Universe’s Oldest, Most Distant Galaxy Discovered

By Nick Venable | 8 years ago

This is the kind of discovery that my grandmother would avoid knowing about, due to both the complications and implications involved. The Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) is a multi-wavelength census of 25 galaxy clusters with Hubble’s powerful Advanced Camera for Survey (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3(WFC3), using 17 wavelength filters, spanning near-ultraviolet to near-infrared. 20 of those 25 surveys have been completed, and in February, CLASH member Dan Coe, the lead author of this study, discovered MACS0647-JD, a 13.3 billion year-old galaxy formed just 420 million years into the formation of our universe. Word has it, when Keith Richards heard about it, he dropped to knees and wept, crying out, “Home at last!”

The galaxy is small by today’s standards, less than 600 light-years wide, compared to our mature Milky Way being 150,000 light-years across, and may actually be in the early stages of forming a larger galaxy. Its small size was only one of the complications involved in getting a positive identification.

For one, it had to be found using “natural zoom,” better known as gravitational lensing, which uses massive galaxy clusters to boost light from other places, effectively making images appear eight, seven, and two times brighter than using regular methods. Eight billion years into things, light from MACS0647-JD made its way to and through the cluster MACS J0647+7015, thus making it visible to astronomers.

The galaxy’s images were filtered 17 ways, from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared, and it only appeared in the two reddest filters. The presumption is that the galaxy is either only shining in red wavelengths, or its light has been affected by the distance traveled, or a combination of the two. Nearly every single alternative explanation was accounted for and disproved.

I can’t help but think this kind of mind-blowing news would be much more appreciated 200 years ago, when we didn’t have the health insurance issues of pizza chains and snack companies to worry about. This is where we come from. This is who we are. I am a MACS0647-JD-er. End credits.

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