Abstract

Galaxy clusters trace the largest structures of the Universe and provide ideal laboratories for studying galaxy evolution and cosmology1,2. Clusters with extended X-ray emission have been discovered at redshifts of up to z ≈ 2.5 (refs 3,4,5,6,7). Meanwhile, there has been growing interest in hunting for protoclusters, the progenitors of clusters, at higher redshifts8,9,10,11,12,13,14. It is, however, very challenging to find the largest protoclusters at early times, when they start to assemble. Here, we report a giant protocluster of galaxies at z ≈ 5.7, when the Universe was only one billion years old. This protocluster occupies a volume of about 353 cubic comoving megaparsecs. It is embedded in an even larger overdense region with at least 41 spectroscopically confirmed, luminous Lyα-emitting galaxies (Lyα emitters, or LAEs), including several previously reported LAEs9. Its LAE density is 6.6 times the average density at z ≈ 5.7. It is the only one of its kind in an LAE survey in 4 deg2 on the sky. Such a large structure is also rarely seen in current cosmological simulations. This protocluster will collapse into a galaxy cluster with a mass of (3.6 ± 0.9) × 1015 solar masses, comparable to those of the most massive clusters or protoclusters known so far.

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The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge support from the National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0400703 and 2016YFA0400702) and from the National Science Foundation of China (grant 11533001). G.A.B. is supported by CONICYT/FONDECYT, Programa de Iniciacion, Folio 11150220. E.W.O. acknowledges support from the NSF from grant AST1313006. We thank R. de Grijs and M. Ouchi for discussions. This paper includes data gathered with the 6.5 m Magellan Telescopes located at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. Australian access to the Magellan Telescopes was supported through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy of the Australian Federal Government.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University, Beijing, China

    • Linhua Jiang
    • , Jin Wu
    • , Luis C. Ho
    • , Ran Wang
    •  & Xue-Bing Wu
  2. Department of Astronomy, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing, China

    • Jin Wu
    • , Luis C. Ho
    •  & Xue-Bing Wu
  3. Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • Fuyan Bian
  4. Department of Physics & Astronomy, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

    • Yi-Kuan Chiang
  5. Department of Astronomy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

    • Yue Shen
  6. National Centre for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

    • Yue Shen
  7. CAS Key Laboratory for Research in Galaxies and Cosmology, Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, Shanghai, China

    • Zhen-Ya Zheng
  8. Institute of Astrophysics and Center for Astroengineering, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

    • Zhen-Ya Zheng
  9. Chinese Academy of Sciences South America Center for Astronomy, Santiago, Chile

    • Zhen-Ya Zheng
  10. Department of Astronomy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    • John I. Bailey III
    •  & Mario Mateo
  11. Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands

    • John I. Bailey III
  12. Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, CA, USA

    • Guillermo A. Blanc
    •  & Jeffrey D. Crane
  13. Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile

    • Guillermo A. Blanc
    •  & Grecco A. Oyarzún
  14. Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Xiaohui Fan
    •  & Edward W. Olszewski

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Contributions

L.J. is the Principal Investigator of the project, analysed the data and prepared the manuscript. J.W. reduced the M2FS images. F.B., Y.S., Z.-Y.Z., J.I.B., J.D.C., M.M. and E.W.O. helped with the M2FS observations. Y.-K.C. carried out the simulations. L.C.H., X.F., R.W. and X.-B.W. prepared the manuscript. G.A.B. and G.A.O. helped with the M2FS data reduction. All authors helped with the scientific interpretations and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Linhua Jiang.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0587-9