We've just shed light on one of the brightest galaxies in the universe

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Jan 27, 2017

Put your sunglasses on (and make sure they have extra UV protection) because astronomers from Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of La Laguna (ULL) in the Canary Islands have just discovered a galaxy that is positively dazzling.

BG29+1202 was discovered using the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS and the William Herschel Telescope, part of the Isaac Newton group of telescopes. It was a stellar standout among the million and a half galactic spectra analyzed for brightness and luminosity in the BELLS GALLERY project, part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Luminosity is the measure of visible light and radiant energy — energy emitted by electromagnetic or gravitational radiation — that causes us to perceive brightness, the human eye's perception of light reflection and radiation. This is one of the rare galaxies out there whose unearthly glow is high in both brightness and luminosity.

Gravitational lensing illuminates why this find really shines among galaxies. Imagine a leviathan lens able to magnify the visual intensity of an entire galaxy. However sci-fi this sounds, it is actually Einstein's Theory of General Relativity that predicts the (extremely slight) curving of space-time by matter that is directly in the way of a beam of light. This obstacle deflects the light towards or away from an observer. Light from BG29+1202 was lensed by a massive elliptical galaxy that bent the light towards Earth, so what scientists ended up seeing and imaging was a quantity of light more immense and intense than anything that would have been detected without the phenomenon. But it didn't stop shining there.

This anomaly of an alien galaxy appeared to scientists as not just one but four different images. Light will actually reach the observer via different paths when the lens is especially massive, even though it happened to be 5,400 million light years from the radiation source. Lensing amplified the luminous flux (light flow magnitude) of one image to nine times what it would have been if there had been no light-bending interference. Lyman-alpha UV luminosity, almost the brightest on the ultraviolet spectrum, makes BG29+1202 even more blinding.

Research lead Ismael Pérez Fournon anticipates future advances. "With telescopes such as the GTC and the WHT," he explains, "we can carry out studies which would be impossible without the presence of the lenses."

What these telescopes captured was a prehistoric picture of exactly how galaxy BG29+1202 looked 11.4 billion years ago, 2.3 million years after the Big Bang. Earth wasn’t yet an ocean of primordial ooze or even a twinkle in the eye of the universe. While we may never know whether it was as blinding as the Big Bang, it certainly blazes in the darkness of infinite space.

(via United Press International)