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The Most Distant Galaxy in the Observable Universe Discovered --30 Billion Light Years from the Milky Way!

 

Galaxy_Large_Tilvi

 

The image above from the Hubble Space Telescope CANDELS survey, highlights the most distant galaxy in the universe with a measured distance, dubbed z8_GND_5296. The most distant spectroscopically confirmed galaxy ever found — one created at about 700 million years after the Big Bang — has been detected by astronomers at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.

The researchers suspect they may have zeroed in on the era when the universe made its transition from an opaque state in which most of the hydrogen is neutral to a translucent state in which most of the hydrogen is ionized. So it’s not necessarily that the distant galaxies aren’t there. It could be that they’re hidden from detection behind a wall of neutral hydrogen fog, which blocks the hydrogen emission signal.

The astronomers note that this is one of two major changes in the fundamental essence of the universe since its beginning — the other being a transition from a plasma state to a neutral state. He is leading the effort on a follow-up paper that will use a sophisticated statistical analysis to explore that transition further.

“Everything seems to have changed since then,” said Vithal Tilvi, a Texas A&M postdoctoral research associate and co-author of the paper now available online.“If it was neutral everywhere today, the night sky that we see wouldn’t be as beautiful. What I’m working on is studying exactly why and exactly where this happened. Was this transition sudden, or was it gradual?”

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, creates about one or two Sun-like stars every year or so. But this newly discovered galaxy forms around 300 a year. It was observed by the researchers as it was 13 billion years ago. Because the universe has been expanding the whole time, the researchers estimate the galaxy’s present distance to be roughly 30 billion light years away. The detected emission line at a wavelength of 1.0343 micrometres is likely to be Lyman α emission, placing this galaxy at a redshift z = 7.51, an epoch 700 million years after the Big Bang.

The galaxy’s colors are consistent with significant metal content, implying that galaxies become enriched rapidly. The astronomers calculated a surprisingly high star-formation rate of about 330 solar masses per year, which is more than a factor of 100 greater than that seen in the Milky Way. Such a galaxy is unexpected in a survey of our size, suggesting that the early Universe may harbour a larger number of intense sites of star formation than expected.

“Because of its distance we get a glimpse of conditions when the universe was only about 700 million years old — only 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years,” said Texas A&M astrophysicist Casey Papovich, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and a member of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

The Nature paper is the result of raw data gleaned from a powerful Hubble Space Telescope imaging survey of the distant universe called CANDELS, or Cosmic Assembly Near-Infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey. Using that data, the team was armed with 43 potential distant galaxies and set out to confirm their distances.

Because the universe is expanding, the space between galaxies also is increasing. And as objects move away, they become redder. In essence, the higher the redshift, the farther away the object. Only five other galaxies have ever been confirmed to have a redshift greater than 7, with the previous high being 7.215.

Papovich notes that researchers are also able to accurately gauge the distances of galaxies by measuring a feature from the ubiquitous element hydrogen called the Lyman alpha transition, which emits brightly in distant galaxies. It’s detected in nearly all galaxies that are seen from a time more than one billion years from the Big Bang, but getting closer than that, the hydrogen emission line, for some reason, becomes increasingly difficult to see.

“We were thrilled to see this galaxy,” said the Nature paper’s lead author, Steven Finkelstein, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and 2011 Hubble Fellow. “And then our next thought was, ‘Why did we not see anything else? We’re using the best instrument on the best telescope with the best galaxy sample. We had the best weather — it was gorgeous. And still, we only saw this emission line from one of our sample of 43 observed galaxies, when we expected to see around six. What’s going on?’”

Finkelstein credits technological advancements in recent years for allowing astronomers to probe deeper into space and closer to the Big Bang. For instance, a powerful new spectrometer called MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrometer For Infra-Red Exploration) that is 25 times more light-sensitive than others of its kind was installed at Keck in 2012. And the Hubble Space Telescope is powered by a new near-infrared camera installed by astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle in 2009 that sees farther into the universe.

“It’s exciting to know we’re the first people in the world to see this,” said Tilvi, “It raises interesting questions about the origins and the evolution of the universe.”

Ten other international institutions collaborated on the effort, from California to Massachusetts and Italy to Israel.

The Daily Galaxy via the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), and Texas A&M astronomy http://astronomy.tamu.edu/.

Image credit: V. Tilvi, Texas A&M University; S.L. Finkelstein, University of Texas at Austin; C. Papovich, Texas A&M University; CANDELS Team and Hubble Space Telescope/NASA.

Comments

Interesting. A fully-formed galaxy, 13 billion years old, when the universe was only 13.7 b/y old. Looks like the BB theory needs more tweaking guys. Either that or it's defunct.

How can this galaxy be 30 billion light years away when the universe is only 13.8 billion years old?

@Peter Smitt...read the post.

@Casey Kazan ... read the post but still do not get it. If the current estimate for the actual distance is 30 BLY, this suggests an expansion of space of 17 BLY in 13Bn years. So, the universe must be expanding faster than the speed of light if I understand correctly, as this expansion has added an additional 17BLY of distance in 13BY.

I get that this as such would not violate Einstein's principle that no speed **within** space can exceed the speed of light relative to the space within which it is trapped. Einstein did not say anything about the expansion of space itself.

But how do we know that space itself is expanding faster than the speed of light? I get that redshift suggests expansion. But just how much redshift is needed for this inference?

The only thing they found was a galaxy with a high redshift...phhhh. What about intrinsic redshift which not accounts for distance as generally assumed

and further down the rabbit hole we go

Actually the "space" around a super massive blackhole travels or moves faster than the speed of light. Look it up or call your local astrophysicist.

:-)

So glad I'm not the only one! I had to double check the story. 30b yr old galaxy, in a universe approx. 13.7b yrs old. I don't think so. That's some redshift going on, or the observer shifted a decimal point.

Astronomers have been seeing things for decades that are not explainable by current cosmological theories. As far as we can see there are galaxies and more galaxies.

"... the universe made its transition from an opaque state in which most of the hydrogen is neutral to a translucent state in which most of the hydrogen is ionized."

I believe this should be the other way around. Free, unbound, electrons, i.e., ionization, leads to opacity.

The galaxy's CURRENT distance is 30 billion light years due to the expansion of the universe. The galaxy's distance when the light we are seeing was emitted, was 13.7 billon light years. It has been traveling that long to get to us, and meanwhile the universe continues to expand. I don't see anything surprising or "rabbit hole"-ish about this.

Our own galaxy is estimated to be 13.6 billion years old?
How can cosmologists justify what they call 'energy' that has no matter forming whole galaxies of matter in only 100 million years. Time to throw out forever the concept of creation of the
universe. The universe has always existed and always will. There is only one universe by definition. Why does everything
have to have a beginning? A lot of people have no problem at all
believing that an all powerful supernatural being has existed forever. Basing an objects distance on a misunderstanding of all possible causes of redshift (no - we don't know, you just assume) is not good science. Since there is no preferred frame
of reference, a being in a 13 billion light year distant galaxy is at the centre of his observable universe. What he sees looking away from our galaxy is a whole observable universe, putting galaxies 26 billion light years away from
us. Extrapolating again and again, the universe is huge and we can only see a tiny bit of it. The universe cannot be expanding because it is already everywhere. It's like you have to be yourself because everyone else is already taken!

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