Have astronomers spied the most distant galaxy ever?

21 Sep 2012

Scientists using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have captured starlight from a galaxy that could be the most distant one ever seen, at 13.2bn light years away and dating back 500m years after the Big Bang.

Using both telescopes as well as a cosmic magnification effect to capture light from the galaxy, the scientists have just had their findings published in Nature.

According to the astronomers, this galaxy existed within the ‘dark ages’ of the universe when it transformed from a starless expanse to being populated full of galaxies.

Apparently the starlight captured by Hubble and Spitzer left the galaxy when the universe was just 3.6pc of its present 13.7bn-year-old age.

“This galaxy is the most distant object we have ever observed with high confidence,” said Wei Zheng, a principal research scientist in the department of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University.

He said that future work involving this galaxy and others like it could enable scientists to learn more about how the early universe and how the dark ages ended.

NASA said that unlike past observations of galaxies in this age range that were only observed in a single colour, the astronomers were able to see this particular galaxy in five different wavebands.

During their observations of the galaxy, the astronomers used gravitational lensing, the phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein in which the gravity of foreground objects warps and magnifies the light from background objects.

The scientists believe that the galaxy was less than 200m years old when it was viewed.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic