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Hubble finds a new contender for galaxy distance record

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February 1, 2011

Astronomers have pushed the Hubble Space Telescope to the very limit of its technical abil...

Astronomers have pushed the Hubble Space Telescope to the very limit of its technical ability and believe that they have discovered the oldest and furthest ancient galaxy ever seen

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Pushing the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to the very limit of its technical ability, an international collaboration of astronomers believe they have discovered the oldest and furthest ancient galaxy ever seen. Light from the new object is thought to have taken some 13.2 billion years to reach the telescope, with the age of the Universe itself said to be 13.7 billion years. It's also said to be older than the current record holder, which set the bar by forming 600 million years after the Big Bang.

The discovery has been given the catchy name of UDFj-39546284 and is most likely a compact galaxy of blue stars from around 480 million years after the Big Bang. It's on the small size – over a hundred such mini-galaxies would be needed to make up the Milky Way. It's also too faint to be confirmed spectroscopically using current equipment, but it does suggest that galaxy growth increased by a factor of ten from the time of the previous record holder to that of the latest discovery.

"We're seeing huge changes in the rate of star birth that tell us that if we go a little further back in time we're going to see even more dramatic changes," said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

As old as the Universe itself

Astronomers are not sure exactly when the very first stars appeared, but each step further away from Earth takes them deeper into the formative years of the Universe. "We're moving into a regime where there are big changes afoot" continued Illingworth. "Another couple of hundred million years back towards the Big Bang, and that will be the time when the first galaxies really are starting to build up."

Rychard Bouwens of Leiden University in the Netherlands added that "these observations provide us with our best insights yet into the likely nature of the earlier generation of primeval objects that we are yet to find."

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field-Infrared (HUDF-IR) data was taken in the late summers of 2009 and 2010, and was followed by a year of detailed analysis before the object was identified. Astronomers measure how much light from a distant object has been stretched by the expansion of space, a value called the redshift or z. In general terms, the greater the value of z for a galaxy, the further away and older it is from our view point – the Milky Way.

Hubble finds a new contender for galaxy distance record

Prior to Hubble, astronomers could hope to see as far as redshift 1. This was initially increased to z4, and then to z6 by the Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2004. The first infrared camera to be installed allowed glimpses even further back into the mists of space and time, but z8 was only achieved after the installation of the Wide Field Camera 3.

The astronomers say that there is evidence to suggest that the faint dot of starlight in the latest Hubble images is a compact galaxy of hot stars that first started to form over 100-200 million years earlier, from gas trapped in a pocket of dark matter.

Big hopes for future galaxy gazing

Unfortunately, the team will have to wait for official confirmation. Actual redshift values can only be determined by spectroscopic analysis and the new candidate is too faint for study at the moment. Such things will be in the hands of Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to explore deeper into infrared wavelengths and reveal the more distant proto-galaxies when it launches in 2014.

It's hoped that the new equipment will allow researchers to gaze back to around 275 million years after the Big Bang, and quite possibly even further. It's estimated that the very first stars were formed between z30 and z15.

The international team which made the discovery is made up of members from Leiden University, Carnegie Observatories, ETH Zurich, University of Colorado, Yale University, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and University of California, Santa Cruz. The discovery was reported in the January 27 edition of the British science journal Nature.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
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6 Comments

Big Bang is a silly concept. It has become a dysfunctional religion. When are we going to admit it's impossible. This photo proves it's impossible if you apply some grammer school math. The universe is infinite, there was no beginning. The correct model can be seen here waynemcmichael.com/iwt.htm

b@man
1st February, 2011 @ 06:34 pm PST

Actually its not at all silly. It makes quite a bit of sense. We can see and physics works out for the past 13.7 billion years, it all flows perfectly into models. But at this point that long ago, was an event called the Planck Epoch. This is the shortest possible span of time currently understood by modern science. it is the distance that light travels in one measurement of planck time: 1.616 × 10^%u221235 meters. The universe makes sense until this point.

At this point though, our understand of physics breaks down. The current model suggests that at one point the four fundamental forces -- electromagnetism, strong and weak radiation and gravity, were unified as a single source.

The whole of what we dont know is this: What caused them to be in this state in the first place, and what made Gravity seperate from them. This happend in the abovementioned planck-epoch.

Just recently Dr. Stephen Hawking, one of our greatest theoretical physicist, said in his book: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

I cant not put it more elegantly.

Kamrom
4th February, 2011 @ 10:27 am PST

Oh and by the way, the top most image isnt the one you're refering to, im sure. You probably mean the one with the graphic timeline yes? Well, that one proves absolutely nothing because the image isnt to scale. At all. In any sense. Its not meant to be...The image is condensed, like how in a video game you're a third the size of a castle. Thats just there to put things into overall context, not as guide.

And no, it takes much more than "grammar school math" to understand how the universe works. Thats why we have physics and quantum mechanics. See the relevent science journals.

Kamrom
4th February, 2011 @ 10:43 am PST

Actually this photo proves Big Bang is not likely. Light from the new object is thought to have taken some 13.2 billion years to reach the telescope. If we were at the center of the Big Bang, then that galaxy would have had to get to where it is in 2 billions years, already formed. Meaning, it traveled 13.2 billion light years in 2 billions years, and that is if we are at the center. that's over 6 times the speed of light. When you couple that with all of the other crazy theories you need to support it, it's clear that it makes no sense. Big Bang is dead. Here is the correct model- waynemcmichael.com/iwt it accounts for the need for dark matter, dark energy, and doesn't require anything that we don't already know or haven%u2019t' already discovered... no singularity, no universe everywhere all at once, it doesn%u2019t even require a beginning. It unifies gravity with string theory and explains what gravity is. It explains why the universe is expanding and the expansion is accelerating. It defines the graviton. A new era in physics and astronomy is born.

b@man
6th February, 2011 @ 04:03 pm PST

I do wonder about this science. I can not say I doubt it as much as I do not yet fully grasp all the variables that cause these conclusions.

A few questions:

1. Did this object remain still after the big bang, and if so can't the triangulation of it and other older images be used to find the actual center of the big bang?

2. If this object moved away from the central point that was the big bang how do we know that it is not moving further away or closer, thereby distorting the math of how old or how far away it is.

3. Will Scarlet Johanson be in one of my films?

4. Why do stories such as this and others bring about debates about God and the existence/non-existence thereof? If the complexity of the human condition is enough to grant credit to a God, why would any number of mathematically complex new discoveries take away from that same credit? Or vice versa?

5. If it is true that this particular big bang is not the first big bang and it is instead a repeating pattern or rhythm, would that indicate intelligent design?

Knut Scott Lindsley
8th February, 2011 @ 10:28 pm PST

b@man, the string theory is just a theory as yet, as is the existence of gravitons. We have not found one only predicted their existence. In addition, your maths skills in working out the speed of that galaxy to be 6c may be right; however you plucked the number 2 billion out of thin air. The galaxy does not need to arrive fully formed; we are seeing it as it was 13.2 billion years ago, it has had 500 million years to form. The light still had to get to us and took 13.2 billion years to get here. We were also not at the centre of the Big Bang. Don't justify your maths with wrong assumptions. Assume - Make an ass of you and me.

Facebook User
20th February, 2011 @ 09:59 am PST
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