This composite color image shows the galaxy cluster MACS1149+2223, which creates a gravitational lens to magnify an extremely distant galaxy in the background (inset). The galaxy may have helped lift the fog of the early universe, scientists say. (Photo : The Space Telescope Science Institute)
Astronomers have discovered the earliest known confirmed galaxy, which may have helped clear the fog surrounding the early universe, Space.com reported. The discovery was made with the use of two NASA space observatories.
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The distant galaxy was discovered through the help of gravitational lensing, which curves space-time, the report said. According to Space.com, scientists estimate the old galaxy to be about 150 million times the mass of the sun and that it formed almost 200 million years after the Big Bang.
Working at the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, researchers used the gravitational lenses to see the galaxy and estimated its distance and age. Distance is used to estimate age by seeing how long light took to travel here.
Lead study author Wei Zheng, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, told Space.com, “We feel like archaeologists with a pre-Neanderthal fossil in hand.”
“Such a discovery would not have been possible if the object was un-lensed,” Zheng added.
According to Space.com, scientists have found potentially older galaxies, but have been unable to confirm age due to the faintness of their light. The study revealed that the galaxy formed during the “epoch of reionization,” which was when ultraviolet radiation cleared the fog of atomic hydrogen some 150 million to 800 million years after the Big Bang.
Astronomer Daniel Stark from the University of Arizona at Tucson, who did not participate in the study, told Space.com, “While caution should be exercised in the interpretation of a single object, the results presented in the Zheng paper point to significant star formation activity throughout this period.”
The study will be released in detail in the upcoming issue of the journal Nature on September 20.