NASA has broken another remarkable record with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's phenomenal discovery last week of a heavenly prize 13.4 billion light-years away, the most distant object ever seen in the universe. The ultra-remote galaxy out beyond the constellation Ursa Major, now officially named GN-z11, appeared to the orbiting telescope exactly as it existed just 400 million years after the Big Bang, crushing the previous record of 13.2 billion light-years away.
“One of the Holy Grails of astronomy is to look back to see the first galaxies and, of course, stars when they formed,” Patrick McCarthy of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization told USA Today. "This discovery really pushes back the frontier further than we expected. Seeing a picture of a galaxy when it was younger or all the way back to the Big Bang 13-billion-years-away, that light has traveled a long way. It's like digging up a fossil, you see what life was like millions of years ago, it’s almost a fossil of the early universe."
Astronomers were able to measure the specific redshift (the result of the universe's expansion) of this infant galaxy and calculate when its light was broadcast, allowing observers to see the galaxy through a time capsule billions of years old.
“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble," explained principal investigator Pascal Oesch of Yale University. "We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age.”
The research teams used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to accurately measure the distance to GN-z11 spectroscopically by splitting the light into its various component colors, capturing the image at the very limit of what the Hubble Space Telescope can observe. These mind-warping limits will be surely broken when NASA's new flagship-class James Webb Space Telescope is launched into space in 2018.
“This is an extraordinary accomplishment for Hubble," said investigator Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University. "It managed to beat all the previous distance records held for years by much larger ground-based telescopes.”
(Via USA Today)