NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have discovered the farthest known galaxy in the universe. According to NASA, this new galaxy—named SPT0615-JD—spreads across 2,500 light years and was formed when the universe was just 500 million years old.
Scientists found SPT0615-JD using the data gathered by Hubble’s Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey (RELICS) and S-RELICS Spitzer programs. The analysis suggested that the mass of SPT0615-JD is about 3 billion times that of the solar mass. This galaxy is relatively young in astronomical terms and came into existence shortly after the occurrence of the Big Bang. Although astronomers have detected some other galaxies belonging to this early epoch, all those galaxies appear just as a red dot due to their huge distance from the Earth. However, in case of SPT0615-JD, scientists were able to get a much better image of the galaxy and also determine its actual shape and size, thanks to the gravitational lensing phenomenon in space.
Gravitational lensing phenomenon, first predicted by Albert Einstein about 100 years ago, refers to an effect in which the gravitational field of a large, foreground object amplifies the light originating from a distant object in the background. Due to this effect, the image of the background object gets brightened, although it also gets distorted a bit. This “zoom lens” effect is used by astronomers to search for amplified images of faint, distant galaxies that are otherwise impossible to find using modern-day telescopes like Hubble.
According to Astronomy.com, SPT0615-JD is located at such a point in the universe beyond which Hubble is unable to see objects. Scientists believe the upcoming, more powerful James Webb Space Telescope would allow them to discover many more galaxies like SPT0615-JD located much farther away from the Earth.
Brett Salmon, the lead author of the study, will present his findings at the upcoming meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington.
The Hubble Space Telescope, named after renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble, was the first major optical telescope to be put in space. This joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency was launched in the 1990s to provide an unobstructed view of the universe to astronomers. Since its launch, Hubble has made nearly 1.3 million observations, allowing scientists to discover the most distant planets, stars, and galaxies in the universe. Hubble is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and its science operations are conducted by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.