The better our telescopes become, the closer we get to seeing the very origin of the universe. Now Japanese astronomers say they've found the oldest galaxy human eyes have ever seen. So how old is it?
Using telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, a team of astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan claim to have spotted a galaxy formed 12.91 billion light-years ago. A light-year, of course, is the distance light can travel in a year, which is about 6 trillion miles. Do the math on that, and these stargazers have just spotted an exceptionally far-away cosmic body that's only now becoming visible to our powerful telescopes.
The Japanese team isn't the only group of astronomers with an "oldest galaxy" claim, though. In 2010, a French team using NASA's Hubble telescope spotted a galaxy they claim originated 13.1 billion light-years ago, last year a team in Calfornia using Hubble spotted one they placed at 13.2 billion light-years, and earlier this month an Arizona State University team claimed the discovery of a galaxy 13 billion light-years away using a telescope in Chile. But all these discoveries remain unconfirmed. According to experts, the Japanese claim is the most "watertight."
"It's the most distant bullet-proof one that everybody believes," said Richard Ellis, a cosmology expert at the California Institute of Technology who specializes in galaxy formation.
Of course, even if the Japanese astronomers are right and the other "oldest galaxy" claimants are wrong, they haven't necessarily found the oldest galaxy in the universe. They've just found the oldest galaxy our telescopes have spotted thus far. According to the big bang theory, the universe was formed somewhere around 13.7 billion years ago, so it's certainly possible that there are galaxies topping 13 billion light-years out there somewhere. We just have to wait for the right viewer to spot them.
Check out a composite image of the galaxy (it's the red blurry thing) below:
(Via Huffington Post)