Hubble, our telescopic eye in the sky, recently captured an image of something remarkable in deep space that dates back almost to the dawn of time.
This is an artist’s rendering of Galaxy z8_GND_5296, the most distant object ever detected. Although the name of the galaxy sounds like a bot’s username for AOL chat, scientists say it’s actually a cluster of stars that formed 700 million years after the beginning of the universe. (Via Nature)
The universe is believed to have formed 13.8 billion years ago. That means light from this galaxy has taken 13.1 billion years to reach us, so we’re literally looking into the past.
So, how’d they spot this thing? CBS says scientists used a technique called spectroscopy to detect chemical signatures of elements, like hydrogen, the main fuel of stars.
Scientists also measured what’s called redshift, or how far light has shifted into the red part of the spectrum. National Geographic explains: “Redshift occurs because wavelengths of light stretch out as galaxies move away from observers on Earth. So the higher the redshift number, the more distant the object from Earth.”
That helps to explain why the actual image of z8-whatever is a big red blot sticking out among white, yellow and orange dots in the blackness of space. These galaxies appear redder with age. (Via Space.com)
But this galaxy is special for another reason besides its name, how pretty it looks in an artist’s rendering or how old it is.
CNN reports the galaxy has a high star formation rate — the rate at which hydrogen converts into new stars each year. Our galaxy the Milky Way produces stars at one or two solar masses per year. The newly-discovered galaxy produces about 300 per year. Show off.
But despite the big find, lead astronomer Steven Finkelstein from the University of Texas at Austin said the team expected more. “We were thrilled to see this galaxy … And then our next thought was, ‘Why did we not see anything else?’ … We only saw this emission line from one out of our sample of 43 observed galaxies, when we expected to see around six. What’s going on?’ ”
Scientists say they plan to look even further into space with newer technology, like NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope. The agency plans to launch James Webb in 2018. (Via NASA)