Washington: A team of astronomers has set a cosmic-distance record after discovering a galaxy far, far away.
Scientists from Yale University, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and the University of California pushed the Hubble Space Telescope to its limits to confirm that the galaxy is 13.4 billion light years away, the most distant and oldest object known in the universe.
This surprisingly bright infant galaxy, named GN-z11, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past, just 400 million years after the Big Bang. GN-z11 is located in the direction of the constellation of Ursa Major.
“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age,” explained principal investigator Pascal Oesch
Astronomers are closing in on the first galaxies that formed in the universe. The new Hubble observations take astronomers into a realm that was once thought to be only reachable with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
The results reveal surprising new clues about the nature of the very early universe. Investigator Garth Illingworth noted that it’s amazing that a galaxy so massive existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the very first stars started to form. It takes really fast growth, producing stars at a huge rate, to have formed a galaxy that is a billion solar masses so soon.
These findings provide a tantalizing preview of the observations that the James Webb Space Telescope will perform after it is launched into space in 2018. “Hubble and Spitzer are already reaching into Webb territory,” Oesch said.
This new discovery shows that the Webb telescope will surely find many such young galaxies reaching back to when the first galaxies were forming, added Illingworth.
This discovery also has important consequences for NASA’s planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which will have the ability to find thousands of such bright, very distant galaxies.
The research appears in the Astrophysical Journal. (ANI)