Space & Innovation

Hubble Spies Most Distant, Oldest Galaxy Ever

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have spotted a bright galaxy located a record-breaking 13.4 billion light years away, the most distant galaxy found yet.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have spotted a bright galaxy located a record-breaking 13.4 billion light years away, the most distant galaxy found yet.

The galaxy, named GN-z11 and located in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, formed just 400 million years after the Big Bang explosion that marks the beginning of the universe.

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"We've taken a major step back in time, beyond what we'd ever expected to be able to do with Hubble," Yale University astronomer Pascal Oesch said in a statement.

Oesch and colleagues used Hubble's light-splitting spectrograph to image the unexpectedly bright galaxy, which is pumping out new stars at a rate that is about 20 times faster than what the Milky Way is producing today.

The scientists then analyzed how wavelengths of light from the galaxy had shifted due to the distance traveled. The phenomenon is similar to how the sound of train changes as it recedes into the distance.

Previously, the most distant galaxy was 13.2 billion years away.

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"This new record will likely stand until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope," added Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum.

The Webb observatory, a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope, is scheduled to fly in 2018. It is more sensitive to longer wavelength, infrared light that will allow researchers to look back at the first objects that radiated after the Big Bang explosion.

With just one percent of the mass of the Milky Way's stars, GN-z11 is small by modern standards but huge considering how early it formed.

"It's amazing that a galaxy so massive existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the very first stars started to form," said astronomer Garth Illingworth with the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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The new spectroscopic observations of GN-z11 builds on previous observations by Hubble and NASA's Spitzer infrared space telescope which had led scientists to believe the galaxy was actually closer than it actually was.

The research will be published in next week's issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Artist rendering showing  the position of the most distant galaxy discovered so far within a deep sky Hubble Space Telescope survey.

Image: The Hubble Space Telescope hangs above Earth in this photo taken by a NASA astronaut during one of the Hubble Servicing Missions.

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Image: This famous observation of the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina, shows a beautiful and dramatic star-forming region. The image celebrated the 20th anniversary of Hubble's launch and deployment into an orbit around Earth in 2010.

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Image: NASA astronaut Michael Good, STS-125 mission specialist, is seen from an aft flight deck window on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during the mission's second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) during the 2009 Hubble servicing mission. Fellow NASA astronaut Megan McArthur's reflection is also in shot.

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Image: This observation by Hubble shows a new view of an old classic: The Horsehead Nebula.

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Image: The dazzling Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbors, dazzles in this detailed observation by Hubble.

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Image: This close-up, visible-light view by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals new details in the Ring Nebula.

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Image: A view of the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting over South America.

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