Dutch Astronomers Spots Most Ancient Galaxy

An international group of astronomers, including some astronomers from Leiden, discovered the most distant object ever seen in the universe.

The object’s light traveled 13.2 billion years to reach Hubble, roughly 150 million years longer than the previous record holder. The age of the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years. That is what the astronomers announced Wednesday at a press conference of the American space agency NASA.

The light comes from the galaxy UDFj-39546284 that existed 480 million years after the big bang.

“These observations provide us with our best insights yet into the earlier primeval objects that have yet to be found,” said Rychard Bouwens of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Bouwens and Illingworth report the discovery in the Jan. 27 issue of the British science journal Nature.

The new research offers surprising evidence that the rate of star birth in the early universe grew dramatically, increasing by about a factor of 10 from 480 million years to 650 million years after the big bang.

The proto-galaxy is only visible at the farthest infrared wavelengths observable by Hubble.

Observations of earlier times, when the first stars and galaxies were forming, will require Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope , which will be launched around 2014, scientists want a sharper picture of the period.

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