“By combining the power of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, and one of nature’s own natural “zoom lenses” in space, astronomers have set a new distance record for finding the farthest galaxy yet seen in the universe.
The diminutive blob, which is only a tiny fraction of the size of our Milky Way galaxy, offers a peek back into a time when the universe was 3 percent of its present age of 13.7 billion years. The newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is observed 420 million years after the big bang. Its light has traveled 13.3 billion years to reach Earth.
This is the latest discovery from a large program that uses natural zoom lenses to reveal distant galaxies in the early universe. The Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey (CLASH) with Hubble is using massive galaxy clusters as cosmic telescopes to magnify distant galaxies behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing.
Along the way, 8 billion years into its journey, this light took a detour along multiple paths around the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015. Due to the gravitational lensing, the CLASH research team, an international group led by Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., observed three magnified images of MACS0647-JD with the Hubble telescope. The cluster’s gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making the images appear approximately eight, seven, and two times brighter than they otherwise would, enabling astronomers to detect them more efficiently and with greater confidence. Without the cluster’s magnification powers, astronomers would not have seen this remote galaxy.
‘This cluster does what no manmade telescope can do,’ said Postman. ‘Without the magnification, it would require a Herculean effort to observe this galaxy.’”
The object is so small it may be in the first embryonic steps of forming an entire galaxy. An analysis shows that the galaxy is less than 600 light-years wide. Based on observations of somewhat closer galaxies, astronomers estimate that a typical galaxy of that epoch should be about 2,000 light-years wide. For comparison, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a companion dwarf galaxy to the Milky Way, is 14,000 light-years wide. Our Milky Way is 150,000 light-years across.”
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The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.
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