Astronomers claim to have found most distant galaxy in universe (video)

16 Nov 2012

The inset image shows a close-up of the young dwarf galaxy, observed 420m years after the big bang. Image via NASA / European Space Agency

Scientists using NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes believe they have zoomed in on the most distant galaxy that’s ever been spotted in the universe to date, at 13.3bn light years away.

And because the universe itself is 13.7bn years old, it means that light from the galaxy has been travelling towards earth for a very long time, for almost the entire history of space.

According to NASA, the galaxy offers a glimpse of the universe when it was 3pc of its present age of 13.7bn years. It said the scientists observed the galaxy 420m years after the big bang, meaning its light has travelled 13.3bn years to reach earth.

The dwarf galaxy, which has been given the name MACS0647-JD, is apparently only a tiny fraction of the size of the Milky Way.

Astronomers pinpointed the galaxy using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes along with natural zoom lenses. They were part of an international group called Cluster Lensing And Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH), which uses massive galaxy clusters as cosmic telescopes to magnify distant galaxies behind them – the effect is known as gravitational lensing.

NASA said that, 8bn years into its journey, light from MACS0647-JD took a detour around the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015.

The space agency said that without the magnification powers of this cluster, the astronomers would not have been able to spot this distant galaxy.

“This cluster does what no man-made telescope can do,” said Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, who is leading the CLASH group. “Without the magnification, it would require a Herculean effort to observe this galaxy,” he said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic