A team of astronomers have spotted an ancient galaxy a full 13.2 billion light-years from Earth, which makes it the most distant galaxy ever recorded by humans. Whoa.
Known as EGSY9p7, the galaxy can provide a fascinating look at the universe’s ancient history, as the team is viewing the galaxy as it existed 600 million years after the Big Bang. In cosmic terms, that’s darn recent, and could provide answers about how the universe evolved in those early years.
According to Space, the researchers found the galaxy by using an infrared spectrograph at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to track its “Lyman-alpha emission line.” Put simply, the device looked for hydrogen gas heated by ultraviolet radiation streaming from the galaxy's young stars. That tidbit is interesting because it’s typically used to spot stars and galaxies much closer to our own corner of the Milky Way. Finding something this distant? That’s a rarity.
"We frequently see the Lyman-alpha emission line of hydrogen in nearby objects, as it is one of the most reliable tracers of star formation," the study’s lead author Adi Zitrin said. "However, as we penetrate deeper into the universe, and hence back to earlier times, the space between galaxies contains an increasing number of dark clouds of hydrogen, which absorb this signal."
This is a great discovery, and could provide humanity with a deeper understanding of how the known universe came to be in the wake of the Big Bang. It also shows the difference technical advancements can make as we dig deeper and further into the recesses of the universe.