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ASU astronomers discover faintest distant galaxy

• http://phys.org, byArizona State University

A team of astronomers, led by James Rhoads, Sangeeta Malhotra, and Pascale Hibon of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU, identified the remote galaxy after scanning a moon-sized patch of sky with the IMACS instrument on the Magellan Telescopes at the Carnegie Institution's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

The reveal a faint infant galaxy, located 13 billion light-years away. "This galaxy is being observed at a young age. We are seeing it as it was in the very distant past, when the universe was a mere 800 million years old," says Rhoads, an associate professor in the school. "This image is like a baby picture of this galaxy, taken when the universe was only 5 percent of its current age. Studying these very early galaxies is important because it helps us understand how galaxies form and grow."

The galaxy, designated LAEJ095950.99+021219.1, was first spotted in summer 2011. The find is a rare example of a galaxy from that early epoch, and will help astronomers make progress in understanding the process of . The find was enabled by the combination of the Magellan telescopes' tremendous light gathering capability and exquisite image quality, thanks to the mirrors built in Arizona's Steward Observatory; and by the unique ability of the IMACS instrument to obtain either images or spectra across a very wide field of view. The research, published in the June 1 issue of The , was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

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