Most distant galaxy ever found offers glimpse of dawn over time

Rob Waugh

The Hubble space telescope has picked out the furthest galaxy ever detected by mankind - 13.3 billion light years from Earth.

The galaxy offers a glimpse of the dawn of time itself.

It is around three times as old as our solar system.

Due to the time it takes its light to travel to Earth, we see the galaxy as it was forming, just after the Big Bang 13.3 billion years ago.

Our Earth is thought to have formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

The galaxy was observed around 420 million years after the Big Bang when the universe was just 3 per cent of its current age.

Astronomers have calculated the galaxy is 13.3 billion light-years from Earth with a single light-year representing 5,878,625 million miles.

It was spotted using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, and one of nature's own natural "zoom lenses" in space.

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The Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH) is using massive galaxy clusters as cosmic telescopes to magnify distant galaxies behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing.

Scientists say the object is in the first stages of galaxy formation with analysis showing it is less than 600 light-years across.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 150,000 light-years across with the Solar System a third of the age of the newly discovered galaxy.

Dan Coe, from the Space Telescope Science Institute, said. "This object may be one of many building blocks of a galaxy.

"Over the next 13 billion years, it may have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of merging events with other galaxies and galaxy fragments."

Coe and his collaborators spent months ruling out alternative explanations for the object's identity - such as red stars, brown dwarfs, and red galaxies - to conclude it was a very distant galaxy.

The object, named MACS0647-JD, is the latest discovery from a programme which uses natural zoom lenses to reveal distant galaxies in the early universe.

Rychard Bouwens, from Leiden University, Holland, said: "While one occasionally expects to find an extremely distant galaxy using the tremendous power of gravitational lensing, this latest discovery has outstripped even my expectations of what would be possible with the CLASH program.

"The science output in this regard has been incredible."

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