NASA: Hubble Space Telescope Shatters Cosmic Distance Record To View Farthest Galaxy Ever Seen

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has just broken cosmic distance records to measure its farthest galaxy yet by viewing what it looked like 13.4 billion years ago. The relatively young galaxy named GN-z11 is in the same area of the sky as Ursa Major or the Big Dipper.

Manned by a team of scientists from Yale University, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), and the University of California, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is a cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency. Pascal Oesch of Yale University is the principal investigator of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope project and he commented in a media release.

“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age.”

These most recent results go beyond the limits that NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope scientists originally anticipated. According to PBS, scientists didn’t believe the feat was possible until recently. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and repaired in 1993 while still in orbit. It’s not an exaggeration to say that one of NASA’s most ambitious projects has changed the way many view the universe with the string of stunning images that it has released in the years since then.

Because of the way the NASA Hubble Telescope measures light, when it looks at great distances, it is actually looking into the past. What the eye views as white light is actually composed of light waves at various frequencies and therefore of different colors. As light waves travel over distance, the waves lengthen, a change that can be viewed as something called “red shift.” As the waves get longer, they become redder in shade. Understanding that principle, it is possible for the NASA Hubble Space Telescope to measure the distance of an object by the amount of red shift in the light it emits. Since light travels at a specific speed, it is also possible to calculate how long ago it began the journey from its source by using the red shift data.

The NASA team had originally estimated GN-z11’s distance by measuring its color. NASA scientists then decided to push the envelope and attempted – successfully – to use Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to give a more precise measurement of the distance. The Wide Field Camera uses a component called a spectometer which splits the light into the various colors it contains.

The NASA Hubble Telescope has confirmed GN-z11 at a red shift of 11.1 – beating the previous record of 8.68 by nearly 200 million years. The brightness of the young galaxy also comes as something of a surprise. NASA investigator Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz explains.

“It’s amazing that a galaxy so massive existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the very first stars started to form. It takes really fast growth, producing stars at a huge rate, to have formed a galaxy that is a billion solar masses so soon.”

Because of GN-z11’s great distance, the NASA Hubble Space Telescope is viewing light that was first emitted from the galaxy 13.4 billion years ago or about 400 million years after the big bang. The overall goal is to go farther and farther in distance and in time to discover galaxies which were formed shortly after the big bang and gain more insight into the forces that created our universe.

As the NASA Hubble Space Telescope continues to amaze with its revelations about the nature of the cosmos and its spectacular beauty, there is another project in the works that has been designed to surpass the now decades old project – the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope is set to take the baton from NASA’s Hubble Telescope and push even farther into space after its launch in 2018.

[Image via NASA]