Hubble sets new mark for farthest-out galaxy

Image: GN-z11
This image locates galaxy GN-z11 in the northern hemisphere field of the Hubble GOODS survey, which takes in tens of thousands of galaxies stretching far back into time. GN-z11, shown in the inset, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past, just 400 million years after the big bang, when the universe was only 3 percent of its current age. (Credit: NASA / ESA / Oesch et al.)

Like the rockers in “This Is Spinal Tap,” astronomers cranked the dials on the Hubble Space Telescope up to 11 to identify what they say is the farthest-out galaxy ever detected, from a time when the universe was a mere 400 million years old.

The light from the galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major, known as GN-z11, was sent out 13.4 billion years ago, astronomers report in a study to be published in theAstrophysical Journal. That light-year measurement surpasses the distances that were recorded for two faraway galaxies over the past year.

The researchers say this record is likely to stand until NASA’s next-generation James Webb Space Telescope comes online.

“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble,” Yale astronomer Pascal Oesch said in a news release.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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