Scientists Confirm the Discovery of a 13 Billion Year Old Galaxy

Monday, 23 May 2016 - 2:42PM
Astrophysics
Astronomy
Monday, 23 May 2016 - 2:42PM
Scientists Confirm the Discovery of a 13 Billion Year Old Galaxy
Scientists currently believe the universe to be about 13.8 billion years old, and interestingly enough, there's been quite a number of discoveries lately of galaxies that stretch back within five hundred million years or so of the Big Bang itself. The oldest currently on record is 13.4 billion years old, but the latest discovery comes pretty close.

A galaxy dating back to 13 billion years ago was discovered by a team of international astronomers working from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii; this discovery was recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Though the galaxy may not be the oldest one known to man, there are quite a lot of things that make it a particularly special find.

To start, it may very well have been impossible to see the galaxy if not for the effects of gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing is a process that magnifies and distorts objects due to  effects of gravity from extremely massive (or clusters of extremely massive) objects. This newly found 13 billion year old galaxy just happened to be located behind another galaxy from the telescope's point of view, meaning that scientists would have likely never knew it was there. However, because of gravitation lensing, the galaxy's appearance was displaced, allowing astronomers to see the structure clearly.  

Likewise, the galaxy also happens to be extremely small. In fact, the astronomers who observed it from Keck Observatory say that its stellar mass is one percent of one percent of that of the Milky Way. However, that's actually quite typical for a galaxy of its particular age.  

Lead author of the study, Kuang-Han Huang, says the galaxy exists at the end of the reionization epoch of the universe when they hydrogen from the Big Bang were going from neutral to ionized. This is thought to be the time when the stars first lit up, and when matter started to become more complex.  

So while this newfound galaxy may not be the oldest galaxy in the universe, but the combination of its age, size, and location make it a particularly interesting find, and yet another win for science.
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