13bn light years away, we have found our most distant galaxy

6 May 2015

Image of galaxy EGS-zs8-1 via NASA, ESA, P. Oesch, and I. Momcheva, and the 3D-HST and HUDF09/XDF teams

In a galaxy far, far away, over 13bn light years to be precise, lies what is believed to be the most distant galaxy ever recorded on the edge of the known universe.

With the help of NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, an international team of astronomers was able to locate a galaxy designated EGS-zs8-1 that, given its distance from Earth, would mean the light emitting from its source is also one of the earliest glimpses of the birth stage of the universe.

According to Yale University, the original discovery of the galaxy by the space telescopes was enhanced significantly with the help of one of the most powerful Earth-based telescopic systems available to science, that being the MOSFIRE instrument based in the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii, USA.

By being estimated at a distance of more than 13bn light years away, EGS-zs8-1 joins a small band of galaxies that has been accurately measured by astronomers from the earliest known times of the universe, which puts it in the first 5pc of its existence.

From their findings, the teams based in Yale University and the University of California-Santa Cruz have shown that this latest example shows a period of great flux for the universe when hydrogen within galaxies was transitioning from a neural state to an ionised state and would have looked a lot different to more recent galaxies.

13bn liht years away galaxy

The section of space where EGS-zs8-1 lies. Image via NASA, ESA, P. Oesch, and I. Momcheva, and the 3D-HST and HUDF09/XDF teams

Still birthing galaxies 80-times faster than Milky Way

The findings by the teams led by Yale astronomer Pascal Oesch also showed that, incredibly, EGS-zs8-1 is still rapidly producing stars at an estimated speed that would be 80-times faster than those in our own Milky Way.

The researchers’ next mission will be to use the future James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due to be launched in 2018, to better analyse the incomprehensibly-distant galaxy.

“Our current observations indicate that it will be very easy to measure accurate distances to these distant galaxies in the future with the James Webb Space Telescope,” co-author Garth Illingworth of the University of California-Santa Cruz said.

“The result of JWST’s upcoming measurements will provide a much more complete picture of the formation of galaxies at the cosmic dawn.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic