A team of astronomers at the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute of the University of Groningen, with help from the European Southern Observatory (ESO)'s UltraVISTA survey telescope, were able to discover 574 distant and massive galaxies that were previously unrecorded.
Led by Karina Caputi, the astronomers surveyed the sky at near-infrared wavelengths in order to collect a census of galaxies when the universe was only between 0.75 and 2.1 billion years old.
"We uncovered 574 new massive galaxies - the largest sample of such hidden galaxies in the early Universe ever assembled," said Caputi, according to the ESO. "Studying them allows us to answer a simple but important question: when did the first massive galaxies appear?"
The team was able to discover a lot of galaxies in a very short amount of time with the help of VISTA's images of the same patch of sky since December 2009 and infrared wavelengths. Part of the discovery is that a large fraction of massive galaxies seen near the universe were already in existence just 3 billion years after the Big Bang.
"We found no evidence of these massive galaxies earlier than around one billion years after the Big Bang, so we're confident that this is when the first massive galaxies must have formed," concluded Henry Joy McCracken, co-author on the paper, according to Astronomy Now.
In addition, Caputi and her team discovered a lot more galaxies than expected to exist. These new results, however, contradict current models of how galaxies evolved in the early universe, which do not predict any monster galaxies at these early times, the release adds.
Furthermore, if more massive galaxies are out there and are dustier than scientists have predicted, then even UltraVISTA can't detect them, and it would also imply that a complete overhaul on the current information on how galaxies formed in the early universe will have to be made.