Oldest, most distant galaxy found

Its light comes from a time shortly after the Big Bang

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows the most distant galaxy discovered to date. The green panel zooms in on the galaxy, which astronomers see as it existed only 700 million years after the Big Bang.

NASA, HST, CANDELS, V. Tilvi and S. Finkelstein

Astronomers have identified the most distant galaxy known. Named z8_GND_5296, it appears in a patch of sky near the Great Bear constellation. It’s so distant that its light took 13 billion years to reach Earth. So what scientists see is what the object would have looked like just 700 million years after the Big Bang. That is when our universe came into being.

Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues discovered the new object. They described it October 23 in Nature.

The extremely distant galaxy makes new stars more than 100 times faster than does our galaxy, the Milky Way. This suggests the early universe may have more areas of relatively quick star formation than had been realized. The new finding also raises questions about the conditions of the early universe and how that might affect astronomers’ hunt for earliest galaxies that ever formed.

Power Words

astronomy  The area of science that deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe as a whole. People who work in this field are called astronomers.

Big Bang  The rapid expansion of dense matter that marked the origin of the universe.

constellation  Patterns formed by prominent stars that lie close to each other in the night sky. Modern astronomers divide the sky into 88 constellations, 13 of which (known as the zodiac) lie along the sun’s path through the sky over the course of a year. Cancri, the original Greek name for the constellation Cancer, is one of those 13 zodiac constellations.

galaxy  A massive group of stars bound together by gravity. Galaxies, which each typically include between 10 million and 100 trillion stars, also include clouds of gas, dust and the remnants of exploded stars.

Milky Way  The galaxy in which Earth’s solar system resides.

Ashley Yeager is an editor who helps writers share stories about all sorts of cutting-edge science. Ashley enjoys hiking with her dogs, swimming and reading. She is fascinated by the stars and the stuff between themso much so she wrote a book about dark matter, that mysterious substance that pervades the universe. 

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