, an intergovernmental organization supported by 15 countries.

"For the first time, dark galaxies -- an early phase of galaxy formation, predicted by theory but unobserved until now -- may have been spotted," the ESO said in a statement.

"Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, an international team thinks they have detected these elusive objects by observing them glowing as they are illuminated by a quasar," it said.

The ESO is the most advanced astronomical observatory in the world, and operates three sites in Chile.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) array -- a cluster of four telescopes that can view objects four billion times fainter than objects visible to the naked eye -- is housed at the ESO's Paranal site in Chile's Atacama Desert.

"Our approach to the problem of detecting a dark galaxy was simply to shine a bright light on it," researcher Simon Lilly said in the release.

"With this study, we've made a crucial step towards revealing and understanding the obscure early stages of galaxy formation and how galaxies acquired their gas," added his colleague, Sebastiano Cantalupo.

The ESO is supported by Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

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