Astronomers have accomplished a record-shattering feat by peering into the heart of the early universe and estimating the precise distance to the most outlying galaxy ever spotted. According to reports, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has tracked one of the most primordial star-clusters believed to have existed merely 400-million years following the Big Bang. The elusive galaxy, named GN-z11, is thought to be among the first generation of galaxies and offers stunning insights into the infancy of the cosmos and the obscure origins of time.
The galaxy appears somewhat faint, owing to its enormous remoteness from our planet, making Hubble’s accomplishment outstandingly noteworthy. However, according to experts, the very fact that it was vivid enough to be spotted in the first place has encouraged them to characterize it as a tremendously large galaxy. They also maintain that other remote galaxies spotted by Hubble earlier, and bearing similar characteristics to this one, could provide similar clues to the origins of some of the earliest and awe-inspiring denizens of the cosmos.
According to University of New Haven expert Pascal Oesch, astronomers had, for the first time, employed Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC 3) on this occasion to ensure that precise and exceptionally reliable measurements of GN-z11’s distance from earth can be documented.
“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We managed to look back in time to measure the distance to a galaxy when the universe was only three percent of its current age.”
This astonishingly incandescent homeland of stars, many of which may have been possibly 100 million years old or less, as they glittered during their time is believed to be about 25 times smaller than the milky way and much farther away than initially reckoned at first glance. Located a record 13.4 billion light-years from the Earth, it was originally thought to be located approximately 13.2 billion light-years away.
Although somewhat smaller in magnitude than some of the newer galaxies on record, GN-z11 comprises about one billion times the mass of the sun. According to University of California astronomer Garth Illingworth, the galaxy is nonetheless colossal, keeping in perspective its primordial evolution and first-generation origins.
“We’re seeing this galaxy in its infancy. It’s amazing that a galaxy so massive existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the very first stars started to form.”
Last year, astronomers had spotted the brightest galaxy in the early universe and traces of the earliest generations of stars swarming it. The galaxy, named CR7, was believed to be three times more luminous than the brightest distant galaxy observed until then.
The ancient “Population 3” stars inhabiting it were believed to have emanated out of primordial matter dispersed across deep space following the Big Bang. Prior to its discovery, no actual evidence of their existence had been recognized. The discovery, however, shed new light on the early characteristics of nascent stars and their respective chemical composition that lead to the evolution of the more later order “Population 2” or “Population 1” that went on to fashion the cosmos as we know it.
Astronomers believe the new distance record surpassing the previous one by about 300 million light-years will likely last until the inauguration of the James Webb Space Telescope, a highly sophisticated infrared instrument seamlessly engineered to probe the most distant and obscure pockets of the universe. The highly-anticipated telescope is expected to launch into space sometime in 2018.
Meanwhile, astronomers associated with the feat are likely to publish their research in the forthcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
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