z8_GND_5296: the Oldest Galaxy in the Universe

Furthest galaxy

 

That little fuzzy red splodge enlarged above is the memorably named z8_GND_5296, a galaxy that has recently been observed by the Hubble Telescope, and then been confirmed by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. As the title of this post says, it is believed to be the most distant galaxy ever observed, at a staggering 30 billion lightyears from Earth. The galaxy as we see it is as it was 13.1 billion years ago (the discrepancy between the distance and the age is due to the expansion of the universe), and shows the galaxy 700 million years after the Big Bang. In cosmological time, that is ridiculously close to the beginning of the universe, and so scientists hope that this can shed light n the earliest phases of the universe and the creation of galaxies. Indeed, so far we know that z8_GND_5296 is quite surprising and somewhat exceptional, as it is only about 1-2% the mass of the Milky Way, is rich in heavier elements, and yet it is turning gas and dust into new stars at a remarkable rate- hundreds of times faster than our own galaxy is. It is only the second distant galaxy discovered that has a high star production rate, showing that there were some very evolved galaxies in the early universe.

This galaxy has a redshift of 7.51, beating the 7.21 of the next furthest, and it is hoped that with better telescopes, even further galaxies still will be able to be observed. Perhaps it may even be possible to image the earliest stars in the universe from only a few million years after the Big Bang. Exciting stuff!

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