An international team of astronomers on Thursday said that using the Hubble Space Telescope they have spotted the farthest galaxy ever seen in the universe. This surprisingly bright infant galaxy, named GN-z11, was seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past, just 400 million years after the Big Bang, the team reported in the Astrophysical Journal.
“We have taken a major step back in time, beyond what we had ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age,” principal investigator Pascal Oesch of Yale University said in a statement.
The team also included scientists from Yale University, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and the University of California. The astronomers also revealed that GN-z11 is 25 times smaller than the Milky Way and has just one percent of our galaxy’s mass in stars. However, the newborn GN-z11 is growing fast, forming stars at a rate about 20 times greater than our galaxy does today. Previously, the team had estimated GN-z11’s distance by determining its color through imaging with Hubble and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
Now, for the first time for a galaxy at such an extreme distance, the team used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to precisely measure the distance to GN-z11 spectroscopically by splitting the light into its component colors. Now, the team confirmed GN-z11 to be at a redshift of 11.1, nearly 200 million years closer to the time of the Big Bang.
“This new record will likely stand until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope,” investigator Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University added, referring to Hubble’s successor, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.