Chilean astronomers help discover most distant galaxy ever seen

An international team that included two scientists from Universidad Católica has identified a 13.2 billion-year-old galaxy of the very early Universe.

Images from The Hubble Space Telescope were used by Chilean astronomers to confirm the most distant galaxy known in the Universe. Photo courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

By combining images from both the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, an international team of astronomers including two from Chile has discovered evidence of a 13.2 billion-year-old galaxy – a finding that could provide essential information about our Universe’s earliest years.

Light from the galaxy originated when the Universe was just 500 million years old (today it is 13.7 billion), making the it the most distant galaxy ever confirmed, according to NASA.

The team included Universidad Católica (U.C.) Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics professor Leopoldo Infante and U.C. doctoral student Mauricio Carrasco. Their findings were published in the journal Nature.

“This is the galaxy with the highest redshift ever discovered,” said Dr. Infante. “This means that the object’s light has been traveling most of the age of the universe.” Redshift is a measurement that analyzes how light in distant space appears to have longer (red) electromagnetic waves due to the expansion of the universe, with high levels of redshift meaning that an object is farther away.

Astronomer Wei Zheng with Johns Hopkins University in the United States, co-author of the paper, offers another way of understanding just how far away this discovered galaxy lies.

“If our current universe is a man of 70 years of age, we have reached an ‘infant’ age of 2.5-years young,” says Zheng. “It is like an archaeologist finding an oldest piece in history.”

The finding is especially important because this galaxy existed during the mysterious era of our Universe’s history when a transition began from the starless “cosmic dark ages” to the galaxy-filled Universe we know today. According to NASA, this newly discovered galaxy will be a prime target for the agency’s successor to the Hubble Telescope, the James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled for launch in 2018.

To check out images of the ancient galaxy, visit the Hubble Telescope’s website.