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A dynamically cold disk galaxy in the early Universe

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 22 August 2020

This article has been updated


The extreme astrophysical processes and conditions that characterize the early Universe are expected to result in young galaxies that are dynamically different from those observed today1,2,3,4,5. This is because the strong effects associated with galaxy mergers and supernova explosions would lead to most young star-forming galaxies being dynamically hot, chaotic and strongly unstable1,2. Here we report the presence of a dynamically cold, but highly star-forming, rotating disk in a galaxy at redshift6 z = 4.2, when the Universe was just 1.4 billion years old. Galaxy SPT–S J041839–4751.9 is strongly gravitationally lensed by a foreground galaxy at z = 0.263, and it is a typical dusty starburst, with global star-forming7 and dust properties8 that are in agreement with current numerical simulations9 and observations10. Interferometric imaging at a spatial resolution of about 60 parsecs reveals a ratio of rotational to random motions of 9.7 ± 0.4, which is at least four times larger than that expected from any galaxy evolution model at this epoch1,2,3,4,5 but similar to the ratios of spiral galaxies in the local Universe11. We derive a rotation curve with the typical shape of nearby massive spiral galaxies, which demonstrates that at least some young galaxies are dynamically akin to those observed in the local Universe, and only weakly affected by extreme physical processes.

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Fig. 1: [C ii] emission from the lensed galaxy SPT0418-47 and source plane reconstruction.
Fig. 2: Kinematic and dynamical properties of SPT0418-47.
Fig. 3: Comparison between SPT0418-47 and samples of observed and simulated galaxies.
Fig. 4: Comparison between SPT0418-47 and samples of its plausible descendants.

Data availability

This study used the ALMA data 2016.1.01499.S, available at

Code availability

The methodology used for the source reconstruction and its kinematic modelling is fully explained in ref. 13. The code is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Change history

  • 22 August 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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This study used ALMA data 2016.1.01499.S. ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA) and NINS (Japan) with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan) and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO and NAOJ. S.V. received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement number 758853). F.R. thanks T. Naab and T. Costa for useful comments and discussions.

Author information




F.R., F.F. and S.V. analysed the data. D.P., F.R. and S.V. developed the software used for the lens–kinematic modelling. F.R. developed the software for the dynamical analysis. H.R.S. and F.R. reduced the data. F.R., J.P.M., S.V. and H.R.S. contributed to the writing of the manuscript. F.F. and S.D.M.W. helped with the interpretation of the scientific results. All authors discussed the results and provided comments on the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to F. Rizzo.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Reconstruction of the [C ii] emission and kinematic model.

The rows show representative channel maps at the velocity shown on the upper left corner of column 4. Columns 1 and 2 show the ‘dirty’ image of the data and the model, respectively, colour-coded by the flux in units of mJy per beam. Column 3 shows the residuals (data minus model) normalized to the noise. Columns 5 and 6 show the contours of the reconstructed source and of the kinematic model used to constrain the source reconstruction. The contour levels in the last columns are set at n = 0.1, 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 0.8 times the value of the maximum flux of the kinematic model.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Corner plot showing the posterior distributions of the lens and kinematic parameters.

The dark and light areas in the two-dimensional distributions show the 39% and 86% confidence levels, corresponding to 1 s.d. and 2 s.d., respectively, obtained with the fiducial methodology described in Rizzo et al.13 (green) and with the direct forward modelling method (grey). From left to right, the first six panels show the lens parameters, and the other panels show the source kinematic parameters (see also Extended Data Table 1).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Corner plot showing the posterior distributions of the dynamical parameters.

The posterior distributions are the results of the decomposition of the circular velocity (Fig. 2c) into the physical components contributing to the total gravitational potential: the stars, the gas disks and the dark-matter halo. The fitted parameters are the stellar mass Mstar, the effective radius, Re, the Sérsic index, n (Sérsic profile), the mass of an NFW dark-matter halo, MDM and the conversion factor between the [C ii] luminosity and the gas mass, α[Cii]. The dashed lines in the one-dimensional histograms show the 16th, 50th and 84th percentiles (see Extended Data Table 5).

Extended Data Table 1 Lens and source kinematic parameters
Extended Data Table 2 Kinematic properties for SPT0418-47 derived under different assumptions
Extended Data Table 3 Kinematic measurements for the comparison samples
Extended Data Table 4 Assumptions for the dynamical fit
Extended Data Table 5 Physical quantities for SPT0418-47 derived from the kinematic and dynamical modelling

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Rizzo, F., Vegetti, S., Powell, D. et al. A dynamically cold disk galaxy in the early Universe. Nature 584, 201–204 (2020).

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